- "I am a Jedi, like my father before me."
- ―Luke Skywalker
Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, marketed as simply Return of the Jedi, is a 1983 film directed by Richard Marquand and written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas from a story by Lucas. It is the third and final part of the Star Wars original trilogy.
Luke Skywalker and friends travel to Tatooine to rescue their companion Han Solo from the vile Jabba the Hutt. The Empire prepares to crush the Rebellion with a more powerful Death Star, while the Rebel fleet mounts a massive attack on the space station. Luke confronts his father, Anakin Skywalker, in a final climactic duel before the evil Emperor Sidious.
The film debuted on May 25, 1983, and was released on VHS and LaserDisc in this form multiple times during the 80s and 90s. The film was re-released with changes in 1997, and this version was later released on VHS and LaserDisc as well. The special edition arrived on DVD in 2004, but with further updates and changes to the 1997 versions. The original, unaltered version of the film was released as part of a DVD set in September 2006. The film was re-released in the Blu-ray format in September of 2011.
Vader's arrival to the Death Star
- "The Emperor is not as forgiving as I am."
- ―Darth Vader
Sometime after the events of The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader lands in the docking bay of the incomplete second Death Star, which the Empire designed to be more powerful than the first. He is greeted by Moff Tiaan Jerjerrod, but demands construction be put back on schedule in order to complete the Death Star on time. Jerjerrod argues that they need more men, but quickly agrees to double their efforts when he learns that the Emperor is coming.
Arriving at Jabba's Palace
- "If I told you half the things I've heard about this Jabba the Hutt… you'd probably short-circuit."
- ―C-3PO to R2-D2
First, the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO arrive with a holographic message from Skywalker asking Jabba to release Solo. In exchange, the two droids are presented as gifts to the crime lord; Luke promises that both are hardworking and that they will serve him well, which Jabba agrees to silently. However, when the message finishes, he states that there will be no bargain and that he won't give up his "favorite decoration". The two droids are then sent to their quarters, where EV-9D9 harshly barks at the two when they explain what they can do. 3PO is ordered to be Jabba's interpreter, while R2 is tasked with working on the Khetanna.
That evening, the Max Rebo Band (led by Sy Snootles) entertains the Hutt's guests. Jabba, engaged by the graceful gyrations of his collared slave girl Oola, starts tugging on her chain and commanding her to come to him on his throne. Oola fearfully resists him, and in annoyance, Jabba pushes a button on his throne, and Oola is dropped through a hidden trapdoor at the foot of his throne, into the pit of the Rancor monster, which immediately devours her.
Saving Han Solo
Later, Princess Leia Organa (in the guise of bounty hunter Boushh) arrives with Chewbacca as her "prisoner" to collect part of the bounty Jabba sought years earlier when he put a price on Solo's head. After much bargaining (including Leia threatening Jabba with a thermal detonator), Jabba settles on a deal, and has Chewbacca imprisoned.
That night, Leia releases Han Solo from his carbonite coffin, and after revealing her identity to him, she kisses him. As they prepare to escape, they are caught by Jabba and his thugs. Ignoring Han's pleas, Jabba has the captain thrown in prison with Chewbacca. Although Lando Calrissian (disguised as one of Jabba's prison guards) tries to sneak off with Leia, Jabba stops them and orders a Gamorrean guard to bring Leia to him. Leia warns the Hutt that he will regret capturing the Rebels, but Jabba ignores the threat and licks her face. Leia is forced to become Jabba's newest slave girl, being made to wear a dancing costume and chained to the throne as a trophy.
Luke Skywalker arrives at the palace
Later, Luke arrives at the palace. Jabba and most of his court are asleep, but are awoken by Bib Fortuna (who, in trying to impede the Jedi's entrance, is Force-tricked into welcoming him). Leia remains silent beside the Hutt, despite her rising hope at seeing Luke. Luke demands that Jabba release Han and his other friends, but Jabba refuses the young Jedi's offer. Luke uses the Force to pull a nearby blaster and attempts to shoot Jabba, but the Hutt activates the trapdoor to protect himself, dropping the Jedi and an unfortunate guard into the Rancor pit.
