Finally, the end of the original trilogy. A New Hope was amazing. The Empire Strikes Back was an absolute gem. So it’s reasonable to say my expectations for the conclusion were sky high. Thankfully, Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, serves as a satisfying conclusion to this amazing journey. It didn’t do everything I wanted and felt uneven at times, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely enjoy the ride and conclusion.
The film picks up sometime after the end of The Empire Strikes Back and follows Luke and the gang as they try and rescue Han from Jabba’s palace. Personally, I wish the movie started off immediately after the ending of the last movie or sometime close to it. The scene’s ambiguous chronological placement makes things like power scaling and character development harder to appreciate or understand. This causes weird discrepancies later on because it feels like there should be more tension between certain characters or a wider variety of emotional responses. Thankfully, the latter portions of the third act are so emotionally cathartic and symbolically powerful that I could get over these issues.
Now that we got over the beginning rant, let’s get into the more interesting and fun stuff. A lot of the visual effects are amazing. Jabba looks a living creature and oozes a creepy and disgusting feeling. I felt revolted every time I saw him on the screen. The Rancor is terrifying to look at and despite having watched the visual wonder of the past two movies, I couldn’t believe how fluid the creatures movements look. Space battles still look great and evoke a sense of grandeur. However, some of the effects felt like they missed the mark. In particular, there’s a racing scene in the third act that has great choreography but looks dated, which is strange given how great the previous two films looked.
This movie nails characters for the most part. In particular, I loved Ian McDiarmid’s portrayal of the Emperor. From his speaking pattern to the way he held himself as he moved, he constantly felt malicious and evil. Yes, he mentions the “Dark Side” a lot, but because he feels so dark it feels aesthetically cool in spite of how sparse some of his dialogue options are. James Earl Jones sells the emotional weight of Darth Vader’s lines which serve as the undercurrent of so much of the weight of the entire movie. His scenes with Mark Hamill were my favorite because of the way they played off each other. I won’t spoil anything, but certain lines hit me in my feels hard. Frank Oz is also great as Yoda and made me desperately want more of him than what I actually got. The only character that I didn’t really like was Han, which is surprising, because I loved him in the previous films. Before, he always felt like a cool adventurous badass, but he feels “grayer” in this film and it doesn’t feel like it stems from a believable character arc.
This movie was also philosophically beautiful and expanded a lot on my want’s from the previous movie. I enjoyed the way that good and evil and their relative malleability were challenged and the resulting discourse made me feel a sense of hope. Unfortunately, there are a lot of missed opportunities that would have elevated that discourse to something more cinematic. The starting point of the film means that a lot of the despair of the past movie is kind of glossed over. As a result, certain character conclusions and reactions feel less deserved and more artificial than I would have liked. There’s also a lot of exposition scenes that are used to explain these gaps or hammer in plot points , which compounds this effect. I wish some of the bloated sections of the second act were taken out, and that the exposition/backstory was shown instead of told. It would’ve helped make the themes more cohesively tied to the narrative.
TLDR: Return of the Jedi is a satisfying conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy and I’m genuinely surprised at how cohesive the entire story feels. This movie has a few bumpy spots and feels rushed at certain points , but is by and large emotionally cathartic and satisfying.
Final Rating: 9.0/10. I already know I’m going to watch the original trilogy again. The only question is how soon. Give it a shot if you haven’t.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!