Return of the Jedi (1983)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #73

Return to a galaxy far, far away.

Also Known As: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 132 minutes | 135 minutes (special edition)
BBFC: U
MPAA: PG

Original Release: 25th May 1983 (USA)
UK Release: 2nd June 1983
First Seen: VHS, c.1990

Stars
Mark Hamill (The Empire Strikes Back, The Guyver)
Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Patriot Games)
Carrie Fisher (The Empire Strikes Back, The ‘Burbs)
Anthony Daniels (The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace)
Peter Mayhew (Star Wars, Comic Book: The Movie)

Director
Richard Marquand (Eye of the Needle, Jagged Edge)

Screenwriters
Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Silverado)
George Lucas (American Graffiti, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith)

Story by
George Lucas (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Radioland Murders)

The Story
As the Galactic Empire construct a new Death Star, Jedi-in-training Luke Skywalker — the Rebel Alliance’s best hope of defeating the evil Darth Vader — is busy rescuing his friend Han Solo from the clutches of crime lord Jabba the Hutt. Meanwhile, the powerful Emperor waits, intending to convert the young Jedi to the Dark Side…

Our Heroes
Luke Skywalker: Jedi Knight.
Han Solo: defrosted resistance captain.
Princess Leia: sister, love interest, bikini-wearer. Is it just me or does Leia get a pretty poor deal as the trilogy goes on?

Our Villains
Quite possibly the greatest villain ever created for the movies, Darth Vader. Here he’s on an arc of redemption, so there’s also the Emperor, who has the appearance of a wizened old man but is strong in the Force. As Vader himself puts it, “the Emperor is not as forgiving as I am.” Uh-oh!

Best Supporting Character
R2-D2 is the best supporting character in every Star Wars film, but in this one we are introduced to Jabba the Hutt (well, unless you watched Episode I or the New Hope Special Edition first). A giant, fat, slug-like crime lord who is impervious to Jedi mind tricks and apparently has a fondness for metal bikinis, he’s as physically repulsive as are his methods and mores.

Memorable Quote
“Many Bothans died to bring us this information.” — Mon Mothma

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“It’s a trap!” — Admiral Ackbar

Memorable Scene
The speeder bike chase — arguably the best action sequence in the entire original trilogy. Considering this is a series of films that include three or four duels with frickin’ laser swords, that’s some feat.

Memorable Music
John Williams’ music is an essential part of the Star Wars experience. While no single tune in Jedi is as iconic as the Main Theme from A New Hope or the Imperial March from Empire, the overall score is as good as ever.

Technical Wizardry
The background plates for the speeder bike chase were captured by having a Steadicam (operated by the system’s creator, Garrett Brown) walked through a forest while filming less than one frame per second. When played back at regular 24fps, this 5mph stroll came out more like a 120mph hurtle. They spent three days filming to get enough footage for the whole sequence.

Truly Special Effects
These days, the answer to the question “how did they do that?” is “CGI”. Back in the ’80s, however, they had to be a bit more creative — leaving an abundance of achievements worthy of inclusion here. For example, the shot where the Imperial fleet spring their trap on the Rebels was the most complex matte shot ever attempted, with dozens of separate model elements having to be printed in. Or there’s the puppet work. Jabba was full-size, of course, and the 2,000lb costume was operated by four puppeteers: one for his right arm and jaw, another for his left arm and tongue, both of whom moved his body; another had a cable control to move the mouth and nostrils, using his feet to work bellows to simulate breathing; and the fourth moved his tail. Plus the smoke for when Jabba uses his pipe was apparently created by someone smoking a cigar and blowing it up a tube. For the Rancor, on the other hand, Lucas wanted to use a Godzilla-style man in a suit, but the tests didn’t work very well. The final result is not stop-motion, as you might expect, but an 18-inch rod puppet. Filming it was treated as a live-action shoot, though various techniques were used to conceal the methodology, like slow-motion or running the film backwards — anything they could think of to help remove the sense of “Muppet-ness”.

