Release Year: 1983
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Director: Richard Marquand
Writer: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan
Real talk, Shmoopers: what scares the snot out of you? Spiders? Korean water ghosts? Getting trapped in an elevator? The very thought of losing your phone?
In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker has to face his fears and confront his father, Darth Vader, one last time. If it goes well, he'll save his deadbeat dad's soul and help the Rebel Alliance defeat the evil Empire once and for all. If it goes poorly, he and his pals will be space dust.
And you thought calculus exams were terrifying.
By the time Return of the Jedi, the final last installment in the original Star Wars movie trilogy, hit theaters on May 25, 1983, Star Wars fever was at its peak:
Up to that point in time, Return of the Jedi was arguably the biggest motion picture event ever, with fans in some cities lining up days in advance to be among the first to see the movie. It may be difficult to comprehend or recall in the Internet/Social Media age, but never before had the industry witnessed this level of frenzy during the launch of a new movie. (Source)
Made on a $32.5 million dollar budget, the Lucasfilm production would go on to gross $252.6 million dollars domestically in its initial run, and net another $57 million on its subsequent rereleases (source). Fans of the fantasy adventure flick didn't just see it once; they saw it two, three, even dozens of times.
Critics were conflicted about the Jedi's return. Some found the film too whimsical after the dark, brooding attitude of its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back. Others dug the movie's relaxed humor and the horde of new characters and creatures Jedi introduced to the Star Wars universe. "The film has a tone of its own," Roger Ebert wrote in his review. "If Star Wars was a brash space opera and The Empire Strikes Back was a visual feast, Return of the Jedi is a riot of character invention" (source).
Audiences weren't just reunited with their old pals Luke (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher); they were introduced to fantastic new beasts like the sarlacc… and they finally got a good—albeit nasty—look at Jabba the Hutt and Emperor Palpatine.
Ultimately, Return of the Jedi would go on to be nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Art Direction, Best Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Sound editing. While the movie didn't snag any of those statuettes, it did take home a special award for its dazzling visual effects, created by Industrial Light and Magic.
Return of the Jedi delivers an epic conclusion to the original Star Wars trilogy. Flitting between rousing space adventure and intense character study, Return of the Jedi was also a watershed moment in pop culture. "It's just amazing," said Jedi's director Richard Marquand, "a huge, huge, huge movie. I can't think of anything quite like it" (source).
Honestly, we can't either.
When one movie gives us a rancor monster, Ewoks, some seriously Freudian daddy issues, more explosions than we can count, a big ol' sibling identity reveal, a super-intelligent space squid named Admiral Akbar, and a hall pass to an entire galaxy far, far away… well, how much bigger can it get?
Fasten your Millennium Falcon-issued safety belts: we're going to take you to an era a that existed a long, long time ago in a galaxy that at least seems far, far away.
That's right: America in 1983.
Here's what your life may very well have looked like on May 24th, 1983. You would've borrowed a lawn chair from your parents, loaded your backpack full of Pac-Man Cereal, slipped into your comfiest pair of parachute pants, coated your hair with a few layers of Aqua Net, hopped into your friend's rad Mazda RX-7, and grabbed some sidewalk in front of your local movie theater.
Then you would have camped out overnight, in order to have gotten in to one of the first showings of Return of the Jedi, which hit the theaters (and the cinematic landscape) with the force of a Death Star beam on May 25th.
Basically, Return of the Jedi permeated pop culture in a way that no movie had ever done before. It wasn't the first summer blockbuster, but it was the first mega blockbuster: "Jedi's release is noteworthy as it was the first Star Wars movie to get a wide release, at least by 1980s standards […]" explains journalist Michael Coate. "Jedi launched on just over 1,000 screens in about 800 theaters. In comparison, the opening weekend of the original Star Wars was in a mere 43 theaters" (source).
In other words, the previous two installments in the Star Wars saga—each a blockbuster in its own right—started small and took their time to spread across the country. If you lived in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, for example, you had to wait for Star Wars to reach you, while silently cursing your cousins in Chicago.
Return of the Jedi, on the other hand, swooped into theaters nationwide like an X-wing fighter, allowing the entire country to share the adventures of Luke Skywalker en masse. Return of the Jedi didn't just change the way film studios distribute their flicks. It redefined the way we experience movies, and united pop culture like never before.
Community: it's the Jedi way.
Emperor Palpatine may be 120 years old, but Ian McDiarmid, the Scottish actor who played him, was only 37. That's why you should remember to moisturize, kids.
Ever wondered where Family Guy's Star Wars special, "Blue Harvest," got its name? That was the working title for Return of the Jedi. The fake name was used to prevent spoilers from leaking to the media.
Most of the Ewoks' speech is based on Kalmuck, a Chinese tribal language. The rest is Tagalog, a language spoken primarily in the Philippines. If you understood what those furry little guys were saying, congrats—your Tagalog and Kalmuck are pretty dang near fluent.
For an evil dude obsessed with absolute power, Darth Vader sure required a lot of teamwork. Check it out: Stuntman Bob Anderson shot Vader's lightsaber battles, James Earl Jones provided Vader's menacing voice, Sebastian Shaw filmed Vader's unmasking, and David Prowse did basically everything else.
The squelchy noises Jabba the Hutt makes when he moves were created by a sound tech running his fingers through a cheese casserole. Sorry if we just ruined your appetite.
There are a lot of Star Wars sites out there—like, a lot a lot—but this one is the real deal. If you're on the hunt for news about the movies, TV shows, video games, or any of the people who make them, this is the site for you, young Padawan.
