“Unexpected this is, and unfortunate. Now a great weakness you carry. Fear for you, I do.” –Yoda, Return of the Jedi Storybook
Thirty years ago today, Return of the Jedi opened in theaters. I saw the movie for the first time as an eight-year-old on the weekend of June 4, 1983. How can one of the movies that defined my childhood be three decades old?
Though they were around, VCRs were not commonplace in 1983. In fact, I did not have the Star Wars trilogy on video until the early 1990s when I recorded it from HBO or Cinemax. I eventually replaced those pan & scan versions with my first of many Star Wars video purchases when I bought the widescreen editions in a VHS boxed set in 1995.
Besides playing with my action figures (or “Star Wars men” as I unpretentiously called them back then), I had plenty of ways to re-experience Return of the Jedi as a kid:
- Return of the Jedi book & 7″ 33 RPM record set – owned
- The Story of Return of the Jedi 12″ 33 RPM record – owned
- Marvel comic book adaptation – owned the four-part series and the graphic novel compilation [which I ordered from Scholastic books without realizing it was the same content as the comic books I already had]
- Return of the Jedi Storybook – frequently borrowed from school library
- Novelization– frequently borrowed from public library
The last three were particularly enjoyable with the John Williams Return of the Jedi soundtrack blasting in the background. The summer of 1983, I can remember requesting the cassette tape version at the pubic library, only to find that it was already checked out and that there was a waiting list.
This was the first time I had ever been on a waiting list, but the librarian dutifully took down my information. Until then, I settled for checking out The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack again. Summer was nearly over before I received the call that the Return of the Jedi tape was ready. Needless to say, we made an extra trip to the library that day. We practically lived at the library in the summer anyway, though.
I am surprised that I did not wear the tape out as often as I played the Return of the Jedi soundtrack. I checked it out many times after that as well, once the wait list was no longer in play.
During the school year, two of the most popular books among me and my friends were the Star Wars Storybook and The Empire Strikes Back Storybook. These were 8 1/4″ x 11 1/4″ hardbound books that told the story of each movie in about 55 pages, with loads of pictures. The Return of the Jedi storybook soon joined their ranks.
With more space to use, the text was closer to the movie than that of my book & record set. It also occasionally offered more than the movie could, by delving into the characters’ thoughts. One of the passages that stood out to me as a kid was Luke thinking about Han Solo shortly after the rescue from Jabba’s palace:
“Luke felt the change in Han, and he knew that everything he and the others had risked had been worth it. ‘Solo’ means ‘alone,’ he thought. He had often wondered whether that was Han’s real name. Maybe it was an alias Han had chosen–one that Han felt described him better than his real name. But now Han knew that he didn’t have to be a loner anymore. And Luke knew how important that was.”
It probably stuck in my memory for two reasons. One, I began wondering about Han Solo’s real last name, and two, I had to look up the word “alias” in the dictionary.
The text also includes several lines that did not make the final movie, including part of this sequence:
“The Emperor’s high, piercing laughter was the only sound in the Death Star’s throne room. ‘Your fleet is lost,’ he said to Luke, ‘and your friends will all die. If they do manage to blow up the shield generator, I have ordered this battle station to destroy Endor.'”
I believe the line should have been left in the movie, as it ups the stakes even more for Luke by letting him know that even if they succeed, his friends will be killed. If I remember correctly, one of the bonus features on the Star Wars: The Complete Saga Blu-ray set mentions this deleted line.
There are other minor differences between the storybook and the movie as well. As with the book & record set, Luke leaves Vader’s body behind on the Death Star and does not see the Jedi spirits at the end.
In 1983, I was convinced that Return of the Jedi was the best movie ever made. While my opinion on that has changed over the years, I still love the film – especially through the eyes of my inner 8-year-old.