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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there are two versions of The Return of the Jedi, the original 1983 release (on VHS and Laserdisc) and a later one on DVD to which George Lucas added enhanced special effects -- some of the aliens are obvious puppets, others are obvious CGI. Both feature abundant fantasy violence, from spaceship dogfights and light-saber duels to guerrilla-style war waged with primitive weapons by the cute Ewoks (which is played largely for laughs, though one Ewok is shown dead). Robots and pig-like aliens are dismembered and devoured in Jabba the Hutt's dungeons. Jabba is strangled slowly by a chain. Deaths of prominent characters in the series, including a peaceful one in bed for Master Yoda and a more dramatic exit (and funeral pyre) for Anakin Skywalker. Scantily-clad harem girls dance suggestively in the lair of Jabba the Hutt, including Princess Leia.
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What's the story?
THE RETURN OF THE JEDI begins with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the other Rebel Alliance heroes and robots assembling one by one to rescue their friend Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from his frozen state of suspended animation in the palace of a gross, sluglike galactic gangster called Jabba the Hutt. Once again, the terrible galactic Empire has a Death Star under construction and the rebels seek to destroy the monstrous doomsday weapon and the sinister Emperor (Ian McDiarmid). Luke knows that this will be his chance to again confront the Emperor's evil cyborg disciple Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), who is really Luke's long-lost father Anakin, once a noble Jedi Knight. Luke refuses to believe that his parent has gone over forever to the dark side of the Force. In the action-packed three-battle finale, Luke duels with Darth under the gloating gaze of the Emperor while the Rebel Alliance throws every ship they have against the fleet of the Empire and on the forest moon of Endor, Han and friends strive to blow up a power plant generating a force field that protects the Death Star. To the rescue are the Ewoks, cute little alien primitives who look like teddy-bear monkeys, and who come to our heroes' aid.
Is it any good?
This is a properly triumphant finale, filled with action -- and yet, coming after the best and emotionally richest chapter, The Empire Strikes Back, a slight disappointment. The Return of the Jedi concluded the mighty Star Wars saga -- at least until Disney brought back the franchise with The Force Awakens -- that George Lucas conceived. It's a film series that changed movie history and raised the bar for special effects, science-fiction wonderment, blockbuster earnings, and movie marketing. If only the filmmakers put as much imagination into the main plotline as they did in the film's lengthy opener. Still, making the fight for the souls of the two Skywalkers as important as the Rebels vs. the Empire is a nice bit of dramatics, as is the idea of Luke struggling to avoid feelings of anger and revenge that might lure him to the dark side.
You can see the infatuation with visual gimmickry, cute/silly aliens and robots, plotlines apparently written to be video-game ready, and a disinterest in good acting; a toymaker mentality that continued when Lucas picked up the storyline again in prequels beginning with The Phantom Menace. While each individual stage of the finale is thrilling, cutting back and forth among the scenes disrupts the overall flow of the film.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the characters' choices and motivations in Star Wars: Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi. Why do you think Hans and Lando both put aside their roguish swaggers to play heroes? Are there any role models in this movie?
Talk about the hype surrounding the Star Wars franchise. Is it deserved? What is the appeal?
Do you consider this movie a classic? Why or why not?
- In theaters: May 25, 1983
- On DVD or streaming: September 12, 2004
- Cast: Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill
- Director: Richard Marquand
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Adventures, Robots, Space and Aliens
- Character Strengths: Courage, Self-control
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: sci-fi action violence
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