After a battle with the Rancor (which devours the fallen guard), Luke ultimately kills the monster by crushing it under the gate of its compound, piercing its neck with the spikes at the bottom of the gate. He is then recaptured and brought up by Jabba's minions. Jabba, furious, chokes Leia until she falls back on his stomach, and orders the prisoners to be brought before him. Luke, Han, and Chewbacca are brought before Jabba, exchanging relief at each other's safety as Leia struggles with Jabba to sit upright before him.
Using C-3PO as a translator, Jabba sentences Luke and his friends to be taken to the Dune Sea for termination (over a course of a thousand years) by the man-eating Sarlacc at the Great Pit of Carkoon. Leia is spared from execution since she is Jabba's favorite slave. As Jabba orders the prisoners to be taken away, Luke warns him that he's made his last mistake, at which the Hutt laughs in amusement.
Skirmish at the Great Pit of Carkoon
- "Jabba, This is your last chance. Free us, or die."
- ―Luke Skywalker, to Jabba Desilijic Tiure
Jabba, accompanied by Leia and several of his minions, travels to the Pit of Carkoon via his sail barge, while the prisoners are taken on a smaller skiff. En route, R2-D2 is tasked with serving drinks to Jabba's guests, and the Max Rebo band plays music in the background. Jabba allows Leia to climb off his throne and watch her friends from a window. After a while, he gives a tug on her chain, playfully commanding her to come to him. Leia glares back at him and returns to watching, and Jabba chuckles. He later pulls her chain again, this time forcing her to run to him on his throne. Jabba then informs Leia that she will soon learn to appreciate him and makes her drink from his goblet.
Outside, Luke and his companions (with Lando, still in disguise) discuss their situation. Han, still half-blinded from the side-effects of carbonization, is sure that they are all going to die, and Luke tries to reassure him of their ultimate safety, but Han is not easily convinced. Elsewhere in the Sail Barge, C-3PO literally runs into R2-D2 and knocks over the shorter droid's drink tray. C-3PO laments their friends' imminent deaths, but R2-D2 shows a kind of confidence, which C-3PO doesn't see any reason for.
When the vehicles ultimately reach the Pit, Jabba has C-3PO announce the group's deaths, but that he is willing to now listen to their pleas. Han calls Jabba names and tells him that he'll not get any pleasure from their pleading, much to the Hutt's amusement, and Luke offers a final chance for Jabba to free him and his friends or die. Jabba and his guests laugh off this last threat and order the execution to commence. Luke gets ushered off of a plank and into the Sarlacc, only to Force-flip up through the air and onto the skiff. Meanwhile, R2-D2 launches Luke's recently built lightsaber from a hidden panel in his housing, and Luke catches it and begins to kill his captors. As Jabba furiously orders his bustling guards and thugs to intervene, C-3PO gets knocked over. Leia looks around, ready to use her false submission to the Hutt to her advantage.
Boba Fett uses his jetpack to fly off of the Barge and land on the skiff as Luke is in the act of freeing Han and Chewbacca. Luke uses his lightsaber to cut Fett's blaster in half, and Chewbacca pushes the bounty hunter onto the deck. Luke then jumps onto another of the accompanying skiffs to fight off the guards and thugs there.
While fighting a guard, Lando accidentally falls off the side of the skiff, and although he manages to hold onto a wire, one of the Sarlacc's tentacles begins to pull him to his death, and Han and Chewbacca have to carefully rescue him. Han accidentally activates Fett's backpack when he turns around and smashes the butt of an axe against it. Fett subsequently flies out of control from the skiff, crashing against the hull of the Barge before falling into the Sarlacc's open mouth, making it belch.
