Return of the Jedi: The Critic’s Verdict
When Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi hit theaters in 1983, fans and critics alike were eagerly anticipating the conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy. By this point, the franchise had already established itself as a revolutionary force in science fiction films.
Despite its success, Return of the Jedi received lower critical ratings than the first two films, with a score of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics praised the film’s action sequences, soundtrack by John Williams, emotional weight and special effects, but noted that it lacked the same level of style and invention as its predecessors.
Production and Direction
After considering several directors, George Lucas chose Richard Marquand to helm Return of the Jedi. While the film was successful, Marquand’s lack of experience working on effects-heavy movies meant that Lucas had to spend a lot of time on set to ensure everything was done correctly.
Actress Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia, later spoke out against Marquand, stating that he favored Harrison Ford over her and would yell at her on set.
Return of the Jedi takes place one year after The Empire Strikes Back, with the Galactic Empire building a second Death Star to exterminate the Rebel Alliance. The rebels launch a full-scale attack on the Death Star, while Luke Skywalker fights to bring his father, Darth Vader, back to the light side of the Force.
While the action and intrigue received positive reviews, critics found fault with the dialogue and performances of the romantic pairing of Leia and Han Solo. Nevertheless, the film was a smash success and the highest-grossing film of 1983, grossing $374 million worldwide.
Critics had a mixed response to Return of the Jedi, with some praising its breadth and others noting that the film lacked the same level of inventiveness as its predecessors. Here are some excerpts from reviews at the time:
- Evan Williams of The Australian: “There are all kinds of indications in the latest adventure (in theory directed by Richard Marquand) that we should take it seriously.”
- Arthur Knight of The Hollywood Reporter: “Unfortunately, it conveys the feeling that the machinery has already begun to wear down and the inventiveness to dry up.”
- Patrick Gibbs of the Daily Telegraph: “The appeal, perhaps, will be stronger for the young.”
- Steve Grant of Time Out: “In scope and ambition, Return of the Jedi feels so much like the next level of a computer game, with a new setting, new gadgets, and new creatures.”
- Sight & Sound’s Philip Strick: “If the Star Wars revelry really is over, Return of the Jedi couldn’t have been a better resolution for them.”
- Boston Globe’s Michael Blowen: “Return of the Jedi… is the best yet.”
- Denver Post’s Rena Andrews: “It’s everything it should be: glorious, exhilarating, thrilling, absorbing, technically wonderful. But there’s also something bittersweet about knowing that, with Return of the Jedi, we’re saying a fond farewell to all the characters we’ve come to know so well.”
- Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times: “With this last one from the Star Wars cycle, you have the feeling of coming full circle, of leaving behind true friends. It’s achieved with a weight and a new maturity that feel entirely appropriate, but the film hasn’t lost any of its sense of fun.”
- Chicago Reader’s Dave Kehr: “With its feints of horror and pathos, the third Star Wars movie is the more Disney-like in its emotional blueprint, but that blueprint is buried under an obnoxiously fast-paced pace that reduces emotions to rubble.”
- Wall Street Journal’s Joy Gould Boyum: “Lucas is back to recycling the B-movies of his youth: jungle movies, gangster movies, pirate movies, you name it. He selects bits of them that still have oomph and assembles them with a Sesame Street effect.”
- Washington Post’s Desson Thomson: “Return of the Jedi, the third Star Wars film, is not a film to change anyone’s philosophy of life. But it’s an entertainment.”
- Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum: “With every disappointment in Return of the Jedi comes a new appreciation: for the genius of music by John Williams; for all that father and son stuff that once felt so soft and now, with maturity, feels elemental; by Han’s tongue-in-cheek hero stance.”
- TIME Magazine’s Gerald Clark: “Not nearly as exciting as Star Wars itself, which had the advantage of novelty. But it’s better and more satisfying than The Empire Strikes Back…”
- San Francisco Chronicle’s Peter Stack: “Though it looks almost too polished, a handful of the dazzling action scenes were advances in pre-computer cinematic graphics. And when the movie moves, it does so with shimmering energy and impressive noise.”
Despite any criticisms, Return of the Jedi remains a beloved conclusion to the classic Star Wars trilogy, and a testament to the series’ enduring influence on science fiction cinema.