Return of the Jedi (1983) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

A fair question is this: when did George Lucas himself give in to the dark side?

Here's your answer: Return of the Jedi.

This is the film in which the Star Wars saga stopped being space action-adventure movies with a powerful juvenile appeal and started being  advertisements for action figures. He-Man with live characters. Do you find it surprising that a film designed to sell toys is not as entertaining as a film designed to entertain film audiences?

Where did Lucas screw up? With his later movies, that is easy to explain. In Episodes 1 and 2, the answer to that question is obvious - Lucas took too much control of the projects himself. He is a man with great ideas, but he has almost no gift for dialogue, and his plotting is incomprehensible unless brought under control by another writer. He should have provided a basic storyline, together with some sketches, to other people and let them fill in the blanks.

The answer is not so obvious with Return of the Jedi. Lucas did not try to direct the film himself, but turned it over to the talented Richard Marquand, who had just completed an excellent spy drama called The Eye of the Needle. Lucas did not try to write it himself, but brought in as co-author the tremendously skilled Lawrence Kasdan, who has some of the best script credits in history, and had just written these four acknowledged masterpieces in the 1980-83 period:

In addition to Kasdan's script and Marquand's direction, Return of the Jedi had Lucas's original recurring characters. Whatever complaints one may lodge against Lucas, failure at iconography is not one of them. We all know who these characters are. Any casual film fan can identify C3PO, Luke Skywalker, and R2D2. Ross, the "Friends" character, expressed the subconscious of a generation when he asked Jennifer Aniston to dress up in the Princess Leia bikini. The casual, sardonic rogue called Han Solo made Harrison Ford into one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. But those characters are obscure compared to Darth Vader. If you have never watched a minute of a Star Wars film, you can surely identify Darth Vader by sight or sound. When James Earl Jones dies, the first line of his obit will mention the movies in which he never actually appears, despite his brilliant career on stage and a solid filmography. Count on it. 

Nor is Lucas lacking in visual imagination. My two older boys first saw the original Star Wars movie when they were sitting in the back seat of my car at a multiple-screen drive-in in Miami. While my wife and I watched some long-forgotten film through the front windscreen, the boys were able to see Star Wars on a distant screen, at a slight angle, sans sound. The tiny, crooked picture and the lack of sound never bothered them for a second. The two pre-schoolers stared transfixed for two hours, in awe of the images alone. When I realized they were still awake, I knew immediately that we were in the presence of true movie magic. The next day we saw the movie for real at a crowded matinee in Coral Gables, just me and a few hundred other dads, and about a bazillion noisy boys who were sharing the defining moment of their collective childhood.

So ... ?

So Return of the Jedi has Lucas's visual imagination and the great original characters to go with a solid director and the best screenwriter of his era. Where did it go wrong?

One fookin' word: muppets.

Well, I guess you could add four more words, if you want to be picky: "and dwarves in costume". To my way of thinkin', they're basically just a different kind of muppet.

Don't get me wrong. Felt fabric has its proper places in our culture. It belongs on loveable Sesame Street characters, or covering a pool table, but not in outer space. This entire movie seems to consist of cuddly teddy bear creatures and long-toothed ogre creatures designed to sell toys. I can't imagine why Lucas thought this was a good idea. Perhaps since Yoda was received well in the previous movie, and because the Star Wars Bar was such a popular element of the first film, Lucas and his team thought they should fill this movie with adorable and grotesque critters. Wrong thought. The little kids who had been hooked on Star Wars still liked the movie, but this one was not the kind of film that dads awaited eagerly, like The Empire Strikes Back. This was a real chore to take the kids to, and the ending made me throw up a little bit in the back of my throat. A great series brought to a trite and sappy conclusion.

  • Episode IV, A New Hope, with commentary by George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher

  • Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back, with commentary by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Carrie Fisher and others.

  • Episode VI, Return of the Jedi with commentary by George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher

  • Bonus disc: all-new bonus features, including the most comprehensive feature-length documentary ever produced on the Star Wars saga, and never-before-seen footage from the making of all three films

  • "Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy"

  • Featurettes: The Legendary Creatures of Star Wars, The Birth of the Lightsaber, The Legacy of Star Wars

  • Teasers, trailers, TV spots, still galleries

  • Playable Xbox demo of the new Lucasarts game Star Wars Battlefront

  • The making of the Episode III videogame


None, but Carrie Fisher wears the famous gold bikini in a scenario inspired by Frank Frazetta's paintings.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus three and a half stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 4/4, BBC 4/5

  • It was nominated for five Oscars, won none.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.1/10, #133 of all time. I suppose that this is the single most overrated film at IMDB. It must be about two points higher than it should be.
  • It was a money machine. It grossed more than $250 million on a $32 million budget, then came back in 1997 and grossed another $40 million.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+ as a kiddie movie. The completion of a memorable screen epic, it possesses many memorable elements. Unfortunately, it's purely a Saturday Morning Cartoon, and adults should stay away unless they have seen the other two and just have to know how it came out.

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