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After turning out one of the greatest sequels in movie history, George Lucas set out to complete his space saga. Enlisting the help of Richard Marquand to direct the film, Return of the Jedi would go into production in 1982. Admittedly, Lucas was much more involved in the day to day production than he initially anticipated and probably could have directed the movie himself. With all the necessary cast and crew back together for one last time, everyone wanted to live up to fans expectations. Having left off on such a dramatic cliff-hanger in The Empire Strikes Back, fans were painfully waiting for the final instalment for three full years. When the movie finally debuted in May of 1983, fans were not disappointed as Return of the Jedi took in 263 million dollars in domestic box office. The real question is, does exceed it’s predecessors in terms of quality?

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Film
Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi picks up essentially where The Empire Strikes Back left off: the Empire is in the middle of building a new Death Star, and our heroes have returned to Tatooine in an attempt to rescue Han Solo from the gangster Jabba the Hutt. R2-D2 and C-3PO (played again by Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels) make their way to Jabba’s palace where they deliver a holographic message to him from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) trying to bargain for Solo’s life. Jabba (a giant slug) rejects the offer and keeps the droids for himself. After Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Chewie (Peter Mayhew) manage to free Han (Harrison Ford) from the carbon freeze but fail to escape Jabba’s palace, Luke makes an attempt himself to free his friends. Jabba manages to trap Luke, and he, Han and Chewie are taken to the Sarlaac Pit in the desert where they are to face certain execution. In an impressive display of Luke’s Jedi power, he and with a disguised Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) free their friends, kill Jabba, and escape the planet. While everyone else goes to rally with the Rebel Alliance, Luke sets out to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training. Amidst their adventure, Darth Vader (played by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) travel to the new Death Star to personally oversee it’s completion as it orbits the forest moon Endor.

As Luke returns to Dagobah, we come to see that Yoda (Frank Oz) is dying. Before passing away, Yoda and Luke have a very touching, yet candid conversation. Yoda confirms that Vader is indeed Luke’s father, and that he needs to confront him again to complete his training and to not underestimate the Emperor or he will become like his father. He also tells Luke that he will be the last of the Jedi, and to pass on what he’s learned. Finally in one dying breath, Yoda reveals to Luke that there is another Skywalker. Before leaving the planet, the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) appears, and helps Luke discover that Leia is his twin sister. When Luke regroups with his friends, they set out to Endor to knock out the shield generator protecting the Death Star so that an offensive can be launched on the space station, led by Lando, in one final showdown with the Empire. It’s at this point where the movie becomes a finale for the entire saga. While on the planet our heroes befriend native Ewoks, tiny furry creatures, to help them in their fight. On the eve of battle, Luke has a conversation with Leia in which he reveals his relationship with Vader, and the relationship that they share. After this, Luke turns himself in to Vader, to takes him aboard the Death Star to have a confrontation with the Emperor. While Luke, Vader, and the Emperor are meeting, an epic space battle is occurring outside the space station and a battle on the planet ensues as well.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
The scenes in the Emperor’s chambers are among the most powerful of the entire saga. We have Luke trying to resist the Emperor’s taunts to strike him down, as he is watching his friends get slaughtered in battle. Luke finally succumbs to the Emperor’s taunts and attempts to strike him down with his lightsaber, which is blocked by Vader. Their battle is intensified as the Emperor now taunts Luke to kill his father so that he may replace him at his side. Luke is much more prepared this time as he handles his father well in battle. Meanwhile Han and Leia manage to destroy the shield generator on Endor, which allows Lando to lead an assault inside the core of the Death Star to destroy the station. As the station is being destroyed, Luke cuts his fathers hand off and stops just short of killing him, noticing that he is following the same path that his father once did. The Emperor, seeing that Luke is not giving in, attempts to kill Luke. At long last, Darth Vader’s redemption is complete as he saves Luke from being killed by the Emperor, at the expense of this own life. Just before the Death Star is destroyed, Luke manages to escape and joins his friends who celebrate their victory on Endor, along with the rest of the galaxy, at the fall of the Empire.

While the movie is not bad by any means, Return of the Jedi does not match the quality of the two previous films of the trilogy. Again we are treated to a new exhilarating score from John Williams who introduces more musical themes, such as the haunting theme of the Emperor. Despite being nominated for four Academy Awards and winning one (special achievement award), the film has way too many slow points. The beginning for example, takes almost a half hour to get going. Before the final battles and confrontations take place, there are also noticeable dead times in the story. There were slow points in the other movies, but those did not last as long and always had at least something that kept your attention. Also after Han is rescued at the beginning of the movie, he really doesn't have an important role anymore and it really hurts his character here. Probably the element of Return of the Jedi that hurt it the most was that it had too much of a warm and fuzzy happy ending. The good guys all won and the bad guys all lost; this is not what we were used to in the two previous films and breaks away from that mould here.

