Unpopular Opinions: Return of the Jedi is the Best Star Wars Movie
Welcome to Unpopular Opinions, where I make an outlandish claim and do my best to support that claim using the measured rational approach that has made me an internet sensation. (Editor’s note: Back Issue Ben is not an internet sensation.) In this inaugural edition, I go straight to the best franchise in the history of fiction, Star Wars. Popular opinion, in my experience, is that The Empire Strikes Back stands as the greatest film in the movie series. There are certainly more than a few fans that believe the original film is the pinnacle of the series (and, having watched it again recently, it does have a surprising amount of quotes that have permeated into pop culture). Yet, I’ve very rarely seen any declare that Return of the Jedi is the best. It was even used as a meta-commentary joke in X-Men: Apocalypse: “The third movie is always the worst.”
So, my plan is to prove why they’re wrong, why you’re wrong, why your face is wrong, and also maybe discover a little bit of something about myself along the way. Let’s get started.
Luke Skywalker and his crew systematically infiltrating Jabba the Hutt’s palace to rescue the captive Han Solo, culminating in an exciting battle above a ravenous sand monster, is probably the best sequence of the entire franchise. (Han being frozen in carbonite is up there as well.) The overall atmosphere of Jabba’s Palace was a perfect example of the crazy alien set pieces that Star Wars became famous for. We also have Leia in her Boushh bounty hunter disguise, and Lando in his palace guard disguise, both of which made for cool looking toys. Luke vs the Rancor might look woefully outdated as far as special effects go, but it’s still a gripping scene, and serves to highlight how formidable Luke has become as a Jedi. Not to mention, Han Solo is in top quipping form throughout the entire thing.
Luke: I used to live here you know.Hoth was great. A tiny rebel ship engulfed by a huge Star Destroyer as it flies overhead of the camera, iconic. All the movies had stunning beginnings, but Return of the Jedi had the best. Plus, there’s more Boba Fett in this one. You can never go wrong with more Boba Fett.
Han: You’re going to die here you know. Convenient.
(As an aside, among many other things, I think the Special Editions adding a scene with Jabba to the original movie ruins the surprise of seeing Jabba for the first time in Return of the Jedi. He’s referred to many times over the course of the first two movies, but nobody could have predicted a giant slug monster was the gangster being referred to with such fear. Of course, all of this is moot if you watch the entire film series in order, starting with the prequels, but the point remains, sometimes maintaining a little bit of mystery can add a lot. Just ask Wolverine fans.)
When I was a little kid, my parents took me to the store right after seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater, and got me a stuffed Wicket plush toy. I carried that thing around with me everywhere. Kids loved the Ewoks. Those kids got older, and jaded, and it became cool to groan over the “kiddie” Ewoks ruining the last Star Wars film. I’ll admit, I was one of them at one time. Those are many of the same people that will praise Empire for being dark, and having the unhappy ending, as being more realistic. Look, darkness is part of life, but so is light. If your life is nothing but darkness and failure and disappointment, then you have my sincere sympathies. Dark and violent isn’t automatically more realistic, or have more merit or artistic worth than something that is fun and light and good. (Inside Out is one of the most smartly written and deeply layered movies I can think of, and it’s an all-ages Pixar movie.) I love The Empire Strikes Back, but if that’s where the story ended, well that would be a pretty terrible end. Don’t be so cynical, embrace the plushy fun of Wicket.
|Nothing is darker than straight murdering teddy bears.|
Speeder Bike Chase
Star Wars has no shortage of fantastic vehicles, and the speeder bike is no exception. Luke and Leia racing at breakneck speeds through the forests of Endor, fighting the “Biker Scout” Stormtroopers (another underrated costume design) is one of the most viscerally thrilling action pieces of the saga.
The Force is Strong in My Family
Longtime readers of Back Issue Ben will know that emotional connection is what really gets to me as a consumer of entertainment. Luke and Leia having this emotional conversation in which Luke reveals that Darth Vader is his father, and that she is his sister, is a prime example of that. (Even though it really doesn’t make much sense that they are brother and sister. As legend goes, despite what George Lucas will claim, Leia was never planned to be the “there is another” reveal, but Lucas deciding that he was too exhausted to continue the film series as planned, led to them shortening the planned story, and also conveniently ending whatever love triangle might have still existed between Luke, Leia, and Han. Originally, as rumor goes, there was going to be a convoluted reveal of another character strong in the force that would figure more prominently in the planned third trilogy that happened after Jedi. It may have been Luke’s long-lost sister, I can’t remember the exact details.)
It’s a Trap
One of the most iconic and oft-mocked lines from the trilogy, as delivered by squid-faced Admiral Ackbar. (I went to a Star Wars convention once, and the gentleman that played the role of Ackbar would sign his photos with “it’s a trap!” included. A personal note about that convention: the actress that does the voice for Ahsoka Tano was there, and I didn’t get her autograph because I wasn’t a fan of the character yet. I wish I could go back in time and fix that. Well, actually, if I could time travel I’d use that power to go back and buy old Transformers and Star Wars toys off the shelf and put them in a storage locker for 30 years. Fantasy life goals.)
Darth Vader vs Luke Skywalker
The rematch between Luke and Vader has all the elements you’d want in a climactic battle. The Emperor watching on as father fights son, spaceships pitched in an intense battle outside the creepily unfinished death star (a fantastic visual). This is epic storytelling at its best. Vader senses Luke’s fear for his sister and threatens to pursue her instead, resulting in Luke’s angry attack as the music swells. Well, let me just say, that it gets me right in the feels. (Another positive about this movie, Luke has become a badass in the time since the previous film. He spent a lot of his time whining in the first two movies, but by this one he was calm and confident, decked out in black and kicking ass. The green saber is just cooler too.) An epic beginning and an epic end, what more could you possibly want in a movie? (We’ll ignore Lucas’ constant tinkering ruining Darth Vader’s big redemptive moment by dubbing in an unnecessary “nooooo,” echoing the oft-mocked moment from Revenge of the Sith where Anakin learns that Padme died. So awful. So so very awful. Disney, please release the unaltered versions of the original trilogy for purchase.)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include what is arguably the most iconic costume of the entire franchise. Yes, it’s perverted and dirty and sexist to acknowledge it as such, but I don’t care. Address your complaints to the inventor of testosterone.
There, I can say without reservation I definitely proved to you why Return of the Jedi is the best of the Star Wars films, without a doubt. Sure, A New Hope may have made the most money, created the entire universe, and had the most iconic lines. The Empire Strikes Back may have my favorite Luke costume, the first light saber battle between Luke and Vader framed beautifully by glowing orange lights in a chamber hissing and buzzing with machinery designed to freeze someone into a giant brick. Sure, it may also have had snow monsters, and a visually stunning snow battle between snowspeeders and giant AT-ATs … oh man. I forgot about the AT-ATs. Damn, Empire Strikes Back was the best one.