Flying high from the twin financial successes of its predecessors, Return of the Jedi gave George Lucas the unenviable task of wrapping up the loose ends from the previous two films, but also for the three as yet unmade prequel films, which were continuing to gestate in his mind. By this stage everyone had an opinion, including star Harrison Ford whom wanted to kill off the Han Solo character and Producer Gary Kurtz (often recognized as the quality control officer of the first two films) whom declined to be involved.
The galaxy is in disarray. The Empire continues to strengthen, evidenced by the construction of a new and more powerful Death Star. Emperor Palpatine has earmarked Darth Vader's son, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for recruitment to replace his crippled apprentice, but Skywalker has few of the weaknesses of his father. Meanwhile, the Rebel forces have grouped on the forest moon Endor to destroy the shield generator before an attack can be made on the Death Star, where some surprise assistance may be in store.
With the guiding hand of Gary Kurtz gone and George Lucas recruiting the hand-for-hire director Richard Marquand to fulfill duties, Lucas was starting to surround himself with yes men who failed to challenge Lucas to create a better product; a trait that would come back with a vengeance during the production of the prequels. The teddy bear Ewok creatures coupled with a move away from the darker elements of The Empire Strikes Back ensured the film would appeal to the wider masses and generate more merchandising revenue, which at this point had taken on a life of its own.
There is definitely something not quite right about Return of the Jedi. Maybe it's the goofy prosthetic creatures, the annoying Ewoks, or the unnecessary large role of the Emperor which diminishes that of Darth Vader himself. Despite this, it's a solid end to the film series and has more heart and soul than all of the prequel films put together.
Return of the Jedi is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (its original aspect ratio), encoded with AVC MPEG-4 compression.
As with the two previous films, the Jedi camera negative was photo chemically remastered in 1997 and physically spliced with the special edition footage. This was the basis of the new inter-positive that was struck and restored by Lowry Digital in 2004 for the DVD release. This Blu-ray, like the HDTV masters are struck from that pre-existing 1080p master.
Due to film stock which had improved significantly by 1983, Jedi was likely in the best physical shape, but stylistic choices make the film a little less "sharp" than A New Hope. Lucas and ILM have taken the time to correct a few of the errors inherent in the 2004 HD master; most notably the shot of Luke and Vaders criss-crossed lightsabres over the Emperors face. ILM have also finally corrected the infamous "emperors slugs" matte blob on the side of the Emperors cloak, originally matted in to hide makeup flaws.
Not all is rosy however; the strange image fuzziness flaw when the Rebels first land on Endor sequence is still visible. Our friend Bill Hunt over at The Digital Bits surmises this is due to a film scanning "registration error". This error which occurs for roughly four minutes, was also visible in the DVD release, but now more obvious at Blu-ray resolution.
Other than that, I evidenced no real issues that can't be put down to original shooting methods.
Overall, Return of the Jedi has certainly never been seen better on home video, and in a stroke of good luck a few faults have been fixed without introducing any new ones (unless of course blinking Ewoks are not to your liking).
The main audio track is encoded with DTS HD Master Audio 6.1 at 24 bits.
Similar to Empire, Jedi has not had a significant overhaul in the audio department, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. Using the 2004 6.1 mix as a basis and presented in lossless audio for the first time, Jedi features a pretty amazing soundtrack which will please fans and home theater aficionadas alike.
With a full blooded surround presence and a satisfying low frequency response, the final chapter is underscored by a very capable and impressive audio track. Cross surround channel usage takes it up a notch during the Death Star II battle, and it goes out, literally, with a bang.
John Williams score is still amazing and although many of the aural cues are recycled from the two previous entries, it's still a wonderful score - one of my favourites.
Now that the special edition has been around so long, most casual fans won't remember the original song at the end - the Ewok Celebration, otherwise known as 'Yub Nub'. Fun fact: This made it to the Australian charts.
Overall, an extremely pleasing upgrade to the old DVD.
Again, LucasFilm have included some worthwhile extra features designed to co-exist with the previous DVD supplements. That is, they aren't replicated here, so you'll have to hang onto your old DVDs to retain everything.
The main disc features two audio commentaries. The first is carried over intact from the DVD release, featuring George Lucas and many members of the crew, including Sound Editor Ben Burtt and ILM staff as well as the legendary Dennis Muren. The second, newly produced track is once again comprised of new and old interview comments edited together in a fairly relevant and cohesive manner, however rarely scene specific.
The remaining bonus features are contained on the first extras disc, along with the bonus features for A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back For this review, I will talk about the bonus features relevant to Return of the Jedi. The bonus features are divided by the three 'worlds' relevant to the plot: Tatooine, Endor and the Death Star II Battle.
Next up are the Deleted Scenes and just like the previous films there is one notable cut scene which makes its debut here - the sandstorm sequence following the destruction of Jabba's barge on Tatooine. Lots of pictures have leaked, but never before have we been privy to the scene in its entirety and it's very cool, not least for the hint of Skywalker's loss of humanity due to his robotic implants. In addition to this are an additional four scenes, including on where Harrison Ford calls an Imperial Trooper on Endor a "twit". Weird.
The Overview segments for each of the menu worlds return. Despite their brief length of just 3-4 minutes each, there is a lot of information imparted and they are edited very well together. I quite enjoyed the look at the massive and intricately detailed Death Star II model. Watch as one of the original model makers man-handles the structure, inadvertently breaking off a small section. Yeah, George will love that.
Only one Interview segment is included this time, with principal actor Harrison Ford. At a paltry 94 seconds one would be excused for wondering "why bother"?
The Collection returns again and shows a few of the stunning models, costumes and creatures created for the film, with impressive 360 degree turns which show the detail the artisans went to. Some of the artifacts have degraded pretty significantly, but still very good to see. The fine detail on the Death Star II model is very interesting to see. Presumably before it was attacked by the model maker.
Finally, the concept art gallery brings a handful of high resolution concept art sketches and artwork to screens. Dedicated Star Wars fans will recognize a lot of this art from the 'Art of Star Wars' series of books.
For purchasers of the Complete Saga boxset (as opposed to the three disc Original trilogy boxset), there are some extra bonus features relevant to The Empire Strikes Back on the additional 9th disc.
The original 1983 documentary Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi is included in its 48 minutes of entirety, which takes a look at the prosthetic puppets included in the film, including the menagerie of characters created for the Jabba's palace sequences.