Star Wars Cinematic Universe Retrospective: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Alright, here’s my unpopular opinion, here’s my hot take, here’s the controversial view that you’ve been waiting to get riled up about: Return of the Jedi isn’t a good film.

Okay, so maybe that’s not a totally wild opinion, if I’m being real with myself. Everyone is of a general unspoken agreement that this is the worst of the original trilogy, and we all have our own reasons for that: the Ewoks, the incest-kiss, the fucking gold bikini. The Star Wars franchisecame out swinging strong with a couple of all-timers, and then – uh, and then, this.

I do think that Luke’s plot is pretty well-handled in this outing, to be fair, and watching these movies again with a more critical eye, I’m inclined to say that his arc is the best thing about this trilogy. It’s a classic hero’s journey, as I discussed in A New Hope, and it’s about as clear-cut and crisp as they come. There’s a reason that Luke has become such an enduring pop culture figure, even though he’s played by someone who can only act if you close your eyes and just pretend he’s the Joker, and that’s because these three movies take us from point A to point B through him and show us every important beat in between. I can’t fault it, and I don’t want to, either – Luke Skywalker’s original trilogy run is a banger, and nothing will change my mind on that.

And then there’s everything else. I just have so many questions as to why a number of these desicions were made – what’s the deal with the adventure to Tattooine with Jabba beyond just getting Carrie Fisher in that fucking infamous bikini? Why does Luke french his fucking sister in the same movie we find out that they’re twins? Why is everyone so fucking obsessed with Boba Fett when he just gets monched by a Sarlak Pit like a primo dumbass? I would ask questions about the Ewoks and the moon of Endor third act, but we all know damn well that they’re only here to sell cuddly toys to tiny idiots like me.

Not to mention the fact that the pacing in Jedi is just such a huge mess. Not even over the course of the film, though there is that, too – but even scene-to-scene, it feels like the script is dragging its feet. Yoda’s death scene is staggeringly interminable, so first-drafty I can’t fault Mark Hamill for his look of utter bafflement throughout; when Luke and Leia discover their heritage, the dialogue is so clunky and grinding and fucking strange given that sibling-on-sibling snog earlier that the scene both feels too long and as though it’s not given the weight that it should be within the plot. The less said about Han, the better; his entire arc was summed up in his storyline in A New Hope, and then repeated twice because they couldn’t come up for anything better for Harrison Ford to swagger in. His story here is, to say the least, a drag, even with Billy Dee Williams to brighten things up.

For all the charm of Return of the Jedi, I think it’s an inexplicably bad film – the third act to Luke’s plot is excellent, and there are another ninety minutes to fill with artistic choices that nobody can satisfactorily explain to me. We give it a pass because it isn’t subject to the same (somewhat well-deserved, I’ll concede) snobbery that the prequel trilogy and a lot of the sequel trilogy has been battered with; it’s the original, and, ergo, must be the best. To admit any different would be to admit that we judge a lot of Star Wars not on objective merit, but on what it means to us.

And I honestly don’t think judging a film on such emotion is a bad thing, as long as we can accept that this doesn’t mean that a film is objectively and unarguably worthwhile. Return of the Jedi, mostly, sucks – but you can still love. I still have a whole lot of adoration for it because of the place it holds in my memory, and nothing’s going to change that. Even that fucking space bikini.

If you enjoyed this article and want to see more stuff like it,  please check out our other cinematic universe retrospective – for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Jurassic Park movies, and the Batman cinematic universe. You can check out more of my work on my personal blog, The Cutprice Guignol!

By Louise MacGregor

(header image via Decider)

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