Aboard the Sail Barge, Leia smashes the controls for the Sail Barge's interior lights, throwing it into darkness, and proceeds to strangle Jabba with her chain, killing him, Leia jumps off of the throne and has R2-D2 help break her chain, then heads for the stairs to the top surface of the Sail Barge. Meanwhile, Salacious B. Crumb attacks the fallen C-3PO, and R2-D2 uses the same device he'd freed Leia with to chase the lizard-monkey away. Reaching the surface, the droids jump off the edge of the Sail Barge and land in the Tatooinian sand.
Luke and Leia defeat the remaining guards on the Sail Barge, then Luke has Leia point the guns toward the heart of the vehicle. They prepare to swing from a loose cable on the Barge's sails, and Luke discharges the guns, beginning to destroy the Barge. They swing to their rescue on the land skiff with Han, Lando, and Chewbacca, then use magnets to pick up the two droids from the sand. They all drive off just as the Sail Barge explodes.
Later, all of the crew (except for Luke and R2-D2) depart Tatooine for the rendezvous point near Sullust (mentioned in The Empire Strikes Back) where the Rebel Alliance is assembling, while Luke and R2-D2 (in their X-wing) head for Dagobah to fulfill a promise to Yoda made some time earlier.
The Emperor arrives
- "Patience, my friend. In time, he will seek you out. And when he does, you must bring him before me. He has grown strong. Only together can we turn him to the dark side of the Force."
"As you wish."
"Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen."
- ―Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader
On the Death Star 2, Emperor Palpatine arrives and praises Darth Vader on his efforts in the construction of the Death Star. He also senses that Vader craves the continuation of his search for his son, Luke. The old Sith Lord assures his apprentice that Luke will seek Vader out, that only together would the Sith be able to turn Luke to the dark side of the Force, and that everything was proceeding as Palpatine has foreseen.
Returning to Dagobah
- "But I need your help. I've come back to complete the training."
- ―Luke Skywalker, to Yoda
Luke and R2-D2 arrive on Dagobah to find a terminally ill Yoda. Luke has returned to complete his Jedi training, but Yoda declares no further training is required. All that remains for Luke is to confront Vader. Yoda then reveals that Vader is indeed his father. The 900-year-old Jedi Master gives one last mention of wisdom to the young Jedi before he dies, disappearing in the way Ben Kenobi did in A New Hope, thereby becoming one with the Force.
As Luke approaches his X-wing, the spirit form of Obi-Wan confirms that Vader was once Anakin Skywalker, a former Jedi Knight who turned to the dark side of the Force. Kenobi also reveals that Luke has a twin sister, hidden from Luke at birth as protection from the Emperor. Luke senses that his sister is Leia. Kenobi warns Luke to bury his feelings, for they could in time "serve the Emperor."
The mission begins
At the rendezvous point near Sullust, the Rebel Alliance gathers to reveal plans to attack the Death Star. As part of the plans, Luke, Leia, Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and a strike team must penetrate the deflector shield generator on the forest moon of Endor in order to deactivate the shield if the Rebel fleet is to attack the Death Star. However, Vader knows this because he could sense that his son was with them and allows them to land on the planet. Luke senses his father as well and begins to believe that he would endanger the mission by coming.
The strike team lands on Endor only to be discovered by Imperial scout troopers. A speeder bike chase ensues, only for Leia to be thrown off her speeder and knocked unconscious. Luke and Han discover Leia's helmet, then they, with Chewbacca and the droids, try to find her. Leia is awakened by one of Endor's forest creatures, an Ewok named Wicket W. Warrick. Suddenly, another scout trooper discovers Leia, but Wicket does away with the trooper before rescuing Leia.
Luke, Han, Chewbacca, and the droids, meanwhile, fall into a booby trap set by the Ewoks. R2-D2 cuts open the net setting them free, but the Ewok tribe discovers C-3PO and proclaims him to be their god. The droid's Human and Wookiee friends are taken prisoner, and the Ewoks proclaim Han to be the main course in a banquet in C-3PO's honor. Discovered by Leia, Luke then uses the Force to levitate C-3PO to show off his "great magic." Convinced of the Rebels' good intentions, the Ewoks set them free and later that evening make them "part of the tribe," thereby agreeing to join the fight against the Empire. But Luke decides the time has come to leave Endor and face Darth Vader. Leia follows Luke out of the tribal gathering, whereupon he tells her that Vader is his father and she is his sister. Leia is rendered utterly shocked, but accepts the truth. She is comforted by Han Solo.
