I will give "Jedi" some credit -- it neatly ties up a complex story with a very satisfying conclusion. It has a solid story arc: Luke's quest to save his father without losing his own soul. And while I find the whole plot to rescue Han absolutely ridiculous, it does, as noted in this epic No Machete Juggling post, demonstrate some important aspects of Luke's development as a Jedi. He's clearly developed some mad skills by the beginning of the film, but his lightsaber is still writing checks his midichlorians can't cash. He assumes he can win any fight, and he assumes his mind tricks will work on anyone. He's also flirting with some dark side stuff, Force-choking one of Jabba's guards. And the final space battle in "Jedi" remains quite awesome, and I still love Admiral Akbar, no matter how stupid he looks.
And I suppose there are simple matters of personal taste here. But I think Drum goes too far when he tries to get us to ignore the Ewoks, which he admits are loathesome:
There are, basically, two extended Ewok sequences. The first, when the Ewoks capture Luke and Han, is inexcusable. I won't even try. But it's only ten minutes of a two-hour movie. The second sequence is the battle for the shield generator station, and in that one the Ewoks really don't matter. It's a set-piece fight, and the Ewoks are just the extras — small, furry extras, but still extras. Ignore them. If someone recut the film to excise most of the first, infuriating Ewok sequence, I honestly think a lot of people would see the rest of it in a whole different light.No, the Ewoks were not extras in the battle for the shield generator. The Rebels went down to the moon with somewhere around 20 soldiers, right? Everyone was packed into one Imperial shuttle. They expected to find only a small group of guards and stealthily destroy the shield generator. But they instead found hundreds of stormtroopers who were waiting for them. These Rebels were about to get slaughtered. What saved them was the Ewoks. The Ewoks were essential to the Rebels' victory on Endor. And that is among the things that makes "Jedi" irredeemably bad. It is as though three Roman legions were wiped out at the Teutoburg Forest by gerbils.
I would submit that "Revenge of the Sith" is actually a better film that "Return of the Jedi." I recognize that this view, while probably not as controversial as Drum's, is still not the mainstream one. But the "Sith"story is much more coherent, staying fully focused on Anakin's fall. And the fall is masterfully executed and so complete in its outcome. The entire movie is basically a sting, with Palpatine constantly playing on Anakin's weaknesses (his failure to save his mother, his fears over losing Padme, his insecurities over his treatment by the other Jedi) to bring about a crisis. Why did Palpatine demand that Anakin be seated on the Jedi Council, if not to force the Council to resist, adding to Anakin's insecurities? Why did Palpatine so easily slaughter three Jedi in his council chambers but leave Windu -- whom Anakin knew didn't trust him -- appearing to be beating him, even though Palpatine could have killed him at any moment, if not to force Anakin to rise up against Windu?
And Anakin's final fall is so complete, leaving him a smoldering, limbless pile of hate, screaming impotently at the best friend he'd been manipulating into despising, while the woman he was trying to save lays dying. And Obi Wan's final words to Anakin involve (finally!) something like acting. Ewan MacGregor somehow achieves the impossible, delivering an impassioned performance in a George Lucas film, venting both his disgust in Anakin and his own remorse for having trained him.
Mercifully, "Sith" doesn't try to distract us with humorous or furry creatures. Jar Jar is silent. The droids do their jobs. The film is dark and bleak and allowed to remain that way. The few final scenes not focused directly on Anakin -- finding homes for the twins, the remaining Jedi going into hiding, the Death Star under construction -- serve only to set up Episode IV.
I won't call it a perfect film ("Nooooooo!"). But it's really very good, and apart from "Empire," probably the most adult film of the whole series.
Update: Dan Drezner jumps in to assert that "Jedi" > "Sith" and that every film of the original trilogy is better than every film of the prequel trilogy. Fine, be that way.