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.

Returning to Jedi (2007)

2015 #91
Jamie Benning | 148 mins | streaming | 16:9 | UK / English

Returning to Jedi completes fan/editor Jamie Benning’s trilogy of documentaries about the original Star Wars trilogy with a look at the making of… well, obviously. In case you’ve forgotten, Benning’s “filmumentaries” are most succinctly summarised by the documentary’s own introduction:

Returning to Jedi is an unofficial commentary. It contains video, audio and information from over one hundred sources taking you deep into the making of Return of the Jedi.

I’m not entirely sure why, but it felt to me that this might be the best of all Benning’s Star Wars filmumentaries (he’s also completed ones for Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark). It’s not that anything’s drastically different (the format works), it’s just a certain something that made it the most engrossing. Perhaps there was more material to work with — the result is something like 20 minutes longer than Jedi itself, and a good ten minutes longer than the other Star Wars filmumentaries. Doesn’t sound so much when put like that, so maybe I’m making a spurious correlation.

There’s certainly tonnes of behind-the-scenes footage in this one, more so than the other two. Much of it concentrates on the creation of the special effects, as usual, with particular attention paid to Jabba, the Rancor, and the speederbike chase. As all are noteworthy achievements in effects work, they merit the focus. Audio snippets from various interviews down the years provide some more varied detail. There’s a fair bit of information on variations to the story that were considered and rejected, though it does make it sound like Lawrence Kasdan was desperate to kill someone off: he kept suggesting the likes of Han, Lando, and even Luke should make the ultimate sacrifice, while Lucas maintained no one should die. Kasdan wasn’t alone — Harrison Ford also thought Solo should die, and Mark Hamill expected more darkness for Luke — but I guess they weren’t to be heard by an increasingly autocratic Lucas (reports of him essentially directing Jedi for Richard Marquand, or of his clash with the Directors’ Guild that prevented Steven Spielberg from directing the film, go unmentioned here).

Highlights include: a look at the set for Jabba’s sail barge and the Sarlacc pit, an enormous raised construction in the Arizona desert that looks incredible; the fact that they consulted a child psychologist, who told them under 12s would think Vader being Luke’s father was a lie unless it was unequivocally stated, hence the scene where Yoda does just that; and a selection of interesting deleted scenes. The wisest deletion was an early scene of Luke building his new saber and hiding it in R2-D2 — how much would that undermine the reveal that Luke had a plan all along? — though also of note are a sandstorm before they leave Tatooine (deleted for pace) and a full-on shoot-out as Han and co enter the bunker on Endor.

Whether Returning to Jedi is the best of Benning’s work or not is neither here nor there, really. Although their length and the fact they sometimes focus on minutiae probably rules them out for the casual observer, who might prefer a shorter making-of overview if they’re even interested, his trilogy of Star Wars filmumentaries are consistently fascinating for fans.

4 out of 5

Returning to Jedi can be watched on Vimeo here.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is released in the UK at midnight tonight, and in the US on Friday. It will be reviewed at a future date. (Possibly Christmas Day. We’ll see.)

This review is part of the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015. Read more here.

The Star Wars Series

Introduction

While my main quest this year has been to see 100 films I’ve never seen before by the end of 2007, I’ve obviously seen other films around this. One of these has been to watch all six Star Wars films in their narrative order, over a three-day weekend. This turned out to be the weekend just passed, from Friday 10th to Sunday 12th. This special entry documents my thoughts on the films when viewed back to back in such a way.


Star Wars

Of course, everyone knows that these films were made ‘back to front’, in that 4 to 6 were made from 1977 to 1983 and 1 to 3 were made from 1999 to 2005. One might argue that there are reasons for viewing a story in such an order (for example, Memento works because it’s back to front), but the fact that the films are numbered so suggests they should be watched that way. I’ve tried to view them with this in mind — not as two trilogies from 4 to 6 and 1 to 3, but as one continuous story across six films, 1 to 6. Hopefully my comments reflect this. To help bolster this illusion, I watched the first two on Friday, the next two on Saturday, and the final two on Sunday.

For the sake of clarification, the versions of 4 to 6 watched were the most recently remastered DVD releases, complete with all sorts of controversial changes. Details of them can be found on sites such as IMDb.


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....


Episode I
The Phantom Menace
1999 | George Lucas | DVD

The Phantom MenaceEverything you remember about Episode I is still true: the plot is too mired in political machinations, the dialogue is truly dire, the acting frequently wooden, the direction flat, and Jar Jar Binks is as annoying as ever. There are some good bits — the pod race is exciting and the four-way climax works, especially the excellent lightsaber battle. A lot of the CGI holds up remarkably well, but equally a lot of it wouldn’t pass muster for a computer game now.