Meeting the Emperor
- "Oh, no, my young Jedi. You will find that it is you who are mistaken... about a great many things."
- ―Emperor Palpatine to Luke Skywalker
Vader arrives in his shuttle on a docking bay, and Luke, having already surrendered to the Empire, talks with Vader in an attempt to bring the Sith Lord out of the dark side of the Force, but to no avail. The Empire takes Luke into custody for transportation to the Death Star. The next day, the Rebels attempt to locate the shield generator, and the Rebel fleet enters hyperspace from Sullust to prepare for the final attack. Luke and Vader finally enter the Death Star and confront the Emperor, who looks forward to completing Luke's training and believes that while Vader would never turn from the dark side, neither would Luke. He also reveals that it was he who coordinated the Rebels finding the secret plans and locating the shield generator so that the Alliance can fall into a trap of Palpatine's devising.
The Battle of Endor begins
The Rebels enter the heart of the shield generator, only to be taken prisoner by the Imperial forces. The fleet emerges from hyperspace for the battle, but discovers the shield is still up. As they contemplate their options, the Imperial fleet, which they were led to believe was away, appears and an intense battle begins. Han and the strike team are led out of the bunker by the stormtroopers, but the droids and the Ewoks have already orchestrated the attack on the Empire, and another intense battle commences with the Rebels and Ewoks on one side, the Empire on another. The Emperor shows Luke the full power of the Death Star as the station, now fully operational, destroys one of the Alliance's ships. Meanwhile, on Endor, the battle continues, with casualties (Rebel, stormtrooper, and Ewok) already mounting. Eventually, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca gain access to the bunker.
Duel between father and son
Back on the Death Star, Luke, with the encouragement of Darth Sidious, lashes out at him with his lightsaber, only to be deflected by Vader, and the final duel between father and son begins. As Luke climbs onto a balcony, Vader throws his lightsaber at his son. It misses Luke and knocks the balcony down, taking Luke with it. Vader stalks for a hidden Luke to let down his guard, while quietly sensing within his son's mind that Luke has a sister. Vader threatens to turn her to the dark side if Luke will not, prompting Luke to respond viciously in intense saber fighting, up to the point where Luke strikes off Vader's right mechanical hand. Sidious betrays Vader by encouraging Luke to take his father's place at his side (similar to how Sidious betrayed his former apprentice, Count Dooku, and had him killed by Anakin 23 years ago), but Luke controls his anger and throws his lightsaber aside. He declares himself to be a Jedi Knight like his father Anakin had been before he turned over to the dark side into Darth Vader.
Han, Leia, and Chewbacca escape from the bunker just in time for its destruction, thus bringing down the shield. The Alliance is now free to attack the half-completed Death Star. On the Death Star, the enraged Emperor declares that if Luke will not turn to the dark side, he will be destroyed, and uses Force lightning against the young Jedi. He revels in torturing Luke by slowly increasing the intensity of the lightning. Luke then cries out to his father to help him. As the Emperor prepares to deliver the killing bolts, Vader prepares to make a choice; he looks at Luke and then the Emperor, conflicted whether to save his son or to continue serving his master.
Moved by his son's cries for help and unwilling to see him die, Vader turns back into the light side as Anakin and lifts the Emperor into the air, carries him over and throws him into the Death Star's reactor shaft, killing him. However, in the process, Anakin is struck by the Emperor's force lightning, which enters his organic remains, striking his life support system and his respirator, mortally wounding him. The Millennium Falcon and its remaining Rebel fighters enter the bowels of the Death Star, and some fighters engage in a point-blank attack on the Super Star Destroyer, causing the Imperial flagship's destruction.
