Star Wars: Episode VI–The Return of the Jedi (1983) – 2

Richard Marquand

Love, Salvation, Redemption

Star Wars: Episode VI–The Return of the Jedi (1983).  Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas.  Directed by Richard Marquand.  Starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and James Earl Jones.  PG.  131 mins.  Rotten Tomatoes: 80%.

Nobody guessed it, and I mean nobody: exactly who was the Jedi that was to return?  Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)? After all she was the sister of Luke, the impetuous young Skywalker whose family line was “strong with the Force.”  Or was the title simply a giveaway that young Luke would somehow complete his training and proceed to defeat malevolent Darth Vader, his father.  Or maybe Han Solo, unbeknownst to Solo himself, also hailed from the Skywalker clan.  About the only candidate, apart from the droids, was Chewbacca, the giant furry whatever, and though a good fellow, he just seems utterly implausible, given what we know of the Force.  Apparently, the Force is something that only humans can imbibe.  Last, there was always the possibility of a real deus ex machina, a new figure who might out of nowhere arrive to save the Republic (such is the case with Rey [Daisy Ridley] the first in the new trilogy, The Force Awakens).

Of course, everybody now knows that the return meant just that, a return, preposterous as this one might seem.  The return turned out to be just that, a return, meaning someone gone who comes back, namely Luke Skywalker’s father Anakin, otherwise known as Darth Vader, pure violence and malevolence who, unbelievably, was once a Jedi, one who left for the Dark Side.  One look tells all we need to know, swelling robes, black upon black, radiant black storm-trooper-ish helmet, and that voice like a sword.  A Skywalker as bottom-feeder?  Preposterous.


Worse still was Vader’s servile, fawning subservience to the utterly loathsome Emperor, a dude who delights only in power, vengeance, and destruction.  He makes enemies just so he can delight in their destruction.


Still, apparently, as the tale would have it, love knows no bounds, and then some.  In the film’s closing minutes as the Empire’s Death Star fortress/weapon is about to explode, Luke the son risks returning to the Death Star to rescue of father Anakin, body and soul, telling him that he feels goodness in him still, despite the lousy odds of the Vader we’ve seen through three films feeling a twitch of remorse.  Dumb kid, we think; good luck with that, especially after he fights his father only to end up stricken on the floor, perfectly helpless game for the Emperor, who proceeds to execute the helpless boy with excruciating energy bolds.


Only then, in one of myth’s greatest reversals, only then, does Vader act, seeing first his own son writhing in pain and then the glee of the man frying that son.  To save his own son and to defeat such evil, Vader himself absorbs the lethal bolts as he grasps the Emperor to throw him to his death down a large shaft in the ship.  Bye-bye Emperor; a lost Jedi has indeed returned.

Luke rises to try to save his now mortally-wounded father who in turn urges his son to leave him behind in order to save his own young life.  When Luke urges that he has to save his father, Vader’s words blow the universe apart: “You already have,” for Luke’s ample faith in the Goodness and Power of the Force and his readiness to sacrifice his own life in an effort to “turn” his father has proven sufficient to redeem the man, as evident in his own willingness to die in order to save his son, and die he does.

So the denouement of the three-film-long space western is that Love does seem to make the galaxy go round, the very lesson Yoda has all along been trying to teach reckless young Luke Skywalker.  The old froglike creature, a most unlikely Jedi Master, puny and raspy of voice, is possessed of enormous power and wisdom, the gist of which is indeed care for this world and stark opposition to all that coarsens, divides, and destroys for the pleasure of doing so.  Wisely, George Lucas and his varied screenwriters refrain throughout from deploying the word love, though they describe it constantly.  To do otherwise would have turned the trilogy into a new-agey goop-fest.  So when the story fulfills and the wraps come off, so to speak, there is the smack of surprise and, well, an exultant leap of the heart, for love has done its thing, delivering and redeeming.  Jedi sets forth a full-bodied narrative representation of the incursion of Love into a pretty thoroughly nasty universe that has been made especially so by the maleficent Empire.  And that movement toward redemption is only made clearer and fuller in the film’s last scene (see Redemption).