Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is one of the most well-known pieces of science fiction cinema in the world, and despite the fact that many fans of the series were underwhelmed with the final film in the original trilogy, it was thoroughly entertaining and an excellent summation of the events presented throughout all three movies. Perhaps the disappointment that many fans felt was due to the intense popularity and emotional nature of the previous film in the series, The Empire Strikes Back.
Star Wars is undoubtedly an example of world-class storytelling and moviemaking, and the entire series has evolved into the behemoth that many fans know and love today. Whenever that much quality is stuffed into a mere three movies, there are bound to be limitations and short-fallings. No story is inherently perfect, but if there was such a thing, the Star Wars universe would certainly fit the bill. When the original Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope was released, it irreversibly changed the movie industry for the better. Even by today’s modern standards, the first Star Wars movie holds up quite well. When The Empire Strikes Back was released, most people expected it to be slow; nothing more than a bridge between the first amazing movie and what fans were sure would be an unmatched conclusion.
That turned out not to be the case, however. When Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought in Cloud City, fans were glued to their seats in anticipation of a climactic ending to the scene. They were not disappointed either. Vader reveals that he did not, in fact, kill Skywalker’s father, but that he was his father. That single line from Vader is one of the most repeated in the world, but it set up for something that would have had to be literally perfect in order to meet the hype.
That brings us to the release of Return of the Jedi, and fans expected an experience that not only built on the revelations of the previous movies, but that went beyond them to something profound or unimaginable. The previous movie had set the bar far too high, but it still made a relatively decent attempt at clearing that bar. Viewers were introduced to a new, more powerful Luke Skywalker, and his vanquishing of Jabba the Hut as the opening sequence for the movie is still one that gives goosebumps to those who first saw the movie on the big screen. The scene also saw Princess Leia don her famed ‘gold bikini’ that transformed her into something entirely new compared to her standard white robes and tightly-wound hair of a political target.
The apparent love-triangle between Leia, Luke, and Han Solo is another of this movie’s finer points. For the entirety of the series, it appears as if Luke and Leia have some special connection, but Leia nurtures a soft spot for Han. In this movie, however, the depth of the relationship between Luke and Leia is finally expounded upon, and viewers learn that the pair are actually twins. This is a brilliant tool for creating drama that can vanish in an instant when the truth comes to the surface. The love triangle dissolved in that instant, but the relationships between all three characters grew exponentially. This revelation calls back to an earlier scene from The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda casually mentions that ‘there is another’ hope beyond Luke to save the galaxy. One might wonder why Leia wasn’t as sensitive to the Force as her brother, but her ability to remain hidden in plain sight was dependent on her lack of legitimate connection to Luke.
The final scene of The Return of the Jedi is where fans were both delighted and disappointed. The scene had everything that a fan of the series could have hoped for, but it didn’t have anything that no one expected, at least partially. After Vader cut off Luke’s hand at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, it was clear the final conflict would be between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor, and many correctly assumed that Vader would eventually betray the Emperor in favor of his son, which is exactly what happened. The moment was emotional, triumphant, and perfectly executed, but it was like hearing the punchline for a joke to which you already know the answer. It’s rumored that the original ending of the trilogy was a bit darker, and that it actually saw Luke abandon the Rebel forces after his father sacrificed himself. There’s no way to say for sure that this would have been a better ending, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as anticipated.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi is an excellent example of how filmmakers can give viewers exactly what they want while also falling short of creating something otherworldly.