A gigantic, creaking door slowly grinds open. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this, but now we’re seeing it from the inside looking out, not the other way around. A hooded figure dressed in black saunters in, starkly contrasted by the radiant light streaming in from a blistering Tatooine afternoon. The figure appears calm, collected, and, to a degree, menacing. Then again, he is entering Jabba’s Palace, a perfect den for the galaxy’s most unpleasant and heinous inhabitants. A Gamorrean guard stops the figure, but is quickly force-choked into complacency. Found by Jabba’s assistant, Bib Fortuna, the man is told he is not welcome, but with a wave of his hand and a few muttered words, he is received hospitably. The conniving sorcerer is brought before Jabba. Awoken and upset, Jabba demands who is important enough to explain why he, the great Hutt, has been disturbed. The figure removes his hood. To our shock, we find Luke Skywalker, the passionate and, often misguided hero of Star Wars.
For many, it’s difficult to see Return of the Jedi as the best film of the original trilogy. The first third of it is spent in a repugnant and disturbing grotto of the galaxy’s filth, it features the loveable, yet peculiar and bizarre Ewoks, and it asks viewers to go along with the fact that the Empire builds a second Death Star. Despite these weaknesses, however, Jedi does what A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back never could have done: it made Star Wars whole. Sure, Hope has the original assault on the Death Star. Empire’s got Luke and Vader’s first confrontation (which is full of some of most compelling tension a battle could ever have.) Jedi, on the other hand, has its own, better and more fulfilled versions of both of these and its own substantive and fascinating qualities.
Jedi is where we see the only character development in the whole trilogy. In both Hope and Empire, Luke is described as a whiny, yet ambitious kid who has the Force and a bit of talent on his side. First he’s completely dissatisfied staying at home on Tatooine, then he’s extremely impatient in becoming a Jedi. His desires change, but he doesn’t. These are necessary plot points for Luke, but they are not examples of where Luke is the most intriguing in the series. Luke is most interesting in Jedi, after he has completed his training and is actually ready to confront his father, and where we see him as this wise and masterful Jedi.
The same can be said of Han Solo. In the first two films, we see this narcissistic rogue out to make a quick buck to pay off his debts. Sure, he unnecessarily drops in to save the day at the end of Hope, but at the beginning of Empire, we see him ready to run off on his own with Chewie, of course) once again. The only reason he doesn’t get the hell out of dodge is because the Falcon’s broken. In Jedi, we see this devoted and compassionate Rebellion general, loyal to his cause and friends. While it’s fun and, again, necessary to see the snaky bandit Han was, it’s much more fascinating to see the admirable hero he transforms into.
Speaking of change, is that loud and muffled breathing I hear? When it comes to Darth Vader, Jedi allows for one of most compassionate and effective character developments in cinematic history. One of the most striking moments in the film is when Luke allows himself to be captured. He tells Vader to come back to the light side of the Force and Vader responds, “It is too late for me, son.” And that is where we finally see the crack in his armor. That is where we finally find the man behind the mask.
When we finally get to Vader and Luke’s duel, it’s no longer about the spectacle. It’s about the emotions seeping through the scene. The battle between Vader and Luke is the shortest battle in all of Star Wars, but it is entirely the most effective. It’s no longer an old man fighting his (almost impossible to believe) friend, or a kid dueling an unconquerable force. We see a son defending his sister. A son reaching out for the man that he knows his father is, not the machine he appears to be.
That’s what gives Star Wars its power. It’s not its action, not its universe, but its storytelling and the fulfillment of its story. Finality and resolution are always more rewarding than suspense, and while Hope and Empire make for great suspense, Jedi took that suspense to the entirely proper conclusion it needed to be drawn to. Jedi was the master that Luke always sought to—and did—become.
Featured Image By 20th Century Fox