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Throwback Review: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Posted By: Lawrence Napoli
Sat, 12/19/2015 - 01:04

All Good Things

A Film Review of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

(read our throwback Attack of the Clones review here)
(read our throwback Phantom Menace review here
(read our throwback Revenge of the Sith review here)
(read our throwback A New Hope review here
(read our throwback Empire Strikes Back review here)


There’s something undeniable about the power of episodic entertainment.  It is something that only the best TV shows and film franchises have been able to attain and thus capture legions of fans that revel in these fictional realities that proliferate beyond the final frames of action.  Return of the Jedi bookended one of the richest, emotional and energetic sci-fi fantasy adventures of all time and set off an unyielding chain reaction of fan fiction, expanded universe comic books, novels and video games to the point where the greatness of the fiction long ago eclipsed the brilliance of its creator.  It took on a life of its own and even after Lucas returned to add-in the details of a prequel trilogy; all that effort simply enhanced the significance of the original trilogy. 

What’s great about Return of the Jedi is that its completion came at a technological age in filmmaking where the visual presentation and overall production value holds up best amongst its predecessors even by today’s standards.  But no matter how clean your special effects are, how large your explosions are, how unique your costumes are, nothing infuses a franchise with resolute staying power better than character and story, both of which remain obvious strengths in this film.  Once again, Mark Hamil, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and co. buy into their characters dramatically to produce endearing performances that resonate with audiences.  Once again, the action does not disappoint with a tri-force of action styles that is juxtaposed in a superior fashion during this film’s climax involving ground combat, space combat and light saber dueling.  Once again, the audience is not distracted by the spectacle because the very heart of this entire plot is an exploration as to how good can triumph over evil: through centering, sacrifice and serenity.

However, I cannot help but admit that my experience with this film left me somewhat scarred.  Of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi required after-the-fact digital meddling the least.  Some were nice like Jabba’s Palace song and dance number.  Some were great like the victory reactions from some of the key planets visited throughout six Star Wars films.  And some … some, to this day, remain frustratingly curious like blue-glowy Hayden Christensen.  I fully realize this is only one curveball moment in an otherwise great film, but the fact that it happened at the very end burned two negative concepts into my mind: the overall inferiority of the prequel trilogy and the uncompromising ego of George Lucas to do whatever he wants with his baby and no one can tell him otherwise. 

The new trilogy which begins with The Force Awakens no longer has Lucas’ umbilical cord to potentially choke itself to death on, but it also doesn’t have any tangible connection left with its creator save for any notes bequeathed to J.J. Abrams as a general outline as to where this saga might ultimately end.  I remain cautiously optimistic regarding the end of Jedi and its transition to Awakens and hopefully the force can remain strong with us all to experience something familiar, spectacular and fulfilling as these films once did in the past.

Action Style

All of the Star Wars staples are here with the great addition of the speeder bike sequences.  These moments turned the relatively tame and beautiful surroundings of Endor’s forests into unexpected death traps should you turn away at an inopportune time.  


Action Frame

Great framing, angles and motion highlight every action sequence, but they really launch the space combat into another dimension of appreciation.  Adventure, excitement, A Millennium Falcon craves these things.


Lead Performance

Harrison Ford may have stolen the show in previous films, but make no mistake.  This is Mark Hamil’s film and Ford and Fisher follow his lead with dedicated enthusiasm.  The final Vader reveal and the fact that gentleman was NOT David Prowse will never set well with me.


Supporting Performance

Excellent job by all with notable recognition going to Ian McDiarmid as a younger man playing an older Palpatine who also played a younger Palpatine as an older man in the prequels.  No matter how old or in which time, McDiarmid as The Emperor is second to none.



The legend of John Williams is undeniable, but this film reviewer remembers the original celebration music during this film’s dénouement and how it seamlessly transitioned to the final credits’ trumpet blare.  The song that now holds that space is a track that isn’t bad, but it isn’t great.


Sound F/X

Still pristine!  Speeder bike sounds were new and exhilarating!


“Moving” = 30/33

Digital F/X

Anakin.  I just can’t.  I won’t give in to the nerd rage rant!


Special F/X

Model work, rotoscoping, animation and puppetry; it all made the impossible real and natural in this film.



A greater variety of alien species on display yields the desperate need of design to distinguish them all.  Wait a minute!  You’re telling me everyone in Jabba’s Palace was fooled by that trick-or-treat costume worn by Lando?  Also Ewoks …


Hair & Makeup

With the same budget as this film had, A New Hope could have delivered just as good looking aliens.  Excellent decrepit old man makeup on Palpatine.  It’s actually better in this film than his “post-scarring” in Episode III.



Whoever found the jungle locales for Endor deserves a perpetual pat on the back.  Ewok Returning to Dagobah was brief, but good.  The sand in Tatooine this time around seemed too clean to me.



Top marks for Death Star interior, Palpatine’s throne room, Yoda’s hut and the Rebel Alliance conference room.


“Picture” = 25/33


We must save Han from the Hutt and defeat the ultimate evil in the galaxy!  A bit cheesy, but it works.



Sure, there’s the whole Rebels vs. Empire thing, but I feel Luke’s acceptance of the truth about his father could have opened up a can of worms regarding Yoda and Obi-Wan’s blanket dismissal of anything less than Luke killing Vader and Palpatine as a failure.  Luke ultimately took his own path, but he also could have exposed their “point of view” as not so enlightened.



As happy as A New Hope, but felt throughout the galaxy, not just the Rebel Alliance.  The sins of the father are finally resolved by the son.



The overall tone is much more serious with moments of levity.  Despite the higher levels of dramatic tension, the dialogue never gets heavy handed.



It’s too bad Shadows of the Empire doesn’t exist as canon anymore.  That would explain how Luke became so proficient with the force after being swatted away like a bug in Empire.


Character Uniqueness

The Emperor is not to be trifled with nor underestimated.  Admiral Ackbar’s got a hell of a voice.  Dark and mature Luke is very cool.


Character Relatability

It’s so common showing the strong connection from a parent to a child.  But children can have an equally powerful kinship to them as well even if they make unhealthy life choices.


“Story” = 24/34

Overall MPS Rating: 79/100

I literally have nothing else to say as I am already late to my screening of The Force Awakens other than, may The Force be with you all and enjoy opening weekend.