It’s been 10 years or so since I last viewed this movie. And it really isn’t as good as I remember, unfortunately. Back in my childhood, Star Wars episodes 5 and 6 were this untouchable work of wonder, together with the Lord of the Rings, as material that I could revisit again and again without getting tired of it. But now that I have grown a bit into watching movies, I see cracks appearing in Episode 6.
The whole opening sequence with Jabba the Hutt is like a separate movie. It is more than an opening sequence, it is a short movie in itself of about half an hour. Even though it echoes the Hoth opening sequence in Episode 5 in how the movie is structured, back when I was young I already felt that this whole first act stood really apart from the rest of the movie. I still like it though because it has great variety in characters and adventure. Besides the major characters like Luke, Leia, Han, and Jabba, there are all these other memorable figures walking around, like the hog-like guards and Jabba’s laughing pet, and the rancor monster and Jabba’s second in command, wossname, the guy with the red eyes and tails growing out of his head. Love em.
The real idea behind the Jabba sequence is to show that Luke has become a capable Jedi and that he and the crew are therefore ready to take on the Empire in a final showdown. Episode 5, The Empire Strikes Back, left all the characters hanging or in a dark place. Han was kidnapped, Luke ran away from his training, and the rest were floundering. The adventure at Jabba brings everyone together, Han is saved, and Luke himself even though he didn’t finish his training, shows that he is confident and took Yoda’s training to heart. I think alternatively, a whole movie could have been made of the chase after Han and Luke finishing his training, culminating in the destruction of Jabba and his ship.
All well and good. Then we move to the forest moon Endor, and things get silly and boring. A whole legion of the Empire’s best troops are down on the moon to protect the shield generator that powers the new Death Star’s shield, and the rebels beat them with a bunch of teddy bears, the Ewoks. Now that just totally takes away any danger or tension we ever felt about the Empire. In Episode 5, the Empire was dangerous, and now they are being silly and hit by rocks by Ewoks. This stands in sharp contrast with the scenes of Luke being held captive on board the Death Star and his scenes with Darth Vader and the Emperor. Especially the Emperor is a menacing figure. All of those scenes are great and you really feel the dark heart and power of the Emperor and the fascist society that he has built around himself. But it is a completely different image of danger than we get from the fight down in the forest. The movie’s inconsistent about this.
Besides, the plotline that a new Death Star has been made and the rebels destroy it again is a bit been-there-done-that. Couldn’t they have come up with something new? And just as in Episode 4, it is again ridiculously easy to destroy the thing. Just fly into the tunnel that conveniently leads to the power source and shoot at it. Who designed these things?
Some lazy changes and dialogue also diminishes the characters. Han and Leia are supposed to be in love but the chemistry is almost non-existent. The loveable-rogue image of Han doesn’t exist anymore either. Except for Luke, who has some personal development with Vader, most characters sort of coast on how they were established in the previous film without making them more interesting.
The problems with the characters are also part of the same silly sequence in the forest. If we leave that to the side for a moment and focus only on the space battles and on the fight between Luke and Vader, the movie suddenly seems a lot better. The space battle is still outstanding and, perhaps, still the best space battle ever put on film. Another highlight is Vader’s redemption, as Luke drags his dying body towards a shuttle and Vader wants him to take off the helmet. It is a quiet and touching moment amidst the chaos and panic. I always liked that scene.
In conclusion, The Return of the Jedi is a flawed film. It adds some great concluding moments to the Star Wars story but also diminishes the power of Ep. 5, The Empire Strikes Back. The space battle and redemption of Vader are top-notch, but the characters are stale and the whole forest sequence sucks out the inventiveness of the Jabba opening and the menace of the Empire.