If you’re a 10-year-old it all might be fine: you’ve grown up with CGI everywhere, you won’t notice the dialogue, most plots wash over you anyway, the action is cool, and you’re the same age as Anakin so you might not find him as whingeingly irritating. The Star Wars series would never have taken off (probably at all, let alone to the degree it has) if this had been the first entry we all saw.

2 out of 5


Episode II
Attack of the Clones
2002 | George Lucas | DVD

Attack of the ClonesTen years on from Episode I and Anakin’s a fully fledged Jedi (almost), Padme’s a senator, and Obi-Wan has a beard. Episode II benefits from improved dialogue and performances. Unfortunately it’s still far from ideal — the overuse of CGI leaves much of it looking fake (this is, almost, an animated film with a few real actors in) and the first hour is blighted by a slow pace, too much plot, and the allegedly all-important love story in which Anakin and Padme fall in love because, well, the plot says they do.

There’s also a building sense of the connectedness of all the films… well, obviously, because the Clone Wars kick off here; but it also more subtly lays the groundwork for other plot and character developments. It’s a film still filled with flaws, but it still feels a lot better than the previous one in spite of them.

3 out of 5


Episode III
Revenge of the Sith
2005 | George Lucas | DVD

Revenge of the SithThe sextet reaches its darkest point: Anakin turns to the Dark Side and slaughters the Jedi younglings before burning in the fires of Mustafar. It’s all very depressing. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t conclude; that’s to say, as the last film to be released you might’ve expected Lucas to bring things to a definite conclusion, but instead it ends with a sense that there’s more to come — exactly how things should be at the halfway point!

The rest of the film is a mixed bag. The opening and closing 25 minutes are action-filled excellence, all epic space battles and lightsaber duels; Obi-Wan vs. Anakin even manages to pack an emotional punch. But the Anakin-Padme love story still rings false, and the latter is wasted, sitting around in her apartments waiting for updates and then dying of Plot Implausibility. In trying to make Anakin a Complex and Divided character, Lucas instead makes him seem fickle and underwritten. The simpler, action/adventure-orientated characterisation of the later films is actually stronger and deeper.

But I’m getting ahead of myself: Revenge of the Sith is undoubtedly a better film than the two that precede it, but we all really know the best is yet to come.

3 out of 5


Episode IV
A New Hope
1977 / 2004 | George Lucas | DVD

A New HopeHere it is: the big crossover; the moment of truth. How does it fare? Pretty well, actually. A long time has passed since the dark finale of Episode III and there’s undoubtedly a lighter feel (despite the Empire being in control!) C-3PO and R2-D2 are onboard the ship from the end of Episode III, a useful visual link as things almost start over — it’s Luke’s story now, and, with a new actor as Obi-Wan, it’s only the droids and Darth Vader who are recognisable from before.

The events of the previous trilogy add weight to Guinness’ performance, as well as to the mythology that gets thrown about. Obi-Wan’s final duel may not be as visually stunning as the one on Mustafar, but there’s added emotion now we’ve seen the character develop. Real sets, costumes and models largely look better than CGI, though there are a few dodgy effects that you’d think they’d’ve fixed. Sadly, the CGI added in 1997 doesn’t seem to have been improved for the 2004 release, so things like Jabba look pretty dreadful; that said, its presence helps smooth the link between the trilogies, as does the music, a couple of plots (Obi-Wan vs. Vader; the Death Star) and some ship designs.

However, the biggest change is in tone: I to III present an epic fantasy story, full of wizard-like Jedi, intricate galactic politics, and ancient prophecies; by contrast, A New Hope is straight-up action/adventure, far more concerned with gunfights, tricky situations, exciting dogfights, and amusing banter than with whether the President has been granted too much executive power. It’s all the better for it — even without glossy CGI and choreographed lightsaber duels, this is by far the most fun film so far.

If anyone’s only seen the prequels they may be baffled why so many people love Star Wars. This is the answer.

4 out of 5


Episode V
The Empire Strikes Back
1980 / 2004 | Irvin Kershner | DVD

The Empire Strikes BackThere are a variety of elements in the series’ penultimate film that have a very different impact in light of what we’ve experienced in the first trilogy. The most obvious is the revelation that Vader is Luke’s father: it’s no longer a twist, of course, but the emotional impact on Luke still makes it an important moment. Yoda’s line, “There is another”, is less mysterious, as is Luke’s ability to telepathically alert Leia near the end. Thank God their kiss is only a brief moment of humour though!

