Originally published on May 25, 1983, in the Post-Dispatch
Even more than its predecessors in the "Star Wars" series, "Return of the Jedi" is about incredible special effects and astonishingly effective costumes and makeup. The characters and dialogue get lost somewhere between the bug-eyed monsters and the exploding spaceships, but it is all so much fun it probably really does not matter a whole lot.
As you probably have heard or read, unless you spent the last hype-filled few months on the moon of Endor, in "Return of the Jedi" Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) discovers that his father is the evil Darth Vader (a true man of parts who is played, in various aspects, by David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Bob Anderson and Sebastian Shaw). Vader is on the artificial Death Star, up to no good. On the attack come the rebels, led by Skywalker, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), plus the usual complement of two robots and a Wookiee.
Of course, Skywalker is headed eventually for an Oedipal showdown with Dear Old Dad, but along the way a lot of wondrous things happen. We see some old friends, such as Yoda, the 900-year-old Jedi Master, and Ben Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). And some old enemies, such as the terrifying giant mechanical Walkers and the Empire's Storm Troopers, who look like albino lobsters.
But there are a lot of new outer-space characters, too, and they are one of the highlights of the movie. It is amazing how far the makeup departments have advanced in the six years since the first of three "Star Wars" movies was released. (Reportedly, there are six more to come: a triology set before this one, and another set after it.)
The movie is well worth seeing just for the extraterrestrials, and particularly one inter-galactic orgy presided over by Jabba the Hutt, an enormous drooling brownish creature who is all belly and mouth and keeps a bowl full of live frogs close to hand for an occasional snack. He also, for a while, keeps on a gold chain Carrie Fisher, who wears a skimpy harem outfit that shows — on the evidence of her cute little tummy — that Jane Fonda is not the only woman in Hollywood who exercises.
There are literally dozens of loathsome creatures in the Jabba the Hutt section, which opens the movie. The last third of the movie is considerably enlivened by the Ewoks, a tribe of stone-age teddy bears who are probably destined to become this year's equivalent of the E.T. doll. There are some marvelous scenes where the Ewoks battle and even swipe the hovercraft motorcycles that the Storm Troopers roar through the forest on.
The inevitable climatic space battle, with Calrissian roaring through tunnels to destroy the living heart of the Death Star, is a marvel of special effects. In fact, it may be too good. Everything moves so fast and there are so many types of vessels involved, it is pretty easy to get lost.
Because so much of "Return of the Jedi" concentrates on makeup and special effects, and perhaps also because much of the dialogue (and acting) is so bad, it is pretty hard to get too involved with the characters, who came across with much more human interest in "The Empire Strikes Back," the second of the movies. In a sense, the extraterrestrials are a lot more human than the people. Among other things, that means that the movie is rather cold at the center.
Technically, each of the 'Star Wars' movies has been a quantum jump over the previous ones and it is hard to imagine anyone who enjoyed the other-worldly weirdness and deep-space dogfights of the earlier films not getting a big boot out of this one.
But you also get the idea that Ford, Fisher, Hamill and Williams are a little bored with the whole thing. Reportedly, they will not be in the next trilogy to be shot, which ends when Luke Skywalker is a little boy. That might freshen the characterizations. On the other hand, maybe producer George Lucas should pay heed to a comment heard on leaving the Esquire theater after the preview: "I really enjoyed that, but don't you think three is enough?"
In this Series
- 11 updates