Once upon a time, if you can believe it, the third entry into the original Star Wars trilogy was considered something of a minor let down when initially released, signifying and solidifying the rule that the third part of a trilogy is usually the worst. That’s somewhat of an unfair comparison considering the sheer quality of it’s company, but when placed side by side with it’s admittedly superior predecessors, ROTJ comes across as a simpler, less refined affair; more obsessed with it’s mad dash to the finish line while tying up as many plot threads as it can, than building character or mood. ROTJ is, in essence, a film of two halves. The first deals in the immediate fallout left by Empire Strikes Back in which Luke Skywalker and co. attempt to infiltrate the stronghold of gangster, slug-pervert Jabba The Hutt in order to rescue a frozen Han Solo. After a quick check in with Yoda for some more exposition, the second half focuses back to the struggle betwixt the Empire and the Rebellion and more importantly, resolving Luke’s beef with portable iron lung supporter and dead beat daddy, Darth Vader. It’s this exact kind of plot compartmentalisation that’s given the film the reputation of being episodic and somewhat rightly so.
However, the years have been exceptionally kind to the astoundingly epic trilogy caper and it’s renown has grown more and more as the years tick by.
The first thing to help, oddly enough, was the unfriendly critical reception given to the prequels, instantly no longer making ROTJ the weak link in the series by default; Ewoks beat Gungans in Star Wars rock, paper, scissors it seems. The second, and far more valid point, is that virtually every single special effects blockbuster of the last 30 years practically cut and pastes ROTJ as it’s template, as it’s cross cutting, three-battles-for-the-price-of-one finale has been adopted from everything from Independence Day to Avengers: Infinity War, which technically makes it arguably just as influential as it’s two lauded siblings.
Carrying the film through a mid-film slump (the night spent in an Endorian village to indulge in a little pre-battle Ewok and chill) are the spirited, effects crammed bookends, the Jabba section is something out of Jim Henson’s wet dream, instantly making the canteen scene in A New Hope obsolete with creatures of every size and shape smeared over every inch of the frame. In counter point to the sand coated beginning is the three massive closing battles featuring spaceship, lightsabre and catapult armed teddy bears, which is massive in scale and totally engrossing.
At this point in the franchise, you can’t help that some of the leads are phoning it in a little (cough* Ford! *cough) and maybe the film is a little too “muppet reliant” for it’s own good but the introduction of Ian Mcdiarmid as the deliciously cackle-happy Emperor Palpatine nicely makes up for many flaws (e.g. ANOTHER Death Star is hardly original).
There’s also a distinct feeling that the script is jumping through hoops in order to forcefully resolve character arcs; Han and Chewie NOT piloting the Millennium Falcon in the finale just feels odd for example, but he HAS to be on Endor to continue his romance with Leia.
Still, everything is wrapped up relatively neatly, although director Richard Marquand is no where near as visually resourceful as Empire helmer Irvin Kershner, and ultimately all’s well that ends well in a galaxy far, far away.