Until the release of The Force Awakens (2015), Return of the Jedi stood as the definitive conclusion to the Star Wars saga. And what a conclusion it had to be, there were multiple loose ends to tie up: Han Solo had to be rescued from Jabba the Hutt; Luke needed to reconcile/accept the fact that his father was Darth Vader; the Rebel Alliance needed to defeat the Imperial fleet and most importantly, the Emperor needed to be defeated.
It might seem strange that the Emperor would choose to build another Death Star (considering what happened to the first one), but then again I can only presume that this one had been modified to have no weaknesses like before, that’s why it had to be destroyed before it was completed.
For a long time Return of the Jedi was my favorite Star Wars film: it has the speeder chase, Ewoks, and it also has that final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor. I know some people don’t like the Ewoks, but I love them, they’re cute (The scene between Leia and Wicket is awesome). I have a goal to visit the forest they used for filming the speeder chase, it looks absolutely gorgeous!.
The final duel comes at the climax of the movie. While the Rebel Alliance attempts to put their plans into motion, Luke has turned himself in to Vader and is taken to see the Emperor. Considering this is the first movie to have the Emperor in the flesh, he’s quite menacing (the eerie music accompanying him helps with that impression a great deal). The Emperor insists that Luke is on the edge of falling to the Dark Side of the Force and that he is already a servant to him (which Luke denies). The whole time, Luke’s light saber is kept in plain sight, tempting Luke to try and take it and strike the Emperor down. While Luke resists for a while, he inevitably gives in and the duel commences.
As with the Cloud City duel, Vader is portrayed by Bob Anderson, with a number of different camera angles used during the fight (to great effect I might add). There’s an interesting moment towards the end, when Luke has vaulted up onto a catwalk and is looking down at Vader. Someone (I wish I could say who to give proper credit, but I honestly don’t remember) pointed out that this mirrors the situation at the conclusion of the Mustafar duel in Revenge of the Sith, where Obi-Wan has the high-ground above Anakin, but Anakin jumps anyway and that’s when he loses. Now that Luke is in the same position as Obi-Wan was, Vader has seemingly learned his lesson and instead of jumping up after him, he throws his lightsaber instead.
Now, the big moment in this duel is when Luke finally snaps and attacks Vader in a fury when the Dark Lord threatens his sister (who we all know to be Leia). However, this detail had NOT been established when the script was written. All Lucas had written for this point was “Vader taunts Luke/Luke snaps and attacks.” They’d always put off exactly WHAT Vader does to cause this issue, and finally it got down to the wire and they had to come up with a reason, and as they considered what Vader could possibly say that would get Luke to go off, and finally the light bulb went off as they realized “Leia is his sister and Vader threatens Leia!” That’s right, up until that moment, Leia had NOT been identified as Luke’s sister, and I’m tempted to say that the only reason she was identified as such is because they needed a reason for Luke to snap. That being said, I’m still not entirely convinced that Vader knew that Leia was Luke’s sister. In the dialogue, he only discovers that a sister exists and refers to her strictly in the abstract as “she.” He may never have made the connection that Leia and Luke’s sister were one and the same.
One moment in the duel that I’ve heard get a lot of flak is the very end, when Vader 1) discovers that Luke has a twin sister and 2) teases that he’ll get her to join the Dark Side if he won’t, inciting Luke’s fury. The problem (people argue) is, considering how powerful Vader came across in Empire Strikes Back, how is it that Luke can suddenly overpower him? It does seem odd, and for a while I couldn’t answer this argument at all, until I gave it some thought. There are several ways to solve this puzzle, and I’ll list a few here:
Solution #1: Vader’s lightsaber skills aren’t what they used to be. Yes I know how he came across in Empire Strikes Back, but in that duel Luke wasn’t fully trained and he certainly didn’t have control of his emotions (which is key if you’re going to engage in a duel with a Sith Lord). If you think about it, it’s really been close to 20 years since Vader has faced an equally powerful and skilled opponent, his fighting skills had to have deteriorated over time.
