- Movie Rating -

Return of the Jedi (1983)

| May 25, 1983

There is a moment early in Return of the Jedi that illustrates exactly what makes this Star Wars movies so special.  Our comedy duo R2D2 and C3PO enter the lair of the gangster Jabba the Hutt through a massive hanger door that squeaks and groans as it slowly struggles open.  As they enter the dark caverns, a mechanical spider walks behind them.  You can see the dust and grime on the interior floor where the wind has blown the sand in from outside.  You can hear C3PO’s voice echoing off the interior walls.  The interior is cruddy and rusty and dirty as if the place had been built for another purpose.

That kind of detail is not, by common logic, necessary.  The point is to get R2 into the door and for 3PO to voice his whiney protest.  But to add that level of detail, to dream up those small things and to put them into the scene gives the world a sense of history, a sense that this is a lived-in universe.  That kind of detail is all through this movie, in the foreground, the background on the edges of the screen and it has been the tapestry of this series all along.  It gives you the sense that a thousand stories are happening behind the characters.  It gives you the feeling that George Lucas and his team wanted to create something special, not just a place for the story to function but a believable world for that story to inhabit.

Return of the Jedi is special for that reason, and just as special because the story here is just as strong as the two films that preceded it.  Lucas never seems to be running out of ideas in this film; it seems fresh and new, a wholly new adventure for Luke and Han and Princess Leia.

If the story seems a little less than original, that’s okay because this is largely a load-bearing movie.  It must carry the weight of two previous films that have been so lionized by popular culture that anything less than perfection might unpin the entire trilogy.  In that way, it is reasonable to think that might not feel as new as what came before.  It doesn’t have the striking originality of Star Wars or the mythology of The Empire Strikes Back, but that’s not a criticism.  With this movie, the trilogy pulls to stop but it has a lot of loose ends to tie up.  That might make for a film that is spiriting forward without purpose

The balancing act is what makes the movie special.  George Lucas and his team have to bring the story around, deal with Luke’s family issues and the Rebellion’s final battle with the evil Empire.  It is nice that in the middle of all of this action, all of these weird creatures, all of this production, the dramatic stuff doesn’t tie the movie down.

The drama mostly deals with whether or not Darth Vader and his Emperor can seduce Luke over to the dark side of the force.  In the last movie, we saw that he was certainly vulnerable.  The series has given Luke a sense of maturation – in the first movie he was just a boy; in the second he was like a sullen and often ill-tempered teenager; here he is more thoughtful, more of a young man seeing things with clarity but still susceptible to temptation.

That’s the center of the film.  The real achievement here is the character invention, and this movie is bursting with it.  We finally meet the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt who seems to have been modeled as a massive slug reincarnated as Sydney’s Greenstreet’s characters from The Maltese Falcon.  His crowded palace of hangers-on and sycophants and opportunists is a visual delight and so is the Ranchor, with occupies the under-welling of his lair.  Also, a strange Venus Flytrap creature that lives beneath the sand out in the desert dunes.  Later in the film we also meet a cuddly tribe of Ewoks, little teddy bears whose occupation on the forest planet seems to be benign, until the Empire shows up and they prove themselves to be a band of mighty warriors.

Although this movie is packed with frontal and ancillary characters, this is not a movie that stands around introducing everyone.  This is a movie so lived-in that we get names and functions of smaller characters but not necessarily details.  That’s okay because the full population makes that impossible.  We know who they are and why they are there and that’s pretty much all we need.  Plus, if you’re looking for introductions to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Lando Calrissian or R2D2 and C2PO, you’re not going to find them.  This is a movie made with the assumption that you have full knowledge of the series up to this point.

Return of the Jedi is one of those movies with all the pieces in place.  It’s a big ball of fun, the satisfying final piece of a great bit of modern mythology.  You needn’t worry that the filmmakers have run out of inspiration, it’s all here, it all feels new and it is just as special.  This is one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1983) View IMDB Filed in: Sci-Fi/Fantasty