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RETURN OF THE JEDI

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 10, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because I wrote my first professional movie review for the Deseret News in 1978 I was a bit late for ‘Star Wars,’ which opened the year before. Ditto ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ in 1980, which was released before I became the full-time critic; my predecessor reviewed that one. I did get a crack at ‘Return of the Jedi’ in 1983, however, and in early 1997 I reviewed all three when they returned to theaters in their first ‘Special Edition’ form. Now, Disney/LucasFilm has reissued the trilogy on Blu-ray, so we’re looking back at them. This week, my May 26, 1983, review of ‘Return of the Jedi’; ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ were in this space over the past couple of weeks (see the ‘Recent Stuff’ link above).

“Star Wars” was a bright exciting multifaceted space adventure that introduced the world to George Lucas’ ultimate film fantasy and characters we all came to know and love. And in the end, despite the escape of evil Darth Vader, the film neatly wrapped it all up with an apparent happy ending.

“The Empire Strikes Back,” however, was much darker. It was also, somehow, even more exciting, and managed to lend a depth to the proceedings and dimension to the characters that gave the series even more strength. But it also opened up a possibility that the hero would go bad, and posed numerous questions without answering them:

Is Luke really Darth Jr.?

Will he finish his training and become a Jedi Knight — and if he does, will he turn to the Dark Side of the Force?

Who is the “other” with the power of the Force, of whom Yoda spoke?

Will Luke and Leia become an item — or will she finally give in to her feelings for the raffish Han?

And after we briefly glimpsed Vader’s head under that mask, what does he really look like?

All of these questions are answered in “Return of the Jedi” but I won’t reveal them. Much of the joy here is in the discovery of new story twists, as well as striking visuals.

     

Lobby Card: Harrison Ford, left, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, 'Return of the Jedi' (1983)

The film opens with Vader boarding a new, incomplete Death Star to oversee its construction before the Emperor himself comes aboard. Meanwhile, C-3PO and R2-D2 are on Luke Skywalker’s home planet, Tatooine, about to approach the dreaded kingpin gangster Jabba the Hutt to bargain for Han’s release.

Jabba is a bloated reptilian creature, the Orson Welles of frogdom, with a lizard-like tail and huge slobbering tongue. As he lounges on his throne, popping live little creatures into his huge mouth, he points out that Han is now a wall decoration and refuses to release him. He then puts the two robots to work — C-3PO, the neurotic gold talkative one, as an interpreter, and R2-D2, the one that looks like a Hoover vacuum, as a waiter.

Soon, Han is released by his friends but the wily Jabba manages to capture him again, along with Princess Leia, that giant throwrug Chewbacca and even Luke, who carries a Jedi’s countenance, though he has not quite become a full-fledged knight.

That’s just the beginning. After their eventual escape, the Rebel forces gather with the primitive teddy bear Ewoks to take on the new Death Star and, hopefully, destroy the Empire forever.

But wait! Luke meets with Yoda, is told the truth of his parentage, and must face Vader and the Emperor in a climactic battle. And the Rebellion, led by Lando Calrissian and Han Solo, has walked (or flown) into a trap!

“Jedi,” still with its Arthurian flavor, is even more like the old movies and serials the action is patterned after than “Star Wars” and “Empire.” Specifically, you will find yourself recognizing swashbuckling pirate pictures and vine-swinging jungle epics. But it’s also a whole new perspective in special effects.

Jabba’s lair is laden with uncountable creatures, enough to fill a dozen lesser sci-fi epics. Each is new and different, many looking like strange hybrids of Ray Harryhausen and Jim Henson creatures. Some are right out of “The Muppet Movie”; others would probably be refused admittance to the cantina in “Star Wars.”

If I wanted to carp, I might complain about too much slapstick; point out that the humans, except perhaps Luke, take a backseat to hardware, especially Lando; that some scenes could be shortened; and that the final shot (which I won’t describe here) is ultra-hokey. But in the overall context these weaknesses are minor indeed.

     

Like “Empire,” and his own “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Lucas has led director Richard Marquand (“Eye of the Needle”) to make “Jedi” equally dazzling in its rollercoaster pace, and the chases, stunts and special effects are mind-boggling and enthralling.

As actors, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, along with the entire cast, have fully grown into their characters, and Hamill especially is impressive as a more mature, composed Luke.

Quality-wise, where it fits into the trilogy — whether “Jedi” is better or perhaps a bit less satisfying than its predecessors — is purely an individual conclusion. There is no question, however, that it is a real “movie-movie,” a heck of a lot of fun — and one to see again and again.

“Return of the Jedi” is rated PG for violence (and perhaps for one dancing girl’s skimpy costume, and a similar outfit worn by Leia early on) and the ad for the film carries this warning: “May be too intense for very young children.” That’s as true here as it was for the other “Star Wars” films, and for “Raiders.”

ENDNOTE: This Blu-ray reissue is of the ‘Special Edition’ that debuted in theaters on March 14, 1997, and this excerpt is from my Deseret News review of that film: ‘there is a new, elaborate, if brief musical number in the lair of Jabba the Hutt, (but) most of George Lucas' additions this time remain weird creatures in the background and increased numbers of ships in space. There is also, however, a significant change in the ending — arguably the most spectacular and satisfying alteration in the "Special Editions" — as the Ewoks' joyful party is backed by a new song, and we get to see wide overhead shots of thousands of people around the galaxy (specifically on Tatooine, Cloud City and Coruscant, the Imperial headquarters planet) celebrating the fall of the Empire. Great stuff.”