The Summer of '83: Return of the Jedi -

The Summer of '83

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  • Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker
  • Written by: Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas
  • Directed by: Richard Marquand
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 134 minutes
  • Series:

The Summer of '83: Return of the Jedi

Celebrate the love.

By Rob Vaux     May 20, 2013

 First of all, for the record, we’re reviewing the original version of this. No plaintive “NNNOOOO!!!”s, no chopped yub-yub songs, no gratuitous insertion of youthful child murderers in the happy afterlife of the Force. Nothing but pure uncut 1983 here.

That said, we might consider Return of the Jedi as the most problematic – and thus the most interesting – of the original Star Wars trilogy. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back are beyond reproach, but Jedi? Bring it up and the qualifiers start. The Ewoks were kind of dumb. Han (Harrison Ford) really doesn’t do a whole lot. We get a second Death Star, which is a little too close to the first, and the storyline is too concerned with wrapping things up to develop any momentum of its own. All of this is true, making it easily the weakest entry in the original trilogy and some might argue a harbinger of horrifying Jar-Jars to come. True, yes… but not necessarily fair, especially considering the task before it and thirty years of 20/20 hindsight.

Certainly nobody was complaining upon the film’s initial release: everyone eager for answers to the questions that had plagued us for the previous three years. We still didn’t know for sure if Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) was really Luke’s (Mark Hamill) father, or if Han was ever going to get out of that carbonite coffin. And we had no idea what other secrets the film held, like Luke and Leia’s  (Carrie Fisher) true relationship (ew). In retrospect, it all carries the sheen of soap opera busywork – plot twists for the sake of plot twists – but when we first saw it, it was so, so glorious.

And those glories haven’t faded as much as we might think. While Jedi definitely sits as the runt of the original trilogy litter, that comes about in part because it spends all its time tidying up the loose threads left behind by other, cooler entries. It finds its rhythm in the little details: the corners of this universe we haven’t seen and the ways its main characters have changed forever. It absorbs the sloppy seconds of its two predecessors, but it also reaps its share of rewards from them… rewards which the trilogy would be far weaker without.

The best example is Luke, who goes from untested youth (and grade-A whiner) to wiser-yet-sadder adult here. We see the cost of his foolish decisions on his face, sense the anger that still burns within and may yet overwhelm him if he isn’t careful. His journey has come at a cost, and without Jedi, we couldn’t fully understand the implications of that. Hamill delivers a wonderful, quiet performance that speaks to this older, more damaged hero in ways the earlier films couldn’t.  Yes, it feels like a conclusion rather than a destination, but that doesn’t diminish its power.

Vader plays a similar game in his ultimate redemption, the seeds of which were laid in Empire. Director Richard Marquand throws some very quiet signs that the worm is about to turn with him (and okay, some not-so-quiet ones by introducing us to the Emperor [Ian McDiarmid], who actually manages to out-scary the scariest villain in movie history.) Look for Admiral Piett (Kenneth Colley) who, if you recall, earned his promotion amid Vader’s Force-choke rampage in the second film. Piett was next on the chopping block if the Millennium Falcon got away… which it did. And yet Piett pops up again in Jedi, telling Vader “it’s an older code, but it checks out” as if nothing had happened. Clearly, the D man was as affected by his encounter with Luke as Luke was with him, and signs of mercy appeared in him well before chucking the Emperor down that shaft. This eventual transformation thus feels like a logical progression rather than an arbitrary resolution.

And of course, on a superficial level, the film is just a blast. George Lucas’s obsession with speed finds one of its best manifestations in the forest bike chase, and the battle aboard Jabba’s sail barge carries some of the most exciting moments in the whole series (silly Sarlaac belch notwithstanding). Speaking of Jabba, everyone’s favorite slug gave A New Hope’s creature cantina an incredible upgrade, with a few dashes of humor thrown in to keep us smiling. (I love the Rancor keeper who’s devastated when Luke kills his beloved pet.) The Ewoks can be annoying, true, but we sure didn’t feel that way when we were ten, and they’ve aged a bit better than their initial overexposure would suggest. The series’ great themes of temptation and redemption find fertile ground in the last few scenes, and let’s face it: the universe would be a sadder, emptier place without Slavegirl Leia.

All of those elements simply prove that, while Jedi has its flaws, they come from the very highest of expectations. It remains as much of a classic as its predecessors, hampered only by its status as the anchor to the saga, and fully justifying the hype that surrounded it. It’s no secret that this was the film to top in the summer 1983, and as we’ll see, no one else even came close. The Force was always with it, and time, though not entirely kind, still affirms that most important truth.


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jedibanner 5/20/2013 5:50:15 AM

For me, the memories and the experience makes this one MY favorite of all SW and the best IMO...there I said it, sue me.

SmokingFrog77 5/20/2013 5:59:19 AM

I disagree that ANH is beyond reproach - the script and plot get cringingly hokey at times, in ways that TESB and ROTJ manage to keep above, but yes, TESB is an near perfect film, and truly the crown jewel in the whole saga. That said, ROTJ will always be my favourite. Even the updates are a mixed bag rather than universally negative - the revised closing musical piece is far superior to an Ewok barbeque singalong IMO, and I actually thought Vader's "NOOOO!" at the climax worked well, but "Jedi Rocks" stands as the greatest non-Jar-Jar related crime of Lucas's career *shudder*.

