NOTE: The top screenshots are from the 'special edition' on disc one and the screenshots on the bottom are from the 'theatrical cut' on disc two. They might not match up perfectly but they serve the purpose of showing the difference in quality between the two discs contained in this set.
Three years of waiting. Thirty-six months of anticipation. One thousand and ninety five days of wondering how it was all going to end. Fans thought that the wait between the two installments of Kill Bill was bad – has it really been that long since so many of us were held in suspense as to how the Star Wars trilogy would come to a close? The Empire Strikes Back ended with so many unanswered questions, how could an eight year old boy not be freaking out by the time that this movie hit theaters and drive-in's around the world?
Unfortunately, for all the build up and waiting and anticipation that lead to the premiere of Return Of The Jedi, it would prove to be the weakest of the three films in the original trilogy (we won't bother thinking about the trio of prequels right now). With The Empire Strikes Back fans were given a tight, suspenseful and at times even frightening movie that held us in its grip from start to finish. How disappointing then to find out that Return Of The Jedi was playnig it safe and gearing itself more towards the kid's market than anything else. That's not to say that the movie doesn't have its moments – it's got plenty of them – but there are some seriously groan inducing scenes that don't hold up as well today as they did for this reviewer when he was that spellbound eight year old sucking back a Coke and gorging himself on popcorn after having waited two hours outside to get in and see the damn thing.
Richard Marquand directed this third film, the only director from outside of the United States to helm a Star Wars movie. He starts the film off really well with a fantastic scene out in the desert with the ultra cool Boba Fett doing his thing. From there the action comes at us fast and furiously but as far too soon after it ends we're whisked off to Ewok land and it all seems for naught. Granted, this does provide for the opportunity to mount a fantastic forest battle sequence and every kid who has ever seen the film has to have wanted one of those speeder bikes more than anything else in the world, but looking back on it some of the magic from the first two films is missing and as hot as Princess Leia in a metal bikini is, it doesn't compensate quite enough.
In the film's defense, in terms of the story telling, it does do a really good job of bringing the plot to a close and it wraps things up nicely. We learn more about Luke and Leia's background and we see further developments in Han and Leia's relationship. The mystery of the Emperor is revealed and Darth Vader's saga is brought to a truly emotional end. But unfortunately the cutesy factor of the Ewoks feels out of place and at times it seems like they were only there for franchise/spin-off fodder and not to really further the story. Regardless, Lando proves he's not such a bad guy and Chewbacca is still king. Yoda is great here, and before he became a completely computer generated being he really was quite interesting to watch.
In the end, the Ewoks aren't enough to ruin the film. Return Of The Jedi is still a good movie despite their presence and a few other odd moments. Looking back on the film as an adult it is easy to pick at it but the nostalgia it provides isn't diminished and it is still a very entertaining movie.
Thankfully, despite quality issues, we finally have a legitimate DVD of the original theatrical cut. We can now see the ending with Sebastian Shaw in place of Hayden Christensen and we don't have to listen to the horrible Muppet musical piece at Jaba's palace. This is Return Of The Jedi as it played during its original run in theaters around the world before Lucas decided to 'improve' them. If you're one of the few who prefer the 'special edition' release then you've got your choice but for those of us who do prefer the original version it is nice to finally have it, even if it's probably going to be thrust upon us in a better version in the not too distant future…
NOTE: For the record, the 'star ratings' to the right of this review reflect the second disc which contains the original theatrical cut of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi, the reasoning behind this being that the inclusion of this version is really the only reason anyone is interested in it in the first place, which is why that version of the movie is not being included in the Extras section of this review.
The 'special edition' of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi contained in this two-disc set utilizes what is essentially the same transfer that was included in the boxed set release from two years ago, which is fine as it looks great. We already know that it's a fantastic transfer and that some would even go so far as to call it reference quality. It's been painstakingly cleaned up, it's got a lot of really nice fine detail in both the foreground and the background of the image and the color reproduction is gorgeous. Going into any more detail would be redundant – the tinkered with version of the movie looks great.