Solution #2: Vader’s connection to the Force (which helps his fighting abilities) is severely weakened. If we (reluctantly) assume that the midichlorians are canon, then Vader can’t possibly have as strong a connection to the living Force as he used to. By my calculations, the only human parts of Vader left are his torso and his head, which would have severely decreased his midichlorians, and thus his ability to use the Force.
Solution #3: Vader is not fully committed to killing Luke. Vader seemingly has no problem with potentially killing Luke in Empire Strikes Back; as he tells the Emperor “He will join us or die.” But now, in Return of the Jedi, it’s become obvious that Vader is torn between his son and his duty to the Emperor. This emotional conflict (which Luke can sense) is throwing Vader off, influencing his fighting abilities.
Solution #4: Luke is simply more powerful in the Force than Vader. Being his son, this is certainly possible, and unlike Vader, Luke has only lost a hand at this point. Also, he is fully engaging in the Dark Side of the Force and his fury has magnified his abilities many times over.
Any of these could be viable solutions (or a combination of all four), and therefore I have no trouble with Luke overwhelming Vader at the end. This is really the first moment where the music plays into a lightsaber duel in the same way that “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of the Heroes” will in the prequel films. The chorus is eerie and foreshadowing: by attacking Vader in anger, Luke is basically throwing himself off of a cliff into the Dark Side, and if he’d cut off Vader’s head instead of his hand, there would’ve been no going back. The Emperor knows this, that’s why he pushes Luke to finish the job. But for once, the Emperor has gravely miscalculated. The last time he tried this (pushing Anakin to kill Dooku), he was able to succeed because Anakin had no blood connection to Dooku, in fact, he had every reason in the world to kill him. But with Luke…he’s asking Luke to kill his own father, and that’s something the Jedi can’t do, no matter what Vader has done.
Of course the Emperor responds by trying to kill Luke with Force Lightning, and the sight of his own son being tortured finally snaps Anakin back into existence and he throws the Emperor down the core shaft, where he (presumably) dies (but I have my own theories about that which I’ll discuss another time, especially now in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker).
To summarize the ending, Luke and Anakin make their way to the shuttle, but the former Sith Lord has been too badly injured and makes a last request to see Luke “with his own eyes”, leading to an all too brief reunion between father and son. I honestly wasn’t sure what to think when Luke went through the motions of taking the helmet and mask off. Considering how terrifying Vader looked (and sounded), there was no telling what might be found underneath the mask. I thought Sebastian Shaw’s brief performance as the redeemed Anakin was good though. The final touch on this scene that I’ll mention is, just after he dies, there is a final refrain of the Imperial March, plucked out on a harp. It’s fitting and symbolic of how Anakin was finally brought back to the Light Side of the Force.
Now, the ending of Return of the Jedi…well, I have a lot to say (I probably need to make a separate post on my feelings regarding the various changes). I for one, liked the original ending with the cute Ewok sound. True, what John Williams created to replace it is also good, but I didn’t feel the change was necessary. I did like how Luke looked back and saw the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda with Anakin appearing to join them (I still think it was wrong to put Hayden Christensen in that scene, but at least they didn’t put Ewan McGregor in Obi-Wan’s place too). And at the very end, all the heroes are together, celebrating, the Empire has been overthrown…or has it?
For over thirty years the impression was given that the Empire was dead and the good guys had won. But now, with the Expanded Universe being discarded and a new Star Wars Universe coming out instead, we know this isn’t true. The victory at Endor was not total, and it now seems that the fight is far from over.
I still like watching Return of the Jedi, even though Empire Strikes Back is now my favorite, and I hope that someday, somehow, I can watch the original cut of this film again. Hope you enjoyed this, I know it ran a little long (but then again I had a lot to say, lol).
*all images are the property of 20th century Fox/Walt Disney Studios
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