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`Return': The Jedi Strike Back

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 14, 1997; Page N44

TO THOSE who haven't seen the 1983 "Return of the Jedi," the third installment in the first "Star Wars" trilogy, this is where the big questions are answered. "Return" also brings some surprising revelations, as well as the final mano a mano between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

In a way, the movie -- which was directed with more vigor than talent by Richard Marquand -- brings things to an almost cheesy conclusion. Given the gripping, dark elements that creator George Lucas introduced in the two previous films, the third movie's outcome smacks of PG-rated populism rather than artistic fulfillment. But the experience is still highly entertaining.

Just to bring everyone up to speed: The forces of evil, led by Darth Vader (the voice of James Earl Jones) and the Emperor, are at it again -- creating a second Death Star (which the good guys blew up in the first installment). Freelance space traveler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is still frozen in carbonite and now on display at the fortress-hangout of Jabba the Hutt -- that extraterrestrial tub of goo.

So, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who's on the verge of becoming a true Jedi knight, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), C-3PO and R2D2 take off for the planet of Tatooine to save Han.

This episode leads to a bigger confrontation between the heroic rebels and Vader's army. While Lando and the rebels conduct an aerial attack on the Death Star, Han, Luke, Leia et al land on the forested planet of Endor -- source of the Death Star's protective force field, and residence of those helpful, fuzzy Ewoks.

It's a complicated plot, actually. In 1983, a Beach Haven Park, N.J., audience wasn't too thrilled by it. When the picture cut abruptly from a shot of a spaceship to a scene on Endor, moviegoers started chanting "wrong reel, wrong reel!"

But now you know better.

Of course, as with the "Star Wars" and "The Empire Strikes Back" reissues, there's a little something extra. Lucas created the "Star Wars" trilogy before the advent of digital sound and his own THX theater-rating system.

All three "special edition" versions come with digitally enhanced sound. "Return of the Jedi" (which was once going to be titled "Revenge of the Jedi") has some other new features: In Jabba the Hutt's sleazy world of otherworldly harlots, weirdos and mercenaries, for instance, there's a new musical number, featuring strange creatures crooning and vamping to a blues song. We get to see details of the fearsome Sarlacc creature that swallows and digests whoever is thrown down its gullet. And in the finale there are added scenes in Tatooine, Cloud City and Coruscant, the Imperial headquarters planet. So, what are you waiting for?

RETURN OF THE JEDI (PG) -- Contains scenes that might be scary for young children. Area theaters.


© 1997 The Washington Post Company