Saturday’s Six: Why Return of the Jedi is better than its reputation

It’s kind of trendy (and yawningly predictable) for geeks and writers to give Return of the Jedi a backhanded slap when talking about the series as a whole.  Conventional thinking is that it’s the third-best of the original trilogy, perhaps fourth-best as a whole (I really don’t get how Revenge of the Sith is better in any way, but okay…), and that it’s completely and utterly tainted by the presence of the Ewoks.

Sure, I get that the Ewok thing chafes — it was very much marketed to kiddies and was ridiculous in portraying how easily a primitive tribe of furry midgets took on an elite army of troops and won.  But that isn’t the only aspect of the movie, and overall, Jedi has so many wonderful virtues that it deserves a much better reputation than it’s gotten.

I’m willing to put my words where my mouth is.  Here are six reasons why.

1. The iconic Jabba

Prior to the 1997 special editions of the trilogy, the first time we ever saw Jabba the Hutt — a nasty gangster mentioned in the first two movies — was during Jedi.  And, boy, did the reveal not disappoint.  He wasn’t a suave 1930s mob boss, but a giant slug with an overbearing laugh and a skanky fortress that perched above a death pit.  He resisted the Jedi mind manipulation, laughed in the face of death, and set up a trap that Leia fell right into.  While he got his just desserts at the hands of his capitives, Jabba instantly became one of the most iconic characters in the whole Star Wars lexicon.

2. The Empire brings its A-game

At the end of Empire Strikes Back, the Empire has come back from its humiliating defeat following the destruction of the Death Star, and is now spanking the Rebels up and down the galaxy.  Jedi shows the Empire at the height of power, with an even bigger second Death Star in the making, the brunt of its full fleet at hand, and the Emperor finally showing up to handle things and lay a huge trap that (yet again) the Rebels fall into.  It was a good enemy, a strong enemy that could be believed to have a chance at winning, and as a result, was fun to root against.  The bad guys never looked so good.

3. Classic quotes

Jedi has more than its fair share of classic quotes (far more than the new trilogy combined), and even Jedi haters are known to spout them off all the time.  “So what I told you was true… from a certain point of view.”  “Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for… sister.” “That blast came from the Death Star! That thing’s operational!”   “It’s against my programming to impersonate a deity.”  “In his belly you will find a new definition of pain and suffering as you are slowly digested over a thousand years.”  “I don’t know. Fly casual.”

And, of course, “IT’S A TRAP!”

4. The characters mature

If you chart each of the main characters over the course of the original trilogy, you’ll see that by Return of the Jedi, they’ve each come into their own.  Leia’s mellowed out, embraced her inner bounty hunter and discovers she’s a force-potential, Luke goes from whiny kid to Jedi Knight, Han goes from selfish smuggler to a general of a rebel army, Chewie finds a big pile of meat, Vader is redeemed, Lando transitions from businessman and traitor to starship pilot hero, the Emperor gets what’s coming to him (a big pit), C3P0 proves semi-worthwhile, Yoda sort of makes up for his failings in the prequel movies, and R2D2 gets fried for like the tenth time in the series.  It’s great that these arcs are brought to a close like this, because we realize that we’ve truly been on a journey with all of them.

5.The technology

When I was a kid, I was entranced with all of the tech that’s on display in Return of the Jedi.  The second Death Star is way, way cooler than the first, there are AT-STs, lots of different types of fighters, an awesome blue-black decor for the Emperor’s throne room, the cool mass-ship hyperdrive jump, speeder bikes, sand skiffs, lightsabers, Boba’s rocket pack, and so on.  Before CGI was abused as it is today, the makers of Jedi did absolutely incredible things with models and animation to create believable scenes of gadgetry and battle.  Speaking of which…

6. The final battle

Act three is simply the best battle sequence in any Star Wars film.  It splits into three sections, which are then interwoven: the duel in the Emperor’s throne room, the space battle, and the ground battle.  Sure, the thought that the Ewoks could trounce the Empire’s troops is silly, but from a kids’ point of view, it was the little guy winning against impossible odds — and that’s something we’ve always liked.  The rest of the battle is simply incredible, with dogfights, the Death Star firing its huge laser, Luke fighting both Vader and the pull to the Dark Side, the little A-wing fighter that took out the Super Star Destroyer, and Chewie pretty much ripping a guy in half to get him out of that AT-ST.  Every time I watch the final 45 minutes, I’m amazed that people rip on Jedi and don’t see how really cool it is.  Pulling off three simultaneous storylines and keeping the audience in the know is more than Revenge of the Sith could do with its one chaotic opening scene.


  1. I always thought “Return of the Jedi” was better than people give it credit for. It’s not fantastic, but there’s plenty of good stuff in it. I especially liked it when Jabba’s barge blew up.

    I’ve often wondered about something. When Luke fell into the rancor pit, he was holding a blaster that tumbled down with him. It was lying there on the ground when he stood up. When the rancor came in, why didn’t Luke just pick up the blaster and fire several shots into the monster’s skull? He may have been a Jedi Knight, but I think he panicked.

  2. Jedi was always my favourite as kid, before my tastes matured and I decided Empire was a stronger film. That said, the only thing that brings Jedi down is the Ewoks. If the Ewoks had been wookies as was originally intended, I feel that Jedi would easily be as good, if not better than Empire. As it stands, Jedi is my second favourite of the series.

