My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

To wrap up the reviews, we turn to the third film released in the series, sixth in the chronology and a guaranteed fanbase-splitter. Return of the Jedi is essentially the second half of The Empire Strikes Back, which unfortunately gives it the great burden of resolving every plotline opened in the previous. Will Han Solo return? Will Princess Leia return to his arms? Will Luke return to Dagobah to complete his training? Will Darth Vader return with the Imperial forces to tempt Luke again? So there really is a lot of returning involved in the story. The title seems like a natural fit. There’s another level to the title as well, with the return not just of the Jedi through Luke, but the return of the fallen Jedi, Vader. The hero returns from the Dark Side thanks to the loving redemption of his son.

Jedi also has to concern itself with resolving the rebellion’s war against the Empire since this is the last film. This winds up complicating Jedi by a fair amount, which plays into the fanbase split over it.

Empire is a much more personal story. Jedi has to sacrifice some of its intimacy for the sake of moving the larger background plot along. Instead of getting a resolution scene between Han and Lando, for instance, we all just have to assume that Chewbacca filled him in that Lando had made moves to redeem himself. Instead of a more intimate reuniting between the three leads at the end, it’s couched within a larger celebration scene.

What Works

These are not knocks against the film. In fact, for me it’s what makes it work. The entire story is about resolution and there’s not a plot stone unturned. Vader’s story is both expanded and resolved; everything we knew about him from the previous films is turned on its head when we meet the Emperor (referenced briefly in A New Hope). Though we see him kneel before a hologram in Empire, we actually see someone so unafraid of Vader as to chastise him openly. Moff Jerjerrod actually mouths off to Vader a little bit at the beginning of the film, whereas mere mention of the Emperor makes him practically wet himself.

That was off-putting enough for the producer of the first two, Gary Kurtz, to walk from the production to pursue other projects. According to at least one source I’ve read, Kurtz adamantly disagreed with Lucas diminishing Vader in such a way.

I never had any problem with it. Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films, largely for a lot of these story aspects. Now that it’s couched in the larger saga of all six films, the story works even better. Again, to draw a comparison to the Lord of the Rings book, I imagine that if you read Return of the King without Fellowship of the Ring, certain story elements would be off-putting. Tom Bombadil once again comes to mind.

What Could Have Worked Better

Most everyone loves to knock on the Ewoks, but they make sense in a certain way. If you look at the Emperor scenes, Jabba the Hutt’s court, the battle at the Sarlacc, Yoda’s death, the revelation of Vader being Luke’s father, Luke nearly going to the Dark Side and the intense action of the space battle, Jedi actually skews darker than Empire. The Ewoks lighten the tone a bit and evoke the Munchkins from Wizard of Oz; Lucas has also said that they’re supposed to evoke the Vietnam war, which seems a little insane.

I also like to throw out there that if you really watch the battle, the Ewoks were getting their asses handed to them until Chewbacca jumped in and took over the AT-ST. Just saying.

Matte painting of the Mon Calamari Hangar
Seriously, I know it’s weird. I just don’t like this matte painting, or the one behind Lando in the next few shots. They don’t match the models.

The design sensibilities seem a bit off in Jedi, which is unfortunate. The Rebel cruiser briefing room, for instance, is pristinely clean and sterile. The walls are unmarked white. The uniforms are pressed. This reads inconsistent visually with the rest of the rebel forces we’ve ever seen. The cinematography is a bit off on the indoor “outside” sets as well, especially when Luke talks with Leia and Vader. Whether this is because for those scenes they wanted so much secrecy and so had a skeleton crew, I don’t know. I hope that at some point that question gets answered.

I’ll also say that the matte painting of the rebel hangar drives me insane and I wish they’d “Special Edition” it. It’s always bothered me.

The pacing after the escape from Jabba the Hutt is also disjointed. From the gathering at the rebel fleet to Luke’s departure to see Vader, the story feels a little forced, as if they were struggling with how to get the characters where they needed to be. There are some terrific moments, such as the Speeder Bike chase and Vader sensing Luke’s approach to Endor, but the flow is not what it should be.

Special Edition Changes

The improved Sarlacc is a non-event for me. I could have lived without it, I don’t care that it’s there.

The improved celebration montage is exactly that: improved. I never disliked the Ewok celebration, but the new ending actually brings the entire series together and gives a real sense of the scope of the victory. The musical scene at Jabba’s palace, including the extended fate of Oola the green dancer, is another one of those things that I could have lived without, but I like the sense of fun and whimsy attached to it. Also, as much as I have an emotional connection to the song Lapti Nek, it was a terrible 1980s synth-laden workout song, so I’m not one to mourn its passing.

Three Blue Ghosts
The Real Anakin appears to Luke, not the broken shell who caused him pain and sorrow. I imagine that if I become a horrible person before my girls ever know me, and I find redemption and have the opportunity to show them who I was before I was terrible, I’ll take it.

Which brings us to Hayden Christensen’s insert at the end for the 2004 DVD release. I like it and not just to be contrarian as at least two of my friends have accused of me. it rings more true for at least two main reasons. The first is, as a spiritual projection, Anakin is making an effort to show his son what he looked like before he was a hideously disfigured half-machine monster. The second is that, when I “see” relatives who have died, I don’t see them as they were at the end. I see them as the vibrant people of the happy times in my life. I’ve actually blogged about this in greater detail before, in the first blog I ever wrote.

