Return of the Jedi (1983)

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Title: (1983)

Tagline: The Empire Falls...

Genre: Adventure, Action, Science Fiction

Director: Richard Marquand

Release: 1983-05-23

Runtime: 135

Plot: Luke Skywalker leads a mission to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt, while the Emperor seeks to destroy the Rebellion once and for all with a second dreaded Death Star.




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So you have two more movies to watch before Thursday?
 

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This is a strange one for me. I actually really like almost all of the elements that make up the film; all of the Jabba stuff, all the Luke/Vader/Emperor stuff, the battle of Endor, the attack on the Death Star, and I even have a soft spot for the Ewoks. It’s just such a cluster fuck when you put it all together and something just doesn’t feel right. But I enjoy it none the less.
 
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I always liked this film, but I do have a couple of issues with it due to the changes Lucas made. I hated the "No" inserted during the final confrontation involving Luke and The Emperor. My second issue is the insertion of a certain actor's face at the very end of the movie.
 
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Adam Lenhardt

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Ahead of The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday, I'm attempting to re-watch all of the previous live action Star Wars movies in chronological order.
It's always interesting to revisit Return of the Jedi for me, because it was the first Star Wars film I saw in theaters. It was also the Star Wars movie I watched the most at home growing up, because it was the only Star Wars movie that seemed to regularly play during Showtime's free preview weekends. When I bought the Special Edition Trilogy VHS (Pan & Scan -- before I knew better), it was also the one I watched the most. It's strange that the Star Wars movie I loved the most as a kid is now the entry of the original trilogy I enjoy the least. Part of that is doubtless overexposure; I've seen it so many times that I can practically recite it from memory. It's hard for a movie you're that familiar with to stay fresh.

The thing that's stood out to me the last few times I've watched it is how weird the pacing is. More so than the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, it's got all of the ingredients you'd expect from a modern tentpole blockbuster. It helped create the template for the modern tentpole blockbuster. It's got the most ambitious action sequences of the three movies. But every time the momentum builds, something happens to derail it.

Take the opening sequence resolving the cliffhanger with Han being frozen in carbonite. C-3PO and R2D2 arrive to present Luke's offer to Jabba. He rejects it, and then they're placed into his service. The momentum stalls. Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca arrive to rescue Han, with the former two pretending to collect the bounty on the latter one. Leia manages to thaw Han out. But then they're caught, and Han and Chewie are imprisoned while Leia is forced into the role of sex slave. The momentum stalls. Luke arrives to save the day, defeats the rancor, but then is taken prisoner. The momentum stalls. Each reintroduction forces the movie to rev itself back up again. If the various plans underway had been better coordinated, there's a version of the Jabba's palace part of the movie where the various setbacks build on each other rather than work against each other.

The sequence over the Sarlacc pit and the sail barge with the heroes forced to walk the plank is genuinely thrilling. When Luke springs himself back onto the skiff and R2D2 propels his new lightsaber to him, it's a really effective attention grabber. But even there, it's limited by the fact that movie never quite figured out how to utilize the lightsabers in the way the prequel trilogy and the sequel trilogy (at least thus far) have. In particular, too many of the sword fights operate like they're fighting with real swords instead of concentrated columns of pure energy. Whenever the blades are crossed for an extended period of time, it hurts the illusion. This is the most egregious offender of all, though; with the exception of one of the railings in the Death Star throne room near the end, the lightsabers are more like whiffle ball bats than lethal weapons that can slice through just about anything solid. Too much whacking, not nearly enough slicing.

I always find myself wondering what Luke was up to in the year between Empire and this movie. He seems to have progressed significantly in his training as Jedi, but it's never quite stated how. Obi-Wan was dead, and the dialog makes it pretty clear that his visit to Dagobah after freeing Han is his first time back since running to Bespin against Yoda's better judgement. Given that Anakin was the most powerful Force sensitive that any of the Jedi Council had ever come across, and it still took him a decade to become a Jedi Knight. Luke had only a few brief lessons from Obi-Wan before he became one with the Force, and maybe a few weeks of training with Yoda on Dagobah. Plus whatever he got up to in the year between Empire and this movie.

