Return of the Jedi / Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)

And then we get to the third movie, that features the Ewoks. Oh brother. Like any kid, I liked the Ewoks when I had not yet reached the age of good taste. NowI you just find myself staring at the screen, not sure whether to laugh or be embarrassed. You have a species of walking teddy bears, that despite being a tiny and cuddly, they are supposedly a fearsome warrior race that somehow can defeat an entire platoon of Storm Troopers with just rocks, primitive spears and sawed tree logs as their weapons. It just doesn’t really work when you start to think about it, now does it? Especially when the Ewoks don’t speak a word of English. To be fair, the Ewoks don’t ruin the entire movie by their sheer presence, but they go a long way ruining the immersion and dragging the movie down. They feel so out of place. I actually have a theory about them: I believe that George Lucas only created the Ewoks as a last minute gambit,  aimed to distract the viewer so much that you wouldn’t notice just how coked up Carrie Fisher looks in almost every close up she is in. I back this claim by absolute no evidence what so ever.

Ironically, Return of the Jedi ends up falling on third place in the ranking for the original trilogy. While entirely watchable and far from terrible, it’s not as satisfying as Episode IV nor as exciting as Empire Strikes Back. As it tends to be with most third movies in a series, RotJ has that awkward and fairly common problem of not knowing how to top what had come before. Whether it was laziness, failure to come up with anything better or simply the desire to bring the franchise full circle and back to its roots,  Lucas unfortunately decided to rehash the Death Star as the central evil maguffin from the first movie and then spend the rest of the script on tying up plot elements introduced by Episode V. The resulting movie thus feels a bit disappointing due to the retread of the central plot. The saving grace of  the entire movie is the conclusion to Luke’s character arc when he confronts the Emperor and Vader. That alone carries the movie once we’re done with Jabba. On its own the entire Endor bit, or as I like to call it the Death Star: the electric boogaloo portion of the plot, feels very much like Lucas just trying to come up with something for the rest of his bloated cast to do in the mean time when Luke’s doing his duel and the Rebellion’s about to run into a trap.

Out of everybody who isn’t Luke, Lando fares the best in terms of relevance because he spends most of his screen time flying the Millennium Flacon and ultimately blows up the core of Death Star 2.0. Both Han and Leia kinda just go through the motions, because it’s so obvious the shield generators plot point only exists so that they could still feel important to the plot after Han was saved from Jabba and their individual storyline was basically over. It’s still better than Chewbacca’s role, as his character is reduced to almost R2D2 and C-3PO level of comedic relief and of course the droids themselves are just there because it’s a Star Wars movies, not because it makes sense to the story. C-3PO is a protocol droid and a translator, so of course he needs to be part of a stealthy sabotage mission. You never know, you might need to be able to know the difference between a salad fork and a desert fork when blowing up an enemy base. At least he’s got the Ewoks worshiping him as a God thing giving him some plot relevance. What’s R2D2’s excuse? Nobody else could cut the rope when Chewier falls for that Ewok trap? R2 basically has no good reason whatsoever to go into a forest planet. I mean, how does it even manage to move in the forest without getting stuck all the time?

On a more positive side, the final battle fought simultaneously on three separate fronts is very well balanced, and the amounting spectacle is quite gorgeous. The best part of it is of course the parts taking place inside the Emperor’s chamber in the Death Star, where Luke and Vader have a duel while Palpatine tries to goad Luke to fall to the dark side. The duel itself is so passionate and full of emotion that it on its own makes you forget all the dull parts of the movie that came before. While Lando and his crew don’t exactly win any awards in pathos and characterization, they do work well enough as a storytelling device to give the space battle the needed weight to make it feel important, especially in the first half when the Rebellion realizes its been fooled into a trap and it’s Lando who talks the command to stay put and bide their time until Han and his crew give them an opening to go in and destroy the new Death Star. And to be fair, the Endor fight scene is entirely adequate for what it is, it doesn’t feel out of place between all the cutting back and forth all three sides of the battle. Combined these all together, the entire climax wins a lot of good will and saves the movie from being a complete disappointment, and that’s why Return of the Jedi is merely a decent movie and an OK conclusion to the trilogy, rather than a great one.

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