Got several hundred hours to kill? Want to know how tall Admiral Ackbar is? Peep this extremely thorough Star Wars wiki.
A robust fan site for all things Star Wars. Come for your daily dose of Star Wars news, stay for the bustling fan forums.
The Star Wars Underworld
Don't let the ominous name scare you off: This massive, family-friendly network of articles, op-ed pieces, podcasts, fan fic, and interviews is created for fans, by fans.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi by James Kahn (May 12, 1983)
There are shelves' worth of Jedi books out there, but this is the official novelization of the movie.
Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens (September 4, 2015)
Dying to know what happened after the Rebellion saved the galaxy? Check out this colon-heavy New York Times bestseller by Chuck Wendig that fills in the blanks.
Marvel's Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (November 10, 2015)
Prefer your books with pictures? Then this graphic novel adaptation is for you, pal.
Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure (1984)
This totally '80s TV movie finds the Ewoks helping a pair of shipwrecked kids find their parents. They may be primitive and like to eat people, but that doesn't mean they're not upstanding citizens.
Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985)
If you thought the Ewoks were done fighting after they helped the Rebellion squash the Empire, think again.
Wicket and his buddies get the animated treatment in this short-lived TV series that focuses on their adventures before Jedi's Battle of Endor.
"The Triumphant Return of the Jedi" (May 25, 1983)
Kick it old school with Ernest Leogrande's opening day review of Return of the Jedi.
Interview with Richard Marquand (June 1983)
There's a Jabba-sized glut of behind-the-scenes Jedi info in this reprint of a long-lost Starlog magazine interview with the movie's director.
"Carrie Fisher Talks Feminism and Gold Bikinis…" (July/August 1983)
Princess Leia dishes the dirt on her infamous wardrobe in this vintage article reprinted from Rolling Stone.
Roger Ebert's Return of the Jedi (Special Edition) Review (March 14, 1997)
It's not his fave Star Wars flick, but he still digs it.
"Return of the Jedi is the Best Star Wars Movie of All Time" (March 3, 2012)
We're going to give it to you straight: Kevin Drum's opinion isn't a popular one—but that doesn't stop him from pleading his case.
"Star Wars' Emperor recalls his first day on the job" (May 1, 2013)
Says actor Ian McDiarmid, who plays the Emperor: "It seemed to me that he should sound like a disgusting old toad." Mission accomplished, Ian.
Film Clip: Darth Vader Checks in on the Death Star
And you thought your boss was tough.
Film Clip: The Rebels Approach Endor
The gang's all here, and they're about to pull a fast one on the Empire. Or is it the other way around?
Film Clip: Speeder Bike Chase
We are so asking for a speeder bike for our next birthday.
Film Clip: Luke Confronts Darth Vader
There will be absolutely no hugging in this father-son reunion.
Film Clip: He's My Brother
Leia tells Han that Luke is her brother, and Han is so relieved that he's actually nice to the Ewoks for once.
The Original Theatrical Trailer (1982)
This was the first teaser to feature the movie's new title. Previously, the movie had been called Revenge of the Jedi. Revenge? Not very Jedi-like.
The Today Show Covers Jedi Fever (1983)
The video quality isn't great, but there's a lot to enjoy in this clip, including interviews with producer Howard Kazhanian, screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, star Harrison Ford (Han), and a boatload of excited fans.
Gene Siskel Reviews Return of the Jedi for CBS Chicago (1983)
Among other things, Siskel addresses complaints about the Star Wars saga's lack of racial and gender diversity, interviews Mark Hamill (Luke) and Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), and geeks out over how good the door to Jabba's palace sounds.
Maria Shriver Interviews Mark Hamill (1983)
In this Jedi sneak peek for PM Magazine, Hamill laughs off the possibility of reprising his role as Luke in the future, specifically in 2004. Maybe that's because, deep down, he knew he'd be doing it in 2015.
Leonard Maltin Interviews George Lucas (circa 1995)
The Star Wars mastermind dishes the dirt on Jabba's roots, how the Ewoks were originally supposed to be Wookiees, and the importance of earth tones.
Ian McDiarmid Discusses Playing Emperor Palpatine (2005)
"I really didn't get any information about him except he was extremely old and he ran the universe and this man, Darth Vader, worked for him."
The Return of the Jedi soundtrack on YouTube
We like to fire this playlist up when we're watering the lawn. Then we pretend our garden hose is a lightsaber. Then our neighbors slowly retreat into their houses and draw the curtains.
The official Return of the Jedi poster
This baby graced many a dorm room wall in 1983.
No, that's not the real Darth Vader
Crowds queue up early for Return of the Jedi's opening day, May 25, 1983.
Concept art for The Max Rebo Band
Max Rebo, Droopy McCool, and Sy Snootles: These are the dudes who keep the party going in Jabba's palace. No, really. Those are their names.
Concept art for the Gorax Attack
Don't remember the Gorax attack? That's because the scene didn't make the final cut for Return of the Jedi. Instead, the Gorax made their debut in the 1984 made-for-TV movie Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure.
It's Getting Hot in Here
It's no wonder why Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) look so much more tired than Carrie Fisher (Leia) and Harrison Ford (Han).
Now, that's what we call a forehead!
The Emperor lets his hood down between takes.
Harrison Ford and George Lucas take five in the forest
"It's the camera! I'm going to put my hands in my pocket." "Okay, I'll just do my thumbs then."
Ian McDiarmid, Mark Hamill, and Denis Lawson ham it up on set
The Emperor, Luke, and Wedge Antilles are just one bro short of a barbershop quartet.
Mark Hamill relaxes in the Emperor's throne
Another gem from Hamill's personal collection of Jedi pics.