The thing is, the movie didn't really need to push the idea that Luke was a fully trained Jedi Knight. Because the resolution totally works even if he's a fledgling apprentice who'd only recently begun to explore his connection to the Force. Wisely, the crucial moments on which both the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy pivot come down to choices and not some manufactured measurement of Force ability. Anakin chose to be selfish, and it cost him everything. Luke chose to abide by his moral framework, even though it seemed certain to result in his own death and the deaths of his friends. Luke's failure to listen to Yoda before taught him some hard life lessons, and unlike his father he has learned from his failures.

I don't mind the Ewoks, but the whole thing with the ground team being captured and then hosted by them is another thing that derails the momentum of the movie for me. It pays off later on, but I found myself sitting there thinking that the Rebel fleet needs that shield down, and they're all sitting around listening to C-3PO tell stories about their adventures. It doesn't feel sufficiently cognizant of the stakes.

If the speeder chase through the forests of Endor's moon were shot today, it would be an entirely CG environment. The only live action elements would be the actors on the speeders, and some shots likely wouldn't have any live action elements at all. But while modern techniques would allow for more sophisticated stunt choreography, there's something inherently more exciting and involving when you know that everything you're looking at is real. There are some compositing and lighting issues with this sequence, but it's still the gold standard in my book for science fiction chase scenes. They filmed the background plates by having camera operators wearing Steadicam rigs walk through a redwood forest in Eureka, California. The rigs captured a frame every 0.75 seconds, with longer exposure times to approximate motion blur the camera operators followed a string laid out so that their path would align with the planned stunt choreography of the foreground elements. It just works.

The Millennium Falcon's run through the half-constructed innards of the second Death Star to reach the reactor core uses a sense of mounting claustrophobia to generate tension. The problem with the space battle, as awesome as it is, is that I care more about what's happening with Luke in the Death Star throne room and Leia and Han down on the ground.

At the end, I like the special edition instrumental music better than "Yub Nub". But I wish the celebration stayed focused on the Endor moon like the original cut. The Emperor has been defeated and Vader is dead, but the Empire is still massive. The destruction of the second Death Star is more like D-Day than V-E Day. It laid the groundwork for victory, but final victory wasn't yet at hand. The liberation of the other planets hadn't yet been earned. I also don't like the insertion of Revenge of the Sith era Anakin Skywalker as the Force ghost at the end; he's the Anakin who succumbed to the Dark Side -- it was the old man who came back to the Light.

I think they did some more compositing cleanup for the 4K versions on Disney+. Some issues that I remember being really obvious even in the Special Editions, like in the rancor pit, either weren't a problem here or were far less of a problem.

So you have two more movies to watch before Thursday?
Barring anything unexpected, the plan is to watch The Force Awakens tomorrow night and The Last Jedi on Wednesday.

This is a strange one for me. I actually really like almost all of the elements that make up the film; all of the Jabba stuff, all the Luke/Vader/Emperor stuff, the battle of Endor, the attack on the Death Star, and I even have a soft spot for the Ewoks. It’s just such a cluster fuck when you put it all together and something just doesn’t feel right. But I enjoy it none the less.
This is a pretty good summation of my feelings as well; somehow the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Solo suffers from that feeling a bit as well. The other movies manage to transcend their component problems to varying degrees.
 

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Brief thoughts about RoJ...

I was heavily into motorcycles around this time, so the speeder bike chase sequence was pretty awesome. I believe it was Roger Ebert who observed that if you can fly a little bit above the forest floor, you should be able to fly above the trees. :) But honestly this never occurred to me during this thrilling sequence during my theatrical viewings.

Most of my memories of the film are of the original version (as I believe the revised viewings have only been experienced two or maybe three times over the years). The theatrical viewings of what became IV, V, and VI are the ones that I remember and treasure and the SE version are an interesting experiment (from my perspective.)

