Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi Review
This was the moment that fans had been waiting for. Six years after George Lucas cemented his reputation forever the most beloved trilogy of all time would finally come to an end in 1983.
The empire has the upper hand, friends are gone and hope hangs by a thread. Now, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) must race to the home planet he vowed never to return to in order to rescue his friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of space gangster Jabba the Hut. Almost a fully fledged Jedi knight, Luke must face his destiny as instructed by Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), with the help of old friend Obi-wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) and confront his nemesis Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) for the last time.
It's not easy to follow a sequel that performed even better than its hugely successful, groundbreaking predecessor, but such was the task for director Richard Marquand who was handed over the baton by George Lucas to helm what is arguably the most important film of the series.
A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back each took different paths; in the former we had individual characters facing their destinies but whose paths would cross over and eventually bring them back together full circle, whereas The Empire Strikes Back differed by setting up the pivotal twist that would see Return of the Jedi expand upon. With the cards having been dealt and several risks taken Return of the Jedi was itself hanging in the balance.
Return of the Jedi had too much riding on its back and failure to provide a satisfactory conclusion could have been seriously damaging to the saga. Fans had already geared themselves up for the sequel immediately after The Empire Strikes Back, so the question remains: "Does Return of the Jedi live up to expectations?" Well, if there was a bright pot of jam in the centre of the universe and a jar of marmalade about 50 miles south of that, and say Jedi was the food stuff that is farthest from, it would be a can of opened, half eaten beans.
Episode VI of the saga certainly delivers in terms of spectacle, a lot of which is very impressive, but also a lot that isn't entirely necessary, thus appearing a little too forced. On a technical scale most of Return of the Jedi's sets and action oriented pieces are brilliant and exuberantly executed - the final battle over the planet of Endor is stunning to say the least - but unlike the films it follows it takes an unprecedented extreme in its repertoire of curious looking creatures that contribute toward turning the film into the butt of most jokes geared toward the trilogy. That said, it’s worth remembering there are a few great creatures in there, with my favourite always having been Admiral Ackbar (Timothy M. Rose).
Many of you will have already guessed by now that I am of course referring to two major elements - the first of which takes place on the planet of Tatooine, with Jabba's lair and the second being the film's lumbering mid-section that sees our heroes land on Endor where they meet a race of teddy bears known as Ewoks, who aid them in their quest to destroy the second Death Star's deflector shield.
It is here that Lucas defies what had made the previous films so special, with much of them relying on character interaction and relationships. Looking at Return of the Jedi now I can see it would have been a considerably shorter film had he not filled it in with an assortment of beasties and chase sequences. If you were to take the film and break it down you will find just how little it has left to offer. The main plot elements here involve Luke trying to reach his father, Han and Leia securing their relationship and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) leading a rebel fleet toward the Death Star. So that makes three elements worth focusing on, three elements that could have been wrapped up with time to spare but instead we have some dragged out moments that do nothing to move the story along.
I have certain reservations with several scenes and where George Lucas might think he's aiding the film's epic storyline. I can't help but feel he hinders his own progress. Nothing is more evident than in scenes such as C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) telling his cheesy, cringe worthy story to a group of Ewoks, which ends up being as unsettling as Vader's important announcement to Luke at the end of Empire. Going back to Jabba's palace we have to put up with some genuinely annoying creatures, more so I might add that have been inserted for the 1997 special edition to spice up some musical numbers. More on Lucas' digitally inserted choices later.
I appreciate George Lucas' vision and the way he expanded on a mythical universe, the likes of which hadn't been seen since Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Like Middle Earth, Lucas has created a world that people believe in, on a scale of biblical proportions, which would be the only way of explaining why fans take the series so seriously - Star Wars has become a religion and to many it is a life changing experience.
A noticeable change to the saga with regards to its characters is how the main players have now matured and exhibit different characteristics to the previous episodes. When we first met Luke Skywalker he was a whiney, young, impatient boy who wanted to leave home and go adventuring. Having achieved those childhood dreams he has since discovered the reality is not quite what he had hoped for. At this moment in time Luke has accepted his heritage and importance within the rebel alliance, swiftly accepting manhood so he is able to fill his role. To the audience it seems as though a lot of time has passed since the events that took place in The Empire Strikes Back but it is more of a case of everyone having to grasp reality firmly and force themselves to accept larger responsibilities. Adding to this is the fact that Mark Hamill spent almost a decade of his early life making these films and so naturally his increased maturity shines through anyway.
The same can be said for Han Solo and Leia who at times have demonstrated that they can be as headstrong as each other but in the end come together like bread and butter. The chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher continues to be as consistent as before, which is as much of a vital part to the story as anything else. With George Lucas out of director's chair it has allowed subsequent directors to breathe a little more life into the series and get better performances from the actors involved, something of which Lucas is notorious for having a lack of patience with. Although there are not many large character pieces what we do get is played out very well and make up for some of the film's child-friendly moments.
