Whether standing in a line that wound its way around a bustling mall on opening day or eagerly eyeing the latest “Star Wars” action figures at the local toy store, if you were a child four decades ago, you were well aware that “Return of the Jedi” held immense significance. And it captured your heart.
When “Jedi” graced the silver screen on May 25, 1983, the box office landscape was devoid of prequels and sequels dominating the charts. There were only a handful of movie franchises in existence. Our primary concern was liberating Han Solo from his carbonite imprisonment, as left unresolved in “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Subsequently, two more “Star Wars” trilogies emerged, alongside numerous blockbuster franchises that emerged over the years. Yet, “Return of the Jedi” has managed to withstand the test of time. Here are five reasons why it remains undeniably cool:
- Luke Skywalker’s Maturation: In George Lucas’ original 1977 “Star Wars,” Luke, played by Mark Hamill, began as a petulant farm boy who eventually piloted an X-wing, harnessed the power of the Force, and annihilated the Death Star. Fortunately, his growth continued in “Empire,” courtesy of Yoda’s training and the revelation that Darth Vader was his father. However, in “Jedi,” Luke had fully embraced his role as a mature Jedi master. He ventured to Jabba the Hutt’s palace to rescue Han (portrayed by Harrison Ford), disclosed his true sibling relationship to Leia (played by Carrie Fisher), and confronted the Emperor in a final climactic battle.
- Anakin Skywalker’s Redemption: Anakin Skywalker, also known as Darth Vader, experienced a transformative journey, transitioning from a heroic Jedi to a malevolent Sith Lord. However, in a surprising twist, he redeemed himself by sacrificing his life to save his son, Luke. In a poignant scene, as Vader lay dying, he beseeched Luke to remove his mask, uttering the unforgettable words with the resonant voice of James Earl Jones: “Just for once, let me look on you with my own eyes.” This heartfelt moment left an indelible mark on audiences.
- Admiral Ackbar and the Memorable Line: In 1983, the sight of a lobster-like character leading the Rebel fleet into battle against the second Death Star was nothing short of thrilling. Admiral Ackbar became an instant favorite, and his line “It’s a trap!”—exclaimed when the heroes realized they had fallen into the Empire’s cunning trap—became an iconic element of the epic “Star Wars” battle scene. In the 2000s, that simple phrase gained a life of its own, transforming into one of the earliest internet memes. It has since been referenced in various forms of media, including shows like “Family Guy” and “The Daily Show,” and continues to be widely shared on social media as a reaction GIF.
- Leia’s Empowering Transformation: At the start of “Jedi,” Leia infiltrates Jabba’s lair disguised as a bounty hunter, aiming to rescue Han from the vile gangster’s clutches. However, she is eventually exposed, and Jabba subjects her to enslavement, dressing her in a revealing gold metal bikini and subjecting her to his repulsive advances. While Leia triumphs by choking Jabba to his demise using a chain, the choice of her attire has been a subject of controversy over the years, with critics decrying its objectification of women. In recent times, however, there has been a shift in perspective. Female cosplayers have popularly renamed the costume “Huttslayer Leia,” embracing the character’s fierce warrior side.
The infamous Mos Eisley cantina scene in the original “Star Wars” introduced a den of scoundrels, villains, and peculiar alien creatures casually indulging in strong drinks. However, it only provided a glimpse of what awaited in “Return of the Jedi,” where a truly bizarre world of monsters and beings unfurled. From the vibrant Max Rebo Band and the formidable Gamorrean guards to the towering Rancor in Jabba’s palace and the massive presence of the Hutt himself, the film immersed viewers in a menagerie of extraordinary creatures. Moreover, characters like Admiral Ackbar leading the Rebellion and the saggy-jowled Nien Numb co-piloting the Millennium Falcon alongside Lando Calrissian, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams, added to the rich tapestry.
And then there were the Ewoks. Whether adored or detested, these cuddly bears, who possessed a surprisingly formidable fighting force, arguably wielded the most effective prowess in the galaxy. They injected an abundance of over-the-top personality into the narrative and demonstrated their resourcefulness by ingeniously toppling battalions of Stormtroopers using the forest’s natural elements, reminiscent of MacGyver. It’s hard to imagine a “Star Wars” universe without Ewoks—after all, don’t we now have Baby Yoda thanks to them?
Finding a satisfying third installment in film franchises is no easy feat. However, a select few have achieved greatness, such as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which even claimed the prestigious Best Picture Oscar. “Return of the Jedi” resides in an even more esteemed category, as it stands as the finest conclusion to the “Star Wars” saga.
The most recent sequel trilogy stumbled with “The Rise of Skywalker,” failing to deliver on expectations. While “Revenge of the Sith” effectively tied up the loose ends of the prequels, it lacked the sense of finality and carried a somber tone. In contrast, “Jedi” provides a gratifying catharsis. As the galaxy rejoices in the downfall of the Empire, Luke bids his father a fiery farewell and joins his companions in the jubilant Ewok village for an unforgettable celebration. The film culminates in the ethereal presence of Luke’s father, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Alec Guinness), evoking awe and nostalgia. Today, watching “Return of the Jedi” remains as awe-inspiring as it was when one first experienced it as a wide-eyed child on opening night in 1983, eagerly planning the next viewing.