Richard Marquand. Release Date: May 25, 1983. DVD Release Date: September 12, 2006.
I remember seeing this in the theaters for the first time, back in '83. I don't remember who took me, and I would have needed an attendant, as I was six, but I have a clear picture of walking in to the theater and it was already dark, the audience was hushed, and Luke Skywalker was trying to talk his way in to Jabba's palace. I think I'd seen Star Wars at that point, but I know I hadn't seen Empire. I remember loving this from start to finish, which can be a problem, because a lot of those movies I loved as a child have lost their freshness with subsequent viewings and the changing of my tastes in cinema. I still loved this movie when it was re-released and remastered in the mid-90s, when I went with a group of my fraternity brothers to see it. What surprised me was that now, a million years and viewings later, I still love this movie.
Good sci-fi is hard to make. If the special effects are off, or the cast isn't up to helping the audience with disbelief suspension, then the movie's over long before it hits the theaters. Plenty of filmmakers have found that out the hard way, and we've all sat through a terrible bit of science fiction in our day. George Lucas has a knack for producing good, or at least adequate science fiction. He wraps his... silly (when you think about it) concepts in the themes that mankind has loved in stories from those days when we were telling stories around campfires. I had a classical mythology class in my first undergrad where the teacher routinely told us stories in class. It was so common that I almost always had a pillow and blanky with me in the class. She spent a week telling us "myths" that turned out to be a generic Star Wars recreation. To my knowledge, no one in the class had figured out what was going on until the big reveal, but it was one HELL of a week. I actually got to class early to make sure I could get a good seat for story time.
Return of the Jedi, would probably, if I gave it some thought for one of my Lists of the Month, rank in my top ten favorite science fiction movies. I like Revenge of the Sith a little better, but just a little. Return keeps up a relatively wicked pace for such a long film, bouncing routinely from action scene to action scene, almost in apology for breaking that unwritten rule between American audiences and filmmakers about films not exceeding two hours long.
If you look at the "original" three Star Wars films as a single unit, it seems odd to me that so much character development was put on hold until the very, very end. It seems odd to me that such major bombs are dropped with only a few minutes to spare in the film. It seems odd to me that these people, all connected in that six degrees way, would manage to find each other in the vastness of space. But, it does work. In retrospect, it would work better if they had worked harder to foreshadow the events that were revealed in the course of this film, but it still works in such a way as to be satisfying, even to the casual viewer.
I haven't loved the entirety of this franchise, and while I own the lot, there are a few I never watch unless someone else demands I watch it. This isn't one of those. Whether you somehow have managed not to see all of these movies and need to finish out the saga, or whether you're just looking for something a bit futuristic to fill some mood niche, Return is certainly worth consideration.