When the first three Star Wars films in the series were released, there were accompanying network tv specials (I believe on CBS) that discussed the films and provided behind the scenes footage, interviews, etc. I remember seeing the Steadicam footage being shot and the FX guys explaining how the shots were employed. One other FX memory that I recall was seeing the sound designers capturing various sounds for the film, including hitting a steel guy-wire for a power line pole to capture a sound that would ultimately become the sound of a blaster firing. Memories. :)

- Walter.
 

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My favorite Star Wars film. Partly because of nostalgia, partly because it just an extremely satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
 

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I totally agree on the pacing and all of the ingredients in the stew being better than the finished meal.

I find it really hard to get into the big space battle. It just doesn’t seem that important compared to everything else that’s going on. And it’s only partly that we’ve seen a version of the same thing before. It’s more that it either presents us with depictions of things we already know (The Emperor reveals it’s a trap to us before Lando and crew know), or that it pulls us away from more interesting places. Luke, Vader and Palpatine are just more interesting in those moments than Lando flying a ship. Han and Leia on the forest moon is more interesting. I’m not sure how much of that is also because we’ve followed those characters through two and a half films by that point, while Lando is newer and the impression we get of him from Empire is that of a self-centered character. He undergoes all of his character growth between films so that he’s a rebel hero by the time we catch up with him again, and it’s maybe a little jarring to see him go from being the jerk no one trusts to being one of the team. That feels like a conventional sequel move - everyone comes back and since you have all the actors, you bend over backwards to fit them into the story even if it doesn’t quite fit. It also duplicates Han’s arc and in a less compelling fashion, so it’s all recycled stuff.

But as a kid, this one was my favorite too. The uneven pacing seemed to work for my childhood brain, because it meant that there was always an action scene around the corner. And when you’re a kid watching something a thousand times, you lose track that point A sets point B in motion; they’re simply things that happen, and since you watch it over and over, it feels even more predetermined. The long slow burn of Empire felt, well, long and slow to me by comparison as a child.
 
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I love this film. Yes, the Ewoks exist purely to sell toy dolls, and yes, they couldn't come up with anything more creative at the end than to blow up the Death Star again. Points given to those who profess to love the trilogy but hate on this movie a lot anyway.

Doesn't matter, IMO those flaws pale in comparison to what it gets right, namely the great set pieces with Jabba and Endor and Luke vs the Emperor. Plus, the movie has growth and continuity in spades. The characters feel like they've experienced the first two movies and it is reflected in their personalities and outlooks. I loved it when I lined up to see it on May 25, 1983 and it is still the "most watchable" of the three original films to me, though I love the other two as well.

It's really the only one where if it happens to be on TV it doesn't matter where i come in on it, I can just plop down and watch it to the end. With the first two, I always feel like I should watch them start to finish or else I'm not getting the full flavor.

A
 
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I was 9 when Star Wars came out. It was just about the perfect age to watch that movie. Empire was a little more mature and had a darker ending, which perfectly matched my maturation at 12. Three years later, I'm in high school. 15 year old me rushes to the theater to see Jedi, but (Leia's bikini notwithstanding), it's for 9 year old kids like Episode IV. It's full of muppets. It has teddy bears. It has goofy slapstick. It has another goddamn Death Star.

I hated it. Just hated it.

Years later, I still have no stomach to watch it all the way through. I still can't get over the muppets and the teddy bears. It still can't get over how it devolved instead of evolving. But I have to keep it mind: it was for 9 year old kids.
 

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I was 9 when Star Wars came out. It was just about the perfect age to watch that movie. Empire was a little more mature and had a darker ending, which perfectly matched my maturation at 12. Three years later, I'm in high school. 15 year old me rushes to the theater to see Jedi, but (Leia's bikini notwithstanding), it's for 9 year old kids like Episode IV. It's full of muppets. It has teddy bears. It has goofy slapstick. It has another goddamn Death Star.

I hated it. Just hated it.

Years later, I still have no stomach to watch it all the way through. I still can't get over the muppets and the teddy bears. It still can't get over how it devolved instead of evolving. But I have to keep it mind: it was for 9 year old kids.
Well the entire trilogy was for kids as it was based, and followed beats from the Buck Rogers serials in the youthful years of George Lucas. I'm not sure why you expected it to suddenly become an "adult" series at the very end, when it was never that to begin with.
And the final showdown between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor did nothing for you?
 

