Return of the Jedi

Year: 1983
Production Co: Lucasfilm
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Richard Marquand
Producer: Gary Kurtz
Writer: George Lucas/Lawrence Kasdan
Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, David Prowse, James Earl Jones, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Warwick Davis, Ian McDiarmid, Billy Dee Williams, Sebastian Shaw, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness
It's interesting that the Star Wars saga is seen as so much of a George Lucas institution. We don't think of Harry Potter as a Chris Columbus property or Superman as a Richard Donner property, but those directors shot just as many of the films in those famous film series.

Is it a testimony to the LucasFilm PR machine that Star Wars is forever equated with the world's most famous filmmaking beard? Or is it just fan recognition that the entire universe of Coruscant, Endor, Bespin, Dantooine and Alderaan and the creatures and people in it are all his baby, any word written or scene shot thereafter carrying either his creative input or at least his corporate blessing?

Because mention the name 'Richard Marquand' to most film fans and they'll blink at you vacantly. Fans at the other end of the spectrum will tell you this obscure British director was responsible for some TV movies and Joe Esterhas' delightfully trashy murder mystery Jagged Edge, which was his last notable film before his premature death not even 50 years old.

On the Empire Strikes Back DVD, Irvin Kershner explains how he encouraged Lucas to go to Britain to collect some accolade or other, but Lucas insisted his former film school teacher do so as he directed the film. One wonders if he would have afforded Marquand the same courtesy after stories continue to swirl that the latter had so much trouble directing the expansive actions scenes (like the Endor battle) Lucas stepped in and did most of them himself, the Spielberg of his own Poltergeist while Marquand was the Tobe Hooper out of his depth.

Ask rabid fans now and they'll tell you Return (renamed after Revenge of the Jedi seemed too un-Jedi like) was a disappointment after the darkness and bleakness of Empire. But they're remembering multiple viewings on VHS and DVD as adults, not the first time they saw the half constructed New Death Star, the speeder bike battle and Admiral Ackbar sliding back and forth in his chair issuing instructions from his fishy lips. The fanboys were as enthralled as the rest of us at another Star Wars movie.

Of course the cuddliness doesn't stand the test of time – after a generation of movies that are largely the legacy of the Star Wars films we've become cynical and unforgiving as moviegoers. At the close of the first decade of the 21st century, every big blockbuster is marketed as being 'dark and moody' because it's cool. Sometimes they achieve it (The Dark Knight), sometimes they lose the soul of a film institution (Quantum of Solace).

But we demanded no such darkness or bleakness from movies in the early 80s, before the onset of the true blockbuster age (ushered in by MTV-era constructs like Simpson and Bruckheimer as much as Spielberg and Lucas), so we loved the original Ewok victory song that closed the series when we first heard it. Proof? Witness the fan backlash against the latter 1997 special edition re-release version that shows scenes of celebration from around the galaxy but cuts out the folksy tune.

So after David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Paul Verhoeven, Spielberg himself and others turned Lucas down, Marquand took the chair and set out to bring the final instalment of Vader's redemption to life.

After a desperate plan to snatch Han Solo (Ford) back from Jabba the Hutt's slimy claws – where the former is still encased in the carbonite Vader (Prowse) used to test the trap he'd set for Luke Skywalker (Hamill) on Bespin, the race is on to recollect the rebel fleet and make a last stand against the empire before they complete the second Death Star – one not even the rebels will be able to stand up against.

While the fleet prepares to launch the gang go to the small forest moon Endor for a clandestine mission to knock out the shield generator so the fighters above can take the monstrous ship on face to face.

But Luke feels he's compromising the mission because Vader can feel his presence from the orbiting Death Star. He leaves the party and gives himself up to the local Empire troops, certain he can turn his father from the dark side. But Vader has darker orders – to bring Skywalker before the Emperor (McDiarmid), who intends to turn Luke and have him replace the aging Vader.

It's a set up for one of the biggest battles a galaxy far, far away has ever seen. While the ground party have befriended the local tribe of teddy bear-like Ewoks (brilliant marketing on Lucas' part since he famously owned all the franchising rights), who are now helping them battle the Imperial troops throughout the forest after their cover is blown, the fighters and cruisers of the rebel fleet fight it out with the converging Imperial fleet above.

And a titanic three-way battle of wills takes place on the royal viewing room of the Death Star as The Emperor and Vader try to corrupt Luke by any means necessary, all the while Luke and Vader fighting it out in a chest-clutching lightsabre duel.

A full paragraph of superlatives aside, the secret to the film's stunning success both commercially and creatively is simple – Lucas knew this is what the movies were invented for.

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