Letting the Side Down
When it comes to Lucas’ Special Edition fiddling, most people focus on the “Han shot first” complaint. Personally, I find the change at the end of Jedi — where Hayden Christensen has been pasted over Sebastian Shaw as Anakin’s Force ghost — more egregious. That said, the stupid song & dance number in Jabba the Hutt’s palace runs it a close second. On the bright side, the added shots of planets around the Empire celebrating the destruction of the Death Star helps aggrandise an otherwise low-key post-climax celebration.

Making of
So, that metal bikini, eh? What a blatant bit of fan service by that dirty old George Lucas! Well, apparently it actually came about because Carrie Fisher herself complained about her all-covering costumes in the first two films meaning you couldn’t tell she was a woman. Costumer Aggie Guerard Rodgers’ design was inspired by the work of famed fantasy artist Frank Frazetta, but whoever decided it should be made as such a rigid piece wasn’t thinking ahead: the solidness of the top meant it didn’t move with Fisher’s body, and she refused to use double-sided tape, so before each take someone from wardrobe had to (to quote IMDb) “ensure that her breasts were still snug inside the costume”. Nice work if you can get it. Nonetheless, several scenes had to be reshot due to what we now call “wardrobe malfunctions”.

The Ewok Line
To quote from the How I Met Your Mother Wiki, “The Ewok Line correlates the birth year of a person and the subsequent appreciation of Ewoks […] Those born on or before May 25, 1973 have a low appreciation of the film’s creatures, while those born after this date have an affinity for them. This is because those who saw the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, which was released theatrically on May 25, 1983, who were 10 or under still loved their teddy bears, giving them an increased appreciation for the Ewoks.” I was born in 1986 and, yes, I love Ewoks. I mean, how can you not enjoy their silly mix of teddybear cuteness, gobbledegook language, and Empire-beating military competence?

Previously on…
Return of the Jedi picks up on the cliffhanger from The Empire Strikes Back, which of course continued the story of Star Wars. Many, many other films, TV series, novels, comic books, computer games, and whatever other media you can think of, take place before and around these movies.

Next time…
Ooh boy… Well, primarily: 16 years later, George Lucas returned to the world he created for the infamous Prequel Trilogy, finally filling in those missing first three Episodes. Chronologically, the saga picks up after Jedi with last year’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens, and will continue in Episodes VIII and IX. Aside from those main tenets, there’s an unimaginable mass of stuff in what’s known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe: TV series, novels, comic books, computer games, and anything else you can imagine — and it’s only going to continue growing in the future. Most of what was generated before Disney bought Lucasfilm may have been wiped out by whoever’s in charge now, but that doesn’t mean people don’t care about what went on in it. Of particular note is Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy of novels, which kickstarted the prominence of the Expanded Universe, and which many fans used to view as effectively being Episodes VII, VIII and IX.

Awards
1 Oscar (Special Achievement in Visual Effects)
4 Oscar nominations (Score, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Sound, Sound Effects Editing)
1 BAFTA (Visual Effects)
3 BAFTA nominations (Make Up Artist, Production Design/Art Direction, Sound)
5 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Actor (Mark Hamill), Costumes, Make-Up, Special Effects)
5 Saturn nominations (Actress (Carrie Fisher), Supporting Actor (Billy Dee Williams), Director, Writing, Music)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“The characters and dialogue get lost somewhere between the bug-eyed monsters and the exploding spaceships, but it is all so much fun it probably really does not matter a whole lot. […] Because so much of Return of the Jedi concentrates on makeup and special effects, and perhaps also because much of the dialogue (and acting) is so bad, it is pretty hard to get too involved with the characters, who came across with much more human interest in The Empire Strikes Back, the second of the movies. In a sense, the extraterrestrials are a lot more human than the people.” — Harper Barnes, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Score: 80%

What the Public Say
“[A] thing I like about the scene in Jabba’s palace is the teamwork between all of the heroes in their mission to rescue Han Solo. It reminds me of a heist in way, since you got the droids, Chewbacca, Lando, Leia and Luke all working together and serving different purposes in rescuing Han. I also love the fact that the reason they are all working together is because they all care about Han. It just goes to prove that Star Wars isn’t just a huge spectacle but a story about family and friendship, which makes it a lot more personable.” — Jacob Bartley, Apocaflix! Movies

