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Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983 - PG - 134 Mins.
Director: Richard Marquand
Producer: George Lucas
Written By: George Lucas
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels
Review by: John Ulmer
   
The fitting conclusion to (arguably) the most popular trilogy of all time, "Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi" is the worst entry in the series, but still a very good one. It is inferior to its predecessors, two of the greatest films ever made. But particularly for the die-hard fans, it offers an undeniable source of entertainment. As far as blockbusters go, "Return of the Jedi" is top-notch.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford), now cryogenically frozen by slug-alien Jabba the Hutt, is being held captive on a mysterious desert planet. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) both try to rescue Han, to no avail. They wind up captured, and Jabba then decides to have all of them murdered. But Luke and his friends make a daring escape with the help of all his pals -- C-3PO, R2-D2, Leia and Chewbacca -- and eventually end up on a faraway planet where they arrive under the care of the friendly "Ewoks," strange clothed, furry creatures. The Ewoks help them battle the Empire's ground forces, while the Rebels aim to destroy The Empire's new and improved Death Star.

Luke uncovers a startling secret about Leia, revisits Yoda on his death bed, and eventually comes face-to-face with Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), where he is presented with a moral dilemma.

The plot of "Return of the Jedi" is probably the least interesting of all three films, mainly because the formula wasn't quite as fresh as it had been six years beforehand. The script is sometimes sloppy: those looking for meaningful dialogue should search elsewhere. The late Richard Marquand, an esteemed director from Wales, abandoned his low-budget film resume in order to adapt Lawrence Kasdan's screenplay for the film. Compared to the direction of the first two in the saga (by George Lucas and Irvin Kershner, respectively), "Return of the Jedi" is less imaginative and far more worried with wrapping up loose ends. It throws in an extra twist towards the finale to rival "The Empire Strikes Back's" startling and iconic conclusion, but it pales in comparison.

Like most blockbusters, the highlight of "Return of the Jedi" is its action and exciting conclusion. This is not a great movie, just a very fun one that will keep you entertained throughout.

What "Return of the Jedi" *does* succeed at, in particular, are the special effects -- released in 1983, SF/X in cinema had gone through a long evolution since the original "Star Wars." With a wider range of possibilities, Marquand presents us with the best effects of all three movies. There's an exciting hovercraft chase sequence, lots of hyper-speed battles, the famous shots of space ship exteriors, and of course the "lightsaber" fights -- enough to whet the appetite of anyone looking for mere action. Marquand does a commendable job of taking over the reigns of the series and handles these action sequences with care.

Unfortunately what "Return of the Jedi" ultimately lacks -- and what makes it inferior to its predecessors -- is originality. The entire concept had grown weary by the time of "Jedi's" release, and there wasn't much left to explore. Another element that detracts from the film's quality is its rather annoying market appeal. Even more so than its siblings, "Return of the Jedi" is packed with commercial opportunities. "Star Wars" was a big-budget extravaganza unlike any other, "The Empire Strikes Back" was its dark side, and "Return of the Jedi" seems to be its cute side.

The Ewoks are pre-Jar-Jar Binks, and fortunately unable to speak, but their very presence in the film seems out-of-place. There's also Jabba the Hutt's lair, in which an odd assortment of jazz-playing puppets reside. These sequences are not intolerable but rather childish -- it seems as if Lucas, who had control over most of the production, was eager to entice younger audiences to go see the film. Fortunately these elements are tolerable and brief -- for the rest of its running time, "Return of the Jedi" stays true to its roots.

Does it still hold up 21 years later? Yes, it does. The special effects have been far surpassed by CGI but the action sequences still remain tense and exciting, particularly the infamous lightsaber battle between Luke and Darth Vader.

"Return of the Jedi" is not on the same level as its predecessors, but it is an exciting movie that manages to end the series on a high note. I can't recommend viewing this film on its own, as it wouldn't make much sense to someone who hasn't seen the predecessors, and chances are first-time viewers wouldn't be able to appreciate most of the film's conclusions. However, if you've already seen the first two, "Return of the Jedi" is a satisfying finale to one of the finest film sagas ever made, and definitely worth renting.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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