That being said, Return of the Jedi is still a fulfilling finale to the Star Wars Trilogy. The scenes between Luke, Vader, and the Emperor are certainly among the most powerful of the saga. The work done by Industrial Light and Magic still holds up today; the space battle has yet to come close to being matched despite all the computer special effects in movies today. While it doesn’t quite live up to Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi still does not disappoint.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
The 2004 DVD version of Return of the Jedi has some changes in it from the other versions you may have seen. In the montage of celebrations at the end of the picture, Naboo is a planet shown in jubilation. Because the prequels are almost complete and that planet places a significant role in them, I see no big deal in its insertion. Also in the shot of the Coruscant celebration, the Jedi Temple and the Galactic Senate buildings have been added in the background. Again, it helps make this a unified saga. Now, the biggest change out of any in the set is the insertion of Hayden Christensen as the spirit of Anakin Skywalker at the end of the picture. George Lucas does explain himself on why he does this, and I buy it. Some of you may not care for it, but for me it works.

Video
Return of the Jedi’s video quality is all over the place. Sometimes the transfer is brilliant with extreme clarity and beautiful colour quality. Other times the picture, while still clear, just looks dull or flat. Lowry Digital again does a great job of cleaning up the print; notice how great the matte and optical work look in the Rancor scene (the matte lines are gone). The darkness problem is unfortunately most poignant in this movie. The scenes in the end of the picture between Vader, the Emperor, and Luke are extremely dark. This causes Vader’s lightsaber colour to be all over the place during the climactic emotional battle between father and son. The pink core of his saber, unlike in The Empire Strikes Back, is actually distracting at times. It seems that at the last second, someone decided that this scene should be particularly dark and it caused the saber colours to change for the worse. At the same time, I’d take this version of Return of the Jedi over any of the preceding editions released. The film looks beautiful, minus the aforementioned problem.

Audio
Return of the Jedi easily has the best sound of the set. Burtt’s mix of the soundtrack uses the surround sound better than the others, and you feel more submersed in the environments because of this. John William’s Academy Award nominated score is very well balanced over the action and dialogue throughout the film. Not much else to say other than it was well done in the film, and the DVD reflects that.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
Extras
The movie disc for Return of the Jedi contains an audio commentary from George Lucas (writer and producer), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Ben Burtt (sound designer), and Dennis Muren (special effects). The most significant element of this commentary is that George Lucas, for the first time on the set, acknowledges and explains the reasoning behind a change in the film. The change he cites is the insertion of Hayden Christensen as the ghost of Anakin Skywalker. Lucas says that when Anakin turned to the dark side of the Force, his old identity died and he became Darth Vader; he retained his identity as he was when he was with the light side. Lucas also sheds light on why he chose Ewoks over Wookies as the creatures that help the Rebels in the battle on Endor. As for the rest of the commentary, there’s nothing significant that’s not covered in the documentary, but it’s certainly worth checking out. A DVD-ROM feature of a script to screen comparison will be available soon, but not at the time of this writing.

Let’s move on to the fourth disc for the final time. The Return of the Jedi section of the Kevin Burns documentary Empire of Dreams is the shortest segment on the feature. Lucas explains that his first choice to direct the movie was Steven Spielberg but because he dropped out of the Directors Guild, he was not an option. A fun anecdote from the production was how a dummy title for the movie was Blue Harvest, because sound stages were raising their space-renting prices when they thought a Star Wars movie was coming in. The documentary covers a good amount of information that any fan of the movie and saga would love to know, especially the debate the creative team had on whether or not Han Solo should die. Denis Muren also shares the secrets behind some of the special effects sequences on the film, particularly the speeder bike chase. The teaser trailer for Revenge of the Jedi (the original movie title) and trailers and TV spots  for Return of the Jedi were fun to look at, and also showed the Luke’s saber was originally blue and not green. Again, the Special Edition trailers are missing. The featurette on the Legacy of Star Wars showed film makers James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Ridley Scott and more praising the film series and the impact they made on their careers. The final treat on the bonus disc is a sneak peak at the making of Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith. Without saying too much, the movie simple looks dark and intense. This cannot come soon enough.

Overall
Even though Return of the Jedi rates clearly below the previous two films in the trilogy, it is still a fun film to watch. With the last half of the movie being the finale, we are treated to an action-packed adventure that caps off a remarkable set of films. To this day, no space battle in any movie has lived up to the 1983 special effects of Return of the Jedi. Despite its shortcomings, the emotional climax should still be fulfilling enough for most movie goers.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
As for the long anticipated 2004 DVD release of the Star Wars Trilogy, the bottom line is that these three films have never looked or sounded this good, period. They may not be the exact version you saw in their original theatrical releases, but they are 95% the same. These films are timeless, filled with lovable characters and memorable moments. I cannot wait for the day when I can show these to my children. The documentary will remind you about how this series changed the way movies were made; remember, if Yoda doesn’t work, there’s a good chance Gollum is never attempted. There are transfer and sound issues in some areas, but few DVD releases are perfect. The problems of the set are strongly overshadowed by the care that went into the restoration of these films by the good people of Lowry Digital, THX, Industrial Light and Magic, and Lucasfilm. This set should satisfy the appetites of movie goers and fans of the series alike. If the problems of the set do bother you, it’s heavily rumoured that a six film set will be released in 2007 to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Star Wars. There’s a good chance persisting issues will be corrected in that set. All in all the set does not disappoint despite the problems found in the films.


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