A Film by Richard Marquand
I’m sure most everyone has likely watched a Star Wars film, perhaps knowing the three original classic films “like the backs of their hands”, as the old cliche goes. That is why this is not a review of Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, rather this is a review of what they offered for the 40th Anniversary Celebration. This special re-release coincided with May 4th (May the Fourth Be With You) of this year which has become a sort of celebratory day for all Star Wars fandom for the last decade or so. While I could easily have brought up Disney Plus and watched this at my leisure, I wanted to see this in theaters because the l have not seen it on the big screen since 1997, and my son had never ever seen the film in any form, much less on the big screen. We pre-gamed by watching Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back, and set-out for the theater the following day. I wasn’t sure what version of the film we’d get, how it would look or much of anything else. The good news is, I was pleasantly surprised by how everything was handled despite a few qualms.
Special note: Being able to be there when my son discovered that Darth Vader was the father of Luke was amazing. I’m glad we watched Empire the day before!
“It was a dark time for the rebel alliance…Han Solo, frozen in carbonite, had been delivered into the hands of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Determined to rescue him, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Lando Calrissian launched a hazardous mission against Jabba’s Tatooine stronghold. The Rebel commanders gathered all the warships of the Rebel fleet into a single giant armada. And Darth Vader and the Emperor, who had ordered construction to begin on a new and even more powerful Death Star, were making plans to crush the Rebel Alliance once and for all.”
While I’m not one of those guys that has encyclopedic knowledge of what versions there are of this film and all of the minute changes between them, I fully assume that this is the HD version that Disney Plus currently has that many cite as “the best version”. This is largely due to Lucasfilm fixing almost all continuity errors and such before Lucas himself sold the company off to Disney. I honestly would have rather had the original version, since I have not seen it in decades, and it is the 40th Anniversary of that film, not the often remade Frankenstein the film is today. A good runner-up would have been the 1997 version I saw in theaters way back when, however even that has stuff that annoys me. Here are some observations I had with the film in regards to the version they chose:
- I have never liked the CGI character dance number in jabba’s Palace, it slows the scene down and the song isn’t very good. In 2023 the singing alien looks pretty bad, and I really wish they would have updated that if it was going to be in there.
- This version has the alterations from 2004 that removed the ending Ewok “Yub Nub” song. While most edgelords hate the Ewoks, I have nostalgia for that ending, and the one that shows what’s going down on places like Naboo could have been added to it vs replacing it outright.
- The infamous scene of Darth Vader yelling “NOOOO” when the Emperor tries to kill Luke is not as bad as I expected. I never bought this on Blu-Ray so I had only heard anecdotals about it, and I feared the worst. Yeah, its unnecessary, but I was expecting to be mad, I had even heard it was the same sound-clip from Revenge of the Sith, which this was not. Sure, when he yells “NOOOOOO” about Padme it’s way to over the top and silly, but in this film, he kind of quietly says “No!” Then picks the Emperor up and yells it out again. I was okay with it.
I’m not one of those guys that rages about the changes, I actually really enjoyed the 1997 “Special Editions” when they happened, I just wish a version would get released with ALL version, sort of like what Criterion did with the Terry Gilliam masterpiece Brazil. That way I at least had a choice versus being told that the version I grew up with is “wrong.” Overall, I was pleased with what we had despite issues I have long ago come to terms with. Since my son knows no different, he loved it, and that’s what matters most.
Despite this being a big 40th Anniversary Celebration and part of their “May the 4th” stuff, there really wasn’t too much in there to really get folks to rush out and see this. I was honestly hoping this would have been done like other special attractions, such as what Fathom Events does, where an additional documentary or introduction or SOMETHING was added in, but alas it was just the film and nothing else. Hopefully the do something more in the future because I feel like they are really sleeping on what they could do with stuff like this. We have four years until the original film hits 50 years, so here’s hoping they are planning something BIG!
Overall, it was great to be able to both relive my childhood by seeing this film once again in theaters and see it with my son. While it wasn’t my favorite version of the film, nor did it have any sort of fanfare, just the simple act of seeing a classic on the big screen makes up for any annoyances. I have seen other old films like this, the original Ghostbusters comes to mind, and I have to hand it to Disney and Lucasfilm – this looked every bit as good as a new film just hitting theaters for the first time. The 4k Master is impressive, and should be the standard for releases like this in the future. I saw that Indiana Jones is getting similar treatment soon, and you better believe I will be seeing that!