Wednesday, September 14, 2016

RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) - ****

Rated PG for sci-fi action violence
Running time: 131 min.
Release date: May 25, 1983

Return of the Jedi is the third chapter (or the sixth, according to the opening crawl) in the Star Wars story. It picks up where The Empire Strikes Back left off, with our heroes searching the galaxy for Han Solo and Luke Skywalker coming to terms with the revelation that Darth Vader is his father. George Lucas has ingrained these characters into our culture and made us care about their story. Director Richard Marquand has wrapped the story into spectacular settings and awesome visual effects. Return of the Jedi is not the strongest of the three films, but it still stands up as a very good film on its own terms.

This chapter of the story opens with Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) arriving on a new Death Star still under construction. Work is behind schedule, apparently, and Vader is there to menacingly motivate the crew to double their efforts because the Emperor is arriving soon. Meanwhile, on the planet Tatooine, Jabba the Hutt holds court in his palace, which is the scene of much revelry and debauchery. Through the droids, C-3PO and R2-D2, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) sends Jabba a message, offering him the chance to turn Han Solo (Harrison Ford) over or face consequences. Jabba scoffs at this and carries on, while a bounty hunter brings in a captured Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). It turns out that the bounty hunter is a disguised Leia (Carrie Fisher), who frees Han from his carbonite freezing. Han, who is temporarily blinded, is reunited with Leia and Chewbacca, but Jabba is onto them and imprisons Han and Chewie, while keeping Leia around as a scantily-clad muse. Luke arrives and is tricked into falling into a pit, where he battles a large beast that wants nothing more than to feed. Luke bests the monster and Jabba has had enough of all this treachery.

The scene moves to the desert, where Jabba and his party are aboard a floating barge. Luke, Han and the gang are to be sent into the Saarlac, which is essentially a large mouth in the sand lined with teeth and tentacles. We get a battle for life and death, as our heroes foil the plans of Jabba and send the bad guys careening into the Saarlac one by one. A couple of near death experiences would just be par for the course, but everyone survives and we're off to our next adventure. After being mentioned by name in the first two films, we finally got to meet Jabba the Hutt. As a giant disgusting slug-like creature, he was certainly dangerous-looking. The first 35 minutes of the film are devoted to this rescue mission and it was certainly exciting, but it would have certainly been more interesting if we had learned why Luke's Jedi mind-tricks didn't work on Jabba.

The rebels learn that there is yet another Death Star threatening their existence and it needs to be destroyed. Meanwhile, Luke heads back to Dagobah to continue his training, but learns that Yoda is sick and near death. It is hear that Luke learns that Yoda and Obi-Wan knew the truth about Vader all along, and that there is yet another Skywalker out there. Luke pieces things together and we get another big reveal. Luke rejoins the others in their plan to land on the forest moon of Endor in order to disable a shield that would allow a team of fighters, led by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), to invade the new Death Star and destroy it much like the original. The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) arrives on the Death Star and plots with Vader to bring Luke into the fold of the Dark Side. Down on Endor, the gang runs into stormtroopers and we get a high-speed chase through the forest and we also get to meet furry little creatures with a fighting spirit called Ewoks. After a somewhat awkward conversation with Leia, Luke willingly turns himself over to Vader, as Luke hopes that he can find the good in his evil father.

This all leads to battles in the forest of Endor, aerial battles in space and the inevitable battle between Luke and Vader. All of this is expertly spliced together at a breakneck pace by Richard Marquand. There are some light moments in the action mostly provided by the cuddly/vicious Ewoks as their primitive fighting style proves to get the best of the high-tech weaponry of the Empire. The conclusion to the lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader meets a highly satisfactory and emotional ending, in one of the best scenes of the entire series at this point. George Lucas wraps everything up quite nicely

If Return of the Jedi has any drawbacks it is the repetition of having to destroy yet another Death Star. I felt that this was a rather uncreative way to develop an evil threat to overcome. Another fault in the film is the awkward acting of Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher in their important scene together, where Luke reveals a big secret to Leia. It may have partly been the script, but it felt odd and somewhat hammy. On the plus side, however, Darth Vader's character is and should be the focus of this chapter, as he redeems himself with just one act of selflessness. Aside from the quibbles about another Death Star and some questionable acting, Return of the Jedi is a satisfactory conclusion to the story and a very good film that could have been an excellent one.

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