With the release of the seventh Star Wars film this Friday, this week is more appropriate than ever to look back at the iconic film series that brought us here. From the memorable highs of The Empire Strikes Back to the laughable lows of Attack of the Clones, join us as we recap the Star Wars saga in preparation for The Force Awakens.
Closing off the original trilogy and the entire Star Wars saga (so far), Return of the Jedi provides a very satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker story. Though, it is not without its goofy quirks.
It’s been some time since the mess of Episode V. Luke (Mark Hamill) and the rest of the usual gang initiate a daring rescue of their friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) — captured at the end of Episode V — from the lecherous Tattooinian crime lord, Jabba the Hutt. The operation is a success, albeit with a few speedbumps consisting of giant monsters, man-eating desert pits, mercenaries and exploding hover-yachts.
With the crew finally reunited, they rendezvous with the rest of the Rebel Alliance as they plan their biggest operation yet. The Galactic Empire’s second Death Star is nearly complete and needs to be destroyed. For that to happen, the Alliance needs to attack from two fronts. On the battle station’s neighboring forest moon of Endor, ground troops led by Han, Luke and Leia need to destroy the Death Star’s shield generator. As this happens, a large space-fleet of Rebel ships and fighters led by Han’s best friend, Lando Carlissian (Billy Dee Williams), will destroy the station once and for all. However, an unexpected development raises the stakes even higher: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) has arrived on the Death Star, and is personally overseeing its completion.
Unbeknownst to the Alliance, everything is proceeding according to Palpatine’s design — even deadlier that he also hides a few trump cards that could spell their doom. By his side is his apprentice, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), revealed to be Luke’s father in the previous film. Both Vader and Palpatine hope to convert Luke to the dark side, making their tight grip on the galaxy stronger than ever. Conversely, after sensing Vader’s presence and inner conflict, Luke strongly intends to bring Anakin Skywalker back to the light. After an early revelation that Leia (Carrie Fisher) is his twin sister, it is a family crisis that is now more important than ever.
With all the pieces in place, the stage is set for the grand battle between light and dark, freedom and oppression, and, finally, father and son. In effect, culminating in the largest climax the films have ever seen.
Though indeed a grand finale, Return of the Jedi is not without its problems. It is arguably the weakest in the original trilogy. The opening act involving Han’s rescue is needlessly complicated, and drags on for way too long despite having its moments. Additionally, Jabba’s palace contains some rather out-of-place whackiness, made worse by the inclusion of a cringe-worthy new music number in updated versions.
Speaking of tonal inconsistency, the introduction of Endor’s teddy bear locals, the Ewoks, creates an odd dilemma for the film. On one hand, they are genuinely adorable and induce some much needed lighthearted moments. On the other hand, their pivotal role in the film’s climax creates jarring narrative and tonal incongruity. As Luke solemnly duels Vader on the Death Star and the Rebel fleet desperately fends off an Imperial ambush, these small, furry warriors decimate “a legion of the Emperor’s best troops” with glorified “Home Alone” antics. This does not mean it’s not entertaining, but it does leave you scratching your head.
One final problem: Leia being Luke’s sister. When you give these two some romantic tension in Episode IV, then outright make out in Episode V, it’s clear that this plot twist was not well thought through.
Apart from these setbacks, everything else works very well in Jedi. Character likability and development is still properly executed, though not as interesting as in Empire. The former factor surprisingly applies well for our main villain, Emperor Palpatine. He brims with so much sinister personality and charisma that it makes you love to hate him. The relationship between Vader and Luke is also further fleshed out, especially in how it explores the remaining softness hidden within the latter. This puts so much more weight and emotion to the final duel between them.
The penultimate climax also does justice to the film’s feeling of finality. The space battle between the Rebels and the Empire has everything: drama, spectacle, and on an epic scale. It’s the climax of the original Star Wars on steroids. The only problem is that it does not get as much attention as the Ewok vs. Empire battle on the ground. However, even that is still great fun to watch despite the contrivances. Coupled with the dramatic psychological duel between Vader and Luke, it’s a final act that may leave you cheering.
Return of the Jedi may not be the perfect way to finish Luke Skywalker’s story, but it’s ignorant to say it’s not a really good one. It takes all the strings we love about this story and ties them up as best as it can.
And yet, the journey continues…