  3. I will say: I’ve always loved Jedi. To this day I fast forward past the Ewok village scenes, and it really streamlines and makes the film better. Without those scenes (though we may lose the “deity” quote) the film would have been the best of the original trilogy, no doubt.

  4. As a point of interest, it has been my belief that all the Ewok hate is an instance of how The Fanboys Doth Protest Too Much. That is said fanboys liked the Ewoks when they were kids but are now ashamed they ever did. I will redily admit that I did like the Ewoks during my misspent youth. Nowadays, not so much.

  5. […] It wasn’t all bad, though. I loved the storyline of Luke, Darth, and the Emperor (though we didn’t really get into it until the final third of the movie), and the quiet of those scenes compared to the loud explosions in the juxtaposing scenes. I was engaged in the emotional journey and conflict between Luke and Darth. (Others found even more positives in the movie. Check out “why Return of the Jedi is better than its reputation.”) […]

  6. This film used to the black sheep, but let’s be honest. It’s been viewed much more highly in recent years. I do like this film, but it has one real glaring flaw for me. That it feels rushed. From what I’ve read up there was supposed to be four more films set after EMPIRE, but somewhere after the making of that one George decided to get it over with in the third. Many things feel just kind of skirted off. Luke was the relatable guy of the films and his character very buyable up through EMPIRE. But here he is no longer the farmboy in training to be a Jedi, he after one year (with it being established that he never returned to Yoda) is now a fully trained Jedi kind of taking away from the credibility of his story and his relatability. I know what the EU says, but given what we have in the films he suddenly gains a hefty amount of skill and experience without any real explanation. (In EMPIRE he struggled to lift his lightsaber with the Force, in this he is Force choking enemies merely with the wave of his hand). Same goes with his temptation towards the Dark Side. They started the set-up for it quite well in EMPIRE with the Dark Side having a clear interest and the vision of himself as Vader. But they never really expand on it. And I’ll go on record by saying that the scenes in the throne room are very well done, but his temptation goes nowhere beyond “Join the dark side. It’s your destiny. You have no choice, etc.” I don’t mind the Dark Side influencing someone to go under its sway, but I think someone should make the final choice with some incentive to join it. Otherwise it’s too powerful. My last issue concerning the plot is that unless it’s the most flimsily put together government ever, the Empire shouldn’t have been dismantled by the Battle of Endor. Yes it lost it’s head and a powerful weapon, but that just in real-life terms not be enough. I don’t mind the Leia being Luke’s sister plot twist, but it’s very clear that they made it up for this film. And of course there’s a much more commercial feel with creatures like the Ewoks, Gammoreans, etc. It just feels that Lucas wanted to get it over with for some reason and could’ve benefitted from having more than one installment post EMPIRE to fully flesh out the story threads this one presents. That’s not to say there aren’t great things in this of course. Hamill gives a great performance (despite his character’s sudden change), McDiarmid is equally as effective, and Billy Dee still had his charisma. I liked Han’s character arc throughout the trilogy going from a thug in HOPE to a decent guy in this one (Despite Harrison giving in a phoned performance). The rescue of Han Solo is classic, the climactic space battle spectacular, the throne room scenes are constructed and acted compellingly, including Vader’s redemption. Which in my opinion is the greatest scene of the saga. As I said earlier, I do like it. But I am one of those that thinks REVENGE OF THE SITH is better.

    • I always thought that Luke had plenty of incentive to give into the dark side in the emperor’s throne room. The emperor was basically saying, “All your friends are out there. I’m going to murder every single one of them. You hate me, admit it. Here’s your lightsaber, now what are you going to do about it?”
      Pretty good reason to give into hatred, isn’t it?

  7. This was my favorite “Wars” as a kid, and still is. Although I now skip the Ewok village scenes, when I was a kid I always skipped the Jaba scenes. Jaba and his gang were too weird, too ugly, and it was about 30 minutes without any Darth Vader. As a kid, I wanted Vader to be in every scene.
    If you would have told me as a kid that there would be three new Star Wars movies all about the rise of Darth Vader, I would have passed out from excitement. Then when I woke up, you could tell me that Vader spends seven hours of screen time as a whiney kid and pouty teenager, and you see Vader in his suit for a total of one minute. I don’t think I would have believed you.

  8. If you ask any kid that saw Star Wars in the theaters (later named A New Hope) what their favorite scenes were they’d say (a) X-wing attack (b) Cantina (c) Light saber battle. Jedi put these elements on steroids and crafted a movie around them (speeder bike chase was the only real new element). Lucas also took the accidentally cute R2 and created super-cute Ewoks to maximize the merchandise sales. Jedi was a cash-grab from the get-go and people responded negatively to that.

    Also it was bad enough that Vader was Luke’s father but Leia being his sister was just silly.

    The folks that generally liked the movie were the ones that saw it in the theaters before they saw Star Wars so it was all fresh and new.

  9. Ever notice that every Star Wars movie either has a Skywalker lose a hand (Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, Empire, Jedi) or ends in an epic battle in space (Phantom Menace, New Hope, Jedi). Jedi is the only one on both lists so perhaps it has something going for it after all.

  10. And lastly, why Jedi is generally disliked by older fans. We were under the impression that Lucas was going to create more than three movies (he even replaced Han with Lando because Harrison didn’t want to continue). He changed his mind with Jedi and that left a lot of people feeling let down.

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