The year that is about to pass was supposed to be the year of Godzilla. However, that unfortunate film by Devlin and Emmerich would be remembered less by its own quality than by the unprecedented marketing campaign and its main slogan "Size does matter". Intended to symbolise the supremacy of quantity over quality in contemporary Hollywood, that slogan was also a direct challenge to Star Wars fans with its mockery of immortal words of Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars fans were enraged, and Lucasfilm briefly cashed on the sentiment with its own marketing campaign for Star Wars: Episode One with the words "Plot does matter" as its rebuttal of Devlin Emmerich claims. Some Star Wars fans welcomed that move, while the others were more cynical. "Plot does matter? Really? To the same people who gave us Return of the Jedi?" Those were the words of my friend who is also an avid Star Wars fan and who simply can't forgive Lucas for the disappointment he had experienced with the third film of the original Star Wars saga.
Perhaps it would be too harsh to put Devlin-Emmerich's Godzilla and Return of the Jedi in the same basket. Those two movies are undoubtedly light years away in their quality. In the case of the latter, bad reputation was deserved mostly because it failed to reach the extremely high standards of cinematic and artistic perfection, set by its two great predecessors - Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. I noticed this things even when I had seen the film for the first time, almost a decade and half ago. For me it was a bitter-sweet occasion - the last film of the great saga that had used to capture my imagination. But I was disappointed; partly because I grew up and my movie going preferences matured; partly because I knew what was going to happen in the final part of the trilogy; and partly because the Return of the Jedi was really bad in comparison with the previous two films. To this day, I watch Return of the Jedi, but only as the last film of the trilogy; never as original and captivating works of art like previous two films. Without them, Return of the Jedi is a mildly entertaining second-rate science fiction spectacle, not very different from an average infantile blockbusters that almost ruined the genre in the mid 1980s.
Problems of the Return of the Jedi begin with the plot which had to solve the cliffhanger from the previous film and also to finish the trilogy. The story begins with the attempts of the small band of Rebels, led by Jedi knight Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill), to free their comrade Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford) from the clutches of evil galactic crime lord Jabba the Hut. Despite being imprisoned by Jabba themselves, our heroes succeed in freeing Solo, but now they are faced with a greater and more important challenge. Evil Galactic Empire is building the new version of Death Star, battle station able to destroy entire planets. The construction site is in a orbit of a forrest moon of Endor, so Rebels carry out the commando raid on a power generator on the moon's surface, which would make station vulnerable to the attack of the entire Rebel fleet. Rebels don't know that the evil lord Darth Vader (played by David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones, face by Sebastian Shaw) and Emperor himself (played by Ian McDiarmid) are on the station and that they have some sinister plans of their own. The raid on the surface doesn't go well, until the Rebels find help in the form of Ewoks, primitive but brave natives that look like teddy bears. In the meantime, Luke feels that he must finally confront his oldest nemesis and father, lord Vader, and try to snatch him away from the dark side of the Force.
The need to wrap up the story forced the screenwriters - Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas - to cut corners, but in the process they sacrificed plausibility and in some instances even contradicted themselves (like in case of Vader's true loyalty to the Emperor). Some bad guys are conveniently present in the movie only to receive their comeuppance (Boba Fett), some nine hundred years old people decide to die just in the course of the film, only to provide some cheap melodrama (Yoda), and some of the new additions to the story are almost on the level of daytime soap operas (Leia Organa as Luke's long lost sister). Such decisions are responsible for Return of the Jedi having the weakest script in the trilogy. In previous two films we saw what could happen to our heroes and we learned to care for them; here we don't have to. In the beginning, almost all of them are in the hands of the evil Jabba, but we simply know that they would get away without the scratch. Even their lines aren't as powerful as they were in previous two films. Leia, who used to be feminist icon in the first movie, is now reduced to object of Jabba's infantile lust in the first part of Jedi. Original characters - Jabba and the Emperor - are intended to be cannon fodder, so they weren't very developed. Jabba is nothing more than grotesque, and Emperor looks like a caricature of Death in Bergman's Seventh Seal. His sadistic evilness is deprived of any seductive quality, and without it he is reduced into less complex and second-rate villain. Forced again to play stereotypes, actors didn't have much opportunity to excel. Hamill is here, unlike previous two films, better than Ford, who unsuccessfully tries to turn romance with Carrie Fisher's Leia back into unresolved sexual tension.
The look of the film is good, though. Six years have passed since the first film, so the special effects technology has improved. Sadly, in some instances, those effects look cheaper. The worst example is the beginning in the Jabba's palace - pandemonium of different and bizarre aliens looks too much like a bad episode of Muppet Show, and the obvious blue screen of the Luke's fight with Rancor monster haven't been improved even in the Special Edition. On the other hand, space battle in the end, with literally hundreds of different spaceships fighting each other, looks really stunning. Same is with the forest battle between Ewoks and Imperial stormtroopers. Scenery of the desert planet Tatooine, forest moon Endor and ominous empty halls of Death Star is really grand and impressive. Musical score by John Williams is good, although it doesn't offer anything new or especially memorable, with the exception of the final duel between Luke and Vader.
However, the biggest addition to the visual identity of the Jedi is also the most notorious one - Ewoks. Perhaps it was really nice idea to introduce the primitive race able to cope with technologically superior enemy (Lucas in interviews said that he was partly inspired by the U.S. experience in Vietnam, although Ursulla K. Le Guin's novel A Word for World Is Forrest could also be seen as a source of inspiration), but it was compromised in the moment when Ewoks became teddy bears, obviously intended to provide huge profits as toys. For many hard core science fiction fans, including the fans of the trilogy, Ewoks are the symbol ofinfantilism that reigned supreme in Hollywood in 1980s. Movies like JEDI were the reason why people stopped considering SF to be genre for adults, and thus the Ewoks became the object of intense hatred among hard core SF people. One of the most bizarre expressions of that feeling is the Endor Holocaust theory, that can be found on some Star Wars sites, and that gives entirely different spin on the final moments of the film. Perhaps the only redeeming quality of the Ewoks is their innocence towards the world of the Star Wars - the scene when C3PO tells them the epic saga is probably the most moving and, in the same time, most charming moment of the entire film.
Despite the Ewoks, and despite the alarmingly low quality of screenplay, Return of the Jedi remains a good piece of cinema. It is far from perfection, and far from the heights reached by its two predecessors, but it still can entertain the audience - not just the children who would enjoy Ewoks, not the usual family crowd but even the ordinary space opera aficionados, even those who fell in love with Star Wars saga. As a film per se, Return of the Jedi is a very good entertainment; but as a part of a saga, it works beautifully despite all of its flaws. The end sequence - in its original form and in the "improved" version of the Special Edition (the author of this review prefers the former) - is the reason enough to watch this film.
RATING: 7/10 (+++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on January 1st 1999)
Brave browser: https://brave.com/dra011
BTC donations: 1EWxiMiP6iiG9rger3NuUSd6HByaxQWafG
ETH donations: 0xB305F144323b99e6f8b1d66f5D7DE78B498C32A7