'Star Wars: Return of the Jedi': THR's 1983 Review

Courtesy Everett Collection

On May 25, 1983, the original Star Wars trilogy concluded, to be revived decades later. The Hollywood Reporter's original review of Return of the Jedi, which takes stock of how the franchise began to start fraying, is below:  

Although Return of the Jedi is officially Part VI of George Lucas's projected Star Wars nonogy, it's actually, of course, the third to have been filmed, completing the central triad of his ambitious undertaking. Unfortunately, it conveys the sense that the machinery has already started to wear down, and the inventiveness to wear thin. To be sure, the film abounds in action. Some new peril besets Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or the Princess Leia almost too regularly every 10 minutes. But there's a kind of desperation about it, a feeling that Lucas and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan are simply trying to figure out what they can do next to amuse the kiddies. The stuff of legend that inspired and elevated the earlier episodes has here been replaced largely by the stuff of comic books. It still makes for an eye-filling two hours-plus of entertainment but, despite its huge cast of new intergalactic grotesques, Jedi seems woefully familiar. It's as if the animations aren't the only thing that has been computerized. 

Eye becomes jaded

Right from the start, when Luke frees Han from his carbonite sarcophagus, we are back in the world of Saturday afternoon serials. The new episodes always began that way, freeing someone all too easily from the seemingly hopeless predicament in which we had left him the week before. Only here it's accomplished with an array of special effects from Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic company that would bedazzle a pyromaniac. And such wonders never cease. Quite the contrary, they become an end unto themselves, the very raison d'etre for the entire enterprise. In Star Wars, one waited breathlessly to see if Han Solo's Millennium Falcon could muster that extra burst of energy that would enable it to break free of the Death Star's gravitational pull; and when it did, whizzing off into outer space in a dizzying light show, the effect was sheer exhilaration. In Jedi, there are so many light shows, so many pyrotechnical displays that the eye quickly becomes jaded. One is reminded of Mies van der Rohe's architectural axiom, that "Less is more." 

Even the creatures are somewhat disappointing in this outing. True, Yoda makes a brief but welcome reappearance, and there is a whole tribe of fuzzy, bearlike warriors who are quite charming. C-3P0 and R2-D2, of course, are both back, but now a little too predictable in their reactions to whatever is going on, while Chewbacca seems to be along just for the ride. But most of Lucas's new creations come straight out of nightmare alley; they are truly frightening grotesques, like the gross, walrus-shaped Jabba the Hutt, who enjoys shrinking people to bite size then popping them into his cavernous maw. Other Huttites have piglike snouts, or long, waving tentacles. Jabba also maintains an enormous pit, lined with curving, sharklike teeth, at the bottom of which, he informs his captives, lurks a creature (mercifully unseen) that slowly and painfully ingests its prey for a thousand years. 

Nothing of the wonder 

The trouble with most of these, from my increasingly jaundiced point of view the other night, was that they kept reminding me of a stage production of Alice in Wonderland that I had seen in my childhood, where grown men donned huge masks and pretended to be Humpty Dumpty, or Tweedledee and Tweedledum. And even though the sheer credit sheet lists half a dozen or so Jabba puppeteers, I still feel that underneath all those horrendous getups there was some little guy who would take off his mask at the end of the day and go home and watch television. There was nothing of the wonder or the magic that happened when we first glimpsed the wise and wizened face of Yoda, or even the dread figure of Darth Vader. 

Vader (played by David Prowse, impressively voiced by James Earl Jones) virtually dominates Return of the Jedi, despite its title. The Empire is still striking back, with a new space station under construction that, when fully armed, will be larger and more deadly than the Death Star. And in charge of the construction is — Darth Vader. Luke Skywalker's mission, if he accepts it, is to destroy the station before it becomes operational. To do so, he must first rescue Han from his Huttite entombment, then assemble all the Rebel spacecraft into a vast armada that will attack the Empire's stronghold. However, he learns that the Empire has installed a power plant on the Moon of Endor which generates the energy that provides the station with an electronic shield. Unless that can be knocked out, the armada will never get through. He also learns that Darth Vader is his real father. Darth, backed by the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), does everything in his power to bring the boy to join the forces of evil; Luke, figuring that once a Jedi, always a Jedi, counts on his father's innate goodness to prevail. Their showdown, a lightsaber duel in the eerie reaches of the space station, culminates in one of the films few emotionally effective moments. 

Vader Luke's father

That there aren't more, despite director Richard Marquand's avowed intention of creating "real relationships and real action that stem from real emotions," is essentially the fault of the script, which constantly opts for action and blunts the relationships. Indeed, the fact that Vader is Luke's real father is not revealed until the film is more than half over — and it still gets shunted aside in the search for the power station on Endor and the ensuing battles. Similarly, when Leia learns that she and Luke are brother and sister, she withholds the information from Han Solo until they have gone through a few more perils together, then, quite arbitrarily, tells all. In this screenplay, what's happening is always more important than why. 

Hugely impressive 

But this is not to denigrate the production aspects of the film. It looks terrific. Its special effects advance the start of the art by a couple of light years, it's settings are not only huge but hugely impressive, and the costuming is rich and imaginative. A special nod must go to producer Howard Kazanjian for coordinating all of this on two continents, and another to Alan Hume for cinematography that is never overwhelmed by the scale of the production. The actors, at least those not buried in masks or five inches of putty — Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams and (briefly) Alec Guinness — display themselves to good advantage. John Williams' score seems to blare and blast more than is absolutely necessary, but that's in keeping with the rest of the movie. A 20th Century-Fox release, Return of the Jedi will undoubtedly attract all of those Star Wars fans who have been dying to learn how it all turns out. Whether it will also generate the repeat business that characterized both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back is another question. — Arthur Knight

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