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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #91: Return of the Jedi

If you want someone to give you death stares, tell a die-hard Star Wars fan the original trilogy is not perfect. I am however going to take a risk and write that if there is one major flaw with Return of the Jedi (1983) is a lack of imagination when it comes to the central plot. After the good guys blow up the Death Star in the first movie, the bad guys are almost done building a brand new one, which of course needs to be destroyed again in more or less the same way. Richard Marquand may be directing this time, but it was still George Lucas writing. Plot hole aside, as a kid you can’t help but have fun as the good guys join forces with a tribe of living teddy bears to get the job done.

Like many people in their early 30s, I was introduced to the first Star Wars trilogy by my parents who had recorded the movies, commercials included, when they were showing one night on TV. Upon first viewing, a few things stick out in the mind of a young boy watching Return of the Jedi such as: Jaba the Hut is really ugly, those Ewoks are really cute, and hello, Princess Leia in a metal bikini. I recently saw a video in which the late great Carrie Fisher talked about the impact that particular costume had on many young men’s puberty. She will be missed.  

Another way which in this episode calls back to the very first movie is by going back to a desert setting to stage a rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from intergalactic mobster and giant slug Jabba the Hut. It is a slow burn until the big fights since the main characters one by one infiltrate Jabba’s castle under different disguises in order to spring into action at the right moment. When that moment indeed comes it is above a giant pit in the desert that is actually the mouth of a monster that digests you for thousands of years. It’s a great fight sequence that starts off great with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) leaping into action to grab his lightsaber in mid-air, and is not limited to the boys since inside Jabba’s ship Princess Leia is busy strangling the ugly slug that put her in that metal bikini.

Once the desert showdown is over, it is back to business as the Rebel Alliance gets their ships together to once again blow up the Death Star. However there is time for Luke to take a detour to visit his dying mentor Yoda and come to grips with some serious revelations from the previous film. Yes, big bad Darth Vader is his father and he might tempted to join him on the dark side, but Luke also realises Leia is his sister. Wait a minute; didn’t they kiss at the beginning of the second movie? Oops!

The movie wisely never addresses this little brush with incest and then moves the action to the forest of Endor where the Empire is controlling a shield that protects the under-construction Death Star. The plan is to blow up the shield, open the way for the rebel ships to blow up the big space weapon, and hopefully kill the evil emperor (Ian McDiarmid) at the same time. What the rebels don’t know is the emperor knows they are coming, leading to the now famous and somewhat on the nose line: “It’s a trap!”

As with most films in the franchise so far, the highlights are the numerous fight scenes taking place in the desert, the forest, and in space. The forest fights are especially fun, such as when the furry Ewoks find creative ways to defeat the Empire’s walking tanks (All Terrain Scout Transports for you perfectionists), which resemble metal chickens. The problem with giving your tanks legs as it turns out is that they can trip on those legs.

The main event is a more personal fight as father and son have the sword fight of their lives, although what they are really fighting for is each other’s soul. The emotional stakes and the outcome of that duel make for a fitting conclusion for one of the biggest trilogies of cinema history. That is to say, until Disney decided to restart the franchise decades later, have the remnants of the Empire build yet another WMD in space, and continue the Skywalker family drama. Still, as an end to this particular trilogy Return of the Jedi made me want to watch it over and over again on that VHS tape.


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