Despite disappointments, ‘Return of the Jedi’ continues an impressive legacy

Originally published in the Fullerton College Hornet, Vol. 76, Issue 7; 31 Mar 1997

As the theater darkened, a hush descended upon the crowd assembled to view the final chapter in the “Star Wars” trilogy. With new effects shots and added scenes, the release of “Return of the Jedi: Special Edition” was attempting the daunting task of improving upon the original release of the film from 1983.

George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic effects studio definitely pulled out all the stops for the final installment in the “Special Edition” re-release. From retooling the soundtrack for a surround-sound effect to creating new, computer-generated scenes, the ILM team certainly did an impressive job.

Early on in the film, many of the newly-added scenes were evident. The original song sequence from Jabba the Hutt’s throne room was left out of the Special Edition to make way for a new sequence of old footage intercut with new shots of actors and computer-generated models. The song itself was replaced with a new composition, which sounded somtething like a mix of blues and hip-hop in an alien language. The entire sequence seemed contrived and out of place in the film and, as a result, detracted from the overall experience.

Also, two intercut clips of the bounty hunter Boba Fett were added. The clips seemed to serve no purpose other than to give more screen time to a character who’s popularity defies the understanding of even Lucas himself.

Despite these and other small problems with the new scenes added early in the film, it was overall an enjoyable experience. Most of the scenes added actually enhanced the feel of the film. For example, when Jabba’s henchmen fell into the Pit of Carcoon, home of the Sarlacc, they didn’t simply fall into a gaping mouth as in the original release. Instead, the Sarlacc now has a beak-like mouth and reaches out to grab them as they fall.

The most impressive of the added scenes is the establishing shot of Jabba’s sail barges. In the original release, a choppy, early generation computer effect was mixed with a model on a blue screen as Jabba’s sail barge passed the screen. In the Special Edition, the scene opens on a herd of Banthas, large beasts of burden native to the planet Tatooine and pans over to the sail barge, replaying the same shot as the original, only re-animated to eliminate the choppy look.

The remixed sound arguably had the greatest impact on the audience and the fewest flaws in the entire film. The surround sound allowed the audience to finally feel more like they were a part of the movie and the vibrations from the explosions and passes by the larger spacecraft shook the audience to the bone.

The story itself has not changed in the Special Edition, although new perspectives now shine through by way of the added scenes. The movie is the perfect bookend to the “Star Wars” trilogy, wrapping up loose plot ends and answering questions left over from the previous two chapters.

Overall, the film has been improved. The sound has been upgraded and the visuals have been enhanced. The story remains the same, yet it now has a larger scope. There are a few drawbacks, but the rest of the film overcomes them.

“Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” (1983): B+

“Return of the Jedi: Special Edition” (1997): A-

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