A Triumphal 'Return of the Jedi'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 1983

Out-of-this-world adventure awaits, star- gazers. The Star Warriors are back with a vengeance. And with their teddy bears, too. Ewoks, fierce furballs, knee-high to Princess Leia, make a picnic out of the ground action in this galaxy's long-awaited, breath-bated showdown between forces no less cosmic than Good and Evil.

In "The Return of the Jedi," the third episode of a promised nine "Star Wars" epics, creator George Lucas offers more monsters, more miniatures, more special effects (942) than in "Star Wars" or "The Empire Strikes Back." Dazzling as they are, they overwhelm the characters and clutter up the Empire's new close.

The story takes up just about where it left off in "The Empire Strikes Back," with Han Solo on carbon ice, Luke Skywalker shy a forearm and Darth Vader with the upper hand. Luke (Mark Hamill) has returned to his home planet Tatooine to rescue Han (Harrison Ford), now a wall hanging at Jabba the Hutt's desert palace. Jabba, a blubbery, rubbery slug with a Sidney Greenstreet face, presides over an underworld animal kingdom of Gamorrean Pig Guards and some 60 other colorful creepies. The film begins with that familiar "Star Wars" rush of low humor and hijinks.

High- tech's Laurel and Hardy, the robots C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), ready with the electronic patter, are reunited with the old gang in time to near- miss the maw of a sand sucker, a slow-eater that digests only every thousand years. Then it's on to business of a higher nature. The Empire is building a better Death Star over the Ewoks' planet Endor. Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), former Cloud City space miner, has become a Rebel general and leads the attack against the Emperor's forces. While he pilots Han's Millennium Falcon, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), the Wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) and Han battle the Emperor's stormtroopers in a fast-paced, forest free-for-all.

The Ewoks, with their slingshots and beaverish knowhow, devise David's methods for such Goliaths as the Imperial Walkers, evolved into bird-legged, armored ostriches. We're talking high-velocity fights on forest cycles that skim the needle-covered floor -- a round of land action so well orchestrated that it overshadows the final showdown in the canyons of the Death Star.

Harrison Ford doesn't see a lot of action this film. Unbelievably, he's grounded. At 40, he's looking old and acting tired of his role. (Ford asked Lucas to let Han die in this film, but Lucas, who knows a happy ending when he sees one, said no way.) Without the old devil-may-care dash, the chemistry between him and Fisher never quite cooks, what with the quick-take quips and only a peck on the lips between them. The years look good on Fisher, 26, who finally takes off her white robes and lets down her hair. In one scene it's down to harem pants and a wisp of chiffon. Like her figure, her acting has ripened. She is particularly wistful, brave and fine in a revelatory scene with Hamill.

The final confrontation between Luke, nearly a knight now, and Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) can't live up to the mystical buildup of the prequels. The duel of Dark against Light sort of fizzles; the hum of lightsabers is all too brief. We expect so much, having been lectured by masters Yoda (Frank Oz) and the now ethereal Obi- Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), that only the second coming could live up to our expectations.

With all the lights and magic, the sights and spills, there is also the amazing sound of "Star Wars." There's John Williams' exciting score with its themes keyed to cosmic wonder at man's magic. Some cry. C-3PO, mistaken for a god by the Ewoks, tells them in Ewokese the story of the Rebels and the Empire as it unfolded in the first two films. And we understand this strangely moving summation. The Ewoks, brave as they are adorable, decide to make the Star Warriors members of their tribe instead of eating them.

"The Return of the Jedi," final act of Lucas' middle triology, means saying good- bye to Leia and Luke, Han and Chewy, at least in this dimension. Only the droids will last through all nine sagas spanning 40 years. Lucas expects to finish the other six by the time he's 56, in the year 2001. May the force be with him and sustain him on this odyssey. We can hardly wait till then.

RETURN OF THE JEDI -- At area theaters.

© 1983 The Washington Post Company