C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) are sent to Jabba the Hutt’s palace on Tatooine by Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to help rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who has been frozen in carbonite as a wall-hanging for the gangster slug’s amusement. Disguised as a bounty hunter, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) arrives with Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) in cuffs, pretending to turn him over to Jabba. In the middle of the night, she unfreezes Han, but is caught and enslaved. Luke, now a powerful Jedi, arrives to bargain for his friends’ release, but Jabba drops him through a trapdoor into a rancor pit to be eaten by the giant beast.
Luke kills the rancor, but Jabba sentences him, Han, and Chewbacca to be eaten by the sarlacc, an enormous carnivorous plant-beast in a pit in the desert. Jabba is there to watch in comfort from his air-barge, but Luke’s lightsabre is hidden inside R2-D2 and with it he frees himself and battles Jabba’s guards while Leia strangles Jabba with her chains. As the others leave to rendezvous with the Rebel Alliance, Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training with Yoda (Frank Oz puppeteering), who is dying. Yoda confirms that the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader (David Prowse with the voice of James Earl Jones), formerly Anakin Skywalker, is his father, and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) reveals that Leia is Luke’s twin sister and strong herself with the Force.
The Rebel Alliance learns that the Empire is re-building the Death Star that the Alliance destroyed, overseen by Emperor Palpatine himself (Ian McDiarmid) with the assistance of Vader. The station is protected by an energy shield, the generator located on the forest moon of Endor. In a stolen Imperial shuttle, Han leads a team to destroy the generator. They fall afoul of a tribe of diminutive and furry Ewoks who live in the forest, but enlist them in the rebellion, largely because they think C-3PO is a golden god.
Luke tells Leia that she is his sister and Vader is their father, that Luke must confront him alone. He surrenders and is brought before Vader, hoping to convince Vader to reject the Dark Side of the Force. Luke is taken before the Emperor, who knows the rebels are massing nearby and must fall into his trap, but the Ewoks help the rebels infiltrate the shield generator. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), in the Millennium Falcon, leads the attack on the Death Star, but the rebels are late cutting the shield and an entire Imperial fleet arrives to devastate the rebel attack.
The Emperor tries to tempt Luke to give in to his anger. Vader attacks him in a lightsabre duel and senses the presence and power of Leia, threatening to turn her to the Dark Side. Luke then cuts off Vader’s prosthetic hand and defeats him, as Zeus defeats his father Cronus. The Emperor demands that Luke kill him and take his place, but Luke refuses. The Emperor, enraged, assaults him with telekinetic lightning. Vader hurls the Emperor into the reactor-shaft abyss. This is the only time that the Star Wars Theme plays over Darth Vader, symbolizing his return to the Light Side and his bringing Balance to the Force. Luke removes Vader’s mask and the man dies in his son’s arms. The shield is down, the Death Star is destroyed, Han learns to his great relief that Luke and Leia are brother and sister, and the Ewoks and rebels celebrate as the ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin look on.
Return of the Jedi was the first film to use THX technology. Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg were all considered for director, but it was Richard Marquand who got the job. He was unfamiliar with visual effects, so Lucas hung around a lot. Marquand said it was like trying to direct King Lear with Shakespeare in the next room. The reason Han Solo was frozen in carbonite in the Empire Strikes Back is that it was not at all certain he would come back in the third film. When he finally did sign up, it was thought he should die nobly in the third act to scare the audience, and Luke was supposed to wander off alone in the end, a tragic hero. It appears that the happy ending came about because it was best for action-figure sales. The Death Star is powered by a hyper matter reactor, like all spacecraft in the Star Wars Universe. Wedge Antilles appears among the rebels in all the original trilogy of films. He is played by Denis Lawson, Ewan McGregor’s uncle. Yoda was not supposed to be in the movie, but psychologists said youngsters would not believe Vader was Luke’s father unless some reliable person confirmed it.
