History, Legacy & Showmanship
Thursday, 24 May 2018 13:08

Celebrate the Love: Remembering “Return of the Jedi” on its 35th Anniversary

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“With its dramatic and satisfying conclusion of the overall plot and its upbeat finale, Return of the Jedi set the future of the Star Wars brand on an extremely sure footing and ensured that the trilogy would be regarded as one of the greatest of all time.” — Craig Stevens, author of The Star Wars Phenomenon in Britain

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 35th anniversary of the release of Return of the Jedi, the concluding chapter of George Lucas’ original Star Wars trilogy, which featured Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher reprising their popular roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia, respectively.

Tying up all of the loose ends of the previous chapter and showcasing a galaxy’s worth of creatures, robots and visual effects, Return of the Jedi opened to record-breaking box-office thirty-five years ago this week. [Read on here...]

Five years ago we featured a 30th anniversary Jedi retrospective. (As well, we’ve presented a 35th anniversary retrospective for The Empire Strikes Back and a 40th anniversary look at the original Star Wars.) For this most recent anniversary The Bits features a revised and updated compilation of statistics and box office data that places Return of the Jedi’s performance in context, plus passages from vintage film reviews, a reference/historical listing of the movie’s 70-millimeter showcase presentations, and, finally, an interview segment with a trio of Star Wars authorities and historians who discuss Jedi’s impact, virtues, shortcomings, and legacy.

On the set of "Blue Harvest" (aka Return of the Jedi)



  • 1 = Number of Academy Awards (Special Achievement in Visual Effects)
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning films of 1983 (calendar year)
  • 1 = Rank among top-earning films of 1983 (summer season)
  • 2 = Rank among Fox’s all-time top-earning films at close of original run
  • 2 = Rank among top-earning movies of the 1980s (earnings from 1/1/80 – 12/31/89)
  • 3 = Peak all-time box-office chart position
  • 4 = Box-office rank among films produced by Lucasfilm (adjusted for inflation)
  • 4 = Number of Academy Award nominations
  • 7 = Number of weeks top-grossing movie (weeks 1-3, 5-7 and 1 of 1997 re-release)
  • 15 = Minimum number of weeks first-wave theaters were contractually required to play the movie
  • 16 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing films (adjusted for inflation)
  • 23 = Number of days to gross $100 million*
  • 29 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a single-screen theater)
  • 33 = Number of months between theatrical release and home video release
  • 51 = Number of weeks of longest-running engagement (in a multiplex)
  • 68 = Number of days to gross $200 million
  • 69 = Rank on current list of all-time top-grossing movies
  • 164 = Number of 70mm prints during first-run*
  • 1,002 = Number of theaters playing the movie during opening week (836 venues; 1,002 screens)
  • 1,764 = Peak number of theaters simultaneously showing the movie (week of Aug 5-11)
  • $29.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (CED)
  • $34.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (LaserDisc)
  • $79.98 = Suggested retail price of initial home video release (Beta & VHS)
  • $22,973 = Opening weekend per-screen-average
  • $6.2 million = Opening-day box-office gross*
  • $8.4 million = Highest single-day gross (May 29)*
  • $11.3 million = Box-office gross of 1985 re-release
  • $23.1 million = Opening weekend box-office gross (3-day)*
  • $30.5 million = Opening weekend box-office gross (4-day holiday)*
  • $32.5 million = Production cost
  • $41.1 million = Opening week box-office gross (6-day)*
  • $45.3 million = Opening week box-office gross (7-day)*
  • $45.5 million = Box-office gross of 1997 re-release
  • $84.4 million = Production cost (adjusted for inflation)
  • $169.2 million = Box-office rental (% of gross paid to distributor), 1983-85
  • $232.3 million = Box-office gross during summer season (May 25 – Sep 5)
  • $252.6 million = Box-office gross of original release
  • $263.9 million = Cumulative box-office gross (1983 + 1985)
  • $309.3 million = Cumulative box-office gross (1983 + 1985 + 1997)
  • $732.8 million = Cumulative all-time box-office gross (adjusted for inflation)

*established new industry record


On the set of Return of the Jedi



Return of the Jedi doesn’t really end the trilogy as much as it brings it to a dead stop. The film is by far the dimmest adventure of the lot. Let’s face it, Luke, the magic’s gone.” — Vincent Canby, The New York Times

“Two thumbs up!” — Siskel & Ebert At the Movies

“If a producer wants backing for a new project, there’d better be a video game in it. Producers are putting so much action and so little character or point into their movies that there’s nothing for a viewer to latch on to. The battle between good and evil, which is the theme of just about every big fantasy adventure film, has become a flabby excuse for a lot of dumb tricks and noise.” — Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

