Release Date(s)1983 (March 31, 2020)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm/20th Century Fox (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
“Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt…”
Now a full-fledged Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) faces one final test: He must confront Darth Vader alone. But first, he’ll join Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Chewie (Peter Mayhew), and the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 (Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker) in a plan to rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from Jabba’s palace on Tatooine. Then they’ll face an even greater challenge, when Alliance forces learn that the Empire is building a second, more powerful Death Star near the forest moon of Endor. So now the Rebels must launch a desperate, winner-take-all gambit to destroy this ultimate weapon before the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) can use it to wipe them from the galaxy.
After the creative and box office triumph of The Empire Strikes Back, it was probably unreasonable to expect that producer George Lucas, writer Lawrence Kasdan, and director Richard Marquand (Eye of the Needle, The Jagged Edge) could best the two previous Star Wars installments. And indeed, they did not. Return of the Jedi isn’t a bad film by any means, but it does suffer from the curse of predictability. Virtually every fan knew that Luke and Vader would have face off once more. Obviously, there would have to be another big space battle between Rebels and Empire. But that it would involve another Death Star was unexpected… though not in a good way. Still, the film’s performances were solid and the visual effects were mostly grand. Finally, we got to see the Emperor in all his sinister glory. It’s easy to forget today—in the wake of not just the prequel trilogy but the sequel trilogy as well—that Jedi was the first time Palpatine became a real character in the franchise; he appeared briefly as a hologram in Empire but wasn’t even played by McDiarmid originally. By the end of the film, the good guys had gotten their victory, all of our beloved characters had been given their moments to shine. And John Williams had delivered another fine score, though not one quite as thrilling as the two it followed.
But as was the case with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi was never truly finished to Lucas’ satisfaction. The film’s many tweaks, changes, and “improvements” have been well chronicled (including, most recently, here at The Digital Bits), but its restoration, remastering, and preservation history has proven more of an enigma. After some research and digging on the subject, here’s what I’ve learned from those either directly involved in the work or in positions to know (and if there’s any inaccuracies, it’s not for lack of effort).
Return of the Jedi was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Arriflex cameras with Cooke Xtal Express and Varotal anamorphic lenses, while its analog visual effects were produced in VistaVision. It was finished on film as a cut negative at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, from which a color-timed master interpositive and dupe negatives were created. For the 1997 Special Edition release, the cut negative was scanned in 2K, new digital VFX were produced at sub-2K resolution, and a new film-out master interpositive element was created. This process was repeated in 2003-2004 by Lowry Digital, with a new 10-bit 2K scan done for the DVD release (complete with more digital VFX tweaks and a color grade supervised by Lucas), resulting in the creation of a 2K Digital Intermediate. This source was used again for the 2011 Blu-ray release, though with a bit more Lowry Digital remastering (and still more new digital VFX and color timing tweaks).
In the wake of Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise in 2012, a decision was made to protect the studio’s investment by creating new 4K Digital Intermediates of all the films and to ensure that all of the photochemical and digital assets were properly cataloged and preserved (a process that continued through 2014). For Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi, all of the original camera neg, the VistaVision effects footage, and SE film-outs was scanned in 16-bit 4K by Reliance MediaWorks (formerly Lowry Digital). Lucas once again took the opportunity to tweak the editing, digital VFX, and color timing. In addition to the new 4K DIs, new film-out protection master interpositives were created. New cut negatives were created as well, combining the original camera negative with film-out internegative of the new VFX. (This is why it’s often said that the original theatrical versions technically no longer exist—the OCN has been conformed to the new versions. However, I’ve confirmed with individuals directly responsible that everything—including all theatrical film trims—is well preserved and protected by Disney.) The studio’s new Ultra HD releases (and the recent Disney+ versions) were mastered from these 4K DIs, complete with color grading for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is available on the discs, but Dolby Vision is available on the Digital version).
