Return of the Jedi is a mixed bag of decent and amazing. This movie has some of my least favorite parts of this trilogy and some of my most liked moments of the trilogy. It’s a hard placement on my ranking of Star Wars movies. I know a lot of people think this is the best of all of them and some not so much. I always watched this movie after watching Empire but my thoughts back then even as a kid seemed to stay the same as I continued to watch it growing up. I remember always enjoying the last third of the movie when the heroes make it to Endor and the climactic finale starts. I also remember not paying much attention to the beginning with Jabba because it just seemed to drag and wasn’t and wasn’t as exciting until they are about to be thrown into the Sarlaac pit. I enjoyed all of when Luke goes back to see Yoda, but I didn’t like the beginning of them showing up on Endor. All in all I just remember the pacing being a big issue in this movie for me. At the time I was too young to really understand pacing and how important it is to a movie, but as I got older I understood it more and the issue stood out significantly the more I watched. I know not everyone has this feeling and many enjoy it, but that’s just a difference of opinion. I also hadn’t watched this movie in a little while until before doing this review so maybe my thoughts changed?
It’s always hard to go into a movie with a blank slate in your mind especially when you’ve already seen it numerous times but I tried my best to go into this fresh. With the cliffhanger of Han being frozen and taken away by Boba to deliver to Jabba, I knew that they were going to have to address that. At the time, they weren’t sure if Harrison Ford was going to be back for another movie so they had to end Empire in a way where they would be covered no matter what. It was going to have to be a rescue mission and it begins with Luke sending in C3PO and R2D2 to barter with the slug like gangster. A hologram of Luke shows us a much more confident version of this character. Fair enough, he’s been through a lot at this point and it’s a rightful progression of the character although a little jarring considering where we left him in the previous film. We didn’t really get the development of him from Empire to him in this film. It’s not a big deal but it was a point noted when watching it this time. I then found myself asking “how many people does it take?” The droids go in with no success, then Leia goes in and unfreezes Han but gets caught so she fails, then Luke goes in and ultimately fails until they all escape later on. It seemed a little too much to have someone try to save everyone three times. There’s also a few points that don’t make sense logically. Lando is already there so if the droids barter was successful, does he just walk out and reveal that he was undercover? If Leia is successful in leaving with Han then how do the droids and Lando get out? Now if Luke was successful then it would be easier because they could all just walk out, but that didn’t happen either. Now I wonder, was this Luke’s plan the whole time? Have Leia unfreeze him only to get captured? What if the Rancor killed Luke? Now the rest of our heroes are stuck with Jabba forever. The whole rescue plot just seems convoluted and makes no sense when you think about it. Also, how does Han magically shoot Boba at the right time and in the right spot so that his jet pack goes off and he falls in the pit? Also (again) why would you kill Boba like that so easily? There’s just a lot that doesn’t make sense hence why I’m not a fan of this whole beginning act. There are some good aspects of the beginning like Luke’s new outfit being all black. It’s an interesting contrast to who he is mentally having become a fully realized Jedi Knight and yet the black represents more of the dark side feel. I also like how he force chokes the guard in the beginning. I find it odd that you never see a Jedi do that except in that one scene. I suppose it comes off as being not very Jedi-like to use the force for harm, but I do like that Luke is one of the few Jedi that actually embraces all aspects of the force. He is you could say the first Gray Jedi we’ve seen on screen. I won’t go into the lore of what a Gray Jedi is, but if you look at The Last Jedi, you can see that his teachings and learnings lean more towards Gray Jedi.
