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Here we are again for this, the sixth and (possibly) final of my Star Wars reviews for DVDActive, and in this instalment I’m going to be looking at the ‘lame duck’ of the original trilogy, the oft-maligned Return of the Jedi. As with the previous review (of The Empire Strikes Back) I’m going to concentrate more on the technical aspects of the release, rather than kicking up a storm over its shortcomings.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
2004


Feature


A year has passed since Luke Skywalker’s fateful confrontation with Darth Vader, and the young Jedi has journeyed to Tatooine to free Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt. With the aid of Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, and the faithful droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, he succeeds in rescuing his friend and putting an end to the crime lord’s reign of terror. Upon their return to the Rebel fleet our heroes learn of the construction of a second, more powerful Death Star, the final stages of which are being supervised by the Emperor himself. In order to destroy the Death Star’s defence systems, Han leads a small team to the forest moon of Endor, while Lando heads up the Rebel fleet, leaving Luke to face Vader and the Emperor alone…

My earlier ‘lame duck’ comment was partially tongue in check, as although Return of the Jedi is generally considered to be the weakest of the original Star Wars movies, I’m actually quite fond of it. It’s easily the most action-packed of the films in the original trilogy, with an exciting opening act and a multi-layered finale that delivers both action and drama. The special effects work is superior to anything seen in the previous films, we are introduced to a variety of new and interesting characters (specifically Jabba and the Emperor), and it serves as a satisfying resolution to the events of the preceding movies. So why does it have such a bad reputation?

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
2004


There have been many theories put forward to explain Jedi’s supposed inferiority, raging from directorial interference to lack of interest by the actors. The story goes that George Lucas was not happy with director Richard Marquand’s performance, and that Lucas himself actually directed much of the film. There has also been a fair bit made of Harrison Ford’s reluctance to be involved with the project, and some feel that he all-but phoned in his performance. Others are against the inclusion of the second Death Star, citing it as nothing more than a rehash of the first movie’s plot (ex-producer Gary Kurtz is among the detractors). However, perhaps the biggest criticism is of the furry little Ewoks, the presence of which is seen by many as nothing more than a marketing gimmick to sell toys to kids, rather than a genuine plot device.

However, while I can see where people are coming from with these comments, I don’t necessarily agree with all of them. I do agree that there’s a bit of a slump in the middle of the film, but I think this is made all the more obvious because of the tremendous amount of action that surrounds it. I also agree with the comments about Ford—at least to a certain extent—as he’s nowhere near his wise-cracking best. Still, much of this can be explained by the hardships he endures and his character arc—he’s gone from rogue smuggler to self-sacrificing hero. Other than that, I think the film hangs together rather well: there’s plenty of character progression, the performances are no less ‘hammy’ than the previous films and our own history has taught us that it is possible for a technologically inferior people to overcome a technologically superior force.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
2004


I guess what I’m trying to say is that I really don’t feel that Return of the Jedi deserves half of the flack it gets. Sure there are flaws, but it retains all of the charm, action and excitement that made the other films so great. This is especially true of the original version of the film, which escapes the full-on CGI dance number, Sarlacc beak, Gungans yelling ‘wessa free’ and a demonic looking Hayden Christensen, and I firmly believe this is the third best film in the saga as a whole.

Video


Return of the Jedi is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen at its theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. The rest will be familiar to anyone who has read the previous reviews, as the transfer is plagued by the same issues: lack of resolution, excessive grain, film and digital artefacts, aliasing, telecinie wobble and inconsistent levels. Of the three, Jedi is possibly the most visually impressive, although this probably has more to do with its relative youth than anything else. Unfortunately the film has more alien-language dialogue than either of its predecessors, so viewing using a ‘cinema’ mode on a widescreen display causes some problems. The bottom half of the text is cropped off, and while this probably won’t cause a problem for die-hard fans, it is an annoyance. It’s also a potential deal-breaker for anyone that relies on subtitles to enjoy the film.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
2004


The Special Edition is much sharper and more detailed than the original version, and once again this is all down to Lowry’s restoration work and the additional 25% of resolution afforded by the anamorphic enhancement. On the whole things are very impressive, but there are still a few niggles that prevent the transfer from attaining ‘reference quality’ status. For one thing colour rendition is still off in many scenes, particularly in the deserts of Tatooine, where everything seems to have a magenta tint to it (just look at the screen cap). Lightsaber consistency is also the worst in the entire trilogy, with at least one instance where sabers lack their cores and seems to pass through one-another (again shown in a screen cap). I’ve read plenty of speculation about the reasons for this, and the general consensus seems to be that it’s a result of Lucasfilm colour-correcting the film before shipping it off to Lowry for restoration. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an impressive transfer, but the silly little problems prevent it from attaining true greatness.

