It’s become fashionable in these days, after the disasters that were the Star Wars prequels, to say that the trouble all began in 1983 with Return of the Jedi and the damn Ewoks. Maybe it’s because I was so young at the time, maybe it’s because Return of the Jedi is the first film I remember seeing in the theater (unless you count the brief, half-remembered trauma of ET), but the Ewoks have never bothered me, and I actually think this is a strong film.
We begin by getting all of the main characters back together after the splintering events of Empire, as everyone goes to great lengths to rescue Han from Jabba the Hutt. Luke is finally as cool as the series had always promised he’d be, and everyone works together quite nicely in a fun (though perhaps too long-running) rescue scene. From there, everything builds to a very thrilling tri-part conclusion. We get a strong light-saber battle between Luke and Vader (though not as strong as Empire’s brutal face off). We get the best space combat of the trilogy, as the Rebel fleet attacks a new Death Star. And, we get an Ewoks versus Imperial fight on the ground. The latter sequences are the most frequently criticized, and yeah, it probably is a bit sillier than Star Wars fans would’ve liked, but anyone who thinks a guerilla insurgent action against a better armed foe with superior technology couldn’t succeed doesn’t know much about history. I also think that Darth Vader’s conversion provided for a fascinating ending to the series.
So, it’s not as good as Empire. I think it’s debatable whether or not it’s as good as the first movie (I think Star Wars benefits a lot from the freshness and simplicity of its story – virtues that a third film is unlikely to have almost by definition). But, it is still a strong film and a fitting conclusion. If we’ve learned anything from the prequels, it should be that things could have been so much worse.