Countdown to ‘Force Awakens’ Day 17: A Look Back at ‘Episode VI: Return of the Jedi’

By December 17, 2015

Can you believe it’s finally here? The Force Awakens is out in theaters starting TODAY. Hell, I know people who have already seen it! THERE’S A NEW STAR WARS MOVIE OUT!!! This is crazy. This is wonderful. But mostly crazy.

Naturally, our look back at the first 6 movies has to conclude with the most recent (timeline-wise) installment: Return of the Jedi. Even though it’s been 30+ years since it came out (who feels old now?) and a whole other trilogy happened in the interim, this film covers the “last” adventure of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and the rest before we catch up to them in The Force Awakens. And what an adventure it is. A whole new Death Star. The Emperor. Luke vs. Vader II. The…Ewoks. While its predecessors may get more love, Return of the Jedi is still a great movie that ends the trilogy on one hell of a high note.

I first saw the original Star Wars trilogy when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I knew what Star Wars was, of course. Every kid did. I played with the toys and maybe caught some of the movies on television, but I’d never really sat down and watched the whole thing until 1988. My grandmother bought me all three movies on VHS, plopped me down in front of her TV and said “Here, watch this.” So I did. And it was glorious. I loved all of it. Well…most of it.

I hate to admit this, but I did not immediately love Jedi as a kid. For starters, the audio on my VHS copy was messed up, so everything sounded like it was recorded under water. No matter how much I grew to love the film, watching it was always a little annoying (until I got the new, fancy version in 1995). Seriously, it was really f***ing obnoxious, although even with garbled audio the John Williams score was still magnificent.

Admission #2: the first time I watched Jedi it scared the crap out of me. Well, the first bit on Tatooine did, at least. Are you kidding me? Jabba? That droid torture chamber? The freaking RANCOR?! Yeah, that was enough to have little 8-year-old Joe covering his eyes. I’m fairly certain I even fast forwarded through that part once or twice before I grew up and quit being such a wuss. I’m not proud of any of that.

Now that I’m a big boy, however, I can appreciate (and watch) the entire film for being a great finale to the original trilogy. Even though Empire gets a lot of credit for its dark cliffhanger of an ending, Jedi isn’t all Ewoks and yub nub. You’ve got Luke’s struggle with the dark side and the light, not to mention the fact that he has to take on The Emperor AND Vader despite both Yoda and Obi-Wan telling him he’s not ready. There’s the epic space battle against the firepower of that fully armed and operational battle station. I mean, things look pretty bleak there for a minute. Good may ultimately triumph over evil, but it’s no easy road to get there.

And yes, fine, let’s talk about the Ewoks. I know, I know. A lot of you hate them. That’s fine. You’re allowed to. I don’t exactly love them, although I did think they were adorable as a kid. But they aren’t SO bad as to diminish the overall greatness of this film. Yeah, they’re Lucas’s “underdog” theme taken to an extreme level, but that’s no reason to put them in the same category as Jar Jar. Stop that. Jar Jar is the worst, Ewoks are just sort of annoying. There’s a HUGE difference between the two. And hey, at least a couple of them die during the battle with the Empire. For all we know Jar Jar lived a long, happy life. Now THAT is annoying.

Anyway, back to the good stuff. Though they have their flaws, the prequels have added an interesting context to Jedi that wasn’t there when I was 8. Because now, in a way, this film is wrapping up 2 trilogies at once. Sure, you’ve got Luke completing his journey and becoming a Jedi. You’ve got the rebels finally toppling the Empire. But now thanks to the prequels you’ve also got the final redemption of Anakin Skywalker, which makes this film even more awesome. Oh, and Ian McDiarmid as The Emperor? Pretty much the best ever. Seriously, if you marathon all 6 movies, by the time you get to Jedi you’re ready for an epic conclusion and boy does it ever deliver. I honestly think the last 30 minutes of Return of the Jedi are my favorite part of the entire saga. That space battle, the lightsaber duel, and yes even the fight on the Endor moon…it’s an incredible end to both Luke and Anakin’s stories. Well, at least it was until Force Awakens came along. Guys…there’s a new Star Wars movie!

Some people confuse being the worst of the original trilogy with being bad. Return of the Jedi is not as good as Star Wars or Empire Strikes Back, but it’s still a great movie. It has the magic of Episode IV, the darkness of Episode V, and closes the story out on a great note. Sure, we’re all giddy at the prospect of more Star Wars, but if Force Awakens and all that is to come never happened, Return of the Jedi is about as perfect a finale to the saga as fans could have asked for. Yub nub, baby!

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Joe Ruggirello
Joe is a writer, retired comedian, and giant nerd. He's particularly fond of comic books, pro wrestling, and Godzilla. Oh, and that Star Wars thing. You can yell at him on Twitter @JoeRu23.