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” , 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” , 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.
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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.
1983: Best Special Visual Effects
Nominations: Best Art Direction, Original Score, Sound, Sound Editing