I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
List Appearances: 4/10
Average Rank: 67
Highest Rank: 60, on Ranker’s The Best Movies of All Time
Total Final Score: 756
First off, apologies for the lateness of this entry. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing an online course which has taken up almost all of my free time. While I had watched RotJ in order to write this, a couple of weeks ago, I have not had the time to write my thoughts/impressions. I may still be quiet for a couple more weeks after this, because I have not finished the course yet, and need to by mid-March.
I mentioned in my Star Wars: A New Hope review that as a child, when I heard the 20th Century Fox fanfare, I would enthusiastically exclaim, “Return of the Jedi!”, even if it wasn’t Return. I unabashedly loved Return, I think in large part to the Ewoks, and I had a propensity to love any kind of movie that forced its hero to choose between light and dark – light winning with the narrowest of margins. In fact, I still love Legend because of this, even though I know it’s a far from perfect fantasy movie.
With Return of the Jedi, that battle between the Light Side and the Dark Side was stronger than any of the previous entries, as it should have been. This is played out on both ends with Luke battling with his darkness, and Vader battling with his light. Vader is muted and dulled in the film, though, with the introduction of The Emperor. The opening scene sees Vader verbally threaten the admiral of the Death Star, in perhaps my favorite shot of the three films. The nervous admiral swallows, eyes hyper-focused as he realizes that The Emperor was far more intimidating than Vader.
As I grew older, though, my love of Return diminished, and I now know that it is the inferior of the original trilogy (as evidenced by its placement on this top 100 list). That is not to say it isn’t a great movie, and it doesn’t belong on a list. It doesn’t help, either, that of the originals, this was the movie with the greatest number of changes from the original film in the Special Edition cuts. I detest the updated music number in Jabba’s palace and at the end of the movie, and I didn’t see any reason why the Sarlacc pit needed an extra head or tentacles. The original pit was terrifying enough. I also never questioned if Boba Fett survived being eaten, but I guess that’s largely because I never quite understood his appeal, as previously mentioned.
At the start of the film, we see C-3P0 and R2D2 back in the deserts of Tatooine, entering Jabba’s Palace on a mission. C-3PO hasn’t been included in the plan to help Solo escape his imprisonment. It unfolds like a slow-moving heist film, complete with planned twists and turns. Though, I’ll admit, I always feel a little bad for the Rancor’s handler. He must have loved him like a pet, and I can totally get on board with that deep sadness and void that a family pet leaves when it dies. According to Fandom, there’s a rich story about the handler, which I would be far more interested in watching than some Solo, Lando, or Boba Fett prequel.
The Jabba’s Palace scenes are a great introduction into the strength of these characters and how much they have grown. Unfortunately, Leia is relegated to a sex icon with her slave girl outfit, but she makes up for it later during her racer chase scenes, interactions with Wicket, and her telling of her memories of her mother. Solo and Lando have both embraced their positions with the Rebel Alliance and take up the mantle of General, taking on fool’s errands in the hopes of beating The Empire once and for all. Luke looks battle-worn and tired. His goodbye to Yoda, conversations with Obi-Wan and Leia, and his final confrontation with Vader are filled with hope but laced with a deep melancholy. The task of defeating Vader wears heavily on him.
It plays out as largely one big battle, both on land and in space. The moon of Endor is a beautiful place, with the majority of its action in the incredible redwood forest in Del Norte, California. While, in space, ships are seen from a distance exploding; nameless and faceless people dying in an unwinnable war. This plays as a David vs Goliath fight, with the stakes higher than ever, given the building of a new (fully operational) Death Star. For several long minutes, it looks like there is no chance the rebels can win. It is a credit to Luke that he waits so long before he reaches for his lightsaber.
In the end, though, the Light Side wins, and not from some brave act by our hero, but from that conflict raging within Vader himself, culminating in a redemption arc that inspired a prequel trilogy. Our heroes save the universe, destroy the Empire, and bring peace across the lands…. for now, anyway. There’s a giant celebration, and we cheer with the Ewoks and our friends as Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie embrace. It’s a bittersweet end, thanks to the removal of “Yub Nub”, my favorite Ewok song, and the inclusion of Hayden Christiansen where Sebastian Shaw once stood, but I won’t harp on that any more.
Let’s just say I have a deep passion for Star Wars, and that no amount of mediocre prequels or future sequels will diminish that love.
Minor disclaimer: I do enjoy the new trilogy and think Last Jedi and Force Awakens are worthy additions to the lore. (At least they don’t talk about midichlorians.) But nothing will ever reach the heights of the original trilogy, and that is absolutely fine. It doesn’t have to, and the creators owe me nothing. If only the rest of the internet believed as I do.