Star Wars Revisited Part VI – ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’
Welcome back to Star Wars Revisited! We’re nearing the end of the series as we head into Return of the Jedi. To recap, we’ve met Luke, Leia, and Han as they attempt to aid the Rebellion in destroying the Empire, and we’ve seen Luke’s father Anakin Skywalker grow from a young Jedi to powerful Sith Lord Darth Vader and apprentice to the evil emperor.
The movie opens back on Tatooine, as these things all too often do, while Luke and the gang attempt to rescue the carbonite-encased Han Solo from the evil Jabba the Hutt. I’m already reminded why this was my favorite Star Wars movie as a kid. The fantasy of A New Hope meets the brutality of The Godfather. The first third of the movie is essentially a heist movie that gives Ocean’s 11 a run for its money as high stakes and a higher body count lead to the rescue of Han and a daring escape.
The group splits up as they leave Tatooine. The bulk of them go back to rendezvous with the rest of the Rebellion, but Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training with Yoda. When he arrives, he finds Yoda near death and weak from old age. He’s lost much of the spunk he had just a year before. Yoda tells Luke there is nothing left to learn and confirms that Darth Vader is his father before dying. Luke then discusses this revelation with Obi-wan and learns that Leia is his twin sister before returning to the Rebellion.
When Luke arrives, they are in the middle of planning an assault on a new Death Star being constructed. They have also learned Darth Vader and the Emperor will be on the Death Star and hope to destroy the Empire in one swift action. Lando volunteers to lead the assault in space while Han leads the rest of the group onto the forest moon of Endor to shut down the shield generator.
The group immediately finds trouble when landing on Endor, but C-3PO and Leia are able to convince the local Ewok tribe to help in the assault on the shield generator. Luke tells Leia they’re twins and Vader is their father. She takes it pretty well all things considered, but the news causes tension between her and Han.
Luke leaves to confront Vader in the hopes of turning him back to the light side of the Force, and after a brief lightsaber battle he leaves his father defeated but alive. He refuses to kill Vader or join the dark side, so the Emperor takes matters into his own hands and begins attacking Luke. Vader returns to the Emperor’s side but can’t stand to see his son writhing in pain on the floor, so he kills the Emperor and has a touching moment with Luke before dying.
Han and the gang run into some trouble at the shield generator, but they’re able to destroy it just in time. Lando leads the assault and blows up the Death Star, and the Rebellion gathers on Endor to celebrate their victory.
Return of the Jedi seems to get a bad rap among fans. While aspects of it do not live up to The Empire Strikes Back, I think it is all too often seen as the Ewok movie. I’m not a huge fan of the Ewoks, but I don’t have a problem with the idea of a band of natives aiding the Rebellion against the Empire that is oppressing them. I think people would be fine with the movie if the Ewoks were Wookies or some humanoid race instead of oversized Gremlins.
I think what’s most appealing about the movie is how modern it feels. There is constant action and plot progression, and the character development is more purposeful. It isn’t as clumsy as A New Hope, and while it took a step back from The Empire Strikes Back emotionally, it took a huge step forward in special effects. The space battle at the end is particularly great and would rival any CGI fest released today.
Watching the series in this order, interspersing the prequels with the original series, has led to some very interesting moments and this is no exception. While some of the shock of Leia being Luke’s sister is lost, I took a lot more from Luke and Vader’s interactions in the third act. Pauses in conversation seemed to carry more weight. There are so many shots that linger on Vader in this movie, and I remember it bothering me in my youth. It seemed to make the movie drag, but that’s just because you can’t read emotion through his helmet. With the knowledge provided by the prequels, it was easier to understand Anakin’s redemption and see the good that Luke felt in him.
With only one movie left, we’re going to put a pin in this story and jump ahead 30 years. We’ll see some returning faces and meet the next generation of Rebels in The Force Awakens.