So here we are, the conclusion of the original trilogy and the boys are excited. Again, before we start I recap where the characters currently are and what’s happening. Han Solo is frozen and headed to Jabba the Hutt, Lando and Chewie are going to rescue him and Luke and Leia are going to help if they need to.
The opening crawl reveals that the rescue is indeed underway, but the bigger news is that the Empire is building a second Death Star!
And sure enough, the film opens with a shot of the under construction battle station as Vader arrives to browbeat the crew there for not working fast enough. Vader also tells them that the Emperor himself is coming to the Death Star to oversee its completion. This is the first time we will see the Emperor in person in the movies and the boys are very worried about this fact. After two films, Darth Vader is still scary, but the Emperor seems even scarier because he’s been the unseen puppet master who controls Vader.
Okay, now we get to Tatooine, where Jabba’s palace is. C3PO and R2D2 are, once again, traversing the desert, but this time they’re heading to Jabba’s place. Once inside, they bring a message from Luke Skywalker asking that Jabba release Han or suffer the consequences. Oh, and also Luke says Jabba can have the two droids as a gift!
The boys are thrilled / grossed-out (as boys often are) by Jabba the Hutt. It’s complicated that his lines are subtitled because I have to read out everything he’s saying and it jumbles the message a bit. But they get it.
Soon, a mysterious bounty hunter arrives with Chewbacca in tow and sells him to Jabba too. The boys are dismayed by this turn of events and immediately don’t like this new bounty hunter. Of course, we soon find out that it’s actually Leia in disguise and she secretly unfreezes Han. But Jabba is watching and quickly imprisons both of them. The moment the curtain is drawn back to reveal Jabba and his minions, the boys are taken aback. Our heroes can’t catch a break with this baddie!
Finally, Luke himself arrives at Jabba’s place to threaten him. When Luke falls through the trap door and is forced to fight the Rancor, the boys are literally on their feet. That scene always stuck in my mind as a kid and they, likewise, were gripped by the action as Luke defeats the monster. Then Luke’s bound and everyone heads out to the Sarlaac pit.
The boys have no idea what to make of the Sarlaac. My 4-year-old insists that that’s not a scary monster, it’s just a hole in the ground. I have to explain a few times that it eats people. So Luke’s elaborate plan is finally revealed as he gets his lightsaber and our heroes fight their way out of the there and escape. That fight scene is big and quick cut and the boys are dizzy by the end. They instantly ask for confirmation that Jabba the Hutt is dead after Leia strangles him.
Then Luke takes a detour to visit Yoda and complete his training. Unfortunately, Yoda is on his deathbed and no further training happens. Also, some exposition takes place here as Yoda confirms that Vader is Luke’s father Anakin. He also implies that there is another Skywalker. That thread isn’t left loose for long as Obi-Wan appears and fills in the blanks while justifying his earlier lie that Luke’s father was dead. The boys are rightly perturbed that Obi-Wan lied and can’t quite grasp the “certain point of view” argument he makes. Anyway, Luke realizes that Leia is his sister and that the final step on his journey is to confront Vader and try to turn him back to good. Kenobi is skeptical and Luke leaves.
While all this is going on, the Emperor has appeared at the Death Star and outlines his plan to Vader that Luke will come to him and then they will turn him to the dark side. He has allowed the rebels to know their location and believe them vulnerable so he can stomp them out for good with a hidden fleet of ships and the Death Stars operational weapon. The boys are intimidated by the Emperor, but I don’t think the tactical talk is sinking in much here.
No matter, the rebels rendezvous all together and make their battle plan. A small team will take down the Death Star’s shield generator on the moon below and the fleet will destroy the battle station and the Emperor with it.
So now it’s Act III and we’re on Endor. This is where the boys really get into it. The speeder bike scenes are amazing and they love the chases and effects. But yes, it’s the Ewoks appearance that really makes them giddy. The love the goofiness of the creatures and their mumbled language. They love that the Ewoks think 3PO is a god. It’s all good.
I’m starting to wonder if the boys have some kind of face-blindness though. It’s funny because any time a character changes outfits or hairstyles, they can’t recognize them. The obvious one is Leia, whose hair changes frequently. When she appears with her long hair down in the Ewok village, they immediately ask who that is. Same for when Han appears with his camouflage duster coat on Endor – who is that guy? My guess is that in the cartoons they usually watch, the characters have an established look and it very rarely changes during the course of many episodes. So this wardrobe rotation within a movie is a little new to them.