Over the years all three films have been enjoyed in various incarnations. In 1997 we got to witness the first of George Lucas' ongoing efforts to finalise his vision accordingly to how he perceives the universe he created. Now, in 2004 he has once again revised all three episodes of the original trilogy in order to comply not only with modern special effects but also to provide further relevance toward the recent prequels.
I won't argue over the choices that the director has made but what I will say is that I don't find the new changes to be particularly effective. The film has a few big additions or changes and several incidental ones that might go unnoticed, unless you know these films inside out. Lucas has worked at changing certain things, such as replacing Boba Fett's (Jeremy Bulloch) voice with Temuera Morrison, which would be fine if I thought he delivered his lines well. Whenever Boba speaks it feels lazy, there's no emotion to his voice when he expresses concern or disappointment upon being told about how he will be taking Han Solo back to Tatooine. Boba Fett was never any thespian like character anyway but I always did prefer his original voice. The biggest change of all is toward the end. Aside from actor Sebastian Shaw having his eyebrows digitally removed he is also replaced in the final scene by Hayden Christensen. Again, I appreciate what Lucas is doing in order to tie in the first three episodes but watching this moment is like watching a nervous child before giving an oral exam. Hayden doesn't come across quite right, he looks down at the floor and then shifts his eyes so we don't even know who he's looking at. I hope Lucas goes back to this and fixes it so we get a better performance next time.
I could go on and list many of the changes, but the fact of the matter is that it wouldn't be very productive to do so. These are things we must put up with and overall they're not too distracting, nor do they take away from the overall storyline, which has always been the most important factor.
20th Century Fox have released the Star Wars trilogy in an excellent box set, with a bonus disc of extras. You cannot purchase these films separately but then why would you want to? Each film comes in a standard armaray case, housed within a cardboard slipcase.
Each film has their own menus, specific to themselves. The main menu alternates. When I first inserted the disc I was treated to a menu with an Endor theme. Second time around I had a Tatooine theme, this goes for all the sub menus in turn. A good amount of effort has been put into these and they are suitably atmospheric.
I'm stunned at just how much work has gone into restoring this film. In the past we have seen "digitally re-mastered" releases but never have they looked this good. Along with the other films Jedi has been restored frame by frame and I defy anyone to find even the slightest speck of dirt. Lucas and company have also taken care of several matt shots, with the Rancor scene fairing the best out of these, but curiously there are still other matt lines present during dog-fighting sequences.
I'd be nitpicking if I said there was slight grain and this seems to come down to compression rather than anything else, even then it's only really noticeable on a monitor. All in all this gets full marks, Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox seemed to have learned their lesson from their releases of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones as these films feature very little, if any edge enhancement - at least nothing that was easily visible to my eyes.
There are two optional English subtitles tracks. The first translates all dialogue, while the second one generates subtitles for alien dialogue exchanges (and is automatically enabled).
For the first time since the orignal Laserdisc release you can experience the saga in 5.1 surround. The other audio options are English, Spanish and French 2.0 tracks. I chose to listen to Return of the Jedi in 5.1 surround and I can simply say it sounds stunning. Now you can experience that same rush you had in the cinemas as TIE-Fighters and speeder bikes soar past you, making wonderful use of the rear speakers. Laser fire is also atmospheric, with the amazing battle over the planet of Endor leaving you enthralled and John William’s amazing, timeless score is given a wondrous work out through all channels. Stick on the sub-woofer and you're in for an extremely aggressive track. This is everything fans could have hoped for with no room for complaints here as you won’t find any of the muffled audio problems that are present on A New Hope.
Audio Commentary with George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher
This is a very informative commentary for those wishing to get an insight into the movie's production. For those expecting George Lucas to comment on many of his changes or explain continuity slips and so forth, you will be disappointed. Lucas does get into certain details but most of these are about the difficulties he experienced in making the film. The most worthwhile comments are when he explains having to fill a lot of time onscreen and how Boba Fett would have received a much worthier death scene, had he known he was going to be so popular. Ben Burtt takes us through many of his inspirations for designing the various sound effects, while Dennis Muren talks about the many impressive technical aspects of the feature. Carrie Fisher provides more in the way of humour but she isn't very prominent on this commentary, only popping up occasionally.
Return of the Jedi might not be the greatest installment in the saga, with a few flaws here and there but it is still a hell of a lot of fun, however you look at it. It ties up all of the important plot threads and concludes on an emotional, feel good level. This is the power of its legacy, these films are fun and it is easy to see why they captured the hearts of a generation.