Big Screen Streaming: The Return of the Jedi

Big Screen Streaming: Star Wars – Return of the Jedi

-Film Reviewed by Roger Market

NOTE: The following review may contain spoilers for the other episodes in the Star Wars series.

The next chapter in the Star Wars universe, The Force Awakens, debuts in U.S. theaters on December 18. Now is the time to catch up on the saga. Viewers, however, have a major decision to make regarding the best way to watch, and diehard fans have strong opinions on the matter. One option is to watch the series from the chronological beginning, even though the “first” three films (technically, the prequels) were made decades after the original trilogy; watching the movies out of the original order may ruin some surprises. Another option is to watch the original trilogy followed by the prequel trilogy—the order in which the films were released. Lastly, some may choose to watch only the original trilogy or only the prequel trilogy. Whichever method you go with, your route will almost surely lead you, at some point, to Return of the Jedi, which is the end of the original trilogy and a wonderful lead-in for Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Return of the Jedi begins as all Star Wars movies do. Over a black screen, the iconic blue words flash: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . .” Next, the Star Wars logo appears in yellow, followed by the signature text crawl that explains the context of the movie. The words move not toward the top of the screen but to a vanishing point somewhere near the middle of the screen, angling away from the viewer.

The text crawl eventually gives way to an expanse of starry space, and a massive, rounded celestial object appears on screen. This is the new Death Star. Darth Vader is supervising the construction of this mighty weapon with the power to destroy entire planets. Another large ship floats into the scene, releasing a shuttle that proceeds to the Death Star’s docking bay. There, a crowd of stormtroopers and officers gather. A nervous commander greets Vader. He has the unfortunate task of telling the Sith Lord that construction may be delayed. Although viewers should know by now that even Darth Vader has a master, this scene is one of several fantastic reminders in Return of the Jedi. “The emperor is not as forgiving as I am,” Darth Vader responds. This exchange sets the scene for the emperor’s grand arrival and his prominence later in the movie.

Meanwhile, the lovable scoundrel pilot of the Millennium Falcon, Han Solo, remains frozen in carbonite and is held hostage by Jabba the Hutt (a result of the previous major battle in The Empire Strikes Back). In plotting a rescue mission, our heroes have a daunting task before them. The droids—C3PO and R2-D2—penetrate Jabba’s lair bearing a hologram message in which Luke Skywalker pleads for Han Solo’s release. As expected, Jabba doesn’t take the message seriously. The droids are rendered his servants. Next, a masked bounty hunter arrives at Jabba’s palace. The bounty hunter has captured Han’s trusted co-pilot and devoted friend, the hulking but affable Wookie Chewbacca. He leads “Chewy” into Jabba’s court in chains and demands an audience with Jabba by threatening to incinerate the room with a “thermal detonator.” While everyone is sleeping that night, the bounty hunter sneaks into the room with Han and frees him from his carbonite prison. The bounty hunter then takes off his mask and reveals himself to be … Princess Leia! The two share a brief romantic reunion, which is interrupted by Jabba, who is is not asleep. Now, with almost the entire good-guy squad in Jabba’s hands, Luke Skywalker makes his triumphant entrance. This version of Luke is a far cry from the naïve young farmer from A New Hope or the amateur Jedi knight who bravely, yet foolishly confronted Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. By now, Luke’s training is nearly complete. He’s cunning and experienced, well on his way to becoming an official Jedi. In fact, the last Jedi. The inevitable escape from Jabba’s lair is extensive and thus constitutes the entire first act of the film. The beginning of the next act takes viewers back to the Death Star as the emperor finally appears in the flesh (NOTE: viewers who have seen the prequels by now will have already seen him “in person”).

The emperor’s ancient appearance and deep, insidious voice paint him as a master far more advanced than Darth Vader, who is but a humble servant. It’s strange seeing Vader in the secondary villain role, bowing to such a frail-looking man, but the emperor is anything but frail. He’s a sinister being with a plan to turn Luke to the dark side of “The Force” and take over the entire galaxy. Darth Vader, who is now confirmed to be Luke’s father after that cat was let out of the proverbial bag in The Empire Strikes Back, is considered key in winning Luke over.

The stage is set for a climactic battle. The Rebel Alliance has mustered all its ships and fighters to mount an attack on the new Death Star. Lando Calrissian, the former governor of Cloud City, is elected to lead the assault, but first, an expeditionary force including Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, and their trusted droids must disable a shield generator on the forest moon of Endor. Here, of course, we encounter the Ewoks, a tribe of cuddly yet seemingly barbaric hunters who turn out to be trusted allies when they believe the awkward and nervous C3PO is a golden god.

Humor, suspense, and romance drive the Endor sequence, but at its core, the Star Wars saga, and especially Return of the Jedi, is an age-old tale of good vs. evil told through the lens of a metaphysical power called The Force. At the root of this contest is a single conflicted family—a father and son (and daughter, it turns out). Throughout the franchise, the complexity of family drama becomes increasingly apparent as bombshell after bombshell is revealed, culminating in Return of the Jedi. The Force, too, rises in importance as the saga continues. Ultimately, family and The Force are inextricably linked, as Luke and Vader are so bound up in opposite sides of this metaphysical power that it defines their relationship. While Luke is the embodiment of good, his father, Darth Vader, is the quintessential misunderstood villain. Both are vulnerable to their emotional connection and can be swayed from one side of The Force to the other. They can achieve extreme evil together, doing the emperor’s bidding in the process, or they can join forces and save the galaxy from the emperor’s evil plan. The choice is up to them.

Though not all viewers enjoy the entire series, Star Wars proves time and again that it has commercial staying power due largely to its universal themes (no pun intended). After all, few films in Hollywood are successful enough to be granted a sequel, let alone eight or more follow-ups, which is the current plan for the franchise. Soon, the baton will be passed to The Force Awakens, the long-awaited sequel that picks up thirty years after the thrilling events of Return of the Jedi. So if there’s one movie that viewers should watch before heading into theaters on December 18, Jedi demands a second look. Of course, true purists will re-watch all six—even if the ride is a little bumpy in spots.


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