Anakin Skywalker's Death
On the Death Star, in the middle of the evacuation, Luke carries his father's ravaged body to the foot of an Imperial shuttle's ramp. Anakin stops Luke and asks him to remove his mask so that he can look upon the face of his son, just for once, with his "own eyes".
Luke removes the mask and sees the face of his father for the first time. Anakin's face is revealed to have turned pale white and scaly, and his head retains some vicious scars after 23 years from his duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.
Anakin tells Luke that his son was right—he did have good left in him, and asks him to tell his sister the same. With that, Anakin Skywalker, the redeemed Jedi Knight, smiles at his son and dies peacefully. Luke bows his head in sadness.
Knocking out the main reactor
The Millennium Falcon and its strike force (in the last Rebel fighter inside) reach the Death Star's main reactor and fire concussion missiles and proton torpedoes at it, causing it to collapse. Luke escapes the Death Star with his father's body and flies out through the flames, as do Wedge Antilles and the Millennium Falcon before the Death Star explodes.
Seeing the destruction from above, Han senses Leia's love for Luke. He offers to step aside when Luke arrives, but she tells Han that Luke is her brother. After a moment of speechless surprise, Han and Leia engage in a passionate kiss.
The big galaxy victory celebration
- "Wesa free!"
- ―An unidentified Gungan
That evening in Endor, Luke sets a funeral pyre ablaze to cremate the body of his father, still encased in Darth Vader's outfit, as per the Jedi funeral rite. His father's organic body becomes one with the Force. Through the midst of the rising flames and fireworks, Rebel fighters streak across the sky in celebration of one of the greatest Rebel victories in the Galactic Civil War.
The planets Bespin, Tatooine, Naboo, Utapau and Coruscant also celebrate. Luke is reunited with his companions Han, Lando, the droids, Chewbacca, the surviving Rebel fleet, the Ewoks, and his sister Leia. Luke then catches sight of the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and a redeemed Anakin Skywalker. Luke is pleased: not only is he now a Jedi, but his father is once again on the light side of the Force. Leia takes Luke by the hand, and they rejoin their friends and colleagues as the spirit ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin look on with pride.
- "When shooting Jedi in the United States we called the film Blue Harvest. Camera slates, invoices, hotel reservations, call sheets, production reports, and crew hats and T-shirts all read Blue Harvest. So when a visitor would ask, 'what are you shooting' and we said Blue Harvest, they went on their way. Can you imagine what would have happened if we had said, 'We're shooting the next film in the Star Wars trilogy'?""
- ―Howard G. Kazanjian, producer
For several reasons, the working title of the project was Blue Harvest and dubbed "Horror Beyond Imagination" to engender no interest whatsoever in order to disguise what the production crew was really filming from fans and the prying eyes of the press. George Lucas had severed all his remaining ties to the Hollywood system out of a feeling of persecution after the success of The Empire Strikes Back and had become a truly independent filmmaker. Lucasfilm is a non-union company, and despite George Lucas's stature and clout, that, says Howard Kazanjian in Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy, made acquiring shooting locations more difficult and more expensive, even though A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back were mammoth hits.
The title was used in all areas where it seemed necessary. The Blue Harvest ruse, credited to producer Howard Kazanjian, was very thorough, emblazoning the fictitious film's logo on a wide range of film production items including shirts, caps, coats, buttons, signs, invoices and stationery. The Blue Harvest facade did give a bit of a wink and nod to its true purpose, however, as the supposed film's logo (intentionally or unintentionally) utilized the distinctive Star Wars logo lettering style. In particular the ruse was employed during location filming in Yuma, Arizona. The filming took place in the dunes over the Thanksgiving holiday, where there was a reported crowd of 35,000 dune-buggy enthusiasts. After erecting a chain-link fence, employing a huge security force, and dodging a myriad of press inquiries, in the end approximately sixty fans saw through the ruse and refused to leave until they obtained a few autographs and photos.