“An exciting, technically astounding wrap-up to the Star Wars trilogy. The probability of success is about as definite as death and taxes.” — Jimmy Summers, Boxoffice

“Strip away the hype and what have you got? A sloppy, cloying, overblown, under-directed disappointment. The acting is unspeakable, the dialogue is unsayable and the suffering of discriminating adults in the audience is ineffable. See it if you must, but expect nothing.” — Scott Sublett, The Washington Times

“With Jedi, George Lucas may have pulled off the first triple crown of motion pictures.” — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

“Let’s not pretend we’re watching art!” — Rex Reed, New York Post

“If there ever was a critic-proof movie, Return of the Jedi is it.” — Candice Russell, (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel

“The Star Wars films have a mystic allure. They are clearly designed to appeal to the best in all of us and to exemplify universally admirable virtues — courage, the strength to fight against evil, romance, belief. They are built around the notion of a magic force in the universe which might be God or might be gravity; this force, in turn, is serviced by a knights’ order that is almost a clergy. The entire cosmology is rent by a titanic conflict between good and evil.” — Stephen Hunter, The (Baltimore) Sun

“[Return of the Jedi] is not a movie, it’s a shopping mall” — David Denby, New York Magazine

“Third installment in the Star Wars saga is a sheer delight. Some routine performances are compensated for by ingenious new characters and special effects.” — Leonard Maltin, Entertainment Tonight

“From the moment that the familiar Star Wars introduction words begin to crawl up the screen, Return of the Jedi is a childlike delight. It’s the best video game around. And for the professional moviegoers, it is particularly enjoyable to watch every facet of filmmaking at its best.” — Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

“John Williams’ music consists almost entirely of themes and variations on themes he composed for the two earlier movies. This, unfortunately, will be a complaint that many people will make against Return of the Jedi. They will feel that they have seen and heard it all before.” — Scott Cain, The Atlanta Constitution

“May the force stay with George Lucas and company. They crank out some of the most exciting films America has ever seen.” — Kathy Thomas, The (Vacaville) Reporter

“A sense of déjà vu was inevitable. But Jedi is downright repetitive.” — David Ansen, Newsweek

Return of the Jedi is a triumph of movie wizardry; a snappy, dazzling celluloid comic book, capturing our emotions between its magical pages and holding them within a prison of wonderment. It’s a virtual toy box of dreams and surprises for children and adults of all ages.” — Steve White, The Worcester Telegram

“[A]fter all the hype is forgotten, after all the magazine feature spreads yellow and fade, after the Luke Skywalker dolls and Han Solo posters hit the discount-store bargain tables, one simple fact will remain: Return of the Jedi is a terrific movie. And here is one critic who wants to shout that information from the rooftops.” — Joe Leydon, The Houston Post

“In the third episode of the Star Wars saga, the human characters are completely upstaged by a sort of intergalactic FAO Schwartz window display.” — Michael Sragow, Rolling Stone

Return of the Jedi falls several frantic hairs short of being the greatest movie of all time, or at least since the empire struck back a couple years ago. But don’t get me wrong — while Return of the Jedi is no model or monument, it’s still a scrumptious jiggly Jello-mold of visual and optical effects and, when things get into gear, action at such a blistering pace it whiplashes the eyes out of their happy little sockets.” — Peter Stack, San Francisco Chronicle

“Everyone knows that George Lucas has the biggest, gaudiest magic factory in the entire movie-making world. In Return of the Jedi Lucas throws the entire eye-popping outfit, including the special effects sink, at us. It’s a marathon visual-effects extravaganza, a piece of skillful audience manipulation and a two-hour comic-book film of spectacular fun — perhaps too much fun. Watching this supercartoon of a movie is a little like sitting down to an old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner and knowing your Mom won’t let you leave the table until you’re absolutely stuffed.” — Joan Bunke, The Des Moines Register

“Tying up the Star Wars stories to date, George Lucas introduces amazing new special effects and a zoo’s worth of exotic creatures, some of them cute. [But] Leia has lost her fire, some of Han Solo’s zingers fall flat and Luke looks uncomfortably trapped in adolescence.” — Michael Maza, The (Phoenix) Arizona Republic

“There is good news, bad news, and no news about Return of the Jedi. The good news is that George Lucas and company have perfected the technical magic to a point where almost anything and everything — no matter how bizarre — is believable. The bad news is the human dramatic dimensions have been sorely sacrificed. The no news is the picture will take in millions regardless of the pluses and minuses.” — James Harwood, Variety

