Compared to the previous two episodes in George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, Return of the Jedi comes up a little short, but it’s still a solid piece of fantasy entertainment. First the bad: where did personality and drama go? Our beloved heroes are so busy going through the motions, we get precious few character moments. The rescue of Han Solo (the whole reason to see this movie) is resolved anticlimactically within the first half-hour, and the main threat of the movie ends up being just another Death Star. Been there, blew that up already.
Now the good: Jedi is exotic. I know many people loathe the number of puppets and critters that run rampant throughout the film, but I think it enriches the story’s universe and the movie’s atmosphere. Jedi is a rarity for the sheer volume of alien creatures, all of which are tangible — not CGI (at least not in the original theatrical version, which is the only version I will watch). George Lucas and director Richard Marquand utilize everything in their cinematic arsenal — actors in prosthetics, a wide variety of puppets, and of course, midgets in teddy bear suits to fully realize a cogent and diverse galaxy far, far away. It was the last time we’d ever see these techniques used on a scale so grand, and for that reason, Jedi is somewhat precious. The film also delivers some of the trilogy’s finest action, from the spectacular assault on Jabba the Hutt’s Sail Barge to the final showdown in the stars over Endor.
Harrison Ford is on record having begged Lucas to kill off Han Solo to give the movie more emotional weight. I have to side with Ford here. Remember a year before Jedi came out, when they killed off Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? I think a moment of sacrifice like that could have rescued Return of the Jedi’s third act from predictability and would have elevated the film’s stature to match the first two films.
But whatever issues one might have with Return of the Jedi, they are probably only issues because of how perfect the two previous films are. Return of the Jedi is still a fun ride, remarkable for its artistry and craftsmanship, and way better than any of the prequel movies.
Scott studied film and sociology at Indiana University and is currently the video producer for a large publishing company. He is the director of several independent films, including "House of Hope," "Off the Beaten Path," "The Day Joe Left," and "Found." For more about Scott, visit www.scottschirmer.com. Scott is also one of the principal organizers of the Dark Carnival Film Festival. (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com)