It’s easy to hate on the “Star Wars” prequels, and deservedly so — they’re pretty terrible. But people also tend to use another episode as shorthand for the series at its less than ideal.
As the common narrative goes, “Return of the Jedi” closed out the original trilogy on a bum note, ruined by Endor and its flock of cuddly, easily merchandisable Ewoks. (Or as “The Thick of It”’s Malcolm Tucker brilliantly described it, “the planet of the teddy bears.”)
George Lucas and team originally envisioned a darker end to the trilogy, with Han Solo killed during the rescue mission at Jabba’s palace and Luke Skywalker ending the film by walking off into the desert, a la Paul Atreides at the conclusion of “Dune Messiah.” Instead, Lucas realized there was extra money to be had in furry toys. What would have been a bleak ending instead turned into one for the kids.
There’s a lot to be annoyed at in “Jedi.” The Ewoks are pests. Harrison Ford, who clearly wanted rid of Han, is only slightly more committed to the role than Sean Connery was in his final official Bond movie, “Diamonds are Forever.” The dialogue is sometimes as stiff as it was in “A New Hope.” The ending is overly joyous, especially compared to the less-than-happy ending that “The Force Awakens” reveals to have happened, with the Dark Side simply going into hiding, rebranding as the First Order. (Want all the spoilers? We've got you covered.)
But are we being too hard on it? There’s a lot of goodness here, and even if it winds up, with its second Death Star, repeating "A New Hope" — setting the scene for “The Force Awakens” to almost straight-up remake that one — it’s a thrilling and emotionally deep ride. The long Jabba/rescue sequence is perhaps the most sustained bit of excellence in the entire franchise: a mega-cantina scene with new species crammed into every room, around every corner.