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So dim the lights and butter the popcorn. This is, after all, as Lucas keeps reminding us, a popcorn movie.
The maverick space pilot Han Solo (Harrison Ford), still encased in that carbonite, is a wall decoration in the castle of Jabba the Hutt on the desert planet Tatooine. Jabba, a huge, slobbering, sluglike creature resembling a repulsive mixture of Humpty Dumpty and Sydney Greenstreet, is Mr. Big in the galactic underworld. Around him he has assembled the vilest monsters in the universe.
Now, one by one, often in disguise, Han's friends come to rescue him: first that robotic dynamic duo, See-Threepio (C-3PO), the gold-plated neurotic with a proper English accent (Anthony Daniels), and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), who looks like a tank-type vacuum cleaner but has the heart of a lion. Then Solo's bearlike copilot Chewbacca, the 7-ft. 5-in. Wookie; the feisty Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher); and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), the smooth-talking leader of The Empire Strikes Back's Cloud City. And finally the hero, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who already has many of a Jedi knight's weapons, the mysterious but potent powers of the Force.
Before Han is rescued, there are several close-fought battles, including one with a giant Grendel-like monster in the castle's dungeon, another with Jabba and his minions in antigravity sail barges, floating perilously above the desert pit that holds an other, even more frightening monster. It swallows its victims, and they die ever so painfully during a dinner that lasts a thousand years.
All that is merely preliminary, however, to the real battle between the Rebel Alliance and the corrupt Empire, and to the contest of wills between Luke, the last of the Jedis, and the black-caped, black-masked Darth Vader. Yoda, the 900-year-old Jedi master from The Empire Strikes Back, reappears to confirm what Luke feared most: Darth Vader is indeed his father, a former Jedi knight who was seduced by the evil Emperor and turned to the "dark" side of the Force, to hate rather than to love. Luke will never be a real Jedi, Yoda says, until he has confronted his father. At the end, the Emperor himself, a wizened, glowering old man in a sorcerer's cloak (Ian McDiarmid), watches as father and son struggle with each other. "Kill him," he tells Luke. "Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!"
While that is going on aboard the Emperor's Death Star—a souped-up version of the one that Luke destroyed in Star Wars—his friends are confronting legions of imperial storm troopers on the green, forested Moon of Endor, thousands of miles away. Their new allies are a tribe of primitive Ewoks, pugnacious little warriors who look like cuddly Teddy bears but have the combative and fearless temperaments of Yorkshire terriers.
There are dazzling, dizzying chases by flying speeder bikes through dense groves of giant redwood trees and eventually another full-blown space battle, as the ships of the Rebel Alliance try to destroy the Death Star. Is Luke seduced by the dark side of the Force? Does he kill his father? Do the rebels win? Don't ask, but one clue may be allowed. Says Harrison Ford, with some dismay: "George has a predisposition for happy endings."