The conclusion to the epic Star Wars trilogy, Return of the Jedi is an exciting, bold, and fitting end, even if the heights achieved by the original film are still unequaled. It took us two previous films and the longest film of the trilogy, but it’s finally over, and what a rush it is. If it weren’t for the newness and intrigue that the first Star Wars brought us, this film might be the best one. It has the best pacing, a near-perfect balance in tone, and a great deal of fun.
The film begins with a prison break. Han Solo (Harrison Ford) has been captured by an awful looking creature named Jabba the Hut, and it’s up to the rest of the cast to break him free. That includes Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando (Billy Dee Williams), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and of course, the Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), fresh off the biggest reveal that the franchise could bring forward. Upon the finale to the prison break — which makes us aware that this installment isn’t going to pull any punches; characters will die — the real plot is set in motion.
There’s still this ongoing war between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance, and we have to conclude that. The leaders on both sides, at least in terms of screen time, are Darth Vader (David Prowse; voiced by James Earl Jones) and Skywalker, respectively. They’re also the dullest of the main characters, even with the late-game revelation from The Empire Strikes Back. That finally gets rectified in this film, as some interesting developments finally come up between them.
Anyway, this war has to come to a head. The Empire is building a new Death Star — the big thing destroyed at the end of the first film — and the Rebel forces need to destroy that again. That’s essentially the entirety of the plot. The new Death Star isn’t ready to be defended yet, so the Rebel forces have to blow it up before that happens. There’s a little bit of a window in which this can take place, so we’ve already got our sense of urgency. All that needs to happen now is the action.
There is a lot of it. Not quite as much as in the last film — there are more character moments this time around, which works to its advantage — but most of the film is action-packed and very exciting. The characters are put into danger, and for the longest time things seem really grim. I was actually worried that the Rebel forces’ plan wouldn’t work out, especially once we discover that Darth Vader’s boss, the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), can foretell the future. It’s a very thrilling movie.
We get to explore even more of this universe, and that’s something I’m always up for. We get to see small, furry creatures, things which are not referred to by name in the film, which bring a sense of innocence to the proceedings. They’re cute and help lighten the mood, especially when things are at their darkest. It works as a strong juxtaposition against the events that are happening right before and after, and helps to relieve some of the tension before building it right back up again.
Of course, one of the strengths of these films has always been the visuals. This Star Wars has the highest budget so far, and it looks, understandably, very good. I haven’t been let down by the visuals yet, and with the increase in budget, it was unlikely to happen here. A greater number of things are able to occur when the filmmakers are given access to more money, and considering this is the conclusion to an incredibly impressive trilogy, those extra funds are put to good use here.
Luke Skywalker finally becomes a somewhat interesting character with this movie. It only took two previous installments for this to happen, but at least the payoff is there. Does that excuse the last films? Is it only because of how bland and uninteresting he was before that he actually seems to have burst out of his shell now? I’m not entirely sure. But when he’s having to figure out whether or not he fits with the good guys or the bad guys, I was genuinely interested in what was going to happen, which is the first time I’ve said that about him so far.
Part of the reason it works is because Mark Hamill, after being the weak link in the last two films, finally has grown as an actor to allow his character the opportunity to not just be a blank face. He’s still not very good, but he’s better. That’s enough. The supporting cast, led by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, is still very strong, and the way that their characters finish their arcs works to great success. I was perfectly happy with the journey that these people have taken throughout the trilogy.
Star Wars: Episode VI — Return of the Jedi is a strong conclusion to what wound up being a very enjoyable trilogy. While we might not have explored as much of the universe as I would have preferred, the journey that these characters went on over the course of the last three films was so enjoyable that this didn’t matter. The series is still visually stunning, and while the plot of Return of the Jedi is the simplest, that works in its favor considering it allows for the character interactions and the action to become the focus.