During the months of November and December, leading up to the release of The Rise of Skywalker and the end of the Skywalker Saga, I’ll be highlighting my favorite scene from each of the ten Star Wars movies.
Today, we’re looking at Return of the Jedi, the conclusion of the original trilogy.
Listen, I think everyone at this point can more or less recognize Return as a film that is far from perfect. The first act is way too long, Luke’s plan to save Han doesn’t quite make sense, and the Endor scenes are just a little too aimless. But these are things you don’t think about when you watch the confrontation between Luke, Darth Vader, and the Emperor.
Luke has surrendered himself to Vader and the Emperor in the hopes that he can convince his father to turn away from the Dark Side.
I particularly like Palpatine’s set up here; the Emperor gives Luke three choices. Give into the Dark Side, kill the Emperor, Vader and Luke rule together. Give into the Dark Side, kill Vader, and become the Emperor’s new apprentice. Or, give into Vader, be killed, and allow Vader and the Emperor to take over the Galaxy.
Luke eventually realizes that the only way to win this game is not to play; he only does this by being driven to the very edge of violence and nearly killing his father. Very dramatically, he tosses away his lightsaber and delivers one of his best lines: “Never. I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
People hated Luke’s dark attributes in The Last Jedi, entirely forgetting that we first saw them here. Luke gets very close to murder several times here.
Losing control, Luke nearly kills both Vader and the Emperor, which isn’t exactly “the Jedi way.” Pointedly, Luke’s journey in this movie is about overcoming his darker thoughts, and deciding not to kill… after getting very close to killing. In the end, Luke is ready to let the Emperor kill him, and knows that this is likely the best way to save his father.
All I’ve done so far in thus post is talk about the strategy behind Luke and the Emperor in these scenes, but the fight between Vader and Luke is actually pretty spectacular. Unlike in Empire, you get the sense that they’re more evenly matched. The fight has the neat little interlude where Luke is hiding and doesn’t want to fight, but Vader senses through the Force that he has a sister and says that he’ll seek her out too, which causes Luke to go into a frenzy. He’s frantic, and he’s angry, but that’s what makes him strong here.
This frenzy gives us that long, continuous shot of the two fighting, with Luke pushing Vader further and further back. It ends in Luke furiously hacking away at Vader, cutting off his hand. Which, brings us back to Luke’s struggle between Light and Dark.
People hate Last Jedi for having Luke who they think isn’t quite the Luke they remember. But the character has never been an entirely-good paragon, and we shouldn’t act like he was. Luke’s a character with flaws, and damn it, that’s what makes him interesting.