Speaking of Yoda, he seems to have gone a little loopy after several decades alone on Dagobah; the odd little green puppet is quite far removed from the wise old CGI sage we’ve seen before. His first mention (by a ‘hallucination’ of Obi-Wan) is also far less mysterious considering we know who Yoda is.

The film finds itself lacking in the lightsaber duel department — after the long, complex fights of the prequels, the Luke/Vader duel looks decidedly weak; though, at the end of it, Vader exhibits characteristics which are very reminiscent of Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. Also, Han and Leia’s burgeoning romance is infinitely more believable than Anakin and Padme’s in only a fraction of the screen time.

With Yoda, Boba Fett, the Emperor and Jabba all cropping up, threads planted and grown in all four preceding films are coming together, and things are in place to be wrapped up in the concluding film…

4 out of 5


Episode VI
Return of the Jedi
1983 / 2004 | Richard Marquand | DVD

Return of the JediConsidering it’s the grand finale, it’s perhaps surprising that Episode VI is largely the lightest of all the films, filled with extra humour and all those cute little Ewoks. Personally, I like the Ewoks — they make me laugh, go “aww”, and it’s sad when they die! Yoda’s death is another sad moment, and even more so having seen him in full action in the first three films. The threat posed by the Emperor is also even more apparent, there’s more of a sense that Luke truly could follow in his father’s footsteps, and there’s added poetic irony in Darth Vader’s final decision — it is the same thing that caused him to turn to the Dark Side that saves him from it.

Here is also the biggest failing of the films as a single series, however: 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. Instead, the major change at the end is adding Hayden Christensen over Sebastian Shaw. It’s a dreadful idea on paper… and so too in practice. He looks out of place and doesn’t at all match with the man we just saw die in Luke’s arms. Seeing celebrations across Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo and Coruscant neatly ties this right back to Episode I and shows the larger impact of the end of the Empire in what is an otherwise surprisingly brief and low-key post-victory epilogue.

Another thing worth a quick mention is the speederbike chase through the forests of Endor — one of the series’ very best action sequences, and all the more effective for being entirely practical instead of CGI. When all’s said and done, I think Jedi is actually the most underrated of all the films.

4 out of 5


Final Thoughts

So, does it work?

As with most things it’s a case of yes and no. As I’m sure you’ve seen, my review of A New Hope covers many of my thoughts on the changeover between the two trilogies, and my comments on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi elaborate on how things progress across the final two episodes. In short, it is, perhaps surprisingly, not the haircuts or quality of effects that really give away the change between the two trilogies, and the 28-year gap between Episodes III and IV; rather, it’s the dramatic shift in tone, away from epic fantasy into thrilling action/adventure. This is not a bad thing, but when viewed in order it leaves you longing for Yoda and Obi-Wan to start wittering away about the fulfillment of prophecies and whatnot at the end of Episode VI.

The other thing potentially bothering is how some of the original trilogy’s plot explanations come off, considering we’ve just seen them spelt out in almost seven hours of detail. Pretty well, as it turns out — most of Obi-Wan’s explanations to Luke are surprisingly brief, coming over more as gentle reminders to the audience, or at worst well-handled instances of those always-awkward cases of “Character X must be told Information Y that audience already knows”. There’s the odd reference that doesn’t quite gel with what we’ve seen (for an example, Leia having some vague memories of her birth mother) and the lightsaber duels aren’t up to the calibre of those in the new trilogy, but that’s hardly bothersome.

If you’re a fan of the films it’s an interesting exercise to watch them in this order, and I’d recommend giving it a go. If you know someone who’s never seen them before, especially if they’re young enough to not be aware that Vader is Luke’s father, I’d say they should still watch the original trilogy first — it may still be effective in numerical order, but nothing beats that as a shocking revelation!

Star Wars – Episode VI: Return of the Jedi – DVD Edition (1983/2004)

2007 #82b
Richard Marquand | 129 mins | DVD | U / PG

Star Wars - Episode VI: Return of the JediAgain, 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! The main 1997 additions were shots of planets around the Empire following the destruction of the Death Star, and these actually improve what is otherwise a very low-key celebration. The main addition for the DVD is Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker. It doesn’t work at all; in fact, it manages to make it look as if there was never anyone there at all.

The film is still a great piece of entertainment; the speederbike chase is one of the trilogy’s greatest action sequences. And Ewoks are cute.

4 out of 5

My thoughts on the Star Wars saga as a whole — including more detail on Return of the Jedi — can be read here.