The kids in Clerks could never agree if Jedi was a better film than Empire. This reviewer, like most sensible people, has always been in the Empire camp, but seeing the restored Jedi has shaken his faith a bit. But there's still the matter of the Ewoks. Nobody likes the little bastards, and the years have not mellowed audiences.
Overall, though, this is a superb movie. From the opening third in Jabba's palace to the neatly interwoven mini-trilogy of battles that forms the breath-stealing climax, Jedi doesn't let up - unless it's to allow for the brief moments of introspection and personal drama that set it and Empire apart from Star Wars.
Still awe-inspiring: our heroes' dramatic escape from the Sarlacc pit on Tatooine; the 300mph speeder bike chase through the Endor forest; Luke's final confrontation with Vader, when he comes oh-so close to losing the plot and turning to the Dark Side; and what is still, in 1997, the finest space battle ever committed to film, ending in the heart-stopping moment when Lando leads his fighters inside the Death Star.
Still cheesy: the revelation that Luke is Leia's brother (come on, what are the odds?) and the subsequent badly acted soul-searching; the poorly animated Rancor creature (wasn't the Special Edition supposed to correct these things?); and the whole concept of a bunch of three-feet-high bears taking out an entire legion of the Empire's crack troops.
Star Wars nuts will be itching to know what's been changed. The answer's "not much" (except for the big bit at the end, which I'll get to in a minute). As for the minor modifications, it's hard to see why they bothered: most add little to the experience, and in some cases just piss you off. The least offensive enhancement (actually, it's just right) is the juicing-up of the Sarlacc pit, which now boasts tentacles and a horrid, worm-like mouth. There's a new song sung by Sy Snootles' band in Jabba's Palace, replacing the old Lapti Nek with a jazzier number that didn't play well with the audience I saw it with. Snootles and co have been redone in CGI and look good, but they really should have stuck to their palace-rock standards.
The main alteration, then, is a new, more elaborate closing celebration. The old scenes remain - Ewoks banging stormtrooper helmets like drums, the gang reuniting - but now they're just one part of a montage showing galaxy-wide victory celebrations, specifically in Cloud City, Mos Eisley and Coruscant. The final 30 seconds are dazzling, yes, but there's a problem: to accommodate the new (longer) ending, the Ewoks' hummable Yub Nub song has been replaced by a soulless piece of new age cack. This plays out the trilogy (and segues into the credits) far less effectively than before. It's moments like this that make Star Wars purists glad they have the original trilogy at home on video.