Richard Marquand’s third entry in the Star Wars sequence, by 1983 a franchise, is the subject of many happy childhood memories; the Rebels win, Han is unfrozen, and the sickly-looking Emperor gets tossed off a gantry, always a occupational hazard in these movies. But the decline that began in The Empire Strikes Back has becomes a malaise by now, with continuity stretches making nonsense of the narrative. If nothing else, Return of the Jedi gets zero points for originality; we’re back to blowing up the Death Star before it becomes operational, not the last time that this idea will be revived with endlessly diminishing returns.
So chaos reigns on the big screen due to behind the scenes negotiations. Having frozen Han Solo (Harrison Ford) into a unflattering block of carbon in the previous film in case a deal with Ford wasn’t negotiated, Ford decided to return, meaning his character had to be immediately unfrozen in a long intro set on bounty-hunter Jabba the Hutt’s floating desert yacht. This inessential action gobbles up most of the film’s first forty minutes, with indestructible villain Boba Fett falling in an undignified hole and a weird emphasis on Jabb’s pervy floor-shows and NSFW attitude to Leia (Carrie Fisher looking uncomfortable in a gold lame bikini). Luke Skywalker’s hair seems to have darkened, and so do his attitudes to Leia, revealed by an ailing Yoda and a ghostly Obi-Wan (Alex Guinness) to be his actual sister. Wut? Star Wars having gone soap-opera, Luke has to tell Leia in an overwrought scene that she’s his sister, then there’s another equally overwrought scene in which Leia tries to explain this ridiculous plot twist to Han, who unsurprisingly just wants to get on with shooting things.
In short; the continuity is shot beyond repair. When Lando borrows the Millennium Falcon for the final attack, Han has a premonition that he won’t see it again; this scene presumably relates to an earlier scripted version in which either Han or Lando don’t make it to the end, but it beggars belief that this scene is still in place when everyone survives. Given that Han, Lando and the Falcon all emerge unscathed, what is Han hallucinating about here? Why wasn’t this scene removed? Never mind continuity with the other films, Return of the Jedi doesn’t even have continuity with itself.
Terrible blue and green screen process shots, evil Teddy bear Ewoks killing off the Empire’s crack troops with home-made wooden weapons, narrative-stopping discussions on incest; sure Return of the Jedi may have a few dynamic moments to play with, and does work up a head of steam in the three-stranded narrative finale, but it’s a clunky, awkward bit of world-building that feels more like world ending. Star Wars was a film that offered a unified vision, it came from one man’s instincts for storytelling. By now pinned under the inverted pyramid of success, George Lucas was being pulled in all directions, and you’d need to be a real kid-at-heart to love his garbled vision here, which is at least consistent in offering the same muddle-headedness featuring in the two trilogies to come.