Seldom does a sequel meet the high expectations set by its predecessor; for a second sequel to meet such expectations is an even rarer occurrence. The latter scenario was what faced this film upon its release, and then some – being part of the Star Wars saga, there was a lot of pressure on it to deliver. Much to everybody’s relief, it did exactly that.
In a far corner of the galaxy, orbiting above the forest moon of Endor, Darth Vader (David Prowse; voice of James Earl Jones) is overseeing the construction of a second, more powerful Death Star – the same superweapon that was destroyed in A New Hope. Vader hopes that the new Death Star will once again make the Empire the most powerful force in the galaxy, and rid it of any sympathy for the rebellion. To ensure that everything proceeds as planned, Vader has sought the presence of The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) as a means of keeping his forces inline.
Meanwhile on the desert planet of Tatooine, an elaborate plan is underway to rescue an imprisoned and incapacitated Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, a slimy and sinister crime lord. Masterminded by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – who has become a Jedi Knight since the events of The Empire Strikes Back – the plan sees Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) all enter Jabba’s hideout to bargain for Solo’s return.
Return of the Jedi is often derided by Star Wars purists for elements and additions which, in their view, aren’t in keeping with the tone established by the previous two films. In particular, they take issue with the prolonged first act in Jabba’s palace, moments repeated from the previous movies – a second Death Star, another showdown with Darth Vader – and the overly-cutesy Ewok race that resides on Endor. While their criticisms are valid, none of these factors tarnish the viewing experience as much as they claim it does. One could even argue that the Ewoks are quite charming.
There’s a great sense of joy and elation in Return of the Jedi that was somewhat lacking in The Empire Strikes Back, making it closer in tone to the original Star Wars. It isn’t all jovial, as there are some dark and sad instances, but the picture does have plenty of other scenes that leave one grinning widely. Yes, Return of the Jedi outdoes its predecessors when it comes to thrilling the audience, especially so during the film’s third act.
Thrills aren’t the only thing that Return of the Jedi excels at. With an array of characters to keep track of, the film adequately and evenly devotes time to each one without coming across as gratuitous. While the protagonists do spend a significant amount of time apart, they do reunite for brief periods, and it is such a delight when they do. By this point in the saga, the actors had spent so much time together that they had developed a familial bond, one which is clearly visible on-screen.
Of course, no Star Wars movie would be complete without the motifs that have made the franchise so magical. The practical effects are spectacular as ever, with the dogfight sequences being grandest of all; John Williams’ score is a perfect accompaniment to whatever scene it is paired with; and the set decoration is not only highly detailed, but matching with the aesthetics of the previous entries in the saga.
Return of the Jedi represents a franchise at its most joyous and triumphant, boasting some of the most entertaining moments of any Star Wars film. Having been blessed with the virtues held by the previous instalments – loveable characters, grand effects and wonderful music – the threequel easily meets the standards set by its predecessors, even with its ever-so-slight flaws.