So what about the theatrical version? In a nutshell, it's not bad for what it is, but unfortunately what it is happens to basically be the laserdisc slapped onto DVD. That being said, as with the laserdisc releases, Return Of The Jedi looks better than both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back though many of the same issues with that transfer crop up with this one as well. The image is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35.1 but no one has seen fit to give it anamorphic enhancement which, to a lot of us, is a very big deal. Let the record show that the movie is perfectly watchable here but the differences between the loving restoration afforded the 'special edition' version compared to the theatrical cut is definitely very, very noticeable.
Going into a bit more detail, the first thing that you're likely to notice is the grain (though it isn't as harsh as the first film it is still pretty grainy in spots). While it's all but been completely removed on disc one, on disc two it is very noticeable. Some scenes suffer from this more than others do, but it's definitely there and the image really should have been cleaner looking than it is here. The colors are also fairly uneven. Some scenes are pretty bright, others look flat in spots.
The amount of grain coupled with the lower resolution stemming from the non-anamorphic transfer directly results in a significantly less detailed picture. Depending on how large your set up is, results are obviously going to vary a fair bit. For comparisons sake, the disc was sampled on a 20" set, a 32" flat screen tube set and a 78" screen by way of a projector and – though this should go without saying – the flaws were definitely more noticeable on the larger sets than the smaller ones, particularly the print damage and the over saturated reds in a few scenes. It's never overpowering and the movie is watchable even on a larger display but the fact of the matter is that this version of this movie deserved better than this. The video quality is okay, when really it should have been as good if not better than the 'special edition' version. These transfers were fine in the laserdisc days, but those are long gone and by today's standards they are just not up to where they should be.
The 'special edition' of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi on disc one has a fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 EX Surround Sound mix in English and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mixes in English, French and Spanish with optional subtitles available in English. The 5.1 mix is very active and makes excellent use of all channels. The subwoofer gets some serious action during the combat and space battle scenes and the dialogue is clean and clear. This is a really nice mix, and there's little to complain about here in terms of quality.
One disc two, the theatrical version of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi contains Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mixes in English, French and Spanish with optional English subtitles. There's some nice channel separation contained throughout there aren't any problems understanding what anyone says at any given time. A true surround sound mix would have been nice to see here, but again, this is basically the laserdisc on DVD and in defense of Fox/Lucas, it's close to the original mix that played in theaters decades ago - so flaws or not, that's a good thing. The bass response in particular sounds surprisingly good on this disc, which is a nice touch.
The first disc, which represents the 'special edition' of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi contains only the audio commentary that was provided on the last DVD release that came out via the boxed set release in September of 2004. The participants on the track include George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren, and Carrie Fisher. As with the commentary tracks on the other two films in the original trilogy, you can tell that they weren't all sitting in a room together and were likely recorded completely separately from one another. This discussion is on par with the commentary track that was slapped onto the first Star Wars film in that Lucas gets most of the air time though everyone gets their say at least a few times throughout. Not a mind blowing commentary by any stretch but a perfectly decent one never-the-less.
There's also a web-link included here for those who care to put the disc into their DVD-Rom and be whisked away to the official Star Wars website.
The only extra feature included on the second disc which houses the theatrical cut of the film is a playable demo and a trailer for Lego Star Wars II game, which admittedly looks very cool but is nothing more than an advertisement. Aside from that we get chapter stops and a menu screen. It might irritate some to learn that the menus for the theatrical version don't match those designed for the special editions and the three prequels and oddly enough, though the feature isn't anamorphic the menus are. Figure that one out, kids.
Inside the packaging is an insert that contains chapter stops for both discs and some nice artwork from the movie in addition to an advertisement for other Star Wars DVDs. It would have been nice if Lucasarts had given us the trailer for the film, but no dice.
The story comes to a close with this film, and while there are definitely some flaws Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi does do a really good job of tying up the various subplots and bringing them all to a satisfactory conclusion. Again, as with the first two films released at the same time, this double-dip does seem like a bit of a scam with the sub-par presentation of the theatrical cut of the film so this release warrants a 'rent it' despite the fact that the movie is a lot of fun.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.