All of us of a certain age remember how agonizing the wait between Star Wars films was. Three years felt like thirteen. We had no access to spoilers of any kind and the big reveal at the end of ESB left us all reeling. Hell, I used to have dreams about what ROTJ would be like!
I'd say the years between ESB and ROTJ represented the height of my immersion into Star Wars (ages 10-13 for me). The obsession for figures, the reading of ancillary materials like comics and novels and the desire to learn any morsel or crumb about the next film was intense.
I should add that yes, I'm that guy. I want to know it all. I don't care. It doesn't affect my enjoyment of the film. ROTJ was probably the first time I managed to spoil a film so completely - well before it was released (and in 1983, that took some doing!)
Some of you may remember an outfit called Scholastic that used to sell books to kids through their schools. Teachers would hand out a Scholastic flyer and we could pick from a large selection of offerings. Mom and Dad would write a check and anywhere from two weeks to a month later, our stuff would arrive.
Well, in February of '83 I opened my Scholastic flyer and there it was – the Official Return of the Jedi Storybook! Shipping in March! Hell, yes!
The teacher had my parents' check the next day.
Lucasfilm must have caught this and a few weeks later I received a notice that the ROTJ Storybook would not ship until May. Curses!
All was not lost however. About a month before ROTJ premiered I came back from the schoolyard to find my Holy Grail on the teacher's desk. She presented it to me and for about the next half hour I knew what it felt like to be popular, as everyone (and I mean everyone – cool kids and all) huddled around my desk to soak up the details.
My thirst for spoilers fully slaked, I had a new goal in mind – to see the film with no crowds. I remember the hell of seeing ESB with lines stretching all the way to Jersey, and I wanted no part of that.
Luckily for me, a solution presented itself right away. ROTJ would be released on a Wednesday. I attended Catholic grammar school and every Thursday was designated a "half-day" for teacher meetings and other administrative nonsense.
A friend of mine asked his mother to take us to see the film at a 1:00 p.m. showing the day after it came out, which she was happy to do. So, on May 26, 1983 I, two friends and a handful of die hards, saw ROTJ in an almost empty theater. We exited to a riot scene waiting for the next show. Mission accomplished.
So did I like it? Of course! Did I like the Ewoks? I certainly didn't mind them. At the time, I wasn't pondering questions as lofty as how these little furballs were able to take out an entire legion of the Emperor's troops. I absolutely loved Jabba's palace and the battle on the sail barge (boo on Boba Fett's death!)
The climactic duel and Vader's redemption also captivated me, and I felt his last minute conversion was credible and moving. I would say the only problem I had (back then) was the reveal of Leia as Luke's sister. It felt like a convenient, pat solution to the love triangle and the whole, "There is another" question (little did I know what was to come!) and yeah, the second Death Star felt really lazy.
I was oblivious to the departure of Producer Gary Kurtz and how that affected the plot, and in retrospect, I would've loved to see an ROTJ with his participation. Having said that, I still think the film works, on many levels. It's exciting and leaves little room for exposition, which is good, because the real downward spiral of corny, stilted Star Wars dialogue began here ("Hold me!" ugh)
In terms of the entire trilogy I'm most impressed by the evolution of Luke. In Jedi, he is a serious, confident badass. Hamill's performance is mature and assured, and it's my favorite part of the film. His verbal jousting with the Emperor and the way he goads his father away from the Dark side really stand out in my consciousness when I consider the film.
30 years on I see the chinks in Jedi's armor, but I still love it. You can poke holes in it for sure, but those holes pale by comparison to the craters found in the Prequels.
Depending on the day, I either rank it just above or just below Revenge of the Sith (after ESB and ANH of course!)
The dearth of new Star Wars material drove me to the Final Frontier rather quickly, and within the next year Star Trek had supplanted Star Wars as my favorite piece of science fiction ephemera. Star Wars runs a close second though, and as each new film was released I still mustered that childhood enthusiasm for them (as I suspect will happen when Episode VII is released).
There are very few satisfying third acts in a film trilogy (notice I didn't say Part III's) but ROTJ delivered on the promise of ANH. It took a few cheesy short cuts here and there but for my money it's the most satisfying wrap up of any saga to date!