Return of the Jedi (1983) is one of the best movie chapters in the Star Wars saga. That said, some parts to it — the way it was; the way it’s been changed over the years — are worthy of critique. Many elements work, and some do not; some are within the film and some are a product of Star Wars fans. Let’s go over the pieces Return of the Jedi needs and doesn’t need!
1. What It Needs: The Ewoks
What It Doesn’t Need: Endless
Like it or not, the Ewoks helped the Rebel Alliance kick Empire butt at the Battle of Endor! If you stop and think about it, it just goes to show the concept that — as noted in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) — “one man defending his home is more powerful than ten hired soldiers.” What’s more, it was the home territory of the Ewoks; of course they knew how to defend on their own turf! Besides, it’s not like the Ewoks took no losses for their efforts; they lost a lot of their fellows that day.
But no, no… Let’s join the haters wagon and call them Lucas’ desperate cash-grab; then in the same breath mention how we’re so ready to buy the next Porg or “Baby Yoda” plushie…
2. What It Needs: The Redemption of Anakin Skywalker Scene
What It Doesn’t Need: “No… NOOO!!”
Prior to the Blu-ray release of Return of the Jedi, I’m sure many of us fans remember how marvelously that Anakin Skywalker redemption scene played out. It was intense with high stakes, the music score was moving, and Vader… Well, we didn’t have to see inside the helmet to picture his final, powerful conflict raging within!
And yet Lucasfilm thought it was absolutely necessary to make it painfully clear by adding James Earl Jones saying “No… NOOO!!” before hurling the Emperor into that chasm! Yes, painfully clear; taking us all by the hand and then bludgeoning into our heads “HE’S EXPERIENCING CONFLICT!”
3. What It Needs: The Special Edition Ending
What It Doesn’t Need: The Pre Special Edition Ending
It’s hard to say this, being a fan of the original edit of Return of the Jedi; but the Special Edition ending had a little something more. It felt like the Rebel Alliance won against The Empire; the Galactic Civil War was ended!
The original ending left the story feeling as though things were still open; that the conflict was not yet finished. A victory was won, but not the final victory. After having gone through so much with the characters and the Rebel Alliance, one would want to see their fight come to a successful conclusion.
4. What It Needs: More Boba Fett
What It Doesn’t Need: An
Updated Musical Number
Among the better things the Special Edition did was add just a little bit more Boba Fett to Return of the Jedi. In Jabba’s palace, we see him flirt with some dancers. It added a little bit of character to Fett. It wasn’t depth; but it made him seem human.
But like any “updated” edition of the Original Trilogy, there are bad pieces as well as good: the updated musical number being one example. The original was perhaps a tad clunky and not the most danceable tune, but it felt somehow fitting in an alien world. The updated number feels unnecessary; like an excuse to focus on the Max Reebo Band and sell more toys (which they did).
5. What It Needs: Anakin Skywalker… Force Spirit
What It Doesn’t Need: Hayden Christensen… Force Spirit
The end of Return of the Jedi; a time for celebration that the war has ended after a decisive battle over Endor! We see the Rebels celebrating, friends reunited, and we also see the Force spirits of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and a redeemed Anakin Skywalker! This was the version of Anakin played by Sebastian Shaw; the proper age and with no battle scars any longer. This was enough!
But with Revenge of the Sith (2005) on the horizon, the 2004 release of the Original Trilogy on DVD included Shaw replaced by the Episode III version of Anakin as played by Hayden Christensen; his head, anyway. The excuse being that it was Anakin before he fell to the Dark Side/”died”. We had a fair idea that this was a shameless plug for Episode III.
Return of the Jedi is a better movie than fans give credit; but some things which spawned as a result of the movie — most of the Special Edition changes; the fans’ complaints — were unnecessary. These factors have watered down an already amazing movie which has heart and soul in the Star Wars saga. Some changes were actually understandable. Watch Return of the Jedi again sometime in either original or Special Edition cuts and see for yourself!