While “Return of the Jedi” has its legions of fans, it’s also a film that helps support the idea that third parts of film series are usually terrible. While “Return of the Jedi” is not the worst movie ever made, it’s a flimsy, and pandering final installment to a series that started off quite well. It’s very well documented that by the time “Return of the Jedi” came around, director George Lucas was a millionaire thanks to merchandise, and he used “Return” as a means of selling even more toys. Thus characters come back through contrived manners, villains are offed in the goofiest ways, and Lucas follows up his dark and mature “Empire Strikes Back” in favor of a more watered down film starring knee high teddy bears.
Assuming the third film is set immediately after “Empire,” it’s baffling why it took such a long time to break Han free. If Jabba is such a high ranking mobster, why is it so hard to get inside his base? And why does a skilled bounty hunter like Boba Fett hang around Jabba’s palace? Nonetheless, “Return of the Jedi” is a mostly contrived finale to the original trilogy, where Lucas teams up the original group to take down the Empire and Darth Vader once and for all. Filled with the knowledge of Vader’s past from the second film, Luke is now a skilled Jedi. With the help of R2-D2 and C3P0, Luke and party break in to Jabba’s palace to free Han. Though it’s stated that carbonite may have killed Han, he’s thawed out and only slightly delirious.
Breaking Han free from the Palace, Luke goes back to Dagobah to figure out how to confront Darth and the Emperor with master Yoda, while Han and Leia devise a way to infiltrate a base on Endor to bring down the shields of the new Death Star. Much of “Jedi” leads to interesting characterization for Luke Skywalker and Leia, both of whom learn something about themselves and their own lives. Luke of course has to come to grips with the fact that he may become his father if he doesn’t step lively, while Leia discovers she’s not only a Skywalker, but one with the force. If Vader knew he had children, why didn’t he search for them? And if Vader needed an apprentice to bring down the Emperor why didn’t he just find someone with the force to help him? Nevertheless, while the film itself is filled with goofy meandering sub-plots, and a more G rated version of the premise, Luke’s confrontation with Vader is the centerpiece.
The story constantly teeters between whimsical fantasy and dark character study as Han and Leia meet the lovable Ewoks on Endor. Meanwhile, Luke has to fight with every inch of his being from becoming the next Darth Vader. Thus we’re pushed back and forth in to light and comedic, to dark and brooding. The time on Endor is also inconsistent and buffoonish, as we’re led to believe small bears that can barely sit on logs built massive cities high in the trees. And why high in the trees? Endor is mostly a deserted roaming forest world, there’s never an indication of wildlife or predators. The Ewoks are mainly for comic relief and appeal to toddlers as they’re adorable, eccentric, and metaphors for those wacky third world natives. And for some reason they manage to outwit intergalactic armies at every turn with the use of sticks, rocks, and spears. If they could build massive cities, why not build a war machine of some kind?
Han is also tailored for the family as he’s less edgy and roguish and now goofy and comical, while Chewbacca also becomes a doofy sidekick. In the first film Chewie almost tore the arms off of C3P0 for winning at chess, and now he’s paling around with Ewoks. “Return of the Jedi” really should have spent only a small portion on Endor, and the larger section on Lando’s destruction of the death star, along with Luke’s battle for his soul. But since money talks, and story matters little, the film is mainly the finisher to “Star Wars” that we had to settle with as well as a prologue to the “Ewoks” spin off movies. For all its faults and goofy plot holes, “Return of the Jedi” is a solid finisher, but one that really should have played the story for a more harrowing tone than we see on-screen, in the end.