Famously, the movie was called Revenge of the Jedi at first, then changed to Return of the Jedi because Jedi seek not revenge. But the posters already printed became one of the great collectibles in collectible history. Lucas went back in 2004 and remastered all of the movies, adding scenes and improving special effects. Purists prefer the originals, but less fussy fans like me love the additional eye-candy. The third film was always generally considered to be the least of the three and I suppose it can seem a little tired sometimes and does not reach the levels of audience adoration of the other two. But you have to love Jabba the Hutt and his entire crew—the Kowakian Monkey-Lizard Salacious B. Crumb, the dumb-as-rocks Gamorrean security guards, Bib Fortuna, Oola the dancer, Lyn Me, Ree-Yees, the Wol Cabasshite, Frog-Dog Buboicullaar, Attark the Hoover, Yak-Face, Droopy McCool, Sy Snootles, Joh Yowza, and the other members of the Max Rebo Band.
Jabba was partly modelled on Sydney Greenstreet. It took six people to work Jabba, took three months to build, cost a million dollars and weighed a ton. The puppeteer whose job was to blow cigar-smoke into his hookah said it would have been the best job in the world if he had had a glass of Port. Jabba's palace required ten puppeteers, nine mimes, 42 extras, 18 speaking roles, and a crew of 90 working a month. When Jabba moved, the sound was Ben Burtt putting his hands in a cheese casserole. The sounds of the rancor were the growls of a dachshund. Jabba’s pig guards resemble the Evil Witch’s guards in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Leia’s slave outfit came from the artwork of Frank Frazetta. Fisher complained about her costumes in the previous films hiding her body. So, she ended up in a metal bikini. Since she hated double-face tape, she had to have a wardrobe person check to see if her breasts were in the right place, and there were several wardrobe malfunctions requiring re-shoots. The only nipples to make it into the final film were of Oola the slave-dancer, which appeared as she was rather gruesomely being eaten by the rancor. Perhaps that was why nobody noticed. Or because they were green.
Endor is in the Bible. It’s in Isaachar, where King Saul battled the Philistines and came across the Witch of Endor. The word Ewok is supposed to be a change-up on Wookiee, but it comes from Miwok, tribes indigenous to Northern California, where the Endor scenes were shot. The filmmakers were allowed to knock down trees because the area was due for logging. The Ewok skirmish with the Imperial soldiers was based on the climactic battle in Swiss Family Robinson. The lyrics for the Ewoks’ songs were written by John Williams’ son Joseph. The Ewok trumpet sound at the end of the movie was from the Ten Commandments. Kenny Baker played both R2-D2 and Paploo, an Ewok who hijacked a speeder bike. Warwick Davis played Wicket W. Warrick, another Ewok. He was 11 years old and a Star Wars fan. Carrie Fisher took it upon herself to care for his well-being, giving him cookies and chocolate milk between takes. He later commented, “She was everything an 11-year-old Ewok could possibly wish for.”
The Forest of Endor and the speeder-bikes are gorgeous, but it’s hard not to see the Ewoks as Teddy Bears, which makes their success against the Empire’s technology a little hard to swallow. Let’s imagine a bunch of scrawny guys in black pyjamas, hiding in the jungle, taking on the greatest technological war-machine on the planet and, despite all the young black bodies thrown against them, driving that war-machine to ignominious defeat. Who’d believe that? It’s the stuff of fantasy. The film was considered by many to be repetitive, with Tatooine appearing again, and the Death Star, and Ewoks were considered by many to be trivial. But the Emperor is slimy and horrible as a villain should be, giving Darth Vader a chance to come around to nobility and sell more action figures, and the movie did get top marks from both Siskel and Ebert, but I date myself.
On a personal note, as if I haven’t been doing that all along, my first attempt at writing science-fiction was about a planet with three major civilizations. One was a sea-faring people called Seawalkers, another was an agricultural civilization called Landwalkers, and the third followed the herds on a high mountain plateau. I called them Skywalkers and the book was going to be titled Skywalkers Children. I was several chapters in when Star Wars came out, and there was no point in going on. For a while I thought maybe the movie would be a flash in the pan and everyone will have forgotten about it in two years. More than forty years later we’re still arguing about Star Wars, and everything I’ve written since features a smart young hero, a roguish captain or con man, a tough babe or two, and a few wise mentors. Star Wars casts a long shadow.