The drama of the last half of the film - Luke's revelation to Leia, handing himself over the Vader, every scene with Palpatine in it, and the final duel - are all cinema gold. The take the saga to dramatic heights none of the other films - including TESB - reach. It's a simpler drama without the complexity of TESB, but it packs a bigger punch for standing on the shoulders of what's happened in the previous film. And the Battle of Endor is still the greatest space battle ever put to screen.

And as one can't mention ROTJ without the qualifier "but the Ewoks were stupid!" or some variation, I think a couple of things need to be considered. Firstly, if you remove the slapstick elements (e.g. Wicket knocking himself out with his bolas) you're left with a bunch of seemingly primitive but clearly competent pint-sized warriors, who also happen to be cute. Secondly, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK HAPPENED TO ALL THE STORMTROOPERS WHOSE ARMOUR WAS MADE INTO DRUM KITS AT THE END?????? Those fires during the final scene weren't just because it was cold!!!!!!!!!!!

ElBaz13 5/20/2013 7:04:40 AM

This feels like yesterday. Summer of 83 was the one I was allowed to go the movies with friends by myself. I think we saw Jedi at least 5 times. I think kids admission was 2.50 at the time. ;)

My one beef is some kid on my block had seen it opening night (I went the Saturday) and he spilled the beans on the Leia sister reveal. Even before internet spoilers, s.hit like that happened.

Overall a fun movie despite the rehash of ANH plot.

blankczech 5/20/2013 7:46:30 AM

I had no problem with this movie.  Good wholesome viewing for the whole family (I brought my kids to see it).

The originals Star Wars Trilogy are the kind of movies Hollywood has forgotten how to make.

There's lots of  stuff out there for the little tots and adults but not a lot for the tweeners.

12-15 year olds don't want a steady diet of Dispicable Me and The Croods but they're too young to watch The Hangover and Game of Thrones.

When I was a kid we used to go to Saturday Matinees all the time and see things like This Island Earth, Earth Vs.the Flying Saucers, and Angry Red Planet.  Flicks that neither my parents or little sisters had any desire to see.  Nowadays when they talk about a project like Guardians of the Galaxy you have a bunch of 40 year old men weighing in on how they think it should be made.


invisioner 5/20/2013 8:18:59 AM

 I remember going to the Mall and waiting 6 hours to see this movie. I had to be the first day, since I saw Empire three weeks after it opened, the asshole neighbor kids told me about Vader being Luke's dad. ARRGGHH still! My parents kept coming back to the line to see if I wanted to give up, but didn't, and we saw it. I remember, at 12, liking it, but it did feel off, and the Ewoks were disjointing to me, I felt kinda embarrassed watching with my folks because of them because I felt like I was watching a kid version, it wasn't as grown up as the others felt. 

On a different note, after watching Star Trek Into Darkness, I can't wait to see what Abrams is going to do for Star Wars, I think he will keep it at the adult/kid adventure it needed to be back at! 

millean 5/20/2013 8:53:19 AM

Ditto what JediBanner said.  I was the right age when ROTJ came out and it is my favorite of the original trilogy.  Looking back, yes there are some dumb things (how awesome would it have been had Lucas kept the Wookies instead of cutting them in half thus giving us the Ewoks).  Still love this SW movie as no other.

Can't wait for Episode 7: Wrath of the JJ(edi).

Oh yeah, one more thing...

It's a TRAP!


Miner49er 5/20/2013 9:30:18 AM

Leave it to JJ to reveal that Wicket the Ewok is actually.... KHAAAAANNNNN!!!

eelbonjack 5/20/2013 11:52:17 AM

 I was hoping this article would be more about life then vs. life today. We've all seen this movie countless times, and I don't feel the need to analyze it anymore. I was 8 years old then. So I liked the Ewoks at that age- maybe if I was older they would have bugged me. My family went to Europe that summer, so my dad hustled us in to make it to a showing on opening weekend- it was seriously crowded, that long line. I remember seeing the poster for another movie there-"Breathless" with Richard Gere and thinking "Who the hell cares about that?!" I felt a little cheated that I'd be in France most of the summer, and not able to enjoy the summer of "Return of the Jedi" saturation with toys, merchandising and what have you, the way I did the previous year with E.T. But I did get hooked on Asterix and Tintin comics while I was out there. I was an Ewok for Halloween later that year, as well. But as a kid, I was unaware of its flaws, and saw ROTJ as a gold standard for the great epic finale. I have a feeling that Episode VII will leave me feeling not like the happy kid I was the, but more like a jaded old fuck. Don't know if I'll even bother.  

RobertTrate 5/20/2013 12:03:08 PM

 I remember my Dad and Mom taking me to see the midnight show. The line wrapped around the strip mall. It was awesome and sad because after this there was no more Star Wars (at the time). 

The cool part was seeing it the second time and the film broke when the Star Wars  logo appeared. The crowd went crazy and I just laughed because this was my second time so the inasinty and pressure was off. 

SinisterPryde 5/20/2013 12:52:24 PM

My mom took me to see this when I was eight.  I don't remember the lines.  I do remember the groans of disappointment when the "Star Wars" logo appeared and then the cheers when it was quickly followed by the "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi".  What followed was two hours of people on the edge of their seats and cheering everytime one of the Imperials was killed.   It was the first time I wasn't just watching a movie.  I was sharing an experience.  Sad to say, I've never gone to another movie that had that kind of atmosphere.

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