To anticipate a certain counter-argument, Obi-Wan and Yoda knew Luke in life and had a positive influence on him in such a way that there’s no need for them to appear in a way he never knew.

The Final Analysis

As I said earlier, Return of the Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films. It remains so, thanks to its place in the larger story arc formed by all six. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect enough. Williams’ theme for the Emperor is freaking awesome, a perfect zombie horror counterpoint to the gentle serenity of Yoda’s theme. The theme actually sounds like the music you’d expect for the Lord of the Undead.

There are missteps in the middle again, as there were with Empire, but Jedi has some moments of editing wizardry that blow my mind to this day. The Battle at the Sarlacc is amazingly perfect; according to notes from the annotated screenplays, the negative processors sent a note back with the final version that said that one sequence contained more cuts than most films. Much like the Factory scene in Attack of the Clones or the desert truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it holds up as one of the most tightly-edited action sequences ever.

So that’s it. I’ll be taking a break from Star Wars for a little bit now, but I just got a wild hair and promised myself I’d write these this year.

Now I can focus on more important things like beating up on Star Trek fans.

19 thoughts on “My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

  1. Ok, we have way more agreement here than on any other. I would count Jedi as my favorite as well. I have so say that I love the idea of the Ewoks. I just don’t like that they looked like Teddy Bears. There were supposed to be wookies. Wookies would have been awesome, but because of Chewbacca, they couldn’t be wookies. They had to be something else. Teddy Bears was the wrong choice.

    That being said, I love the theme of redemption that flies through the whole movie, from Lando to Anacin. Good stuff. I love that it was Luke’s love, not just for his father, but also for his sister, that brings Anacin back.

    The chemistry between these characters is palpable, and just not nearly as present between the actors in the prequels. If not for the Ewoks, I’d rate this the best of them all.

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    1. It’s not that the Ewoks are my favorite thing in the world, it’s just that it’s sort of a “meh” thing for me. It’d be like saying “they didn’t have to be Munchkins” at the beginning of Wizard of Oz. 🙂

      Glad we can partially agree on something. LOL

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  2. I have quite a bit to say (surprise, surprise) about these “honest” reviews, but I am choosing to let it go, as it is your playground.

    Only criticism I could offer is that you reference Lucas’ other works a little too often, making these less reviews, and more overall commentary on how Lucas was able to bring his other works into a more broadly appreciated context.

    I will simply say that having read all six, you are a little too close to these films to offer truly honest, and dare I say, brutal reviews. Not a criticism, as I would never attempt it, knowing I would suffer similar type biases. These are not objective, not by a long shot, but that’s okay. On a blog entitled “Kessel Junkie” there’s no reason to expect brutal honesty about the films.

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    1. Here are the issues with your comment:

      Simply because I see roses where you see thorns isn’t a reason to question whether I’m capable of honesty, silly.

      Referring to Lucas’ other work is a completely valid use of ‘reference points.’ To wit, one can review a Picasso and refer to another ‘period’ of his work for the sake of comparison.

      Do I lack ‘brutality’? Brutality is called for in certain situations (such as fighting); I don’t think it’s called for in movie reviews. Perhaps I’ve softened with age.

      You can’t use the same set of criteria for every genre of film. I enjoyed all of these films: Tron: Legacy, Shutter Island, The Machinist, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Expendables. I didn’t use the same criteria for each.

      The blog’s title is ‘kessel korner’. My name is kesseljunkie. :-p

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      1. I’ll give you the last two, but my point remains… It is tough to see these posts as honest reviews when they come from an admittedly huge fan. No matter what you think of your own abilities, you objectivity is totally shot from the word go. Has nothing to do with your (you opened this up, really) rose-colored glasses where these films are concerned.

        As I said, it’s not a criticism. I doubt you’d be able to be totally honest about any flaws in your children (which is a very good thing). You are simply too close. That’s all.

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  3. Ah, but Tony — let me just slide in this polite retort.

    I didn’t say I looked at things through rose colored glasses, I said that I see roses where you see thorns: meaning that both exist, but I approach from the positive whereas you would seem to be looking at the negative first.

    The presumption can be that because I’ve been a big fan through the years, I’ve somehow lied to myself. In fact, there’s one person who heatedly used pretty much those exact words with me a couple times in the past.

    But just because my opinion is perceived to be of the minority, doesn’t invalidate its honesty in some way. Think of it this way: I’m not giving it a positive review because I’m a fan, I’m a fan because I can honestly give it a positive review.

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  4. Parts of the Ewok scenes feel a little too cutesy-goofy in comparison to the rest of the film series, but like you, it never really bothered me that much. I loved seeing the redwood forests in all their glory, and the design of the Ewok culture is really neat. Truthfully though, I haven’t analyzed the three films myself enough to pick one favorite, although if I did choose it would be between the first two. You make good arguments for Jedi, though; even your argument for Hayden Christensen’s appearance is impressive and almost has me swayed–the only reason I’m still not happy with it is because I cannot stand his portrayal of Anakin. But in the end, I’m happy loving all three films without the need to choose between them!

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    1. Oh, give me time. I’ll sway you on Anakin. He wasn’t what we expected, but he’s actually a very similar character to Luke, even in portrayal.

      Ewoks are the Munchkins in Wizard of Oz in fur. The panning shot of their village – including the reveal of the babies – to my eye is a purposeful homage to that. I get what you’re saying, though.

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