Han Solo’s buddies are there to rescue him.
Solo (Harrison Ford) is encased in carbonite as a prize for the slimy, slug-like gangster Jabba the Hutt. Solo’s been indebted to the Hutt. Now Jabba has him, yet not the money he’s owed. But as payback, the person himself.
It sounds like the plot out of a pulpy Star Wars expanded universe novel, but The Empire Strikes Back which preceded Return of the Jedi gave gravitas to the scenario.
In Empire, the situation Solo found himself in was touched by danger. He was unjustly treated and betrayed. In the end, he lost. It gives his rescue mission in Return of the Jedi (1983) a sense of weight to proceedings, for a man who was put into so much difficulty, should be saved by equal measure of salvation.
One by one, Luke’s friends make their entrance into Jabba’s Palace to save Solo. It is obvious they have a plan. A hologram of Luke Skywalker is projected by the droid R2-D2 to present a message to Jabba the Hutt, but the message is rejected by Jabba and the droid employed into the service of the palace. Back-ups follow, in disguise, until it comes down to the last man, in a crucial action scene at the Tatooine dunes.
The rescue mission is punctuated by a sense of fun instead of heaviness, which is not so much a bad thing as it turns out. Jabba’s Palace is filled with sketchy, caricatured low-lives, one’s you wouldn’t care to get to know. But they are so sketchy they seem less sinister than what they probably are and more adequately fun. Fans would be buying the Palace toy and every figure that inhabits it.
The story progresses from Jabba’s Palace. Hero Luke Skywalker is seeking to convert villain Darth Vader to the good side. He’s coming to terms with losing a Jedi master and the revelation he has a sister, but all this existential angst is in the shadows of other moments. Fun moments.
Moments like the Rebel Briefing where the Rebels gather to discuss the strike on the Empire’s half-completed Death Star. You can’t take the overt statesmanship of this scene with gravitas.
The Rebel strike showcases the best action scenes and visual effects in the movie. Heaps of fun.
And moments with Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, the Empire’s head honcho. He buoys the scenes he is in, to make those scenes come alive. The Emperor’s theatrical plays of power is a lot of good innocent fun.
Vader and Luke’s story which is supposed to resonate doesn’t nail it at times. The human moment that Vader and Luke share strains for effect, the sentiment somehow misses the mark.
But other serious moments resonate. One watches Vader and Luke duelling to the sounds of quasi-religious music on the soundtrack, heightening the theme of good versus evil.
Later, the redemptive moment echoes off profoundly.
Return of the Jedi may be more about the fun moments, but the serious moments that work count for something. And one can see how the finale all pans out and is very moved at the end of it.
Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) **** Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Dave Prowse, voice of Frank Oz and James Earl Jones. Director: Richard Marquand.