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Movie Review | Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prowse) arrives to inspect progress on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi

Why this order? In the build-up to The Last Jedi, I'll be working my through the films in what I believe is the best order to experience them: namely, Machete Order. There are two differences: 1) Rogue One has to fit in there, and 2) I'll also include The Phantom Menace for completeness.

Return of the Jedi completes Anakin Skywalker's story well, especially so in Machete Order. In Rogue One, A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back we get to see him as this remorseless killing machine. The prequels may taint that particular perception, but seeing Vader before he was confined to that familiar black armour serves to humanise him nonetheless.

The relations that Obi-Wan, Yoda and Luke all have with Anakin are all fully realised by this point and the redemption of such a far-fallen character works perfectly (although inserting Hayden Christensen as the Force ghost of young Anakin is definitely a misstep).

The movie also serves as a perfect bookend with Rogue One, both films ending with a gigantic space battle between the Rebels and Imperials while a personal story plays out on a much smaller level.

The only real issue is the presence of the most recent additions to what is being called the Saga movies (hint: they count as 'Episodes', not like Rogue One's 'Star Wars Story'): if you want a happy ending where the heroes are triumphant and the galaxy is saved, you should stop here. Once you move on to The Force Awakens, things take a turn for the worse...


Movie Summary: After a daring mission to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt, the rebels dispatch to Endor to destroy a more powerful Death Star. Meanwhile, Luke struggles to help Vader back from the dark side without falling into the Emperor's trap. (IMDb)

Luke (Mark Hamill) and Han (Harrison Ford) encounter the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi

Much like The Phantom Menace, Jedi is under-rated by many, although to a much greater degree than the first of the prequels. In reality, it’s one of the best of the series and only suffers such a poor reputation because it had to follow both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back – an impossible job for any movie to accomplish.

The actors are all far more comfortable in their roles, which fits perfectly for where Luke and Leia are in their stories, although this is probably Harrison Ford’s weakest outing by this point in the series. The fact that Han Solo is the most relatable character for the audience is probably part of what contributes to this movie’s reputation.

Obviously, the main reason for why Return of the Jedi suffers in comparison to the other entries in the original trilogy is the Ewoks. Dismissed by most as little more than mean teddy bears armed with sharp sticks, many ‘mature’ fans dismiss them – and the film along with them – as little more than children’s entertainment.

Of course, that’s absolute rubbish. While they aren’t exactly the movie’s strongest point, neither do they come anywhere close to ruining it. To listen to some people complain, you’d think the Ewoks dominated the screen time, overshadowing everything else.

The truth is that the film doesn’t really get off to the best start, with Luke and the others helping to free Han from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt. It’s a lengthy chunk of the movie that goes on just that little bit too long and is jarringly light-hearted for what is ostensibly a serious situation.

However, once that part of the film is over, Return of the Jedi absolutely barrels along to the final battle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire on and above the forest moon of Endor. Barring the over-comedic aspects of the Ewoks’ portrayal, the rest of the movie is one fantastic scene after another.

Even after the heroes are divided once more, with Luke turning himself in to Vader’s custody, the split focus still works incredibly well. That’s before the Rebel fleet arrive to attack the second Death Star, adding a third splinter of the story to pay attention to.

Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) gloats in triumph in Return of the Jedi

And what a splinter that last one is: it dwarfs the attack on the first Death Star from A New Hope and was larger in scope than any space battle that had ever been put on film before. Hell, until Rogue One, it was arguably unmatched by anything since either. As good as that battle is, the fight on the surface of Endor is still great fun too.

Yes, it’s a little lighter in tone than everything else that’s going on, but still has plenty of great moments with some inventive use of primitive weapons and knowledge of the environment doing a lot to level the playing field with the Imperial forces.

Then there’s Luke’s encounter with the Emperor and Vader. Every moment between these three is absolutely electric and Ian McDiarmid is wonderfully despicable as the seductively manipulative Palpatine, tempting Luke with the power of the Dark Side of the Force.

I’d go so far as to say that the final fight between Vader and Luke is one of the high points of the entire Star Wars saga: character, emotion, visuals and the score all come together to absolute perfection as Luke fights to protect his newly-discovered sister.

Return of the Jedi is a perfectly satisfying conclusion to the story of Anakin Skywalker and the rise and fall of Emperor Palpatine regardless of viewing order. It does have weak moments that hold it back from matching A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back, but so do most other blockbuster movies – it hardly seems fair to count it not being one of the best films ever as a valid criticism against it. It will just have to settle for being a great film in its own right.


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