This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Joshua Bertram’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
While Return of the Jedi is often regarded as the lesser of the three original films, I've come to realise that's not a slight against it. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a five-star series even at its lowest point. Similarly, Return of the Jedi may be a lesser master-work but it's still a master-work. It drags a little in the middle section in the Ewok village, but at this point the only thing I'm tempted to knock a half star for is that goddamn Jabba's palace Special Edition dance sequence. That's worse than a thousand Jar Jars.
Despite being essentially a rehash of the first film (destroy the Death Star 2.0), there's enough here between Jabba, Endor, the Ewoks, and the presence of Emperor Palpatine to feel fresh. The film capably builds on the emotional and psychological nuances of the series to increase the stakes. The film and the series builds towards its elaborate and thrilling final act, a battle spread across three parallel sequences. The Rebels infiltrate a shield generator on the planet's moon while simultaneously launching an aerial assault on the battle station. Luke is inside the Death Star the whole time facing his demons and his father. It's as operatic and sweeping as a finale can be, with pathos and dread and room at all points for failure. John Williams' score, as much as it is a part of all of the films, is at its most cohesive and powerful as it hammers home all of the series' themes in this last half-hour.
It is with Return of the Jedi that you notice how skillfully and deliberately the series has rolled out Palpatine across all three films. You feel the air come out of the room when you learn he is coming to the Death Star 2 in person. What a master-stroke Lucas made in establishing Darth Vader as a fearsome and formidable adversary from the start, and then making him only the sidekick to the Big Bad.
What I like most, though, is the follow-through on the characters it has been establishing from the start. Jedi's exploration of dualities is apparent in Luke's journey: a tension between the Dark Side and the Light wages within him. He dresses in black in this film in contrast to his white dress of the first film. And his initial disobedience to Yoda's instruction in Empire plants the seeds for a fall. There are parallels made between Luke and Darth Vader, especially in the choices they have made and how that can affect their destinies.
Emperor Palpatine is portrayed as evil incarnate, brilliant and sadistic. And in light of episodes I-III, there has been no hint of a redeeming quality in him. It is against this clear notion of evil that Darth Vader and, indeed, all of the characters, are measured. If Palpatine is the ultimate evil, and Yoda is the ultimate good, then every other character in the series exists at some point on the spectrum of morality between them, rife with contradictions and the power to be redeemed or destroyed.
VADER: That name no longer has any meaning for me.
LUKE: It is the name of your true self. You've only forgotten. I know there is good in you.
Ain't that the universal struggle for self-acceptance.