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I’ve written about the original Star Wars trilogy twice before, both times back in 2007. Of Return of the Jedi’s modified DVD version, I said that “there seem to be only minor differences or effects improvements here — it does make you wonder what the fans were kicking up such a fuss about”, and noted that “the speederbike chase is one of the trilogy’s greatest action sequences. And Ewoks are cute.” Then, treating the film as the sixth part of the saga, I wrote that it had “the biggest failing of the films as a single series: the prequel trilogy is endlessly obsessed with the prophecy about Anakin bringing balance to the Force; it isn’t mentioned once here. A dubbed line or added shot with Yoda saying something would’ve been nice.”

Verdict

Once upon a time I decided Return of the Jedi was actually my favourite Star Wars movie. I watched them again last year and changed my mind again, and wondered quite what I’d been thinking before. Jedi does have a lot to commend it, from multiple memorable set pieces to some effective character work with most of the principals, but it’s certainly not without its flaws, which have only been exacerbated by the prequel trilogy — as the climax to a mythic six-film saga, the finale of Jedi lacks some heft. Arguably it only reaches towards classic status by association with its two predecessors, but on its own merits it’s still an exciting space adventure.

#74 will be… six weeks on the road in the winter of 1931.

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4 thoughts on “Return of the Jedi (1983)

  1. Ouch. Its never a top 100 movie… Or is it?

    I don’t know. I have a love/hate relationship with this one. It was a bitter disappointment to me back in 1983. It was too rushed for one thing. Chasing Fett around the galaxy and finally saving Solo from Jabba should have been one movie, and the rest with the Emperor etc another altogether, but Lucas wanted done with the whole Star Wars thing. Tonally Jedi feels a bit ‘off’ compared to TESB. The Death Star 2 always seemed a tired and unimaginative choice. The cast seemed to have aged more than the 3 years between films too, weirdly. And those bloody teddy bears. Those bloody teddy bears. Those bloody… Well.

    That all said, its not a terrible film, just a clue at how Lucas was losing his touch (confirmed by those later prequels). The cruelest thing about TESB is how it always teased a Star Wars saga that never was. Everytime I watch that bloody film I despair at what might have been. That isn’t wholly Jedis fault, its fine for what it is but its too much story, too much wrapping stuff up, after Empire opened everything up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is the ‘funny thing’ about coming to trilogies (etc) years later, and especially at a young age: there’s not much (or any) room for speculation between parts; they just are. Nonetheless, with a slightly more critical eye now, it’s certainly true that parts aren’t as grandly scaled as one might expect. And even if it’s true that Lucas had always intended the Death Star to be in Episode VI but felt ‘forced’ to use it in IV, he still should’ve come up with a new idea!

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      • You make a good point. I had to wait three years between Star Wars movies. A young lad can dream up all sort of grand scenarios! Empire surpassed all those fantasies but Jedi didn’t, somehow.

        My favourite vision of Jedi, in those long years before its release: I always imagined it starting with Vader arriving at some Imperial fortress and walking into the Emperor’s throne room.He’d just walk up, light up his sabre and kill the Emperor, throw him off the throne, and take the throne saying “I’m the Emperor now!” in James Earl Jones most intimidating voice. Cue everyone in there bowing before him, John William’s Vader theme rising triumphantly. Screenwipe to the rebel fleet.

        You see, back then Vader was the biggest bad guy, George Lucas’ redemption nonsense couldn’t possibly be imagined. So in my head Jedi was all about a return fight between Luke and Vader for the fate of the galaxy. Not a teddy bear in sight either.

        Then I saw the movie. Another Death Star. Vader turning into almost a reluctant bad guy, then ultimately into a good guy? After how much of a badass he was in Empire? Heresy! History (and those prequels) sort of lessens the pain, but really, before Lucas pulled that 180 on Vader and neutered him, he was the biggest bad guy in the universe.1983 and Jedi changed all that forever.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It’s interesting because it kinda feels to me like those seeds of Vader’s potential redemption are always there, but that may just be interpreting the first two films in light of having always seen them with the third. It does stop him from being just a force of pure evil though, for good or ill.

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