Audio


Once again the original version of the film is accompanied by a solid Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track. Dialogue remains relatively clear and consistent throughout (although not as crisp as more recent films), and although the quality and directionality of the matrixed surround channel is once again ‘limited’ in comparison to a fully-fledged discrete mix, there is plenty of rear activity (no sniggering). The exceptional John Williams score is an almost constant presence and there are plenty of neat effects to draw you into the action, with some of the more memorable moments including the breakneck speeder bike chases and the climactic Battle of Endor. Bass is still a little weak compared to what we’re used to nowadays, but it doesn’t really affect the viewing experience. As with the other films in the series, there are numerous aural differences between this version and the Special Edition. For me, one of the biggest selling points for this track is that it features the original Lapti Nek song from Jabba’s palace, rather than the execrable Jedi Rocks. We also get the Ewok’s Yub Nub song playing at the climax of the film, rather than the more laid back victory celebration of the Special Edition, and Han Solo’s ‘trust me’ line is there in place of his ‘I can see a lot better’ line from the SE.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
2004


The Special Edition’s Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track is probably the best of the original trilogy releases, as there’s a hell of a lot of action in the third flick. Once again, there are no huge problems to report, and it’s only the changes to the songs that really stand out. I really cannot stress how much I hate the new dance number in Jedi. No really, words fail me. The entire sequence is terrible (hey, lets put the movie on hold for a CGI song and dance routine), but the Jedi Rocks song itself is easily the most offensive part of the whole sorry affair. I’m not particularly troubled by the replacement of Yub Nub with the Victory Celebration music, as the latter fits the revised shots of the galactic celebrations better than a bunch of Ewoks singing about ‘celebrating the love’. The only dialogue change I noticed in this one was the aforementioned line about ‘seeing a lot better’, rather than the traditional ‘trust me’. I find both to be quite humorous given the situation that Han is in at the time.

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
2004


Extras


As I’ve now covered this in two separate reviews, I'll keep things very brief. The menus for the 2004 edition are extremely well-rendered, and include footage from Tatooine, Endor and the Death Star II. Each of the sub-menus expands upon the theme of the main menus to create a pleasant navigational experience. The bonus disc is disappointing by comparison, with a short animation giving way to a bunch of static menus. Thankfully these are accompanied by a great selection of music from the film. This time, the main menu displays the ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ style poster art.

As with the previous releases, disc two contains the original, unaltered version of Return of the Jedi, along with a demo and trailer for the Xbox version of Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy. The bonus material on disc one is again a direct port of the disc found in the boxed set releases, which means another dry commentary from George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Carrie Fisher and Denis Muren. The rest of the extras are again DVD-Rom oriented, and include links to the standard and DVD-specific Star Wars websites. Guess what? That DVD site still didn’t work…

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
1983


Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi
2004


Overall


Return of the Jedi is probably just about deserving of its reputation as the weakest of the original films, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it again in its entirety after a long period away. The Special Edition all-but killed my enthusiasm for the film, with its needless CGI additions and changes intended to tie it into the prequels, so it was a real treat to see Sebastian Shaw’s warm, loving smile at the end of the movie (rather than the embarrassed, child molester look given by Hayden Christensen). If you happen to disagree with me on this point, you might want to check out Bryan Rickert’s review of the Special Edition from way back in 2004.

I was again disappointed by the quality of the original, unaltered release of the film on DVD, but I guess I should have expected it after three reviews. While the transfer is slightly cleaner than the other films, it’s still non-anamorphic and so inferior to pretty much every commercially available DVD on the market. The lack of extras is also a fairly large blow, and even the commentary track from the Laserdisc release would have helped bump up the score a little. I’ve still no real complaints about the audio, as it’s reasonably faithful to the track you would most likely have heard back in theatres in the early eighties, but this is not enough for me to recommend the disc based on its technical merits alone. Ultimately the decision whether or not to buy this release will come down to how much love you have for the film, Ewoks and all.


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