Retro Review: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Director: Richard Marquand

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan & George Lucas

Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher

Rated: PG

In the original trilogy’s closing act, it’s the Rebels’ turn to take the offensive as their surviving members prepare to launch an assault on the newly rebuilt Death Star. Meanwhile, Luke attempts to free Darth Vader from the emperor and the Dark Side.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: A side character is eaten alive by an alien monster. Battles with lasers are fought both in space and on the ground, along with some wrestling and fist fights. Characters are occasionally wounded, though there is no blood.

Language/Crude Humor: The characters frequently call each other names, though the language they use is fairly mild.

Sexual Content: Some scantily clad female aliens dance in Jabba’s chamber. Leia is forced to dress in a bikini for several scenes.

Drug/Alcohol Reference: The creatures aboard Jabba’s ship drink presumably alcoholic beverages.

Spiritual Content: The concept of the Force has religious elements and similarities, though it is not explicitly portrayed this way.

Other Negative Content: Luke chooses to act on hatred and anger at several points, despite mentors warning him not to.

Positive Content: Acting on self-indulgent emotions such as anger and hatred is shown to be a poor choice. Friends stick with one another even when it means sacrificing themselves. Compassion for others and love for family are shown to be valuable, even in extremely difficult circumstances.

Review

All right, let me start by saying this: in a vacuum, in its own right, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi is a good movie. The reason I feel like I need to make this clear right away is because it’s difficult to judge the final installment of the original Star Wars trilogy without comparing to the titan that is Episode V. Many things were simply done better in Episode V than they were in Episode VI, and after rewatching both for the first time in a while, I think that their proximity causes the final movie to not be remembered quite as fondly as it deserves.

One of the most notable shifts is that the story of the final movie is plot-driven rather than character-driven, which means the characters don’t have nearly as much freedom to show off their incredibly engaging selves. I do applaud the creators for being daring enough to make this change, since doing the same thing time after time in a series easily gets tiresome, and shifting to a focus on the larger picture and the larger story feels appropriate for the series’ climax.

However, since the characters become so concerned with completing their missions and abandoning much of their usual carefree confidence, they wind up feeling like diluted versions of themselves. Han and Leia’s relationship, for instance, now seems too tame. This does help to show that these people have matured, and the darkness of the film’s events both mirror and necessitate that growth, but it never really gets dark or desperate enough to truly bring out any new sides of their personalities. It was the same characters we know and love, just…less of them.

Which, again, isn’t to say that the movie isn’t enjoyable. Many of the action scenes are very well done and super fun to watch (the speeder chase on Endor is a favorite of mine). The newfound connection between Luke and Darth Vader is developed in an interesting way that adds tension and brings the rest of the plot into a spiral around them, and having such a gradually building focal point serves to both make the surrounding story events more compelling and add some much-needed punch to the climax.

But just as with the protagonists, this whole arc could have been even more engaging if Vader had just been allowed to continue being himself. In the previous film, he cemented himself as a fearsome villain whose very name inspired fear. In this movie, however, he spends a great deal of time in the Emperor’s shadow, and it feels as though he’s been relegated to a secondary villain role. Having such an epic foe immediately subjugated by another threat who has only just shown up takes a lot of the wind out of the movie’s sails.

The only thing that’s really left for Vader to do, in fact, is to play his role in the father-son conflict between him and Luke. While I do think that the connection between the two of them is used well plot-wise, many of the movie’s more emotional scenes feel awkward and forced. The dramatic tension that should fuel the story becomes difficult to take seriously at points because of this.

All right, since I know my review doesn’t sound like it, I want to reiterate one final time: I like Return of the Jedi. It’s a good movie and it’s fun to watch. But it simply isn’t as good or as fun as Episode V, and that’s the curse Episode VI will always have to bear.

 

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Ian Hancock

Ian is a speculative fiction writer with an English degree from the University of the Fraser Valley. When he's not writing, he enjoys strategy games, sports, anime, and finding new ways to make fun of life.

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