After the phenomenal critical and commercial success of A New Hope, and the incredible Empire Strikes Back, Richard Marquand steps into the director’s chair to helm the third and final part of the epic Star Wars trilogy.
Director: Richard Marquand
Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels, Ian McDiarmid, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones
Run Time: 131 Minutes
Release Date: 25 May 1983
Think of the pressure that George Lucas was under when he first showed off his Star Wars universe to the world. Then think of the pressure that Irvin Kershner was under when he was tasked with following Lucas’ superb debut. Now spare a thought for what Richard Marquand had to got through, knowing that fans the world over had seen the classic Empire and he now had to follow it. And not only follow it, but bring the story to a satisfying and suitably-epic conclusion.
Boosted by the continuation of Harrison Ford’s working agreement on Star Wars – at one point there was a real fear that he would not return, hence the carbonite bit at the end of Empire – Marquand is aided by a strong cast, a theme that was constant from the previous two movies.
Not wasting any time, Marquand immediately jumps into the action, quickly establishing that things aren’t looking good for our heroes. Darth Vader and his construction team are busy building a new and improved Death Star, the powerful Emperor Palpatine is coming to check in on things, Han Solo is frozen in carbonite and Leia is in the chained possession of Jabba the Hutt, so not exactly a strong positive start. Jabba the Hutt dominates early proceedings (and of course we get our first sight of the famous bikini worn by Leia, making Carrie Fisher the focus of smitten teenagers the world over), before the story switches to our heroes finding themselves on Endor, and it is here we get our first meeting with the Ewoks. Clearly, Marquand was infatuated with the furry little creatures, almost to the detriment of the rest of the characters and film in general. Many Star Wars fans look at the Ewoks as the main thing that ruined this movie, though they do end up having a major significant impact when things are said and done.
One thing that should be commented on is the quality of the special effects, by far the best seen in the original trilogy. The six years between Episode IV and Episode VI has given Industrial Light & Magic the time to work on perfecting the tools used to create a wonderful and rich universe, with new worlds a plenty. And it isn’t just the effects that deserve praise, for the wide array of costumes on display in these new worlds are also impressive. The biggest problem with this movie is that, unlike Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back, this feels dumbed-down for the audience. The first two movies appealed to all ages, contained something that everyone would like. Return of the Jedi, meanwhile, appears to have a main target demographic; children. Or rather, this feels like a childish film. In any other movie, the familial scene between Luke and Leia would have carried major emotional impact that would have resonated throughout the remainder of the movie, however here it is quickly brushed off and passed by.
Incidentally, if Leia “somehow always knew” that Luke was her brother, why did she kiss him? Anyway…
If there is one thing Marquand does right, and he does so impeccably, it’s the escalating rivalry between Luke and his father Vader. Established in memorable fashion in the previous outing, the story builds nicely over the course of this film, bringing in Emperor Palpatine and giving us another old-fashioned moral story of good vs evil; Luke trying to coax Anakin Skywalker out of Darth Vader, while Palpatine and the dark lord attempt to bring Luke over to the dark side. This is the main story of the entire saga, and is given sufficient time to grow to a satisfactory conclusion. We even get a ‘hurrah’ moment when family loyalty wins out over the dark side. Hamill – who definately appears a lot more mature here than in the previous movie – is superb here, bringing an emotional resonance to proceedings. Likewise, James Earl Jones’ vocal performance is a sight (or sound!) to behold, doing probably his best work yet in the three films.
Return of the Jedi is viewed by many as the weakest of the three original movies, and those views would be right. Despite it’s stirring conclusion and the drama invoked with Luke and Vader’s good/evil conundrum, something still feels missing. The prolonged focus on the Ewoks definately hurts things, as well as the seeming disinterest in thought-provoking human emotions and relationships (Luke and Vader aside). In it’s defense, it never drags and flies by at a good pace, it looks magnificent and has some good acting from the cast, however when stood side-by-side with Episodes IV and V, it shows as the most disappointing of the series. And that’s a shame, because after Empire, it could – despite how good it still is – have been much more.