The Empire grows ever stronger and the Rebel Alliance are reduced to desperate measures. In orbit around the forest moon of Endor, a new Death Star has almost completed its construction, shielded from attack by a force field emanating from a base on the moon's surface. Lord Darth Vader (David Prowse and James Earl Jones) himself has now arrived on the new station and encourages the officer in charge to step up work in time for the arrival of his master, the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid). Meanwhile, the Rebels gather for one last assault but before budding Jedi knight Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) can join them, he must travel to his home planet to save his old friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford), now the property of ruthless crime boss Jabba the Hutt...
After the excitement of The Empire Strikes Back, the final instalment of the Star Wars saga promised to be something special. Producer George Lucas co-wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan and put the emphasis on spectacle once more, but there was something lacking in the film. It wasn't that it appeared to be pitched at a lower age level than its predecessors, it was that the characters had been written as less complex and Lucas's insistence on relying on archetypes for his plotting meant that Return of the Jedi was a lot more straightforward than it needed to be. And the family ties that fuelled the narrative were a lot less engaging.
If, however, it was action you sought, then this episode delivered as it built up to the Rebels' climactic assault on the still in development Death Star mark two. Before all that, our heroes had to rescue Solo, still encased in carbonite as he had been at the end of Empire, and so a contingent of familiar characters infiltrated Jabba the Hut's palace. Jabba was an amusingly decadent creation, enormously bulky and waited on hand and foot by his minions, but sly nevertheless. When Luke shows up asking not only for Solo but his other friends whom Jabba has captured in their rescue attempt, he keeps telling him he'll be sorry if he doesn't comply with him.
And Jabba is indeed sorry, as much punished for subjecting Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) to gratuitous sexism - she ends up dressed in a gold bikini as his slave, briefly - as he is for his mercenary ways. This shows up the film's themes of the underdog succeeding against the odds, yet there can't have been many in the audience who expected the evil Empire to win. The Emperor doesn't even make a persuasive case, as once he has Luke within reach on the Death Star, he settles for a campaign of needling, preferring to goad Luke to give into his hate and join the Dark Side of the Force. He doesn't half go on.
While Luke is tempted by a further light sabre duel, his friends are down on Endor meeting what for many fans was a sticking point: the Ewoks. They were the locals, essentially a tribe of teddy bears who end up assisting the Rebels and patently designed to make you go awww... Which was fine for kids, but the adult fans were thinking, hey, I was serious about Star Wars and now it's more like a kid's TV show with jokes to match. Then there was the manner in which the storylines were resolved, all neat and tidy and anticlimactic in their convenience. The revelation this time around doesn't match the previous one for resonance, and even adds an uncomfortable element when you recall, say, the big smacker one character planted on another in the fifth episode. Maybe Empire built up too many expectations, for many other series this would be a fine way to end, but it was little wonder that many fans wanted more. Music by John Williams.
Maybe it's time to admit, for all the philosophical bluster and yearning for subtext, Star Wars and co. are kids movies at heart. But kids movies have depths too. For me, Return of the Jedi delivers a poetic conclusion to the saga that undercuts most academics theory of it being a straight American narrative (ie. Against all odds the hero wins riches and fame and gets the girl). Luke loses all his mentors; he can't possibly get the girl; an obscure politician (Mon Mothma) winds up running the galaxy. Luke has sacrificed everything and is destined to be a lonely footnote in galactic history. That strikes me as rather poignant.
3 Jan 2008
I don't think Luke has sacrificed everything considering how the importance of friends is such a strong theme, and he still has them all at the end, plus the respect of his mentors (in ghost form). And there's always the lecture circuit if he wants to make a bit of cash.
The best kids movies don't talk down to you, whatever your age, and that's what I felt Jedi was doing. I didn't get that impression with, say, The Wizard of Oz or The Railway Children, to name two classics. Or even the original Star Wars for that matter.