Disney’s 4K disc presentation includes all the latest tweaks and changes seen in the Disney+ version, but the image quality is definitely superior. The average datarate is in the 50-60 Mbps range (vs 15-25 Mbps via streaming) and that extra bandwidth reveals itself in greater dimensionality. Detail is clean, aside from the occasional optical softness, with tighter fine detail and texturing. Longtime fans will appreciate the fact that the approach to Endor footage is no longer blurry, as it was on the previous Blu-ray. Photochemical grain is extremely light, suggesting a bit of DNR applied. It’s a bit more visible in VFX shots than live action. This a restrained high dynamic range grade, which means that the film’s original theatrical appearance is retained. Peak brightness is 1000 nits with a deep floor (per the disc’s metadata), so the shadows are once again ink-black but detailed. The 10-bit color adds marked nuance to the film’s palette, something that’s especially noticeable in the Endor battle—both the moon’s shadings as seen from space, as well as the foliage on the surface, and even the Rebel’s camouflage. Skin tones are natural, blaster fire and starfighter engines have a vibrant glow, and the textures of Jabba’s palace (and its motley denizens) are more varied than ever. As was true of the two previous films, it appears that some extra “film-look” processing has been done to the 1997 and 2004 Special Edition footage, so that while it’s still of lesser resolution than the live action footage (with a bit more DNR and edge-enhancemnet baked in), the blend is better than it was on the previous Blu-ray. Again, this isn’t a perfect 4K image, but there’s no doubt that this is the best Return of the Jedi has ever looked on home video in any format.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is available in English Dolby Atmos. Additional options include English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, French and Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, and Japanese. From the opening Fox Fanfare (yes, the 20th Century Fox logo remains) to the first trumpet blast of John Williams’ iconic main theme, the new Atmos mix offers lovely fidelity. Vader’s Star Destroyer rumbles in through the overhead channels in the film’s opening shot. The roar of TIE Fighters has muscular bite as his shuttle lands on the second Death Star. Jabba’s voice rumbles with bass and when his Sail Barge explodes, you can hear the debris showering all around in the overheads and surrounds. The speeder bike chase and the final space battle delight with smooth panning and movement. Dialogue is clean and natural, Williams’ score is presented with stunning clarity. As was true of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back on UHD, this mix offers all of the precision and subtlety of Atmos without making the film sound like a modern blockbuster. It has just a bit more heft, but Jedi’s vintage sonic character is well preserved (the few recent sound effects tweaks aside). Note that the included movie Blu-ray offers 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
Disney’s Ultra HD package is a 3-disc set that includes the film in both 4K on UHD and 1080p HD on Blu-ray (note that the latter is definitely mastered from the new 4K source, with the restored clarity in the Endor approach). The package also includes a separate Blu-ray Disc of bonus material, but there’s nothing new here—all of it is curated from previously-available content. (Both Blu-rays are coded for Regions A, B & C.) Here’s a breakdown of what’s included:
DISC ONE – 4K MOVIE
There are no extras on the 4K disc.
DISC TWO – BLU-RAY MOVIE
- Audio Commentary (with George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Ben Burtt, and Dennis Muren) – from the 2004 DVD
- Audio Commentary from Archival Interviews with the Cast and Crew (including Kenny Baker, Jim Bloom, Jeremy Bolloch, Ben Burtt, Anthony Daniels, Warwick Davis, Peter Diamond, Richard Edlund, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Stuart Freeborn, Steve Gawley, Mark Hamill, Paul Huston, Lawrence Kasdan, Howard Kazanjian, George Lucas, Ian McDiarmid, Ralph McQuarrie, Dennis Muren, Frank Oz, Ken Ralston, Normal Reynolds, Phil Tippett, Robert Watts, Billy Dee Williams, and John Williams) – from the 2011 Blu-ray
DISC THREE – BLU-RAY EXTRAS
- Conversations: The Effects (HD – 9:33)
- Discoveries from Inside: The Sounds of Ben Burtt (HD – 5:21)
- Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983) (SD – 48:02)
