By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Richard Marquand
- Starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams
Welcome to Star Wars Wednesdays! Every Wednesday I’ll be talking about/looking at a new piece of Star Wars media, starting with the movies and going onwards into the shows, games, and maybe even comics and books if people are interested. These will work differently from my normal reviews as they will be also discussing the piece as it works within the canon of Star Wars as a whole.
I can only imagine what the hype was like leading up to Return of the Jedi‘s release in 1983. Even beyond Star Wars, Lucasfilm had also released the immensely successful Raiders of the Lost Ark at this point, and were pretty much on top of the world. Ending a trilogy by itself is a hefty task but something like this must have been a monumental effort. And by that metric alone, I can’t help but be sympathetic to Lucas, Kasdan, and new director Richard Marquand, as the journey they had ahead was always going to unfulfillable.
Cause exactly HOW do you end the Star Wars trilogy? No what matter you do you weren’t going to please everyone, and the initial divisive reception of The Empire Strikes Back was also lingering in the back of everybody’s mind. To me, the answer is simple – you simply power forward, hope for the best, and tell the story you originally planned on telling from the beginning without much in the way of changes. The audience will be on board or they won’t, but either it will hold up better in the long run and it will allow your saga to simmer and boil rather then explode in a massive ball.
The final result of whether or not Return of the Jedi is a satisfactory conclusion is still up for debate, but for my money it mostly is, particularly in regard to the grand narrative between Luke and Vader. After the revelation in the last film, Vader’s complexities begin to take hold. No longer do you see a terrifying force of nature, but instead now you see a broken, shambled man stuck in a hell of his own making. The only way to salvation is through his son – the only person who can truly understand him. What makes Vader’s ultimate redemption work is not “fulfilling of the prophecy” or whatever else came later through retcons and Expanded Universe material, but it’s the sole dedication to protecting the last thing he was that actually cares about him as a person. Vader, and by extension Anakin, uses his one last chance at some form of peace to make sure he isn’t seen as a failure by his own child; and in the end, finds peace with himself and is finally able to be free of the grasp of the Emperor.
And then there is Luke, whose story has begun to mirror Vader’s in a lot of ways. When he cuts off Vader’s hand in anger and realizes it’s robotic, just like his own, there is a silence, a realization. Like father, like son (it’s like poetry, it rhymes); sins of the family passed down from generation to generation. And while Luke isn’t a perfect hero, especially in this film – he’s force choking people in his opening sequences for god’s sake – he’s a relatable one and his struggles are understandable. How do you deal with the revelation that your father is a tyrant? The man who has been trying to kill you for years? The audience needed Yoda to say it in order to confirm it after some audiences refused to accept it, but so did Luke. “Your father, he is”.
The rest of the movie is fun too! I’ve avoided talking about it cause I also think it mostly pales in comparison to the rest of the film, which is a shame cause there is good stuff here. The Jabba’s Palace sequence is a blast even if it feels like it came from a completely separate film as the climax to that adventure (oddly fitting for the serial nature of Star Wars though), and everything on Endor is perfect classic Star Wars goodness. It also, unfournately, is starting to feel a bit samey. The second Death Star is inherently a lazy ticking clock as it’s just a repeat of Episode IV where it’s not only done better but also actually adds to the film. Here it’s mainly used as a setpiece driver which is fine, it just has less depth.
And then, we have the Luke and Leia sibling reveal which still doesn’t work. This is the one great misstep of the original trilogy, a plot reveal so out of nowhere that it took an entire prequel trilogy to properly explain. And while it did end up working in the grand picture of the saga (like most retcons), as a standalone event in the trilogy it’s simply there to resolve a love triangle the series clearly had zero interest in continuing. Han and Leia are a great couple, don’t get me wrong, and I do like how the film has them together throughout instead of bickering, but Leia being Luke’s sister is still a hard pill to swallow all these years later.
It’s a satisfying conclusion though, when all is said and done. The emotional arcs are finished, which is the real important thing and while yes, there is still clearly more adventures to be had, they can be told later and through other means. The tale of Luke and Vader has completed, and finally there is peace. It is a happy ending, if somewhat bittersweet, and while it’s story would eventually continue 32 years later, as a temporary ending I wouldn’t ask for anything else.