The film's director was the late Richard Marquand, who passed away in 1987 of a heart ailment, but reports have suggested that George Lucas was still heavily involved in the shooting of Return of the Jedi and likely directed some of the second-unit work personally when shooting threatened to go over schedule. Lucas admits in the documentary Empire of Dreams that he had to often be on the set due to Marquand's relative inexperience with special effects, but comments by The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner on that film's DVD audio commentary track suggest that Lucas, who acted more as an advisor on The Empire Strikes Back, had a similar role on the production of Return of the Jedi. Moreover, George Lucas, according to Kershner, called The Empire Strikes Back Kershner's movie, not his.
Some have noted the differences between Richard Marquand's direction style and Lucas's direction style and say that they're dissimilar. The screenplay was written by Lawrence Kasdan and Lucas (with uncredited contributions by David Webb Peoples), based on Lucas's story. Howard G. Kazanjian served as producer.
The documentary Empire of Dreams states that George Lucas initially intended to call the film Return of the Jedi, but then changed it to Revenge of the Jedi when Lawrence Kasdan told him that "Return" was a weak title. On January 27, a few months before the movie released, Lucas announced that the film would be titled Return of the Jedi. In interviews, Lucas said that the reason for the change is that a Jedi would not seek revenge. There are many, though, who speculate that George Lucas had planned to call the film Return of the Jedi all along, and only used "Revenge" as a means to throw off merchandise counterfeiters. It has also been claimed that the reason for the change was because the working title of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was The Vengeance of Khan, and that the title was changed because of its similarity to Revenge of the Jedi. In William Shatner's autobiography Star Trek Movie Memories, director Nicholas Meyer confirmed that he didn't believe that 20th Century Fox would allow Paramount to change his film's title from The Undiscovered Country to The Vengeance of Khan because of the making of Revenge of the Jedi. Nevertheless, all of this potential controversy was erased when Star Trek II was retitled The Wrath of Khan and Revenge of the Jedi finally became Return of the Jedi. In any event, the working title was partially reused for Episode III Revenge of the Sith.
Filming took place from January 11 to May 20, 1982, in Redwood National Park forests in California, the Yuma desert in Arizona, and at the Elstree Studios, United Kingdom. A shot from the speeder bike scene was the last to be completed. During breaks in filming, First Assistant Director David Tomblin worked with Warwick Davis on Return of the Ewok, a short film intended to be a promotional piece. However, the project was never completed and is presumed lost, with the only known copy being a VHS in Davis' possession (which has since been digitally archived by Lucasfilm).
With a massive worldwide marketing campaign, Star Wars series artist Drew Struzan created the iconic and distinctive images for the movie posters and other advertising. In the film's release poster, Luke Skywalker is depicted holding a blue lightsaber—a lightsaber color that does not appear in the film. His new lightsaber is green—although it is blue in one trailer, suggesting the decision to make it green was made late in production. In fact, the decision was made to make Luke's blade contrast with the blue sky of Tatooine and make it more visible during the skirmish at Carkoon.
A wardrobe problem was present in the film in that all Imperial characters, regardless of rank, are shown wearing identical rank insignia, that of an Imperial Navy Commander. The production staff only recognized this halfway through the film's shooting, and the error remained uncorrected in the final version of the film.
Prior to production of the film, Mark Hamill speculated that Luke would end up turning to the dark side midway through the film, with the main conflict being whether Luke could return to the light side. A similar conflict would emerge in the comic serial Star Wars: Dark Empire.
