By Marc S. Sanders
There’s a moment in Return Of The Jedi where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is about to be forced into Jabba The Hutt’s monstrous Sarlaac pit. R2D2 launches the Jedi Knight’s lightsaber in the air. Luke catches the hilt of the saber and just before he ignites it, the hero gives a smile. The Star Wars saga is not just fun for audiences. The players in the film are enjoying themselves just as much.
Following the mind-blowing cliffhangers of The Empire Strikes Back from 1980, the third film in the original trilogy picks up to tie off all those loose ends. The result is nothing but giddy, refreshingly inventive, swashbuckling adventure. I always admired the sets of the original trilogy. No two locations looked the same. Prior films have introduced desert, snow, swamp and cloudy locales. Jedi takes us to a forest moon known as Endor. It’s no surprise that a forest moon will not offer much technology even in science fiction/fantasy. So, we are treated to a welcoming and ironic final battle to overthrow Darth Vader’s evil Empire. Ewoks, cuddly looking teddy bears, known for the means of survival with primitive devices like rocks, sticks and logs will face up against armored Stormtroopers and gigantic, zippy little speeder bikes, and steel chicken walkers armed with powerful blasters. The battle scenes are fun, and they work. Just before the heroes break into an Empire bunker, Han Solo outstretches his arms and gives a smirk at the Imperial troops. Even Harrison Ford is having a good time. There’s much opportunity for the audience to clap along.
The main story involves Luke making an effort to defeat Darth Vader once and for all after he’s urged by Yoda and Ben Kenobi (Frank Oz and Alec Guinness) to confront the dark lord as a means to complete his training to be a Jedi. It will not be easy as it also means that Luke must resist the evil Emperor Palpatine’s seductive nature to join the dark side.
Ian McDiarmid is the Emperor and I always say this guy never got enough recognition. He’s as masterful with the role as Margaret Hamilton was with The Wicked Witch of the West. He chews the scenery and like the good guy actors, he’s also having fun in the part.
Jabba The Hutt is also a terrific surprise that’s finally revealed (if you had been following the more preferred original cuts of the trilogy). This large, slug like puppet character is an amalgamation of Marlon Brando in The Godfather and a very bulky Orson Welles. The infamously controlling gangster on Luke’s home planet of Tatooine gleefully displays a captive Han Solo still frozen in carbonite. The sets within his palace are magnificently detailed in creature extras and sleazy decor, much like a seedy strip club.
I think the appeal of Star Wars comes partly from the nature of human beings and the planet Earth where we reside. All looks familiar in a way the first time we see something and it’s easy to make presumptions of this galaxy’s inhabitants and what they are respectfully capable of. We can recognize that Ewoks might be as constructive as the Swiss Family Robinson with their tree like village. At the same time, a giant slug with a green skinned, dancing concubine chained to him commands over a peasantry. Elders in black robes carry an instinct to almost gaslight a weaker opponent for personal gain.
George Lucas sourced from prior films of all different categories used before. He only made it his own original work with some modifications. So you get sword fights, only in this world the swords are beams of light. You get a strip club bar, but it’s science fiction polish allows it to be a little more PG rated.
Return Of The Jedi serves as a great time to watch a movie. It’s swashbuckling and even well-acted, especially with Mark Hamill in the lead. His character changes from one film to the next. He’s no longer a child here. He’s now an absolute leader walking into the depths of hell aboard a new and more powerful Death Star, ready to sacrifice himself to fulfill a likely prophecy, as well as to save the Rebellion he commands.
It may not be the best film of the original trilogy, but Return Of The Jedi was one of the most satisfying movie going experiences from the decade of the 1980s.