Get out your torches and pitchforks Star Wars fans: despite popular opinion, Return of the Jedi was the best of the original trilogy.
Star Wars fans who saw X-Men: Apocalypse will have noted a not-so-subtle jab (and easter egg) in the story. As a minor sub-plot, a group of future X-Men exit a theater with sour expressions, having just watched Return of the Jedi. Reflecting the group’s general opinion, Jean Grey quips, “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst.” This scene reflects a view that has become cemented in pop culture: Return of the Jedi was—by far—the worst film in the original trilogy. (Most fans agree that the prequel trilogy managed to lower the bar significantly.)
Those Annoying Cuddly Bears
Since the film’s release in 1983, critical backlash has been swift and crushing: Return of the Jedi was a cinematic dud, a dead-weight finale that failed to deliver on the promise of its predecessors.
When fully examined, most negative reviews of Episode VI boil down to a common gripe: the Ewoks. Everyone apparently hates the Ewoks. Other complaints about the film skew toward nitpicky smaller scale details such as character development and unresolved story arcs. However, these critiques can be made equally of all three — in fact, all eight — films. So, if we say those issues create an even playing field for all the films, in the end, it comes down the hated Ewoks. Problems cited include that they’re too cute, they don’t feel like Star Wars, how could teddy bears defeat an army of stormtroopers, etc, etc. Basically we all just really hate them.
Endor was originally intended to be a different planet entirely, and the Ewoks were supposed to be Wookies which would have been awesome! So this makes the bitter Ewok pill even harder to swallow.
Fans and movie reviewers who despise these cuddly merchandising opportunities en masse won’t quickly have their minds changed about Return of the Jedi. However, by doing so, they overlook the larger focus, the heart and crux of the story: the hero’s return to overcome all odds, clean house, and claim a deserved and long-awaited justice.
The Day the Troops Came Home
Confetti. Ticker tape parades. Jubilant throngs flooding city streets. These are images we conjure when imagining the end of great wars and times of despair.
For Star Wars fans who truly live the experience, who feel in their hearts the pain and triumph in every scene, Return of the Jedi is the exuberant payoff for the pain and suffering inflicted by the Empire. It is the reward for staying loyal to our heroes through all the trials and tribulations. For this group, our very happiness depends on the outcome of the story, and there is no better feeling than to see our heroes vanquish their foes and emerge victorious at the end.
It’s not merely about winning. It’s about winning because all freedom and justice in the universe depends on it.
Haymakers and Body Blows
As many are well aware, the film’s original title was Revenge of the Jedi. The story is—and was always intended to be—the moment where our heroes emerge to finally tear the Empire a new one. The list of victories here is long and satisfying:
- Luke shows up and starts kicking butt
- Han is rescued (aka he’s really alive!)
- Jabba the Hutt gets blown up
- The Ewoks lay a forest-style beat down
- Luke waxes Darth Vader
- Darth Vader waxes the Emperor
- Darth Vader becomes a good guy for a brief but satisfying final moment
- Luke becomes a Jedi
- The Rebels destroy the Death Star (again)
- Leia and Han hook up
- Everybody parties down
As the credits roll, all is well with the world (and a galaxy, far, far away). What could be better than that?