Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
The Rebel Alliance discover that the Empire is building a new, even deadlier Death Star…
WHICH VERSION? The original cut from 1983 (as available on a 2006 DVD). Officially, the film is called Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) begins the film by going with C-3PO to the palace of Jabba the Hutt, the gangster who has Han Solo captive. It’s part of a convoluted rescue mission. After delivering a message from Luke, R2 is press ganged into serving drinks on Jabba’s pleasure barge – which is a stroke of luck, as this puts him where he needs to be for our heroes’ escape attempt. He goes with Luke to Dagobah, then with him and others to the forest moon of Endor.
* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is taken aback when Luke gives him up to Jabba (don’t worry, it’s all part of a master plan). Before being rescued, he acts as the mobster’s interpreter. Later, the natives on Endor – short, bearlike creatures called Ewoks – assume he’s a god. He explains the series’s plot so far to them, a story that comes complete with authentic sound effects.
* Commander Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) turns up at Jabba’s palace in a hooded cloak and throws Jedi mind tricks around, but Jabba’s not impressed and chucks him into a pit with a huge monster called the Rancor. Luke is more confident now, especially with his Force skills, and his meticulously planned rescue of Han succeeds. As he lost his original lightsaber in the last film – the one Ben gave him, which used to belong to Luke’s dad – he now has a new (green) one. After saving Han, Luke nips off to Dagobah to see Yoda, then joins the others on the mission to destroy the Death Star. In a fantastic scene that’s quoted in the trailer for 2015’s The Force Awakens, he tells Leia that she’s his sister (oh, and Darth Vader’s their dad). He believes he can ‘save’ Vader, so gives himself up to the Imperial forces in order to get close to him. He’s taken to see the Emperor, who taunts Luke until his anger boils over and he duels with Darth Vader. Luke bests him and chops his hand off, but then has a moment of clarity and stops attacking him. He refuses to murder his father, so the Emperor decides to kill Luke – but then Vader comes to his son’s aid. Luke then has a nice moment of reconciliation before Vader dies.
* General Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is still frozen in carbonite, but his pals mount a rescue. When woken up, his eyesight takes a while to return. His relationship with Leia is warmer now that they’ve admitted they love each other; he’s also getting on fine with Lando and even lends him the Millennium Falcon. (I suppose Han has had plenty of cooling-off time since their row in The Empire Strikes Back.) At some point, this selfish smuggler who only got involved because of the money has been raised to the rank of general by the Rebel Alliance – he was called ‘Captain’ in the last film, so was he promoted in absentia while frozen? He volunteers to lead the strike team that’ll destroy the Death Star’s defences, so takes Chewbacca, Luke, Leia and the droids to Endor, the moon that contains the force-field generator. After a misunderstanding that almost involves Han and Luke being roasted alive, the Ewoks agree to help with the mission. At the end of the film, Han graciously says he’ll step aside and let Leia be with Luke, seeing how she clearly loves him. When she patiently explains that they’re siblings, Han’s expression is 50 per cent “ARE YOU SHITTING ME?” and 50 per cent “I’m getting some tonight!”
* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is first seen seemingly being sold by a bounty hunter to Jabba the Hutt. It’s a ruse to get him into the palace. On Endor, he’s distracted by a dead animal hanging from a tree and sets off a trap that snares the gang in a net. He later yelps like Tarzan as he swings through the forest.
* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) pretends to be a bounty hunter in order to infiltrate Jabba’s palace. Once inside, she defrosts Han – but they’re caught by Jabba. He then forces Leia to sit by his throne in a kinky slave-girl outfit, which [COMMENT REDACTED]. When it all kicks off, she strangles Jabba with the chain he was using to keep her in place (GO, FEMINIST SUBTEXT!). On Endor, she’s knocked unconscious and found by a young Ewok called Wicket. She later learns that she’s Luke’s sister – she claims that somehow she’s always known this, but why she was snogging him in the last film is not mentioned. After her superb scene with Luke, she has a similarly classy moment with Han – he gets the wrong idea about her emotional state, but still comforts her when she’s upset. During the fight at the bunker, Leia is shot in the arm. As Han squats down to see if she’s okay, stormtroopers surround them. Out of their view, Leia draws a gun. “I love you,” says Han, well aware that repeating classic dialogue in a new context is often a pleasing moment in a movie. “I know,” she replies knowingly before shooting the bad guys.
* General Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) has already inveigled himself into Jabba’s retinue by the time the movie begins. During the rescue attempt, Han saves Lando’s life, which is good of him considering what happened in the last film. Lando is now a general in the Rebel Alliance. They just hand these things out like Jaffa Cakes, don’t they? He leads the fleet as they attack the Death Star – using a borrowed Millennium Falcon, he flies into its core and sets off a huge explosion.
* Yoda (Frank Oz) seems older than the last time we saw him (“Sicker I have become, old and weak…”) and conks out minutes after Luke arrives to say hello. He has just enough puff in his body to tell Luke that he must defeat Darth Vader in a duel in order to be a proper Jedi, and confirm that Vader is Luke’s father. Yoda then fades away, like Ben did in Star Wars.
* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness) shows up as a ghost again to retcon the information he gave Luke in film one. “What I told you was true,” he says, morphing into Peter Mandleson. “From a certain point of view…” He also fills in Yoda’s blanks by telling Luke that he has a twin sister – Luke guesses correctly that it’s Leia.
* Admiral Ackbar (Timothy R. Rose) commands the Alliance fleet, He’s half-man/half-prawn and has a slobbering voice. “It’s a trap!” he bellows at one point, creating a catchphrase.
* Mon Mothma (Caroline Blakiston) is a high-ranking rebel leader who gives the pre-mission briefing. Many Bothans died to bring them this information.
