Interestingly, “Return of the Jedi” is the lowest-rated film in the original “Star Wars” trilogy, according to Rotten Tomatoes (though a 79 percent score is still more than respectable). In the past I’ve rated it below “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” on my personal ranking, as well. Despite closing out the trilogy, it can’t *quite* rise to the same heights as “Empire,” with its huge, surprise plot twist (Darth Vader is Luke’s father!) and its uncertain ending.
Yet for whatever reason (and nostalgia’s probably playing a pretty big role here, especially with the new movie coming out this week), I liked “Return of the Jedi” more this time than any of the previous times I’ve watched it. I’m pretty sentimental when it comes to “Star Wars,” so I’m definitely not a very tough critic in regards to these movies. 😉 Although the movies do have their weaknesses, overall the saga has aged very well and hasn’t really lost any of its magic. It’s is an imaginative adventure with a surprisingly poignant and powerful ending.
You probably already know the plot of “Return of the Jedi”: Luke, Leia, and their friends rescue Han (still frozen in carbonite) from Jabba the Hutt, then the Rebels launch an attack on the new Death Star, with Luke eventually redeeming his father from the dark side and destroying the evil Emperor.
The scenes at Jabba’s Tatooine hideout are pretty cool, though it’s interesting how little screen time fan-favorite Boba Fett actually gets in the film. I wish we’d actually gotten to see him do a little more fighting in the movie. Fans are divided on how they feel about the “Star Wars” prequels, but I thought they did give Fett a pretty cool backstory — his father creates the clones that are the precursors to the Stormtroopers. I definitely hope they’ll move forward with a solo film for Boba Fett so we actually get to see him in action.
I like the battle on the forest moon of Endor also. The speeder bike chase scene is great, and while some fans aren’t crazy about the “teddy bear”-like Ewoks, I think we can all agree they are still lightyears better than Jar Jar Binks. 😉 I think the best scene in the movie, though, is Luke’s final confrontation with the Emperor and Darth Vader.
While Han Solo was my favorite “Star Wars” character growing up (and still is) and Darth Vader is my all-time favorite movie villain, this re-watch I found myself actually paying the most attention to Luke’s story arc. He starts the first film as an idealistic farm boy with a sense of wanderlust and a thirst for adventure. The war against the Empire dampens that idealism somewhat, but as he transforms into a more world-weary Jedi Knight, he never gives up hope. He’s probably the only person in the galaxy who believes his father Darth Vader can be turned back from the dark side, but his persistence, and his belief in the power of the light side of the force, eventually save his father — and the galaxy.
Again, not all fans like the prequels, but they do give Darth Vader a heartbreaking backstory that pays off in the end. Although he falls from the light and destroys his family and the Jedi Order, in the end he sacrifices his own life to save his son, who restores the Jedi Order. I think it’s interesting that although Darth Vader wears a supposedly expressionless helmet, you can still sense his emotional struggle during the final third of the film, thanks in large part to John Williams’ musical cues.
I also noticed a parallel to “Revenge of the Sith”: in the beginning of that movie, a young Anakin battles Count Dooku, the current apprentice of Emperor Palpatine (who at this point is still masquerading as the innocent leader of the Republic). Palpatine urges Anakin to kill Dooku, completing his journey to the dark side. Palpatine does the same thing in “Return of the Jedi,” except he’s encouraging Luke to kill Darth Vader. That had to be devastating for Vader; he sacrificed his life as a Jedi to serve the Emperor, and now the Emperor is just casting Vader aside. That’s why it’s so powerful when Luke refuses to fight his father, and Darth Vader decides it’s finally time to come back to the light, sacrificing himself to destroy the Emperor and save his son.
The ending is bittersweet, with the Rebels celebrating a victory over the Empire and Luke honoring his father’s death and sacrifice. I always get a little lump in my throat during that funeral pyre scene (darn you, John Williams and your musical swells!). It’s a great ending to my favorite film saga.
Except, now the “Return of the Jedi” isn’t an ending anymore. This week, we’ll get to find out what happens next. I really do hope Luke hasn’t become a dark side villain, because that would dampen the ending of “Return of the Jedi” for me, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see!