Return of the Jedi was the second arcade game based on the Star Wars movie franchise. This Atari Games title was actually released in 1984, a full year before The Empire Strikes Back was. Which means that the games were made out of order. The films were released in this order Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and then Return of the Jedi. But the games went in this order Star Wars, Return of the Jedi, and then The Empire Strikes Back. This is admittedly a minor detail, but it is interesting nonetheless. If you have ever wanted to control Princess Leia or Chewbacca then this is your chance, as I can't recall any other title that had them as playable characters (except for Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi for the Playstation).
This title is quite a bit different from the other two Star Wars arcade games. The other titles had 3D vector graphics, while this title uses isometric perspective raster graphics. Or in layman's terms the other games were all lines and wireframes and this one is cartoon characters.
This game made heavy use of scene changes to attempt to bring a little bit of the movie to the small screen, often switching back and forth between sequences fairly quickly. All the scenes run on the same engine, and are controlled in very similar manners. Or in other words one scene may be all ewoks, speeder bikes, and trees, while the next will be spaceships and the Death Star, but it is really just the same thing with different graphics.
The main game scenes are the Forest Moon of Endor and the Death Star. The Death Star scenes always have you controlling the Millennium Falcon, while the Endor scenes feature both Princess Leia on a speeder bike and Chewbacca piloting an At-ST (the At-ST is the two legged Imperial walker, Chewie ended up with one of these near the end of the film somehow). The Ewoks in this game look more evil than cute, which may have been accidental, or it could have been some sort of subtle backlash at George Lucas for putting Ewoks in the movie in the first place.
I found this game to be far more difficult than the other games in the series, and not nearly as fun. I haven't played a real machine since 1985, but loading this game in MAME confirmed that it hasn't gotten any easier since that first time back when I was eight years old. The fast scene changes towards the end sequence were especially unnerving. I am talking mere seconds between scene changes.
This particular game was available only in an upright dedicated cabinet. The cabinet design was similar to the design used on I, Robot and Major Havoc machines, but it wasn't exactly the same as either one of them. If you have never seen any of these machines, lets just say they are oddly shaped, and kind of top heavy. The marquee featured a "Return of the Jedi" logo that looked like it had been stolen directly from a movie poster (red letters on a background of stars with the Millennium Falcon and the Death Star clearly visible). The sideart only covered the top half of the machine. It was a montage of shots that was dominated by a picture of Princess Leia on a speeder bike and a large image of Darth Vader's head.
This title uses a pair of M6502 processors to run the game code, along with four Pokey chips for audio. This was one of the first titles Atari titles to modify all game options via a setup menu, rather than by using dip switches. Eighteen years later, the industry still hasn't fully converted over to being "jumperless".
All scenes are controlled with a flight yoke that is similar in design to the one used on the vector Star Wars game. This is usually the first thing to fail on any given machine. These can be rebuilt fairly easily though, but you may have to do a little bit of hacking to get them to work.
Where to play
You can play the actual arcade version using the MAME emulator. The home translations of this film had nothing in common with the arcade version. This game was uncommon even when it first came out, since it was released in 1984 at the height of the video game crash. I haven't seen one since 1985, and I doubt you will either. Most of them have ended up in the hands of collectors, or were parted out long ago.
I would only recommend adding this game to your arcade game collection if you are a real Star Wars fan. You are going to be paying a huge premium for this title, and it simply doesn't have the gameplay to go along with that high ticket price.