The Jedi return to us at last, older, wiser and frankly irresistible. Of all its many qualities, “Return of the Jedi” (at selected theaters) is fully satisfying, it gives honest value to all the hopes of its believers.
With this last of the central “Star Wars” cycle, there is the sense of the closing of a circle, of leaving behind real friends. It is accomplished with a weight and a new maturity that seem entirely fitting, yet the movie has lost none of its sense of fun; it bursts with new inventiveness. With “Jedi,” George Lucas may have pulled off the first triple crown of motion pictures.
While we press on with the business of Jedi knighthood and Rebel battles, with the question of Luke Skywalker’s parentage and with Luke’s confrontation of his own dark side and his attempt to master it, director Richard Marquand (“Eye of the Needle”) and writer Lawrence Kasdan (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”), who shares screenplay credit with Lucas, see to it that the screen is full to the gunwales with the galaxy’s best inventions yet.
Kids, with their wriggling love of the really gross, may have the best time with “that village gangster,” Jabba the Hutt and the netherworld attendants, his major-domo Bib Fortuna and hulking blue Garmorrean Pig Guards who could have wandered in out of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are."
Hutt, you may remember, is the owner of a life-size wall decoration that is really our dashing Han Solo, now bronzed as a baby shoe. (OK, OK, carbon frozen.)
Licentious, disgusting, cruel, Hutt is an amazing creation, a massive, golden-eyed, blue-green embodiment of evil, part sea slug, part Sydney Greenstreet, entirely Aubrey Beardsley. Our tour of the nastier corners of Jabba’s world is a smart move; it gives the film dimension. We can see for ourselves just what the Rebels oppose.
Adults, on the other hang, are likely to fall heavily for the small, furry Ewoks, who make “Return of the Jedi” feel like “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic.”
These tree-dweeling, cuddly primitives from the redwood-forested planet of Endor have all sorts of jobs; there are noble bowment, a shaman mother and baby Ewoks. But their true function is to link the Rebels to a real (if calculatedly adorable) world with simple beginnings, and this they do effortlessly.
(It’s a good thing the Ewoks are so lovable; I suspect that they will jump into our children’s lives, probably no later than Thursday, to become classic toys on a comforting par with the teddy bear.)
For the light-saber/hyperspace crowd, there’s an aerial “speeder-bike” chase through the redwood forest, accompanied by sound effects that might make an ex-Modesto hot rodder’s memory tingle. Less is made of movements that were big jolts six years ago, when hyperspace was an exultation you felt throughout the theater, but that’s simply because those moments have become part of our film vocabulary by now.
Did we lose the adults in this tour of fantasyland? Possibly, but not Luke and Princess Leia. Mark Hamill’s Luke has the greatest shading and the greatest growth of the whole crew, as befits a heroically scaled alter ego. The crucial matter of the relationship between Luke and Darth Vader is worked out in a manner that may even move audiences, with advice from the full crew of Luke’s Jungian advisers, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the demi-materialized person of Alec Guinness.
Carrie Fisher’s Leia can now at least be looked upon both as a princess and a sexy woman, although slave girl drag is a pretty funny way to convey that information. The paths opened for Leia by the film’s newest revelation are what really count, although, unfortunately, they come a little late in this cycle for actress Fisher.
Having thawed out Harrison Ford’s Han Solo, Lucas does precious little with him, and almost less with Billy Dee Williams’ Lando Calrissian. If, as reported, there was a small ground swell for letting Han Solo die, perhaps Lucas should have considered it as a bass line to his heroic saga. Even C-3PO’s Anthony Daniels has more to do; actually, the golden droid is given one of the picture’s best moments, a bedtime storytelling saga that he punctuates with a newsreel full of sound effects.
The actors, actually, have to grab what chances they have to flesh out their characters. “Jedi” is fast, crammed film making that gives us few chances to assess our feelings before it hurtles on to something new and dazzling.
Even more than the previous two films, “Jedi” is a technician’s tour de Force. A not to a few of the less well-known sections seems in order.
We believe C-3PO’s delicate mastery of languages (six billion forms of communication, actually) as we hear his nervous, fussy interpreting for Jabba, or that great moment of abandon as he tells the assembled Ewoks and his comrades a bedtime story. These are a combination of Daniels’ voice and the prodigious sound designs of Ben Burtt. Burtt, the supervising sound-effects editor, also concocted the infectious lub-dub of the Ewoks, as well as R2-D2’s cascading squawks and blatts.
“Jedi’s” overall production design, from the nighttime coziness of Ewokville to Jabba’s disgusting dungeons, was created by Norman Reynolds. Its visual effects range from small-scale puzzlers, like the landing of the Emperor’s ship on a mirror-like surface (without telltale wires in the reflection) to the frankly amazing, like the final blast of the Death Star, which we see first in a dark, then in a pastel image. They are the work of Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren and Ken Ralston, magicians all.
The makeup (i.e., the malevolent Emperor with his glowing eyes, or Jabba’s ill-assorted household regulars) was created by Stuart Freeborn, and Phil Tippett designed all the film’s extraordinary special creatures, while Kit West supervised their mechanical effects.
Alan Hume was the cinematographer, Aggie Guerard Rodgers and Nilo Rodis-Jamero the costume designers, and John Williams’ music, an integral part of the romance of galaxy, is again to be heard.
Finally, for any audience who knows the territory, “Jedi’s” redwood forests and adventurous rebels may represent the ultimate Marin County subliminal message.