Return of the Jedi Turns 40 | Features

“Return of the Jedi” might have been the first of these films to suffer from, as the shimmering ghostly spirit of Ben puts it, “a certain point of view.” With six years between the film and the first “Star Wars” picture, which had been reissued with “Episode IV – A New Hope” at the head of the crawl in 1982, kids had grown into teenagers who decided they were too cool for the more “childish” elements like the Ewoks, and as such, the furry critters are still divisive to this day.

In any case, “Jedi” is still a blast. Yes, it’s the weakest of the three. Yes, it has some decidedly obvious flaws and some unengaged performers. But it’s a glorious end to the trilogy that features an excellent leading performance by Mark Hamill, a dynamite final act with spectacular cross-cutting, amazing creature work, and a John Williams score that proves what we’ve always known: He’s the MVP of the entire franchise.

Structurally, it’s a bit of an odd beast. The entire first act is dedicated to rescuing Han, with the subsequent two covering the core three characters of Luke, Han, and Leia pulling together for the Rebel cause, which is a smart move. Harrison Ford famously thought Han should die in the film, but that would rid us of the essential chemistry generated between the three, something the film itself recognizes. There are a lot of disparate strands to weave together, with a trip to Yoda and Ben Kenobi to reveal the identity of the “other” mentioned in “Empire” and Darth Vader’s continuing recruitment of Luke to the dark side.

Speaking of Vader, we’re reminded that he is but a henchman to the real villain, the Emperor, as played by a snarling Ian McDiarmid. Not all is well between master and apprentice (especially considering Vader told Luke they could overthrow his boss), and the Emperor probably didn’t take Vader’s failure to convert Luke particularly well. Vader seems to have some shell shock from his encounter with his son, and there’s a melancholic tone to the character (a great combination of James Earl Jones’ rumbling baritone and Dave Prowse’s body language) that suggests his connection to the dark side is weaker than we were led to believe. Indeed, a key moment in the film is a wonderful short sequence where father and son talk after Luke gives himself up. Luke’s determination to bring his father back is admirable, with him bringing up Vader’s former self, which clearly angers the dark lord. The last shot of the sequence is a lone and contemplative Vader staring out into the forest, which leaves very little doubt that he’s not going to kill his son.