- Revenge of the Jedi Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:27)
- Return of the Jedi Launch Trailer (HD – 1:30)
- It Began TV Spot (HD – :17)
- Climactic Chapter TV Spot (HD – :32)
- Tatooine Overview (HD – 4:16)
- Endor Overview (HD – 4:52)
- Harrison Ford Interview (HD – 1:34)
- Death Star II Space Battle Overview (HD – 4:04)
- Deleted Scene: Vader’s Arrival and Reaching Out to Luke (HD – 2:42)
- Deleted Scene: Tatooine Sandstorm (HD – 2:07)
- Deleted Scene: Rebel Raid on the Bunker (HD – 2:14)
- Deleted Scene: Jerjerrod’s Conflict (HD – 2:20)
- Deleted Scene: Battle of Endor: The Lost Rebels (HD – 9:32)
- The Collection: Rancor Maquette (360° Turnaround – HD – 3:12)
- The Collection: EV-9D9 (360° Turnaround – HD – :55)
- The Collection: Salacious B. Crumb (360° Turnaround – HD – 2:18)
- The Collection: C-3PO’s Head with Eye Poked Out (360° Turnaround – HD – :43)
- The Collection: Jabba’s Palace, Road Creature Matte Painting (HD – :53)
- The Collection: Sarlacc Pit Matte Painting (HD – :25)
- The Collection: Leia’s Boussh Costume (360° Turnaround – HD – 1:08)
- The Collection: Lando Skiff Guard Costume (360° Turnaround – HD – :47)
- The Collection: Jabba’s Radio-Controlled Eyes (360° Turnaround – HD – 2:41)
- The Collection: AT-ST Walker Model (360° Turnaround – HD – 3:37)
- The Collection: Speeder Bike (360° Turnaround – HD – 1:21)
- The Collection: Imperial Shuttle Model (360° Turnaround – HD – 2:41)
- The Collection: Ewok Hang Glider Maquette (360° Turnaround – HD – :38)
- The Collection: Imperial Shuttle Landing Matte Painting (HD – :52)
- The Collection: Endor Landing Platform Matte Painting (HD – :46)
- The Collection: Ewok Costume (360° Turnaround – HD – :48)
- The Collection: Biker Scout Costume (360° Turnaround – HD – 1:03)
- The Collection: B-Wing Fighter Model (360° Turnaround – HD – 1:31)
- The Collection: TIE Interceptor Model (360° Turnaround – HD – :51)
- The Collection: Death Star Under Construction Model (360° Turnaround – HD – 4:33)
- The Collection: Imperial Shuttle Bay Matte Painting (HD – :44)
- The Collection: Admiral Ackbar Costume (360° Turnaround – HD – :58)
- The Collection: Death Star Equator Docking Bay Matte Painting (HD – :43)
- The Collection: Millennium Falcon in Hangar Matte Painting (HD – :43)
Conversations: The Effects, Discoveries from Inside: The Sounds of Ben Burtt and the trailers and TV spots are all from the 2015 Digital Collection. Classic Creatures: Return of the Jedi (1983) is a nice vintage surprise, but this too was included on the Digital Collection. Everything else comes from the 2011 Blu-ray release. The deleted scenes are missing the brief text introductions, but that’s all. The Interview, Overviews, and Collection 360° Turnarounds all still have the stylized windowbox framing. The Turnarounds also include some of the enhanced video material (comments and interview clips). It’s worth noting that the Bonus Disc has optional subtitles available in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Castilian Spanish, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch, and Japanese. As you would expect, there is also a code for a Movies Anywhere Digital copy on a paper insert.
On the whole, this is another fine collection of bonus content that represents everything from the 2015 Digital Collection and nearly everything from 2011 Original Trilogy Blu-ray Bonus Disc. So… what’s missing? Well, none of the Concept Art Galleries from the 2011 Blu-ray release are here (except for a look at a few of the matte paintings). Apart from the audio commentaries, virtually everything from the 2004 and 2006 DVD releases is missing (including all of the featurettes, most of the TV spots and trailers, etc). The From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga (1983) documentary isn’t here. There’s also previous Laserdisc content that’s not available here. And of course, the original theatrical version of the film is not included. It’s therefore important to keep your previous disc editions if you want to retain all of the available bonus content.
If it’s not the best film of the Star Wars saga, Return of the Jedi is at least a largely satisfying conclusion to the original trilogy—the more egregious Special Edition updates aside. Disney’s 4K presentation not only fixes the image defects present in the previous Blu-ray release, the whole film now boasts best-ever picture and sound quality. And again, this is likely the last time that Disney will ever release Jedi on disc. As such, the Ultra HD is definitely recommended.
- Bill Hunt