Along the same lines, my 5.5-year-old is color blind and has trouble distinguishing green and red. So when Luke ignited his new green lightsaber, he asked what color it was. In fact, when Luke and Vader fight, he said that their weapons actually looked like almost the same color to him. An interesting wrinkle in the central conflict of that duel being that Luke may in fact become like his father!
Oh, and Luke tells Leia that she’s his sister, leaves and then Leia and Han have a confusing lover’s quarrel that the boys could really do without.
Anyway, all the Ewok stuff happens and then it’s time to destroy the shield generator, but it’s all a trap! That’s when the big Ewok vs. Empire battle happens and the boys are in heaven! The little Ewoks comically battling the highly-trained stormtroopers and winning is right up these kids’ alley!
During all this, Luke gives himself up to the Empire and is brought to the Emperor for the Dark Side Pitch Meeting. Soon he’s fighting with Vader and we really start to wonder if he might actually let his anger and hate turn him to the dark side! The boys seem open to the idea that it could actually happen, especially when Luke angrily attacks Vader and cuts his hand off. But then Luke gives up the fight and the Emperor begins torturing him with force lightning. This is a jarring scene as we see our hero writhing on the ground and the boys are officially worried.
And that’s when Darth Vader grabs the Emperor and tosses him down the pit. There was still good in him after all! As the rebel fleet is turning the tide and about to destroy the Death Star, Luke and Darth are trying to escape and Luke takes the mask off his father. We finally get a look at Anakin and it isn’t pretty. The boys have many questions about why he had the mask and why he was all cut up under there, which I tell them is something we may learn in a different movie. The truth is, they can’t watch Episode III for quite a few years I think.
We conclude the film and the trilogy with a big party in the Ewok village (because why not?). The boys love the helmet drums that the Ewoks are playing of course. Everyone seems to be okay and happy again. Luke has burned his father’s body (or just the suit?) and joins the celebration. And he sees Obi-Wan, Yoda AND Anakin (not Hayden Christenson either!) as force ghosts looking happy in the afterlife.
And that’s the end! The boys loved it and I asked them which of the 3 movies was their favorite. They quickly replied that this one was. That could be just the afterglow effect, but I do think that the action scenes in this one resonated the most with them. Plus kids love Ewoks.
We had a short conversation about the fact that Darth Vader did have some good in him all this time and wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t be saved from the dark side. There’s good opportunity to talk about the Gospel in that character arc, for sure.
Next up, we’ll take a few steps down in quality and a trip 50 years back in time to watch Episode I: The Phantom Menace. And I’m quite worried that that film will quickly supplant Jedi as their favorite in the series.
This is probably the film that I watched most as a kid. In fact, the day my dad bought our first VHS player he also bought Return of the Jedi on VHS to watch on it. That was somewhere around 1987 or so I think. So we wore that tape out over the years. I have many sections of the film memorized.
There were some aspects and nuance that jumped out to me this time though.
One thing I noticed maybe for the first time was a line in the scene when Han and Leia are trying to hotwire the door to the shield generator and Leia gets shot. Stormtroopers quickly approach and tell Han to get his hands up. Leia signals with her blaster and then Han says, “I love you”, to which she replies, “I know”. It’s a callback to the famous line from Empire where they have the reverse interaction! Pretty cool way to highlight the perfection of that line again.
I also noticed more of the underlying Dark Side / Sith workings this time. In Empire, as Darth Vader is asking Luke to join him on the dark side, he says they could overthrow the Emperor and rule together. Vader had plans to move up to the Emperor chair and have Luke be his Vader! Now in Jedi, the Emperor actually has plans to get himself a younger protege and get rid of Vader! He tells Luke to strike Vader down and complete his journey to the dark side through the killing. We will learn in the prequel trilogy that with the Sith there are always two. So this is some cool foreshadowing and shows how evil and self-serving the dark side makes you – even against your own.
And of course, Han’s look of confusion and horror when Leia tells him that she and Luke are siblings is so priceless. It’s pretty clear in my mind that George Lucas made a lot of these twists up as he went along and just had to own them. I love this video treatment of the scene.
So there it is! We’re through the classic trilogy and we’ve loved almost every minute of it! Here’s hoping that the prequels are actually better than I remember them being!