The novelization of Return of the Jedi was written by James Kahn. While it contains many scenes that were deleted from the final cut, with the release of Revenge of the Sith, Kahn's assertion that Anakin Skywalker's memories of "lava crawling up his back" have proved to be in error. In the novelization of Return of the Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi recounts to Luke Skywalker that he and Anakin Skywalker had battled and that his father "fell into a molten pit." The novelization also erroneously refers to Owen Lars as Obi-Wan Kenobi's brother. Owen Lars is, in fact, Anakin Skywalker's stepbrother. Incidentally, Joel and Nash Edgerton, Owen's portrayer and Ewan McGregor's stunt double, respectively, in the prequel trilogy, are brothers in real life. At the beginning of the confrontation in Palpatine's throne room, the Emperor reads Luke's mind and discovers that Yoda completed Luke's Jedi training, and that Yoda is now dead. However, he gives no sign of recognition on hearing Yoda's name.
The film was adapted into comics form by Marvel Comics. Unlike the earlier film adaptations, it was not released as part of the ongoing Star Wars series, but as a four-part (1 2 3 4) mini-series of its own. The adaptation was scripted by Archie Goodwin and illustrated by Al Williamson. (A manga adaptation, illustrated by Shin-Ichi Hiromoto, was later released in Japan in 1998 and in the United States in 1999.)
While the first two Star Wars movies were adapted for radio in the early 1980s, it was not until 1996 that a radio version of Return of the Jedi was produced. The adaptation was written by Brian Daley and was produced for and broadcast on National Public Radio.
In November 1983, CBS aired the official making-of documentary, Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi. The popularity of the Ewoks also led to two made-for-TV movies in 1984 (The Ewok Adventure and 1985 (Ewoks: The Battle for Endor) and an an animated TV series that aired on ABC in 1985 and 1986.
Special Edition and home video
As with the other two films of his original trilogy, Lucas issued a Special Edition of Return of the Jedi, released on theaters on March 14, 1997. It makes a number of cosmetic changes and additions, including replacing a piece of music from the closing scene. In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker is played by Hayden Christensen. However, in the original and Special Edition version of Return of the Jedi, a much older actor named Sebastian Shaw played both the dying Anakin Skywalker and his Force spirit. In the DVD release, Anakin's ghost has become a young man, played by Christensen, and this is considered the canon version of the ghost. Lucas explains in the DVD commentary that Anakin has learned to control his life force beyond death, just as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda had before him. (This is briefly explained in Revenge of the Sith.) So rather than appear as the older man who was Darth Vader, Anakin is able to return to the young man he once was before turning to the dark side.
The basic controversy arises from critics of Lucas's ongoing changes to all of the Star Wars films. On one hand, the redemption of Luke's father as an older man suggests that this is the image that should represent him after death. On the other, the older man was arguably never Anakin Skywalker until his final moments, and the vision of Hayden Christensen brings the story full circle: Darth Vader defeated, Anakin Skywalker at rest. Still, many fans argue that the insertion of Christensen is disrespectful toward Shaw.
During the sequence when the Emperor's defeat at Endor is announced to the galaxy, an additional scene showing the celebrations on Theed, Naboo was shown. A Gungan can be heard yelling "Wesa free" in this scene. In the scene showing the people of Coruscant celebrating, the Senate Building and the Jedi Temple have been added in the background.
With the release of the third episode that depicts how and why Anakin Skywalker turned to the dark side of the Force, George Lucas once again altered Return of the Jedi to strengthen the relationship between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. Sebastian Shaw played Anakin in the hangar bay and in the final celebration scene in the original film. In the DVD release, Shaw portrayed Anakin in the hangar bay scene, though his eyebrows had been digitally removed so that his appearance more closely resembled Anakin's injured appearance at the end of Revenge of the Sith. However, he was replaced by Hayden Christensen during the final celebration, appearing as he did in Revenge of the Sith prior to his injuries on Mustafar. Instead of simply reshooting the Force ghost of Anakin with Hayden, test footage of Hayden's head was digitally grafted to the body of Sebastian Shaw playing the role.
On September 12, 2006, Lucasfilm Ltd. released a two-DVD set consisting of the 2004 Special Edition and the unaltered original theatrical version. This release was limited, lasting through December 31 of that year.
The film was re-released in the Blu-ray format on September 16, 2011. Among its bonus features, this released included previously unreleased deleted scenes from the film. This release included a third round of changes to the film, mostly minor visual alterations.
