In Defense of Return Of The Jedi

With the release of a new Star Wars movie comes the tradition of re-ranking all the films in the series. As usual, Episode VI: The Return Of The Jedi tends to rank near the bottom for many people. For the last few years I would tend to agree with most people that it was a far lesser film than others in the series, even disappointing. Yeah, those Ewoks are annoying! It’s just a repeat of the first movie! It’s…wait, what?

After a rewatch before the premiere of The Force Awakens back in 2015, I reaffirmed my faith as a soldier in the line of defense of ROTJ. It is a great film, and it was my favorite growing up. Now I see it as slightly behind The Empire Strikes Back for the top spot in the series.

Here are all the things Return Of The Jedi has:

  • The introduction of Jabba the Hut as a character, perhaps the biggest villain in the Star Wars universe behind Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine.
  • Luke battling and defeating a Rancor in a Rancor pit, while one of Jabba’s Gamorrean guards is not so lucky.
  • Luke, Han, Leia, Lando and company fighting Jabba and his henchmen over a Sarlac pit, while Han is still half blind from being cryogenically frozen.
  • Leia chokes Jabba to death with her chains.
  • The drone race through the woods of the forest moon of Endor.
  • An exciting heist mission to disable the Death Star shield, 34 years before Rogue One. 
  • A repeat of the attack on the Death Star, just as sweet looking as the first one, while actually requiring the X-Wings to fly INSIDE the Death Star.
  • Luke’s final confrontation with his father and Emperor Palpatine, and his father’s redemption.
  • Also, Luke actually gets to be a Jedi for the first time. We get to see him use the Force. We also witness an emotional goodbye to Yoda.
  • Admiral Akbar says “It’s a trap!”
  • It’s revealed that Luke and Leia are siblings.
  • Ewoks! Ewoks are so damn cute, and they bring a much needed brevity to an otherwise nail biting, deadly serious trilogy conclusion where nearly everything is at stake. I grew up loving the Ewoks and didn’t know that anyone else didn’t until I was an adult. I haven’t found any reason to dislike them on repeat watches. They are pretty absurd little animal creatures, but are they any more absurd than any of the other creatures we meet throughout the Star Wars galaxy?

Now, I recognize that you cannot just make a list of everything that happens in a movie and expect that to explain why it is a good movie. Technically a lot of cool things happen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but that doesn’t make it an actual good movie. What you need to tie those things together into a good final product is a sense of pacing, a sense of place, and good performances. On those, ROTJ delivers- it juggles two or three storylines simultaneously but gives its characters tiny little challenges and jobs throughout, turning this almost into a collection of short stories.

Yet this movie had the additional challenge of wrapping up the most important movie trilogy in history, and doing so with an emotionally gratifying payoff. To me, it does. One of the movies’ biggest villains becomes one of its biggest heroes- but he still has to pay for what he has done. Yet he gets to come home, turning the Star Wars story into one that’s ultimately about forgiveness and family legacy.

Yet in the end, maybe it comes down to a matter of coincidence. This was the one I saw on television most when I was growing up. To me, it was Star Wars, more so than A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back. Now, plenty of childhood favorites don’t hold up as great movies in adulthood. This one does, even if it is boosted ever so slightly by nostalgia (what Star War isn’t?).

In the end, Return Of The Jedi is one final joyride through this original universe that George Lucas created- and a shining example of how to end a trilogy.

Author: Andy Elijah

I am a musician and music therapist who loves movies too. Raised in Maryland, I have been proud to call Philadelphia home for five years. Sounds can be heard at Baker Man and Drew. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *