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Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Entry updated 5 August 2021. Tagged: Film.

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Film (1983). Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox. Executive producer George Lucas. Directed by Richard Marquand. Written by Lawrence Kasdan and Lucas, based on a story by Lucas. Cast includes Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, James Earl Jones (voice), Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz (voice), David Prowse and Sebastian Shaw (masked). 132 minutes, re-released Special Edition 135 minutes (1997). Colour.

Crisp and entertaining for the most part, with dazzling special effects, Return of the Jedi still seems weaker than its predecessors, Star Wars (1977) and Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps because it is more openly sentimental, and simplistic to the point of being trite. Han Solo (Ford) is rescued from literally toadlike Jabba the Hutt in the bravura opening sequence, and then the democratic rebels are pitted once again against a new and much deadlier Death Star fortress as part of their galactic struggle against the totalitarian Empire. Luke Skywalker (Hamill) takes on an increasingly important role in this struggle, en passant receiving some final wisdom from Jedi master Yoda (Oz voice) as the bearer/embodiment of the force. The forest world of Endor, populated by Ewoks (teddy-bear lookalikes), is the venue for stirring battles. The Emperor (a cleverly obscene performance from McDiarmid) is an even stronger incarnation of the Dark Side of the Force than Darth Vader (Shaw masked, Jones voice), who finally returns to the good. (His initial corruption would be the main narrative strand of the second trilogy, though of course no viewer had more than an inkling of this in 1983.) Vader saves his son Luke, who refuses to kill him when he has the chance, is unmasked, and then killed by a side-effect energy charge from the already-dead Emperor's armamentarium, and is then given a Viking's funeral.

The appalling cuteness of the Ewoks and the harmless rubbery appearance of the Monsters were surely Lucasfilm's acknowledgement that children were now, by the trilogy's finale, the series' main audience. Ewoks later resurfaced in two made-for-tv films, The Ewok Adventure (1984) and Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985). In Return of the Jedi, even the potentially painful father-son conflict is more pre-adolescent soap opera than anything that might hint at tragedy; indeed, the feel-good reversal of the oedipal myth here promulgated by Lucas and his team insidiously corroded for decades the dynastic drama at the heart of the entire sequence. At the time of Return of the Jedi's release, Lucas's earlier threat that six further episodes were in the works appeared to have evaporated completely. The threat, it turned out, was in fact partially realized more than fifteen years later, but, through the inexorable sternness of history, Lucas himself presided only over the three prequels; not until 2015, with the Star Wars franchise now sold to Disney, would Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) appear, under new direction, and carry the series forward.

The novelization is Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983) by James Kahn. [PN/JC]

see also: Cinema; Hugo.

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