That Moment in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983): A Son and His Father
REVIEW: C-3PO remarks: Here we go again! The rebels continue to be handed defeats at the long reach of the growing evil Intergalactic Empire. Spread ever thinner, the alliance is at a breaking point. Worse, they’ve lost Cloud City, one of the last safe places free of the Empire’s grip, and on top of that, one of their best allies, Captain Han Solo has been captured by Darth Vader and traded to the lecherous gangster, Jabba the Hutt back on Luke’s home planet of Tatooine. He’s been frozen in carbonite.
A year has passed and it’s time for action. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and his friends hatch a scheme to break Solo (Harrison Ford) out of Jabba’s lair where his rectangular carbonite sarcophagus is currently hanging on the wall as a trophy. That won’t be easy. Jabba is guarded by a battalion of well-armed swine beasts, and surrounded by a host of wretched bounty hunters and other nefarious scum with his fortress, complete with a band, dancing girls, alcohol, and a retractable circular pit featuring an enormous flesh-eating Rancor that eats swine guards and dancing girls.
C-3PO and R2D2 arrive and are led to Jabba’s main chamber where play a holographic message from Luke. He requests an audience with Jabba where they can bargain for Solo’s life, saying that with Jabba’s great intellect, they could surely reach a mutually beneficial agreement. But there is a veiled threat in his tone, especially when he remarks that he wishes to avoid an unpleasant confrontation. This is our first time seeing Luke since the ending of The Empire Strikes Back. He looks and sounds different. Dressed all in black, his hair is trimmed and he stands with authority. He presents himself as a Jedi and has a confidence that is focused and undeniably powerful. But that’s not all. As the message finishes, he offers the two droids to Jabba as gifts, to act as tokens of his good will. They are immediately put to work.
Meanwhile, standing in corner observing all of this, we see a man in an odd helmet and mask. There’s something familiar about his eyes. It’s Lando Calrission, Han Solo’s old friend. He’s infiltrated the palace as well. No long after, in walks a bounty hunter with Han Solo’s co-pilot, Chewbacca in tow, his great furry arms in chains. This excites Jabba, and after a brief exchange over price, the Wookie gets thrown into a cell and the bounty hunter makes a quick profit. But this is no bounty hunter. It’s Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). Under cover of night, she reverses the carbonite process on Solo and frees him from his year-long imprisonment. But not for long. Jabba was on to the princess’ scheme and captures her and the temporarily blind Han Solo. Off Solo goes to share a cell with Chewie, and for the lovely Leia, well, we all know what happens next. The gold bikini.
So as our crew find themselves one-by-one falling in the clutches of the dreadful Jabba the Hutt, we know there is still one who hasn’t made an appearance, at least not counting holographically. That’s Luke. His hologram teased with some expectation, but the anticipation is now at its highest. When he arrives, he is draped in a dark cloak, his movements sure and imposing. He speaks with the same influential tones of his first teacher, Obi-Wan. It’s riveting and we are flush with excitement. Luke gives Jabba one more chance to hand over his friends, but that offer falls on deaf ears and instead, Jabba drops the young Jedi into the rancor pit via a trap door. But Luke disposes with the beast in no time, and though he is captured again, there is a smile on Luke’s face. We suspect that things are falling into place just as he has planned. When Jabba rounds up his prisoners and heads out to the Dune Sea to be feed them to the sarlacc, what seems like a no win situation quickly turns and suddenly Jabba is on the wrong end of his own chain, his henchmen fodder for the sarlacc and our heroes making an epic escape. Now it’s time to face Vader and end the Emperor’s reign of terror once and for all.
While The Empire Strikes Back set a near impossible standard for the series, Return of the Jedi comes close to equaling the previous entry. Filled with dazzling locations, fantastic action and of course, more of that trademark humor, the story feels spot on and satisfactorily brings to a close the incredibly popular space opera. Some quibble as to the effectiveness of the Ewoks, but for us, they are a perfect fit in the Star Wars universe and while these days they would surly be rendered with CGI, there is a wonderful humanity about the little creatures that makes their brief appearance all the more memorable, especially during the breathtaking final battle. Most of all, it is the closure of the Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker relationship that leaves the strongest impact. Vader’s redemption and ultimate sacrifice is some of the best moments in the entire series. The removal of his mask and the revelation of his own humanity is a touching and ever-so-satisfying end to one of cinema’s most enduring characters. Return of the Jedi is a return to form and a fine conclusion to this trilogy.
That Moment In: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Scene Setup: Everything is culminating on the forest moon of Endor, the home of the Ewoks and the temporary shield generator for the second Death Star, under construction in orbit around the the moon. While the Empire has a base on the moon, the Alliance is planning a secret, two-pronged attack where a small ground strike team will sabotage the shield as the entire fleet engages the Death Star. Lando will take the Millennium Falcon and lead the space battle while Han, Chewbacca, Luke and Leia take a squad into the forest to take out the shield. That’s the plan anyhow. The Emperor has other ideas. As things go bad right from the start, Luke and Leia get separated as they chase down Stormtroopers on speederbikes (think hot rod motorcylces without wheels, but that hover and fly very fast). She ends up in the company of the Ewoks while Luke meets back up with Han, Chewie and the robots. As they head out to try and find Leia, they get snared in an Ewok net and are hauled off to the Ewok treetop city. While C-3PO gets mistaken for a god, the rest are tied to posts and seem ready to be cooked as part of a feast to celebrate the arrival of C-3PO. Using the Force, Luke has the little creatures believe that 3PO is vengeful and that the humans are friends. That does the trick and soon the whole gang becomes compatriots in the fight against the Empire. But first, there’s time for a party.
