'Return of the Jedi,' 30 Years Later: When the Force Found its Cute Side

Photograph by Everett Collection

The Star Wars saga unfolds over 20,000 years and involves 17,000 characters dwelling on several thousand planets. But the hugely popular franchise celebrates a milestone on Saturday that reminds us how briefly it has actually been in existence.

Return of the Jedi was released 30 years ago on May 25, 1983. It was the third installment in the first Star Wars trilogy, the one in which Luke Skywalker (spoiler alert!) leads the Jedi to victory over the Sith lords with the assistance of the Ewoks, the furry creatures in the forests of the planet Endor. At the climax of the film, Darth Vader morphs into a good guy. Yoda dies. For many young male geeks, the film’s most memorable moment was seeing Princess Leia in a space bikini.

Jedi was a resounding financial success. According to Deusche Bank, it grossed $399 million in the United States alone, making it the 15th-most-successful movie of all time. It did better at the box office than The Empire Strikes Back, its gloomier predecessor.

Aesthetically, Jedi was less of a triumph. The Ewoks were too cute. Darth Vader’s transformation was unconvincing. Really, who wanted to see the fearsome Sith Lord abandon the dark side he personified? Such false notes proved harbingers of the franchise’s descent into mediocrity; in the late ’90s, Star Wars creator George Lucas released the Phantom Menace, the first chapter in the second trilogy, which introduced us to the insufferable Jar Jar Binks, who soon became the butt of jokes on South Park and The Simpsons.

Perhaps the best way to commemorate Jedi is think of it as the jumping-off point for the eagerly awaited Star Wars Episode VII, scheduled for release in 2015 by Disney. The movie, directed by J.J. Abrams, is expected to take place 40 years after Jedi and to include members of the original cast (as Lucas all but confirmed in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek in February).

In other words, Disney, which acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion in December, has the opportunity to return Star Wars to its pre-Jedi glory. There may even be a little PG cheesecake for male Star Wars fans. If not, they will always have Leia.

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