We're going to give it to you straight: At times, the special effects in Return of the Jedi look a little dated by today's standards. But back in 1983, audiences were floored by the movie's mix of practical effects, makeup, costumes, puppetry, and pre-computer graphics.
Third Time's a Charm
With two Star Wars movies already in the can, the creative minds at Industrial Light and Magic were seasoned special effects pros.
ILM's Dennis Muren explains:
"By the time we got to Jedi, we had done a lot of work, and we had a lot of equipment. We were really set up and we knew how to do it, and then it was a matter of doing it."
Their experience shows. Everything from the Rebels' assault on the Death Star to the speeder bike chase on Endor is seamless.
The Perks of Being a Slug
Creating Jabba the Hutt and his coterie of butt-ugly creatures was another story. But the visual effects team at ILM used Jabba's, um, "unique" look to their advantage. Muren said of Jabba and his cohorts:
"There was nothing really to compare it to. There were no examples out there of what a hundred percent real creature might look like. So people were prepared for things that didn't look a hundred percent real, and you can kind of fall in love with them."
Jabba and his gang are hardly lovable, but in their mix of rod-puppetry and elaborate makeup, they're utterly beguiling. And gross. So beguilingly gross.
Crafting a convincing giant slug presented a distinct set of challenges, but Muren and his team used those to their advantage. Muren told StarWars.com's Dan Brooks:
"We were all struggling to make the designs and the artistic side compelling enough that you wouldn't notice the limitations […] The fact that a big thing like Jabba can't move very quickly works because he's so fat. Whereas if he weren't fat, you'd be saying, "How come the guy isn't moving around," or if he is, "Why does he look kind of funny?"
In other words, the visual effects production took Jabba's rolls and, well, rolled with them.
To Infinity and Beyond
Ultimately, when it comes to special effects, movies like Return of the Jedi just aren't made anymore. The Hollywood Reporter gushes, in their 1983 review:
It looks terrific. Its special effects advance the [state] of the art by a couple of light years, [its] settings are not only huge but hugely impressive, and the costuming is rich and imaginative.
In short, the visual effects in Return of the Jedi aren't just used to elicit a gasp or two, and they're not even used to build a world… they're used to create an entire galaxy.