Despite production problems, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back was still a massive success critically and commercially. On a $23 million budget, the film grossed over $180 million upon release, making it the highest-grossing film of 1980. Much like the previous film, Lucas chose to once again self-finance the film, but not direct the film. Irvin Kershner couldn’t return to direct as he went off the do Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery. Initially, Lucas wanted Steven Spielberg to direct, but he was banned due to disputes with the Director’s Guild of America. So, Lucas offered the job to David Lynch and David Cronenberg, both of whom declined, before settling on Richard Marquand. Lawrence Kasdan returned to write the screenplay with Lucas, and much of the original cast returned as well. So, in 1983, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi was released.
Following the previous film, Luke (Mark Hamill) and crew attempt to rescue Han (Harrison Ford) from crimelord Jabba the Hutt. After the rescue, the others go rendezvous with the Rebel Alliance while Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training. Meanwhile, the Galactic Empire has been working on constructing a new Death Star with The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) overseeing it. On Dagobah, Luke consults with a dying Yoda (Frank Oz), who confirms that Darth Vader is his father. He’s also visited by Obi-Wan’s ghost (Alec Guinness), who informs him that Leia (Carrie Fisher) is his twin sister. Back with the Rebels, they plan a ground assault on a shield generator protecting the Death Star with Han leading. Lando (Billy Dee Williams) leads the fleet attacking the Death Star once the shield is shut down. It all culminates in a battle on land, in space, and within the Death Star.
Of the original trilogy, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi is a somewhat flawed but enjoyable conclusion. It’s still a fun and exciting space opera, but it isn’t nearly as dark or heavy as the last film. While there are plenty of dramatic and emotional scenes, there’s also weirdly forced comedic moments thrown in every so often. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and they don’t detract from the rest of the film. Acting-wise, everyone still puts in a good performance, with Ian McDiarmid stealing the show as the villainous and sinister Emperor. With his evil cackling laugh, raspy voice, and intense demeanor, he makes for a fantastic villain alongside Darth Vader. Speaking of villains, Jabba the Hutt is one of the most impressive visual effects ever made, especially for puppetry. Plus, the last third of the film is everything a big sci-fi spectacle should be.
In terms of direction, Richard Marquand does a fine job, but it lacks the dynamic look of Irvin Kershner’s style. As I mentioned before, the film has odd comedic moments that don’t exactly gel with the rest of it. In particular, some of the scenes in Jabba’s palace and especially when the Ewoks are introduced are definite weak spots. In the case of the Ewoks, they’re not terrible and they do contribute to the last act, so that’s something. However, there’s something about them that feels corporate as if they were introduced solely to be cute and sell merchandise. As for the special edition changes, the ones here are especially bad, either being distracting or ruining otherwise good scenes. While I have my issues with the film regardless of the changes, this still works as a satisfying conclusion. Overall, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi is enjoyable fun.
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