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

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So my journey into the world of Star Wars is halfway complete, and it goes without saying that I am have truly entertained by these fantastic films, and am fully engrossed in the Star Wars universe. The final film of the original trilogy, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, is probably by far the greatest of them all, and not only is it the best of the trilogy, but it could quite possibly be the greatest science fiction film ever made, and in addition to the absolutely wonderful previousĀ films, a truly memorable film series has been created, but of course that isn’t news to anyone.

Episode V was the low point in this trilogy, which isn’t meant to imply that it is a bad film in any regard, but rather to boldly claim that A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back were absolutely tremendous. I mentioned in my previous review that The Empire Strikes Back had the purpose of setting up the stage for the final film, and in that regard it did absolutely beautifully. Everything that Episode V threw at us was resolved here, and we were able to become attached to this film and engrossed in the story rather than the filmmakers having to use too much time to explain and give context. It allowed for Episode VI to flow smoothly and without any pacing problems, which makes it equally comparable to Episode IV.

However, it isn’t fair to simply compare this film to the other two, and perhaps that would be better suited for a piece about the entire saga as a whole, but not for the moment. On its own, Return of the Jedi is a fantastic film. It is absolutely coherent in its story, and doesn’t veer off into regions of absolute ridiculousness like many science fiction films. The filmmaking is once again spectacular. I was dreadfully wrong when I said The Empire Strikes Back was the visual and creative peak of this series, because once again, the director (this time veteran director Richard Marquand) and the visual effects team used all the cinematic tools at their disposal to make this film look as beautiful as it did. A major problem with older science fiction films (and let’s be honest, an “older” science fiction film is anywhere from as recently as ten years ago) can be laughable in their attempts at special effects.

I honestly believe that what George Lucas and his company (Industrial Light & Magic) achieved with these three films is more impressive than any science fiction film in history, and their use of special effects is probably the most brilliant I’ve ever seen, and I alluded to Avatar in my previous review, mainly because that film has been seen to be the most impressive technological cinematic marvel ever made. The problem with Avatar is even watching it now, merely six years later, it starts to look slightly outdated and with many other science fiction films since then being major improvements, Avatar is already starting to be seen as a fading marvel, only a few years later. That is not because the technology was fleeting, or the effects weren’t great – they were fantastic – but the script was so weak, all the film has left is the effects. Star Wars, over thirty years later, can still be seen as brilliant and is absolutely timeless, because while some of the effects may seem slightly pedestrian, they were revolutionary at the time, and were more impressive then than Avatar or any science fiction film could ever hope to be.

The core brilliance of Star Wars lies in the fact that it has so much heart and soul. It may be an enormous science fiction epic with a huge budget and many extravagent locations and expensive special effects, but it is far more than just brawn. We fall in love with these characters, and they are not merely just a variety of exotic adventurers and aliens – they are fully formed characters that are developed wonderfully. The story itself is so much more than simple popcorn-fare – the films, and most especially Return of the Jedi, are as much about galactic adventures as they are about family, betrayal, friendship and love. There is a vast amount of storyline happening beneath the surface of this film, and through it there is a surprising amount of emotional resonance. There are so many moments where this film makes statements about our society that not even the most gritty social drama could ever achieve, and it is absolutely breathtaking, because the worst part of a big-budget franchise is that they tend to often be all about visuals and flashy filmmaking rather than giving the audience something to think about.

The cast of Star Wars has never been better. Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are all at the top of their game here, and truly do lead this iconic film series with great talent. However, the performances in this film extend far more than this core trio. Frank Oz, who I found played Yoda to be ever-so-slightly annoying in the previous film, does a fantastic job of developing the character. I never thought the death of a puppet could bring me to the verge of tears, but this film certainly did it. Alec Guinness returns once again in an even smaller capacity as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and was fantastic once again. Special kudos has to go to the vast army of puppeteers and voice actors that were not on screen, yet they all contributed massively to the brilliance of this film and were responsible for some of the most striking and memorable characters in this film. If you didn’t feel immense respect for people in the craft of puppetry, this film will most certainly make you appreciate their skills.

Blockbusters often only inspire the feeling of adrenaline in audiences, so for a film like Star Wars to inspire an immense range of emotions proves how special these films are, and none of them are more touching and emotionally resonant than Return of the Jedi. I dare anyone to watch the penultimate scene where Luke Skywalker tenderly says goodbye to his father, the otherwise vicious and truly maniacal villain Darth Vader, and not feel some form of sadness. To show a villain in a position where we actually feel guilty for previously hating him is a masterful feat. The ending of this film is truly a victory – both because the characters have defeated their foes and restored order to their galaxy, and also because the film ends with such a melancholic but joyful celebration. It almost seems as if the final scene serves two purposes – as a celebration of the characters for accomplishing their mission, but also as a celebration of the actors and everyone involved in the making of this film for victoriously making cinematic history. By the time the final credits roll, you are hit with a sack full of emotions, from which it is nearly impossible to recover, but one doesn’t necessarily want to forget the emotional blow this film deals you, because that is part of the charm.

I adored this film. I adored the trilogy. I went in with high hopes, and find the films exceeding those expectations in every regard. I don’t think we’ll ever see a film series as perfect as this trilogy ever again, and while the Harry Potter films do come close, Star Wars is still the most influential, iconic and most wonderful film franchise in history. Unfortunately, I need to move onto the prequel trilogy next, and I have to tell you, from what I’ve heard, I should keep my expectations very low, but perhaps they will surprise me as well. We shall see.

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