Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (UK - BD)
Chris has finally finished his review of the final instalment of the original trilogy
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…
Although often seen as the ‘lame duck’ of the original trilogy, I'm actually quite fond of Return of the Jedi. It’s easily the most action-packed of the original films, 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 (properly) introduced to a variety of new and interesting characters (including 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?
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 it 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.
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 OT 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. Of course this brings us to the Blu-ray release of the film, and as in 1997 Retun of the Jedi has undergone a number of changes. These range from what I consider to be pointless but fairly harmless effects shots (a larger door on Jabba's palace, a new carbon thawing effect, Ewoks that blink) to perhaps the most controversial change since the whole Greedo shooting first thing.
If you had even a passing interest in this set you've probably already heard that the climactic scenes aboard the second Death Star now feature added 'Nooooooooooo!' courtesy of Darth Vader, which quite frankly strikes me as a very odd change. At a guess it would seem that it was added because of Lucas' love of audio-visual symmetry. 'Nooooooooooo!' was among one of the first words words uttered by the new-born Vader, so it seems fitting that it would be one of the last, but for my money the change is unnecessary. As originally presented we could see Vader's thought process behind the mask, and it loses some of its impact when made explicit. The audience aren't imbeciles. I had no problem understanding the subtitles of the scene as a child, so why change it after almost thirty years? Other than that, well some of the little niggles from the DVD release have been addressed, but others haven't. Lightsabers are improved, if still inconsistent, and the Emperor's long-standing 'head slugs' have finally been banished. Unfortunately there are still some pretty obvious garbage mattes around ships. It's a pity that these long-standing issues couldn't have been cleaned up at the same time Lucas was tinkering with other elements.
As with the rest of the saga, Return of the Jedi arrives with a 2.35:1 widescreen (1080/24p AVC) transfer. Unfortunately it's another inconsistent transfer, if not quite as frustrating as A New Hope. Although parts of the film look pretty damn good others appear to lack resolution and have a harsh, digital look to them. The opening scenes in Jabba's Palace are very impressive, with varied colour rendition for the creatures and some nice detail in the close-ups (the Jabba puppet looks particularly gruesome). Colours still look a little over-saturated to my eyes, particularly skin tones, but if you've made it this far through the trilogy, or indeed the saga, I doubt it will faze you. Some scenes still have odd colour shifts, particularly the Tatooine scenes, or more specifically those during the Great Pit of Carkoon sequence, which looks magenta at times. Thankfully some of more obvious colour issues, such as lightsabers, have been addressed, although again not completely. The now-infamous 'see-through' sabers during the climactic duel are now back to their original brilliance, but elsewhere they are still lacking their white cores and proper colours. Contrast is still an issue during some scenes, with the Death Star explosion looking more muted than I would expect, but generally it's not too bad. Although black crush is still a minor issue I wasn't too bothered by it.
As mentioned earlier detail is quite decent for the most part, but there are noticeable periods where the quality takes a nosedive, looking worse than everything that surrounds it. I don't even want to speculate why this is, but it's quite noticeable. Other than that I marvelled at some of the model work, which still stands up to scrutiny in high-definition (yes, even the rancor), and I noticed all sorts of little bits and pieces that had previously evaded me. Like the other films in the original trilogy we still have to contend with some 'Lowry grain' and I'm fairly certain some noise reduction was applied, but on the positive side the image is very clean and free from artefacts while still retaining a pleasing amount of grain (even if it is frozen at times). On the whole I think Return of the Jedi is the least impressive of the original trilogy from a visual standpoint, which is puzzling given that it's the most recent of the three. While I remain convinced there's room for improvement I'm fairly happy with the finished result given the limitations of the source used for the BD transfer.