That night, Luke has a little heart-to-heart with Leia. He tells her that the Force is strong in his family, with his father, him and his sister. She puzzles over it a moment and then claims she’s always known. Luke tells his sister that Vader is nearby and that he must face him, to try and turn him back. She worries and begs him to leave the moon and go far, far away, but he refuses and departs. He then surrenders himself to the Imperial guards who quickly take him straight to Vader himself. Father and son, two Jedi’s on opposite sides, meet again.
The Scene: Darth Vader is the perfect villain. Shrouded in mystery when we meet him, he is dark and foreboding, frightening and curiously enigmatic. Singularly driven, he is obsessive in his pursuit and devout in this faith, even if that faith has led him astray. Serving only the Emperor, Vader has risen to second in command, a feared leader of men and central antagonist for the rebellion. As a character, audiences are drawn to him. At first a nemesis, his unique design and appearance made him instantly memorable. Who is behind the mask? That is what every person watching for the first time was thinking? What is his story? (a question Lucas answered in a three-part trilogy more than a decade later). While he grew in stature and dominance in the second feature, it was more than his villainy that had audiences swooning. He was becoming complex. That all too brief shot of his disfigured, shaved head in The Empire Strikes Back created a frenzy of speculation about who Darth Vader is. And when he confronted Luke in the underbelly of Could City, proclaiming that he was his father, it was watershed cinema moment. Now, in Return of the Jedi, we see another side. The monster hunting in the mask is slowly evolving to be a man trapped inside a shell. When Luke is brought before Vader on an open docking pad gangplank, the two share a few minutes alone under the dark of night. Standing side-by-side, the men speak in gentle tones: calm, open, honest. Luke embraces the fact that the man inside the armor was once his father, and he pleads for him to find his way back to the Light side. “I know there is good in you,” he says. “Come with me.” And here, for the first time, we see the massive shoulders and once towering figure of Darth Vader begin to tremble. There is more violence and pain in these words than whatever any lightsaber could give. “It is too late for me, son,” Vader replies. Son. Think how this one word changes everything about their conversation. It is no longer Lord Vader and Jedi Knight Skywalker at odds, it is a man and his boy, both with immense power to do something great or terrible.
What we witness is the real power of the Light side. Luke has become a master and he is manipulating Vader. While Vader is still strong enough to overcome, it weakens him. The Emperor has an iron grip on Vader and nothing Luke can say will break him totally free. But it does plant a seed. That seed grows quickly.
The final chapter in the complete saga, Return of the Jedi as the daunting task of tying together a complex story. As each of the previous two films grew, so do does this with an ending that features a number of plots converging. On Endor, while attempting to shut down the shield generator which would allow the rebels to attack the new Death Star, Han, Leia and the others have got themselves captured, but not for long. The Ewoks join the battle swinging in using rocks and arrows, mounting a full-on attack against the surprised Stormtroopers guarding the captives. Up in space, Lando and his fleet are in over their heads as their secret attack turns out to be not so secret. As they came out of hyperspace near the incomplete second Death Star, they find their signals are jammed and the Empire is in fact NOT surprised by the invasion but actually waiting for it happen, with just about every darned ship in their armada.
And of course there is the Emperor. His revelation that he has been manipulating everything to this point is jarring. His plan is to have Luke become so enraged that he will actually strike him down, thus making him even more powerful, which worked for Obi-Wan in Episode IV. Luke, perhaps thinking there’s a way around it, does just that, but before he can actually cut the Emperor down, Vader steps in and defends his master. And then begins the greatest lightsaber battle in the entire franchise, a fight that is not about choreography, as it is in Phantom Menace, but about the torment and struggle between the two sides of the Force and its control over a father and his son. Luke isn’t trying to kill Vader as much as he is trying to set his father free. Vader is fighting his own demons, hoping something will show him what to do. In this grand battle, he discovers he has a daughter, that Luke has a twin, and that maybe if he can’t turn Luke, he can turn Leia. That is surely the Emperor working the weaker Vader’s mind. It is the greatest motivation for Skywalker. He lunges from the shadows and for the first time, overpowers his father, hacking mercilessly, furiously, at the slowly cowering Vader, eventually putting him to the ground and slicing off his hand in a mirror of the same situation back on Could City. The final showdown begins.
As it all comes to a close and the Empire is defeated, word spreads quickly and the galaxy rejoices. Back on Endor, the surviving rebels join together in the treetops with the Ewoks and celebrate. The ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan and now Anakin are there and we feel great joy for the being part of the story but also a little sad as the adventure ends, as they all must. While the franchise has grown to absurd heights and its future continues to expand, it is here in the original three where nothing will ever compare, where storytelling and characters are the focus. A long time ago, in a galaxy, far, far away . . .
Director: Richard Marquand