Return of the Jedi gives us some great set-pieces but little else of actual substance. After the great story, action and cliffhanger that comprised The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi starts strongly but soon comes undone by its lack of any real story or actual pace to the proceedings.
The start is fantastic though and saves the whole film from being mediocre. The rescue of Han Solo begins slowly, with the creepy, grotesque slug-gangster given the screen time to be suitably disgusting but menacing. The fact that it begins with the droids, includes Leia and then finally Luke Skywalker, a fully fledged Jedi Knight by this point, ramps up the tension and then pays-off with a great action sequence.
The action sequence mixes the spectacle with the laughs, from Luke wielding his lightsaber to a blind Solo trying to rescue Lando from a deadly desert pit-monster. Add to this Carrie Fisher in that iconic bikini and you have probably the best opening of the series, just about beating the Hoth battle from The Empire Strikes Back.
Unfortunately, this level of quality isn’t upheld. The film is nothing more than the rebels trying to blow up a satellite dish. There are obstacles in the way but the movie doesn’t boil down to much more than that. Instead of any substance in the story, the film jumps from one set-piece to another, all very impressive but very shallow. The speeder-chase looks great, particularly for the early 80s and the Ewok story involving C3PO is cute enough but it is hardly Luke training with Yoda or the Millennium Falcon escaping through an asteroid field.
Of course, there is much more to the sub-plots, particularly including the villains. Darth Vader is back with his ferocious anger but this time The Emperor gets a much meatier role. It makes for a perfectly dastardly double-act and teases a great finale. This doesn’t really compare to the second movie in the series either though. The audience expects a huge lightsaber battle but gets a strained conversation between Father and Son, with the occasional duel to break the talking.
Luckily, to puncture the reunion of Skywalker senior and junior, there is a space battle and forest duel. These are very well-staged set-pieces and offer something slightly different, even if the constant under-cutting with humour can sometimes become quite tedious.
As a finale to the whole trilogy, Return of the Jedi serves it’s purpose very well. It has a great pay-off for the Luke Skywalker story and brings everything to a happy close. It can’t match the tone or the pace of its previous instalment though and you can’t help but feel like this film could have been better.
Overall, Return of the Jedi is all about Jabba the Hutt and less about the story which ends the Star Wars’ original trilogy. The set-pieces are impressive and make the film well worth the watch but the teased lightsaber battle under-performs and the reliance on humour rather than drama means the original trilogy doesn’t end as strongly as it began.
Rating – 3
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)