Like many of you, I have been of fan of the Star Wars series for most of my life. The original movie was the first movie I ever watched in the theatre and is one of my earliest memories. I remember seeing the Empire Strikes Back the night it was released in 1980. Hell, I just listened to my 40-year-old copy of Christmas in the Stars last week.

In 1980, the records, the Kenner toys, posters, and books were all the Star Wars we could own, and we loved it all. The only way to actually watch these movies was in the theatre. People that weren’t alive or weren’t old enough to remember this can never really fully realize what that was like. You had to be there.

I’ve been a fan since pretty much the beginning and I still love the first two movies in this series despite the criticisms below.

That said, this trilogy isn’t some perfect opus that many people consider it today. Let me say this right out…I remember almost nobody my age or older liking Return of the Jedi until about 1999 and then it was good because “Original Trilogy”.

I think people that grew up with these movies, only on VHS and not theatrically, enjoy this last installment more than the fans that waited for 3 years to see it in the theatre and were left being disappointed in the final product (there are people my age and older that liked this movie and embraced it in 1983 I’m sure but I never met one until The Phantom Menace came out).

Not surprisingly, a lot of the problems with Star Wars begin with Return of the Jedi. Due to story choices made in both sequels plot problems occur that we as the audience just accepted because we were kids and we liked Star Wars. That doesn’t make the problems any less relevant.

Some of these problems I realized early on while others came to me several years later as I thought about that first movie as its own thing more and more.

Stolen Plans

Star Wars works as a standalone movie because it was made as one.

Let’s start with the opening crawl. The narration tells us that the stolen Death Star plans can restore freedom to the galaxy (assuming they are used by the Rebels). The implication of this is that if the Death Star is destroyed the Empire should be finished. Kaput.

This is supported by the dialogue in the conference room on the Death Star about the dissolution of the Imperial Senate. Basically, the entire Empire is dependent on the existence and power of the Death Star, the fear of which is supposed to keep the planets under Imperial control in line. Without that the Empire has nothing to prevent widespread revolt. (Note: The Phantom Menace has the same “unreliable narrator” problem by saying two Jedi Knights are sent to settle the trade dispute but Obi-Wan isn’t a Jedi Knight until about 2 hours later in the movie, so maybe the narrator just sucks?).

So why is this a problem? Well, based on that the Empire shouldn’t exist anymore in the next movie so they shouldn’t be able to “strike back”. Darth Vader “striking back” with a Rebellion of his own, a basic role reversal from the first movie would be more narratively cohesive but that isn’t what we got.

At the start of Empire Strikes Back nothing has changed. The Rebellion’s status hasn’t improved one iota from the start of the first movie. They are still running away. The Empire is still strong. This would be fine if the end of the Star Wars crawl explaining the importance of the stolen plans didn’t exist. But it does.

Skywalker Family

The biggest issue with the series overall is the Skywalker lineage, which isn’t a problem at all until Return of the Jedi. Although Darth Vader tells Luke he is Luke’s father in the previous installment, it isn’t confirmed until this concluding film. This confirmation turns Obi-Wan into a liar and Darth Vader into a truth-teller, which changes their characters as drastically as Han shooting Greedo in self-defence. Make no mistake these are all terrible choices.

One of the things I recall during the 3-year build-up to the release of Return of the Jedi was whether Darth Vader was lying or telling the truth. The choice made was a big letdown, in my opinion, that altered Star Wars for the worse.

Before I move on from the Skywalker’s and this turns into a nitpicky bashing of Return of the Jedi (which it will) I want to talk about this family and the Jedi in general.

One of the things that never made sense with regards to using the original movie as a 4th chapter is that the Jedi have been gone for what, 20 years, and they are basically forgotten by almost everybody. Han Solo doesn’t believe in the Force even though he was old enough to have known they existed before the Empire.

Looking at the original movie as a standalone it makes sense that a considerable amount of time has elapsed (many decades, perhaps centuries) since the fall of the Jedi Order and that Obi-Wan and Luke’s father (and other Jedi) lived extremely long lives and were in hiding for many years before they were tracked down and killed by Darth Vader.

If you look solely at the context of the original film this makes a lot more sense than everybody forgot the Jedi existed and that the Force is known to be real in 20 years (the fact that the sequel trilogy doubled down on this stupidity is flabbergasting).

With regards to Leia being Luke’s sister, it’s common knowledge that Lucas made this arbitrary change so he could be finished with Star Wars in this 3rd movie instead of making it a new character to be introduced in a completely different version of “Episode 6” as was the original plan. He might’ve confirmed Darth Vader was Anakin for the same reason – wrap it up and be done with it. Lucas’s story about the making of these movies has changed so often who can know for sure?

ROTJ Rottenness

With the lineage ideas and questions out of the way now we can get into the nitty-gritty on the failings of Return of the Jedi.

Probably the single stupidest choice in this movie was showing Darth Vader’s face to the audience. It was never going to live up to the hype.

The fact that he looked like Ray Milland just made it a disgrace. He’s about as menacing as Don Knotts.

Darth Vader and Marvel’s Dr. Doom have a lot in common, especially their mask. What Jack Kirby and Stan Lee understood was they could never show Dr. Doom’s real face to the audience. Other characters could see it but never the audience. Luke could see his face but not the viewer.

The moment we saw Vader’s face was the moment the character was ruined. Not “Yippee”. Not “Nooooooo!!!” It was “Tell your sister you were right.”

Almost as idiotic as showing Darth Vader’s face has to be the death of good ol’ Sheev Palpatine. Darth Vader’s master does nothing to defend himself when his apprentice picks him up and tosses him down a chasm. Instead, he just shoots Force lightning at the ceiling and screams. I find it hard to believe he conquered the galaxy. He’s the worst Sith master ever.

I could nitpick Return of the Jedi to death but I’m not going to. I’ll just a few plot points that don’t work that most people just ignored/accepted.

  • The Second Death Star. Why would you waste resources on building a replacement for something that was an abject failure (the destruction of which should have ended the Empire) the first time around? Laziness and a desire by Lucas to wrap it up so he wouldn’t have to make these movies anymore. To add insult to injury fewer seconds are spent on its destruction the death of the one Ewok during the Battle of Endor.
  • ┬áHan must have amnesia. How else can we explain that Han is totes cool with Lando? Han’s last memory of his “buddy” is his betrayal on Bespin, which resulted in him being frozen in carbonite. Han wakes up and in no time at all he and Lando are yukking it up at the Sarlaac pit. Not a single line about anything that transpired between them in the previous installment.
  • Speaking of the Sarlaac, Boba Fett goes out like a chump. Imagine waiting 3 years to see this movie and the most hyped character of your life is taken out in a godawful slapstick manner replete with a burp.
  • Luke’s lightsaber on the sail barge doesn’t function at all like any lightsaber used in any other Star Wars movie during this sequence. It cuts through nothing and guys that get struck by it just fall over with no physical damage like they just got hit by a pillow. WTF, Buck?

Closing Thoughts

Everybody has different experiences with the Star Wars series based on how they saw them, when they saw and how old they were when they saw them that first time.

Your experiences were your own and the only way to understand that is well…you had to be there.