The sixth and final film in the saga comes equipped with one of the most active DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 tracks of the lot, thanks largely to the set-pieces that take place in a variety of locations. The opening scenes see the camera pan down to reveal a Star Destroyer rumbling through space before launching a shuttle and accompanying TIE Fighters, which zoom across the sound-stage on their way to the new Death Star. From here on the track only gets livelier, with plenty of action in Jabba's palace as Luke fights the rancor, not to mention the great set-piece at the Pit of Carkoon as laser bolts whip through the air and the hum of the lightsaber resonates around the room. There's a bit of a lull in the middle of the film during the takie bits, but there is an exciting speeder bike chase that really puts you in the middle of the action as huge trees whip past your head at super speed. As soon as the Battle of Endor kicks off all hell breaks loose, and as with most of the other films the climatic battle is fought on numerous fronts. One moment you'll be dodging AT-ST laser fire along with the Ewoks, the next you'll be twisting and turning in your seat as the Millennium Falcon winds its way through the sea of TIE Fighters, and then you'll be ducking to avoid the deadly blade of Darth Vader's lightsaber. It's cool stuff.
Thankfully the atmospherics aren't forgotten. The early Tatooine scenes feature all of the sounds you'd expect to find in the court of a vile gangster like Jabba the Hutt, and the sounds of the desert are as familiar as ever. However, probably the most impressive moments come as our heroes make their way through the huge forests of the Sanctuary Moon, complete with varied lifeforms that constantly chirp, whoop and screech. There's also plenty of chatter from the Ewoks during the crowd scenes. As with the other films bass is pretty monstrous, with even seemingly innocuous things like the opening of door to Jabba's palace eliciting an almost unreasonable amount of low end from the sub. All of the explosions (and there are a few) have a solid whack to them, particularly the Death Star's explosion.
While Empire is probably my favourite of the Star Wars scores there is much to enjoy about John Williams' Jedi music. It's full of ominous, foreboding pieces that signal the arrival of the Emperor (pieces that became his signature in the prequels), along with plenty of rousing movements to accompany the action scenes. Particular favourites are 'Sail Barge Assault', 'Parade of the Ewoks' and 'Into The Trap' (well, the whole 'Battle of Endor' really). Once again if I had to criticise I would say that the music and effects are often overpowering, but it's clear that all six of the Star Wars films were mixed intentionally hot for their Blu-ray releases. That minor caveat aside this is a really enjoyable mix.
If you've read the other reviews this section should be pretty familiar by now. The disc includes two commentary tracks, the first of which is the old 2004 track with George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Carrie Fisher and Denis Muren, and the second is a new patchwork track featuring Kenny Baker, Jim Bloom, Jeremy Bulloch, Ben Burtt, Anthony Daniels, Warwick Davis, Peter Diamond, Richard Edlund, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Stuart Freeborn, Steve Gawley, Mark Hamill, Paulk Huston, Lawrence Kasdan, Howard Kazanjian, George Lucas, Ian McDiarmid, Ralph McQuarrie, Dennis Muren, Frank Oz, Ken Ralston, Norman Reynolds, Phil Tippett, Robert Watts, Billy Dee Williams and John Williams. The older track is a pretty dry affair, which is in-keeping with the tracks on both A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, and while the newer track is stitched together from many separate interviews it's the more entertaining and informative of the two for my money.
Return of the Jedi is probably just about deserving of its reputation as the weakest of the original films, but even so I enjoyed watching it again after a fairly long period. It's true that I prefer the original version of the film with the original music ('Lapti Nek' and 'Yub Nub'), lack of revisionist CGI nonsense and absence of Hayden Christensen's scary face at the end, but even so the core of the film remains intact. Yes, even with Vader's new 'Noooooo'. Visually this is the weakest of the original films on Blu-ray, with a number of sequences suffering from a visible dip in quality and a harsh, almost digital look to some scenes, but the audio is just as good and the extras achieve parity. As with the other films I believe that there's still room for improvement, but I have to concede that this is still a pleasing effort.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable for all
Release Date: 12th September 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Audio Description Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Extras: Audio Commentaries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Richard Marquand
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy and Sci-Fi
Length: 135 minutes