"Return of the Jedi"|
Opened: March 14, 1997 | Rated: PG
The lightsaber duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker that culminates "Return of the Jedi" is one dynamo of a climax.
One of the most exciting sword fights in film, it is thick with the anger in Luke's numerous blows. Add to that acrobatic footwork and the tense, crashing, electrical hum the sabers emit with each pass and you have a thrilling finale to this film franchise.
The battles in this last installment of the "Star Wars" saga are truly awesome, which helps make up for the film's high laughability factor and the marketing-savvy presence of the teddy bears of the rebellion -- the ewoks.
By the time "Jedi" rolled around, George Lucas's Rebel Alliance-versus-Evil Empire shtick had become as reliable as a cheap Western. With its stock characters (craggy-faced, hooded Emperor) and throw-away dialogue ("You're going to regret this!"), all the panache in this picture comes from the battles. Everything else might as well be "Fort Apache."
Picking up where "The Empire Strikes Back" left off, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), frozen in carbonite, has become a knickknack on the mantle of Jabba the Hutt, a gigantic slug who makes his living as an intergalactic gangster.
Luke (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando (Billy Dee Williams), Chewbacca and the droids invite the first battle with an attempt to rescue Han. A swashbuckling shoot-out aboard hovering schooners in the desert, the scene sets a relentless pace that the rest of the picture doesn't always live up to.
After their victory over Jabba, Luke takes off to complete his Jedi knight training with his swamp-dwelling mentor Yoda. On his death bed (he's 900 years old) Yoda confirms that yes, Darth Vader is Luke's father then dramatically proclaims that he also has sister...choke, cough, die.
Meanwhile, the rest of the rebels are massing for an attack on the new Death Star, still under construction in orbit around a forested moon. This could be their big chance for final victory as the Emperor himself is on board, but the Empire has a fleet of Star Destroyers lying in wait.
At its best, "Jedi" explores some fertile psychological ground when Luke confronts his father in battle, refusing to abandon hope of rescuing him from evil. Luke's struggle between vengence and faith speaks to the reactionary society we've become.
But away from Luke's story, the plot gets sidetracked.
The rest of our heroes land on the forest moon to deactivate a shield protecting the Death Star and run into trouble with a tribe of snack-sized wookies called ewoks.
Captured as the main course for a teddy bear cookout, the rebels and ewoks eventually join forces after the bears start worshiping C-3PO, having conveniently mistaken him some mythological golden god. But in the mean time we're put through a campfire story-telling scene (complete with cowering baby ewoks) and a drawn-out episode in which Luke tells Leia that they're siblings.
Once the final battle starts, "Jedi" picks up again. Jumping between Luke's duel with Vader, a ground offensive on the shield generator and an enormous battle in space, the last 30 minutes of the movie is raucous, gripping and giddy fun for sci-fi junkies.
The seamless composite shots that comprise the confrontation between rebel and imperial fleets stand as some of the best special effects work in film history. Putting hundreds (if not thousands) of elements into every frame -- fighters, freighters, Star Destroyers, laser blasts, explosions -- it is the kind of scene you think nothing of at the time because feels real. But after the credits roll, your mind wanders back and that reality seems astounding.
As you know by now, each of the "Star Wars" films has been fiddled with here and there for its re-release, with Lucas and crew adding a scene or two and throwing in new digital effects now and again.
Nowhere is this tweaking put to better use than at the end of "Jedi." Significant alterations are made to the epilogue that (thankfully) replace the ewoks' shrill Country Bear Jamboree number from the original release. These changes draw a more finished curtain on the "Star Wars" saga, adding breadth and scope to the rebels' final victory.