For most of my life, I proudly stated “Return of the Jedi” when someone asked me what my favorite Star Wars movie was—both out loud and in my heart.
Then, somewhere along the way in my early 20s, I started saying Empire Strikes Back. I heard it parroted so often how good it was, how dark, how complex. It was more serious, more artsy.
I would nod in agreement, and I did it so often that I came to believe it myself, I think.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Empire. But it was never my favorite—how could a young Haley love a movie in which the bad guys lose miserably, on multiple fronts?
Today, I am here to renounce my claim that Empire is my favorite. I will be replacing on its throne Return of the Jedi. In so doing, I will be paying homage to my youthful fervor and obsession, and I’m incredibly okay with this.
Star Wars, for me, is very much location-based, so I’ll discuss some of my favorite set pieces in ROTJ and why they’re great.
For the first time in Star Wars, we return to a previously visited location—everyone’s favorite desert planet. Jabba’s palace is a former B’omarr Monastery. Wait, how do I know that, you ask?
We have to take a detour into part of the reason I love ROTJ so much. One of the first Expanded Universe novels that made me fall even more in love with the Star Wars universe was Tales from Jabba’s Palace, a collection of short stories told from the point of view of various side characters.
As I read these tales —about the rancor’s keeper, about the monks roaming in their mobile spider-mobiles, about Bib Fortuna, Jabba’s majordomo— I pictured them vividly in the palace.
So yeah, I dig the opening act of ROTJ. We also see the return of Luke, all grown up. How he orchestrates everything so perfectly is truly chef’s kiss. And who amongst us hasn’t played Luke Skywalker while jumping off a diving board into a pool and pretending to grab it on the way down?
Sidenote: It's a truth universally acknowledged that the original "Lapti Nek" song is far and away better than the Special Edition's "Jedi Rocks" replacement.
Man, people hate Ewoks. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized just how much people really think they bring the movie down. Granted, I first saw ROTJ when I was a child, so my perspective is of course skewed.
Lucas originally wanted to use Wookiees in place of Ewoks, but legend has it was switched to Ewoks to make it more marketable to kids. Honestly, I’m fine with that. They are cute! And I love the idea of an evil empire receiving their comeuppance by underestimating a native population they perceive as no threat.
Endor itself is really gorgeous, too. Filmed in northern California, it’s lush and green and the very Platonic ideal of a forest clime. Whenever I have friends visit the Redwoods, to this day I always comment, “Oh, so you went to Endor!”
The Rebel fleet vs. the second Death Star
This is the first (and last) great space battle in the original trilogy. Yeah, I said it.
In A New Hope, the technology just isn’t there. Sure, the X-wings look great speeding along the trench in the final moments, but they’re not loose. They’re not wildly careening and barrel-rolling around medical frigates. They zoom along straight lines, but there’s no seat-of-your-pants thrill. I don't think a single ship goes upside down once, which is strange for space dogfights.
In Empire, we notice the Falcon start to zip and zang around as she evades Star Destroyers and asteroids. But there’s not one big battle to really bring it into focus.
Above Endor, though, we finally get the goods. We see X-wings, A-Wings, B-Wings, TIE fighters, TIE interceptors, and they’re roiling around each other like dogs in heat.
Throw into the mix about a hundred Star Destroyers, the entire Rebel fleet, and a Death Star, and you’ve got glorious, glorious chaos.
Tying it all together
ROTJ is just my comfort film. I like the joyous way it ends, and I also think it has some of the best humor in the entire franchise. I think another reason I dig it so much is that it’s the most 80s-esque of the trilogy, and this makes sense as it came out in '83, while ANH and ESB were '77 and '80, respectively.
So yes, let it be known, internet and the great wide galaxy beyond: Return of the Jedi is indeed my favorite Star Wars film—now and forever.
POSTED BY: Haley Zapal, NoaF contributor and lawyer-turned-copywriter living in Atlanta, Georgia. A co-host of Hugo-nominated podcast Hugo, Girl!, she posts on Instagram as @cestlahaley. She loves nautical fiction, Vidalia onions, and growing corn and giving them pun names like Anacorn Skywalker.