Is it odd that I have reviewed the Star Wars films, my favorite cinematic franchise of all time, in such a piecemeal fashion? Outside of the original trilogy, perhaps this is somewhat apropos. After all, in the late 1990s, a full sixteen years after Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi (1983) came out, they released Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). As someone who grew up with the first three, those specifically cemented my love for the tales of “a galaxy far, far away. . . .” Such is my passion for these stories that I am willing to forgive them for the train wreck that were the prequels, and (according to some, but not me) the new trilogy. If you find that statement odd, then what I am about to say might help it make a little more sense: when I was little, my favorite of the originals was Return of the Jedi. The older, more mature me grew to care more for Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980). That is the one all the cool Star Wars kids liked, anyway. But when I would come home from elementary school, the VHS tape I would reach for first was the recording of the third installment taken off of its television broadcast. I cannot recall if it was the Ewoks, the giant space battle at the end, or simply Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) new lightsaber design that most stirred my imagination. Regardless, without that one, I probably would not have become the fan I am today.
Like my reviews of the other original trilogy films, I am not going to go into a substantial synopsis of Return of the Jedi’s plot. Here it is in brief. Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), along with the inept assistance of their droids C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) rescue Han Solo (Harrison Ford) from the gangster Jabba the Hutt. Though Luke goes back to see Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), Luke’s Jedi Master, one last time following this mission, they all end up back with the Rebel fleet before its attack on a second Death Star. While Lando leads the fighters in the from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon in the space assault, Han takes the rest of the aforementioned characters down the nearby moon of Endor in order to disable the shields protecting the deadly space station. Though Luke is with them, his real goal is to face his father, one last step he must take before becoming a fully-fledged Jedi Knight. His father is, of course, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), the former Jedi known as Anakin Skywalker, and Emperor Palpatine’s (Ian McDiarmid) right-hand-man in ruling the galaxy. Hence, while Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids plan the raid on the shield generator on the surface of the moon, bolstered by the primitive race of teddy-bear like creatures known as Ewoks, Luke heads up to the Death Star with Darth Vader to confront the Emperor. The Emperor believes he can turn the young man away from the light side of the Force to be a servant of the dark side, known as a Sith. With all principal groups in place, you have three battles occurring: on ground, in space, and in the Emperor’s throne room. After a short struggle, Han is able to blow up the shield generator. Doing so allows Lando and the fighters to fly into the Death Star’s superstructure and detonate it from the inside. Meanwhile in the throne room, Luke and Darth Vader cross light sabers, and throughout their duel the Emperor is egging on the young Jedi. When he has finally triumphed, standing over his father, the Emperor orders Luke to make the final blow. Instead, Luke refuses, tossing his weapon aside and assured of his place as a Knight. The Emperor does not take too kindly to this revelation, and begins shooting electricity from his fingers, frying Luke. All seems lost until Darth Vader intervenes, throwing the Emperor to his death. The effort drains the last of his strength, but he gets to die as Anakin Skywalker, not the masked galactic boogeyman. In sum, the galaxy is saved.
There, that is at least somewhat shorter than my usual plot synopses. I suppose I left out the big revelation in Return of the Jedi that Luke and Leia are twins, but oh well. Instead, what I would like to now focus on is the monumental task Luke must perform of confronting his father. In past reviews when talking about the difficult things characters must accomplish, I often liken them to Jesus facing His Crucifixion. It makes sense. Sure, other people in film and real life have had to stare their mortality in the eye, knowing death was imminent. What separates Jesus’ passion from the rest is how much He carried with him to the end, the whole of humanity’s sins. There is less going on in Return of the Jedi, but it happens in many respects because of the sins of the father. Forget the prequels. The original trilogy gives you enough of a picture of what Anakin Skywalker did to become Darth Vader. Obi Wan Kenobi (Sir Alec Guinness) says as much in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). We then see the revelation of Darth Vader being Luke’s father in The Empire Strikes Back. At that time, the news seems to affect Luke the most. Nothing like finding out that one of the galaxy’s biggest villains is dear old dad to brighten your day! In Return of the Jedi, though, Luke seems intent on redeeming Anakin Skywalker, of bringing the former Jedi back to the light. There are clear Christian parallels in this theme. Even if it done in a horrible fashion, you can at least somewhat understand why Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) made the deal with the devil he did in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005). With visions (albeit fake ones conjured by the Emperor) of his wife Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) dying in childbirth, and Palpatine claiming to have knowledge of how to cheat death, anyone in a moment of desperation might do something, er . . . similar? People will do almost anything to protect their loved ones. Thankfully, for the rest of us, these decisions typically do not result in genocide. At any rate, Return of the Jedi completes Anakin’s redemption. It is proof, once again, as is at the core of Christian teachings, that nobody is beyond saving. This is Luke’s motivation throughout the film.
One can be disappointed by the fact that Anakin dies at the end of Return of the Jedi. I mean, the guy only lost a hand and had a few bolts of electricity run through him. At no other point in any other Star Wars film or show, including the one it happens in, is that enough to stop one who is trained in the ways of the Force. Still, it allows for Anakin to take his place with the other Jedi. Before the prequels and the massive retroactive inclusion of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin rather than the original actor in that role in 1983, the final moments of the film looked a little different. That actor was Sebastian Shaw, by the way, so keep that in mind next time you are asked this question in trivia. Anyway, the romance of Star Wars, and this one is no different, is that ultimately the good guys win. That might not be the case for the prequels, which is one of the reasons I find them so distasteful. For the rest, this simple fact adds to my enjoyment of them. In the ultimate struggle between good and evil, in the Biblical sense, God (who is love) triumphs. Star Wars aligns with this ideal, and therefore gets my patronage.