Fact: Star Wars is freaking awesome.
Fact: Though the prequels were 70% sucky, they can never un-awesome the original trilogy.
Fact: Star Wars isn’t just for nerds.
Maybe I’m the wrong person to make that claim since I am one of the nerdiest people I know, but I’m going to claim it anyway. Star Wars is not just sci-fi. It’s not just a series of action movies with sometimes questionable special effects. Star Wars (and let’s just agree here that when I say “Star Wars,” I’m referring to the original trilogy) is full of the most tried and tested story elements of all time–it’s practically modern mythology. You’ve got the young farm boy, who’s trying to prove himself and discover his destiny; the princess, who’s been updated from damsel in distress to ass-kicking politician; the pirate, who finds redemption and something to fight for; the mentor(s), who have to die so that their mentee can prove himself; and the villain, who’s both terrifying and ultimately tragic. Star Wars takes the stories that have survived for generations and puts them in a setting that’s new and exciting. Hope, redemption, coming of age, love, death, hate…Star Wars has it ALL (and Ewoks, too!).
Keeping all this mind, that this is a story about archetypes and redemptive journeys, I’m going to make an argument that’s probably not very popular among my fellow Star Wars devotees: Return of the Jedi is actually amazing and a totally fitting end to the trilogy, minus some weird things that maybe aren’t so awesome.
- First point: Luke Skywalker. ROTJ is when Luke becomes a man. In the first one, he’s still a boy, and in Empire, he’s in that transition period. But when we first see Luke enter Jabba’s palace, he’s confident, he’s completely in control, and he’s undeniably a Jedi Knight. He’s gone through such a journey to get where he is, and seeing Luke through that journey is so rewarding. During his confrontation with Vader and the Emperor, Luke is tested one last time, and he almost succumbs. But he finds the strength of will to put aside his anger and tell the Emperor that he’s a Jedi, like his father before him. I know this makes me sound like a monumental geek, but that is the moment I’m proudest of Luke. This is the moment everything’s been leading up to, from the scene Obi-Wan first gives him his father’s lightsaber. This is the culmination of Luke’s journey.
- Second point: Vader’s redemption. All right, I should admit that I am a sucker for redemption stories. They get me EVERY TIME. And this one is no different. Actually, maybe it’s the reason why I love redemption stories so much. For two movies now, we’ve seen Darth Vader be scary and mean and menacing and totally awesome. There’s a glimmer in Empire of his redemption–he convinces the Emperor that turning Luke to the Dark Side is a better plan than killing him–even then, trying to protect his son in some way. This little moment becomes the basis for his redemption in ROTJ. He’s very literally put between the Emperor and Luke, and he chooses Luke. He dies for him. I’m not going to lie–the part when he tells Luke that he was right about him kind of makes me teary-eyed. As does the part where Luke burns his father’s suit. And maybe that part at the end when Luke sees the three spirit. Okay, basically, this whole redemption thing makes me cry. I remember being so shocked when I saw it the first time–it seemed so absolute that either Luke or Vader had to die, and then something so much more profound than good vs. evil happened, instead. I…might need a tissue.
- Third point: Max Rebo. Look at him! He’s so cute! I just wanna squeeze him.
- Fourth point: Emperor Palpatine. What? He’s awesome. And he has really good diction. Maybe the fact that he’s arguably the best part of the prequels has made me oddly fond of Palpatine, but really, he’s just so awesomely evil. (Oh wow, when I finished writing that sentence, I had a word count of exactly 666. I think that says it all.)
- Fifth point: LEIA STRANGLES JABBA WITH THE CHAIN THAT ENSLAVED HER. HELL YEAH.
- Sixth point: Seriously, though, Han and Leia. Obviously, Luke is the “new hope” for the galaxy, but Han and Leia both represent a sense of hope for the future, too. They’re the couple. Their babies are going to be living in this new world that they’ve created for them. Leia’s the political force behind the Alliance, and she’s going to be a major force in rebuilding the Republic. (God, I sound like such a nerd.) They fight side by side in this movie, and they WIN. Leia’s got her hair all down, and she represents this maternal force that’s been missing since the death of the Old Republic and the death of her own mother. Han’s found redemption. He has something and someone to fight for, and I’m really glad George Lucas didn’t listen to Harrison Ford and kill him off. They represent the future.
And I’m going to stop there, because that’s the sixth point, and it’s Episode VI, and also, because I’ve just out-nerded myself. I could also mention that there are some great comic moments in the movie (C-3PO’s a god!), and that I’m fond of Ewoks. But really, it’s the theme of redemption and growth in the movie that makes it my personal favorite of the trilogy. Yes, Empire is more solid and less fluffy, but I find ROTJ to be a satisfying and moving end to a saga that’s about so much more than spaceships and funny looking aliens.