It is interesting how less complex this movie is till you get to the final act. After escaping and killing Jabba, they split up so Luke can go visit Yoda and the others go meet up with the rebel fleet. During this we finally get to see the Emperor with Vader as they discuss the new Death Star. Which of course they just had to add another Death Star because they couldn’t come up with something else for them to fight. It couldn’t just be an Imperial fleet or some kind of other super weapon? I guess it would make sense that the Emperor would have other stations built around the galaxy after the success of the first one but unless they started building it before A New Hope than the building time frame doesn’t make much sense. This may be something that’s only harmed by the prequels and might have worked better without the prequels showing the early stages of its creation. Luke finally gets to visit Yoda again to complete his training, but of course Yoda says that there is no more training for him. Okay, so wait a second. Luke hasn’t seen Yoda since Empire where he didn’t complete his training and failed miserably against Vader, and yet he requires no more training after a relatively short amount of time between these two movies. That didn’t make much sense and the reveal of Leia being his sister is kind of cool, but feels like it was just added for the sake of another twist. I do like the death of Yoda, but really all this feels like it happens to no point. Ben tries to explain his lie about Vader being his father, but doesn’t give a very compelling reason. The more I talk about it, the more I start to realize how little sense a lot of this movie makes so far.
Luke finally meets up with the rebel fleet as they work out a plan to take out the Death Star and to defeat the Empire for good! They arrive on the Moon of Endor with Luke almost giving the team away by just existing as they try to sneak onto the planet. Vader has a dumb dumb moment by allowing them to land when he could’ve just ordered the ship to be destroyed, but that goes back to the light side coming out of him. It’s a fair reason that really shows him as a deeper character and sets up his turn for the end of the movie. The speeder bike chase is pretty cool with Luke and Leia and we’re introduced to the native Ewoks. There are a few things I have to say about the Ewoks. I would have preferred to have Wookies in their place like it was supposed to be in the original drafts. They would have been more fearsome and would have made for a far more exciting end fight against the Stormtroopers. With that said, the Ewoks are terribly underrated. All of the times I watched this movie before this time, I always felt like the Ewoks were too cute and not threatening enough for me to care so much about them fighting with our heroes. In all honesty I absolutely hated the Ewoks for the longest time. On this viewing I realized that the Ewoks are scarier when you actually look at their actions. While they are cute little teddy bears, they are actually small fierce little murderers. Their cuteness takes away from what they actually planned on doing to our heroes and gives an idea of how they are as a species on a normal day. They were going to burn our heroes alive and eat them without a second thought. They were savages that decided to help our heroes thankfully and instead fought the Empire and likely murdered and ate the stormtroopers. So we skip the whole C3PO story time and get to Luke telling Leia about their sibling relationship which of course she felt like was true the whole time and then Luke leaves to go face Vader.
The finale. The big climactic war of all wars. There’s really not much to say about this. It’s a great space battle considered by some to be the greatest space battle ever on the big screen with some key moments from Lando who is flying the Falcon. We also get some classic Han moments in the fight on the forest moon and a roll your eyes moment when Leia steals Han’s “I know” moment. The Ewoks somehow completely destroy the surprisingly small fleet of Imperials that went down to the moon. Why would you not send more troops down to completely annihilate them? You literally have so many troops but you only sent a small group that were easily handled by a bunch of murderous teddy bears. Okay, enough of all of that. We get to the part that we actually care more about and that is the finale between Luke, Vader, and Palpatine. For all of you people complaining about The Last Jedi and Snoke’s use in that movie. Newsflash, Palpatine does even less than Snoke. He sits there and tries to lure Luke to the dark side and then tries to turn on Vader and is finally thrown down a reactor shaft and “exploding”. (Since he is alive in The Rise of Skywalker I guess he didn’t actually explode). I guess I’m a fan of this final battle even though it nowhere near matches the duel in Empire. And the father son moments between Vader and Luke is compelling and heartfelt and a great way to end the reign of the Empire. Other than that I actually can’t say much more about this film.
In the end, this movie for me is a disappointing follow up to The Empire Strikes Back. Many loves this movie and many consider it to be the best Star Wars movie of the whole series. I disagree. I don’t see where the elevation in quality is in this film unfortunately and while there are some enjoyable moments that work for me, on rewatch it just doesn’t work as a whole. There’s not as much depth or layers to it or the characters. It also has pacing issues and several logic issues that honestly reeks of somebody trying to do too much. It really just didn’t have as clear of a vision as Empire and A New Hope. Unfortunately this film did not exceed my previous feelings and honestly may have come out lower on my list of these films ranked.