Star Wars:
Return of the Jedi

directed by George Lucas
(20th Century Fox, 1983;
special edition, 1997)

I think by the time he reached his third Star Wars film, creator George Lucas was getting bored.

I'm not sure what else can explain some pieces of the movie, which seem like they were thrown in by someone eager to be done with the series. There were bad character choices, questionable scripting decisions and a general consensus to replace substance with silliness.

The next few paragraphs are packed to the gills with spoilers, so if you're one of the three people on the planet who never saw Return of the Jedi, skip a bit.

Ewoks have few redeeming values. Designed as upright tribal koalas, with toy marketeering in mind, they bring far too much "cute" into scenes that should have some degree of seriousness. The Ewoks, in costumes that look like costumes, "yub-yub" and "hot-cha" their merry way through the movie, turning a climactic battle scene into a comedy. (And apparently they were too cute to kill, too. A pack of short furballs armed with rocks and sticks takes on an entire legion of the Emperor's elite stormtroopers -- and only one of them dies on-camera? Oy.) Lucas should have stuck with his original concept, often reported as a planet of tribal Wookies. (Although Chewbacca as Tarzan we could do without.)

Boba Fett, a good villain, is given a stupid death.

OK, so the romance between Luke and Leia hinted at in earlier films fell by the wayside so Leia and Han could get it on. Fine. But to keep Our Hero from losing at love, Lucas came up with a way to end all romantic possibility between them while allowing Luke to save face. Suddenly, they're long-lost siblings. Twins even. And Leia, when she learns this, immediately begins exhibiting signs of the Force. Darth Vader as Luke's father was bad enough, but this ... the whole Star Wars universe is becoming one big, happy family.

Ben's "vanishing act" in the first film loses significance. Now, apparently all good Jedi Knights fade away at their deaths. And Darth, it turns out, has a heart of gold (to say nothing of pasty white skin) beneath that cold, black exterior, only needing a son's love to become a good guy again. And Ben was no fluke; they all become glowing ghosts after they die. (For some reason Darth -- excuse me, Anakin -- got younger and grew his hair back, too.)

There are, however, some priceless and powerful scenes.

The entire opening sequence, relating Lando's, Leia's and Luke's efforts to rescue the frozen Han Solo and captive Chewbacca, is excellent -- and not just because Carrie Fisher answered every science fiction geek's prayers by spending a few scenes in scanty slave girl attire. The undoing of Jabba the Hutt is nicely handled, never seeming too easy or predictable. The new version improves on a good thing by remaking a fairly unimpressive musical number into a much better production; changes to the Sarnak, the great desert stomach, are nice but don't do a whole lot for me.

The space battle is stunning, with the best special effects yet. And the final battle between Luke and Darth is an amazing piece of cinematography, filled with power, passion and great choreography.

It's too bad Lucas wasn't more excited about this one. It had the potential of being the best film of the trilogy, but too many missteps place it solidly in third place.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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