Jedi, one of the most anticipated movies of all time, opens today and it’s everything it ought to be — glorious, exhilarating, exciting, absorbing, technically wondrous. But there also is something bittersweet in the knowledge that, with Jedi, we are bidding a fond farewell to all the characters we got to know so well.” — Rena Andrews, The Denver Post

“Unfortunately, [Jedi] conveys the sense that the machinery has already begun to wear down and the inventiveness to wear thin. The stuff of legend that inspired and elevated the earlier episodes has here been replaced largely by the stuff of comic books.” — Arthur Knight, The Hollywood Reporter

“From the point of view of simple movie-making logistics, there is an awesome amount of work on the screen in Jedi. The fact that the makers of Jedi are able to emerge intact from their task, having created a very special work of the imagination, is the sort of miracle that perhaps Obi-Wan would know something about.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Return of the Jedi is a brilliant, imaginative piece of moviemaking. But it does not diminish the accomplishment of Lucas and his youthful team to say that there are flaws nonetheless. The most obvious, ironically, is an overemphasis on effects and a too proud display of odd-looking creatures.” — Gerald Clarke, Time

“If you can let the child in you come to the surface and not be overly concerned with the believability of the human characters, Return of the Jedi will be plenty of fun and probably a movie to which you’ll want to return for repeat performances.” — Ed Smith, (Marin County) Independent Journal

“The miracle continues. Return of the Jedi is every bit as exciting and satisfying as its predecessors. George Lucas and his hi-tech team of movie-makers have completed the first Star Wars trilogy, incorporating the tried-and-true elements of the best films ever made with the unique Lucas vision and style, and created a winner.” — George Williams, The Sacramento Bee

“For a continuation of a legend that has touched and inspired millions of adults and children in every corner of the world, Jedi remains almost devoid of moments of truth. The rich mythology that seemed to drift through the cosmos of Star Wars and Empire alluding to anything from Christian ideologies to the mysteries of Zen fails to come to any climactic fruition in the new film. Since it does mark the end of a trilogy, one expects to come away with a few nuggets of wisdom from, say, Yoda or Obi-Wan. But Obi-Wan and Yoda scarcely have anything to say worth remembering.” — Carol Olten, The San Diego Union

“The special effects are not bad, but not so good as to look radically different from animated cartoons, and it goes against my grain to watch something this long, this repetitious, and this wastefully expensive that is, after all, only a cartoon with overtones of video games.” — John Simon, National Review

“Any movie capable of so thoroughly delighting a child can’t be as bad as its adult detractors think.” — Andrew Sarris, Village Voice

“It’s getting rarer and rarer to go to a movie that so enwraps the viewers, so viscerally enchants and enthralls them that they cheer, hiss and applaud with regular, excited fury.” — Rick Lyman, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[T]he extravagant George Lucas production is in the peculiar position of being a first-rate piece of entertainment — and at the same time a mild disappointment. It’s a case of great expectations being 85 percent fulfilled. You find yourself begrudging the other 15 percent.” — Philip Wuntch, The Dallas Morning News

“George Lucas, the creator of the series and still its guiding force, had the chance to astonish and stir the largest audience for any sequel in film history. Instead, he chose a conventional resolution that pleases in the manner of a finale to a long-running TV series. The ending recalls the sentimental finish of M*A*S*H, and Return of the Jedi is likely to be just as popular. — John Hartl, The Seattle Times

Return of the Jedi is the best one yet. The script, performances and special effects are clearly superior to both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and the implications of Lucas’ space-age fairy tale should dismiss any thoughts he’s just a manipulative technocrat.” — Michael Blowen, The Boston Globe

“Faults? How can anyone believe Mark Hamill? Along with Ali McGraw, Hamill is an honors graduate of the Open-Mouthed School of Acting. The poor boy has those empty Little Orphan Annie eyes, and neither he nor Harrison Ford look as if they have a brain between them. They even talk dumb. And, sure, Princess Leia’s smart — and this time ’round, they made sure we all got to see she has a great body as well, just in case there were any doubts — but character development is clearly not Lucas’ heavy suit.” — Catharine Rambeau, Detroit Free Press

“Nothing — as far as these films is concerned — can ever again be as good as our first viewing of Star Wars when we met all these people and experienced Lucas’ marvelous concept for the first time. On the other hand, we have the compensation of knowing them all now as old friends, and that is reassuring in a way that first experiences can never be.” — George Anderson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A scene from Return of the Jedi

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