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I was 15. I didn't expect the characters to start dropping F bombs, but at that time I didn't think it was going to regress like that. As an adult, I can see the trilogy is for children. That said, there are "kids" movies that work on another level for adults to appreciate. Jedi is not one of those movies for me.

I was already bored and rolling my eyes by the last act. I was just gritting my teeth to get through it.
 

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I was in 16 when ROTJ came out and I thought it was great. The second Death Star never bothered me, since the circumstances and the threat were very different with it still being under construction, and it made sense that the Empire would try again to build their superweapon (minus any pesky design flaws).

I loved the ending, it was very emotionally satisfying when Vader turned against the Emperor to save Luke.
 
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I was in 16 when ROTJ came out and I thought it was great. The second Death Star never bothered me, since the circumstances and the threat were very different with it still being under construction, and it made sense that the Empire would try again to build their superweapon (minus any pesky design flaws).

I loved the ending, it was very emotionally satisfying when Vader turned against the Emperor to save Luke.
There's enough good and great stuff in ROTJ to make up for what doesn't work.
 

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There's enough good and great stuff in ROTJ to make up for what doesn't work.
For the most part. The Ewoks still almost completely derail the whole thing for me, and Carrie Fisher's phoned-in performance always makes me think of the personal demons she was wrestling with at the time. That being said, there is some very good stuff in the film, but it remains my least favorite of the OT. IMO it could have been so much more if it had only built upon the vibe that Empire managed to capture.
 

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But as a kid, this one was my favorite too. The uneven pacing seemed to work for my childhood brain, because it meant that there was always an action scene around the corner. And when you’re a kid watching something a thousand times, you lose track that point A sets point B in motion; they’re simply things that happen, and since you watch it over and over, it feels even more predetermined. The long slow burn of Empire felt, well, long and slow to me by comparison as a child.
I loved the uneven pacing as a kid, too. The lulls just made the movie feel longer, which meant that I got to spend more time in a galaxy far, far away. I didn't want the movie to end back then. Part of it's being a kid, part of it is just that there was far less content back then. Now, I can't fit everything I want to watch into my schedule, so I have far less tolerance than I used to for anything that wastes my time.
 
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There's enough good and great stuff in ROTJ to make up for what doesn't work.
It all worked for me. I first saw it when I was 10 (best movie going experience I ever had), and still have the same opinion about it now. It is great fun, and dramatically satisfying in the final act.
 
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When the kids and I watched Return of the Jedi as part of our 12 Days of Star Wars, I liked it even less this time than before. It's a massive failure. The tone is all wrong, and everything is played for laughs. The creatures on Jabba's barge and in his court act like Muppets, with the jumping and laughing you'd expect on The Muppet Show. The makeup and costumes are a step down from the Cantina scene, and the creatures are more cartoonish and puppet-like.

The script and the actors' delivery are all lacking. Harrison Ford gives what might be the worst performance of his career, and Mark Hamill's delivery is stilted and his dialogue is unnatural. Lando and Han's goodbye is not genuine and sounds like something from a Saturday morning kids show.

The biggest failure is the ending sequences, which ruin the dramatic tension of the final confrontation with cuts to Ewoks for comedy when that's the last thing we need at that point. I know Lucas has said these are supposed to be kids' movies, but he went from making movies for 10-12 year olds to one for 7-8 year-olds.

The deleted scenes have a few nice things, like the early reveal of Luke and his new saber, but Vader's calls to him are cringe-worthy.

Return of the Jedi seems like it was made by people having too much fun, if you take my meaning. Before Disney bought Star Wars and it became clear that they'd continue the saga, Return of the Jedi used to be my evidence that the original trilogy and the prequels should be remade from scratch.
 
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Tagline: The Empire Falls...
Genre: Adventure, Action, Science Fiction
Director: Richard Marquand
Runtime: 135
Release: 1983-05-23
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