Film Review: ‘Return of the Jedi’

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Courtesy of Everett Collection

There is good news, bad news and no news about “Return of the Jedi.” The good news is that George Lucas and Co. have perfected the technical magic to a point where almost anything and everything — no matter how bizarre — is believable. The bad news is the human dramatic dimensions have been sorely sacrificed. The no news is the picture will take in millions regardless of the pluses and minuses.

As heralded, “Jedi” is the conclusion of the middle trilogy of George Lucas’ planned nine-parter and suffers a lot in comparison to the initial “Star Wars” [1977], when all was fresh. One of the apparent problems is neither the writers nor the principal performers are putting in the same effort.

Telegraphed in the preceding “Empire Strikes Back” [1980], the basic dramatic hook this time is Mark Hamilll’s quest to discover – and do something about – the true identity of menacing Darth Vader, while resisting the evil intents of the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid). Unfortunately, this sets up a number of dramatic confrontations that fall flat.

Though perfectly fine until now as daringly decent Luke Skywalker, Hamill is not enough of a dramatic actor to carry the plot load here, especially when his partner in so many scenes is really little more than an oversized gas pump, even if splendidly voiced by James Earl Jones.

Even worse, Harrison Ford, who was such an essential element of the first two outings, is present more in body than in spirit this time, given little to do but react to special effects. And it can’t be said that either Carrie Fisher or Billy Dee Williams rise to previous efforts.

But Lucas and director Richard Marquand have overwhelmed these performer flaws with a truly amazing array of creatures, old and new, plus the familiar space hardware. The first half-hour, in fact, has enough menacing monsters to populate a dozen other horror pics on their own.

The good guys this time are allied with a new group, the Ewoks, a tribe of fuzzy sweet little creatures that continually cause ahhs among the audience (and will doubtlessly sell thousands of dolls). Carrying their spears and practicing primitive rites, they also allow Lucas to carry on the “Star Wars” tradition of borrowing heavily from familiar serial scenes.

Though slow to pick up the pace and saddled with an anticlimatic sequence at the finish, “Jedi” is nonetheless reasonably fast paced for its 133-minute length, a visual treat throughout. But lets hope for some new and more involving characters in the next chapters or more effort and work for the old.



Related reviews:
“Star Wars”
“The Empire Strikes Back”
“Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace”
“Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones”
“Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith”

1983: Best Special Visual Effects

Nominations: Best Art Direction, Original Score, Sound, Sound Editing

Film Review: ‘Return of the Jedi’

  • Production: Lucasfilm/20th Century-Fox. Director Richard Marquand; Producer Howard Kazanjian; Screenplay Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas; Camera Alan Hume; Editor Sean Barton, Marcia Lucas, Duwayne Dunham; Music John Williams; Art Director Norman Reynolds. Reviewed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Beverly Hills, May 9, 1983. (MPAA rating: PG.)
  • Crew: (Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1983. Running time: 133 MIN.
  • With: Luke Skywalker - Mark Hamill Han Solo - Harrison Ford Princess Leia - Carrie Fisher Lando Calrissian - Billy Dee Williams C-3PO - Anthony Daniels Chewbacca - Peter Mayhew Emperor - Ian McDiarmid Darth Vader - David Prowse Vader voice - James Earl Jones Ben Kenobi - Alec Guiness Yoda - Frank Oz Anakin Skywalker - Sebastian Shaw R2-D2 - Kenny Baker