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Taken on its own terms—"Let's face it," says Hamill, "we made a film for children"—Return of the Jedi is a brilliant, imaginative piece of moviemaking. But it does not diminish the accomplishment of Lucas and his youthful team to say that there are flaws nonetheless. The most obvious, ironically, is an overemphasis on effects and a too proud display of odd-looking creatures. Some otherwise breathtaking scenes, such as the visit to Jabba's lair, the hair-raising chases through the redwoods and the climactic space battle, are extended to the point of satiety. The other flaw is the ending: in all three films, Lucas has almost entirely avoided the rank sentimentality to which his story is vulnerable. In the final minutes of Jedi he succumbs, however, and ends his trilogy with one of the corniest conclusions in recent years.
On the other hand, the acting in Jedi is better than it was in the other two. Ford was always good as the likable, daredevil cynic, but Fisher and, most particularly, Hamill have broadened and matured their talents. In his final scenes with Vader, Hamill provides Luke with a hitherto unsuspected depth of personality. Despite its shortcomings, which are relatively minor in context, the film succeeds, passing the one test of all enduring fantasy: it casts a spell and envelops its audience in a magic all its own.
Lucas developed his themes more than ten years ago: the battle between good and evil; the ability of a free-spirited, unsophisticated society to win ultimate victory over a high-tech dictatorship; the power of an individual to prevail against all odds, if he only has faith in himself. "I don't believe it," Luke says in Empire, when Yoda levitates a spaceship. "That," answers Yoda, "is why you fail." It is a complicated universe of the imagination Lucas has laid out to express his themes, and he has tirelessly overseen its evolution, directing the first film himself and assigning the other two to carefully selected subalterns: Irvin Kershner for Empire and Richard Marquand for Jedi.
Marquand, a Welshman who had years of experience directing primarily for British television (The Search for the Nile), campaigned for the job and guarded Lucas' creation zealously. Says he: "It is as if Lucas were a famous composer who said to me, 'Here's a 120-piece orchestra. Here's my music. I'd like you to conduct.' " In this maestro's view, Kershner had carelessly strayed from the true faith. Marquand was disturbed to detect that in Empire Artoo-Detoo was occasionally painted with black squares instead of his customary blue, and that Darth Vader sometimes wielded his light-saber with only one hand, like an oldtime Texas sheriff. "Everyone knows that a light-saber is too heavy for one hand," Marquand says indignantly.
Intent on observing what he calls the "etiquette of the saga," he persuaded Lucas to tell him what happened to the characters before Star Wars began and demanded that Lucas always be available by phone, so that he could find out how a character should look or think in Lucas' universe. "I acted as the ultimate source," explains Lucas. "I was the only one that had the whole vision."