On April 7, 2015, the Walt Disney Studios, 20th Century Fox, and Lucasfilm jointly announced the digital releases of the six released Star Wars films. As Lucasfilm had retained digital distribution rights to Episodes I through III and V through VI, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released Return of the Jedi for digital download on April 10, 2015. On the official promo poster for Return of the Jedi, Luke's lightsaber appeared blue; however, it is green in the movie.
Despite the Walt Disney Company's 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd. and the release rights to all future Star Wars films, Fox was to retain original distribution rights to Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, which they co-produced and co-financed, in perpetuity in all media worldwide. Fox was also to retain theatrical, nontheatrical, and home-video rights worldwide for the franchise's five subsequent films, which Lucasfilm produced and financed independently, through May 2020, at which time ownership was to transfer to Disney. This complex relationship between Fox and Disney, particularly in regards to Fox's perpetual rights to Episode IV, was to create an obstacle for any future boxed set comprising all nine films. On December 14, 2017, The Walt Disney Company announced that it was acquiring most of Fox's parent company, 21st Century Fox, including the film studio and all distribution rights to A New Hope. On March 20, 2019, the deal was officially completed. On April 12, 2019, a Blu-ray box set containing the nine main installments of the Star Wars saga remastered in 4K was reportedly announced to be in development for a 2020 release.
While critical reception of the film was generally positive, Return of the Jedi is considered by some critics and many fans as the weakest film of the original trilogy. Some indication of public opinion can be gleaned by its relatively modest 72nd-place ranking in the Internet Movie Database's Top 250 films list. As a comparison, A New Hope is ranked at #20, and The Empire Strikes Back is ranked #12, as of April 24, 2016. In 1983, the late Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star rating, and Gary Arnold of the Washington Post described Return of the Jedi as "a triumph." Some contemporary fans and critics have found the film to be just as weak as the prequel films or just in comparison to the first two episodes.
While the Jabba the Hutt sequence and many of the action set pieces (particularly the speeder bike chase on the Endor moon, the space battle between Rebel and Imperial pilots, and Luke Skywalker's duel against Darth Vader) are well regarded, the ground battle between the Ewoks and the stormtroopers remains a bone of contention. A large number of fans believe George Lucas pushed the "cutesy" factor with the Ewoks, especially with the belief that he did it to make it more marketable to children; and some of the production staff, such as Harrison Ford, felt awkward throughout the filming process about the Ewoks. However, other reasons were cited, such as the Wookiees, which were planned for that instance, being vetoed by Lucas due to the prior films showing that they were quite capable with technology via Chewbacca. In addition, fans seem to be rather divided on the premise that an extremely primitive race of small creatures could, albeit with aid, defeat an armed ground force comprising the Empire's best troops. Some fans call it ludicrous, while others credit the Ewoks' bravery, ingenuity, and determination, and draw comparisons between modern warfare in which familiarity with the terrain and guerrilla tactics can result in the defeat of a numerically and technologically superior force. In the commentary for the 2004 DVD release, Lucas explained that the Ewoks were an allegory for a technologically primitive force overcoming a powerful Empire, and compared it to examples like the Vietnam War, Attila the Hun and the Roman Empire, and the American Revolutionary War. The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film reveals that the idea emerged and evolved from Lucas's interest in the Vietnam War in making Apocalypse Now, in which specifically the primitive Vietcong overcame the United States. This has been criticized by some, such as conservative commentator Bill Whittle, in the webseries Afterburner episode "Han Shot First," for its perceived offensive connotations and morally ambiguous implications. However, in the contemporary documentary From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga, Lucas states that the Vietnam War was merely the inspiration from which the subplot evolved, rather than a political thesis. However, a note in the 1973 draft for A New Hope (then simply called Star Wars) did make clear that the events of the film were inspired by "a large technological empire going after a group of freedom fighters" in a clear allusion to the events of Vietnam.
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