* General Madine (Dermot Crowley) helps with Mon Mothma’s slideshow presentation.
* Wicket (Warwick Davis) is the Ewok who finds Leia and takes her to his camp. The Ewoks are an alien race made up of warriors, witch doctors, tribal music and simple natives easily impressed by metal and the beauty of a white woman. They initially want to cook (and presumably eat?) Han and Luke, but Luke uses his Force powers to fool them into thinking C-3PO is a malevolent god who will punish them if they don’t toe the line. The Ewoks then risk life and limb to help the rebels’ mission, proving that – in the Star Wars universe, at any rate – guts, guile and Heath Robinson gadgets can overcome hundreds of well-funded troops with armour, tanks and masses of weaponry. (Kenny Baker was originally going to double up to play Wicket, but he was ill on the day of filming so the part was hastily recast with 11-year-old supporting artist Warwick Davis.)
* Wedge Antillies (Denis Lawson) is now X-Wing red leader and takes part in the assault on the Death Star.
* Moff Jerjerrod (Michael Pennington) is the nervous commander of the under-construction Death Star. Unlike Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, he is clearly Vader’s underling.
* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) arrives on the Death Star to oversea the building work. It’s over schedule, apparently. He then goes to Endor when Luke gives himself up, and in a blisteringly well written scene we learn Vader’s real name: before he turned to the Dark Side, he was called Anakin Skywalker. Luke begs him to search his feelings for any remnants of goodness. In a line that elegantly justifies the entire movie’s story arc, Vader sadly says, “It is too late for me, son…” However, he later redeems himself when the Emperor is trying to kill Luke. Wheezing, and now missing a hand, Vader looks on in horror. (Seriously, even with a mask on, his emotion turmoil is obvious.) Picking a side, he lifts up the Emperor and flings him down a vertical tunnel. Close to dying himself, Vader asks Luke to remove his mask: “Let me look on you with my own eyes,” he says. Now played by Sebastian Shaw (it would’ve been a different film if it’d been David Prowse under the mask!), he touchingly asks Luke to “tell you sister you were right” about him not being all bad. He then dies, so Luke holds a private cremation. Anakin later makes a ghostly cameo, joining Yoda and Ben Kenobi in the afterlife.
* Bib Fortuna (Michael Carter) is Jabba the Hutt’s aide-de-camp. He has squid-like appendages and talks in a strange language that sometimes sounds rude (“Deh Jabba wanga!”).
* Jabba the Hutt (voice: Larry Ward, who also voiced Greedo in Star Wars) is a Tatooine crime lord who we finally see after he was mentioned in the previous two films. He’s a giant slug, with many hangers-on and cronies. He doesn’t think twice about torturing droids or killing dancing girls, and has former employee Han Solo on show in his palace, encased in a block of carbonite. When our heroes turn up to rescue Han, Jabba underestimates them…
* Boba Fett (Jeremy Bulloch) is hanging out at Jabba’s palace, but during the skirmish gets knocked into the mouth of the Sarlacc – a desert-dwelling monster with a huge, vagina-dentata gob and lots of tentacles. It burps after swallowing him.
* Malakili (Paul Brooke) is the overweight, sweaty, topless keeper of the Rancor, who cries like a girl when Luke kills it.
* The Emperor (now played by Ian McDiarmid) visits the not-yet-finished Death Star as a way of motivating his workforce. He’s a manipulative, prune-faced man who wants Darth Vader to find – and turn – Luke, and has a devious plan to break the rebellion. McDiarmid takes great delight in the panto dialogue, putting chilling emphasis on terms such as ‘fully operational’, ‘Dark Side’, ‘complete’ and ‘So be it… Jedi.’
* Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley) returns from The Empire Strikes Back.
BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: If the whole film were just two hours of the stunning model work used for the space battles, it would still be worth seeing again and again. The Millennium Falcon flying into and through the Death Star takes your breath away, even after 32 years.
BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Wicket tries using some bolas during the battle with the stormtroopers, but ends up twatting himself in the face. Maybe it’s because I first saw this film at a very young age, but I’ve never had a problem with the Ewoks. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of comic relief (even if there’s a whiff of racism in their portrayal).
MUSIC: John Williams’s score is another magnum opus. The Ewok celebration music at the end, meanwhile, will be stuck in my head for the rest of my life. We also get a cabaret song in Jabba’s palace.
PERSONAL CONNECTION: This was the first Star Wars film I can remember coming out. I was too young to go and see it, but can recall the publicity. I assume it was what motivated me to want to see the first two on video.
REVIEW: Return of the Jedi has a few problems. There’s a certain untidiness about the plotting, for example. The opening 35-minute sequence – fun though it is – isn’t really connected to the bulk of the film. It’s an extended James Bond prologue (though rather than the exciting climax of an unseen mission, this is mopping up the last movie’s cliffhanger). Other than Han now being free again, nothing in it affects the rest of the story. Another issue is that when we get to the main storyline, it’s an all-too-familiar mission: destroy yet another Death Star. If this were a weaker, less popular series, wouldn’t we be castigating film three for simply copying film one’s big action beat? Additionally, after the beauty of The Empire Strikes Back’s striking colour palette and subjective cinematography, this is sadly a step backwards. A few moments aside – Leia’s treetop chats with Luke and Han, for example – there’s a sense of just-point-the-camera-at-the-well-lit-actors. However, we’re splitting Ewok hairs here. It may be more predictable than Empire, and more simplistic, but Return of the Jedi still sits at the top table of geek cinema. The emotional journeys that Luke, Darth Vader and to a lesser extent Leia go on are superbly dramatised, while the crash-bang-wallop action and derring-do escapades are as terrifically thrilling as always.
Ten gold bikinis out of 10