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Star Wars, Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983).

February 11, 2011

The Scoop:
I suppose this piece could be subtitled “Luke Skywalker: Impractical, Untactical Genius.”

There’s really no point in writing a full-on review of “Return of the Jedi” at this juncture. The film is just too well-known and too much a part of the world’s collective psyche to bother with that. But I do want to say a few words about the opening sequence, in which Luke springs his elaborate plan to save Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.

But first, let’s take a quick look back at Luke’s previous tactical planning experience, which leaves a lot to be desired. In Episode IV, his big contribution is his plan to break Leia out of the detention level in the Death Star. Gaining access by claiming Chewbacca was a prisoner was an inspired idea, but his planning and foresight ended there. He had no plan for neutralizing the guards without causing a general security alert throughout the station, and he hadn’t even studied the layout enough to know that there was only one exit on that level, which was swarming with reinforcements. It took first Leia, and then R2-D2, to save everyone’s asses.

Of course, later in the film Luke secured his standing with the Rebel Alliance by destroying the Death Star. But there was no tactical skill involved there. The Rebel generals drew up the attack plan while Luke was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. All he had to do was hit his target, which even he admitted was simple because it was just like bullseyeing womp rats in his T-16 back home.

Then in Episode V he again tried to rescue his friends, this time from the clutches of Darth Vader in Cloud City. Again without an apparent plan, and ignoring Yoda’s and Obi Wan’s explicit advice, he plunged ahead, only to walk right into Vader’s trap. There he proceeded to catch a vicious beating from his old man, lose a hand and get the “I am your father” bombshell dropped on him. Meanwhile, Han got frozen in carbonite and turned over to Boba Fett.

All of which brings us to Episode VI. Luke, who is a general in the rebel army by this point, has also apparently worked on his Jedi training a bit more in between films. You’d think this would add up to some more sophisticated tactical skills. But his grand scheme to free Han seems to rely more on luck than actual planning. (And, thanks to some exposition by Chewbacca, we know that the credit for this plan goes entirely to Luke.)

Apparently having decided that a direct frontal assault on Jabba’s palace would be too difficult (a wise decision, actually), Luke devises a plan to infiltrate the palace by sneaking Lando, Leia, Chewie and the droids inside to set up his own visit. So far, not too bad. But the execution ends up leaving something to be desired.

First, we see the droids arriving. R2-D2 comes bearing a message to Jabba from Luke – he wishes to bargain for Han and the droids are a gift. Not a bad way to start. And we discover that C-3PO is completely ignorant of the plan, which is also a sound decision. That guy just can’t keep a secret. However, we discover later that R2 is not only in on the plan, but is also smuggling in Luke’s light saber.

This is the first problem.

Why would Luke intentionally separate himself from a Jedi’s most trusted weapon? For a big dramatic reveal later? Waiting for dramatic reveals just gets you killed. Also, by having R2 carry the light saber, that means R2 has to be trusted to be close at hand when the time is right for Luke to get it back. How can R2 guarantee that when he’s now a gift to Jabba? How could they know what Jabba would do with these new droids? Would he have them stripped for spare parts? Resold to the Jawas? Or, as it turned out, exiled to a job in a remote part of the palace? At least that was R2’s fate. C-3PO is the one who wound up close at hand in the throne room, and he’s the one who didn’t need to be there because, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the film series up to this point, he’s completely useless in a crisis. And he’s put to work as a translator, which is totally pointless since it’s obvious that Jabba can hold his own in multiple languages just fine.

Next to arrive are Leia, disguised as a bounty hunter, and Chewie, pretending to be a prisoner. It’s the same ploy that failed so spectacularly in Episode IV. After some chit-chat and macho posturing with a thermal detonator, Chewie gets escorted to the dungeon and undercover Leia gets invited to hang around the palace. That is, until she blows her cover by releasing Han from the carbonite and getting caught. So off Han goes to the dungeon with Chewie. And Leia –much to the benefit of Jabba and the audience, but not to the benefit of Luke and the gang – gets to become the new dancing slave girl. Well played there, your highness.

It’s also at this point that we discover that Lando is already in the palace, working undercover as a security guard. How did he get that gig? The vetting process must have been real shoddy to let him get that close to Jabba that quickly, especially in a criminal organization that’s as extensive as Jabba’s. Granted, when recruiting from the criminal underworld, you can expect that most of your applicants will be pretty shady characters. But still, you’d think that wanting to take down the big boss would be pretty high on an interviewer’s list of red flags. Plus, outside of Boba Fett, he’s the only human in the joint. That’s gotta stick out like a sore thumb.

So anyway, at this point, with Jabba pretty much thwarting every attempt at infiltration – Leia enslaved, Han and Chewie imprisoned, R2 nowhere to be found, C-3PO being his useless self – Luke finally decides to show up. He’s armed only with a blaster and his lack of planning quickly becomes apparent. As far as I can tell, it looks like his whole grand scheme consisted of just using the Jedi mind trick on Jabba, then having everybody else pile on the guards. Of course, Lando’s the only one in any position to do any piling on and to make matters worse, Luke decides to stand on top of the trap door to the Rancor pit. So when the mind trick doesn’t work on Jabba, he’s screwed. He tries to shoot Jabba, only to lose his blaster as he falls through the trap door. He’s eventually able to kill the Rancor, using only some spare bones and his Jedi wiles. Luke shows some good skills in surviving that scrape, but it’s obviously a position he never should have been in in the first place.

The death of the Rancor really gets Jabba pissed off, so it’s off to Sarlaac pit with our heroes. And once everyone’s out on the sail barge, they’re able to defeat Jabba handily. The whole gang is in one place, the barge isn’t as heavily defended as the palace, and Luke is able to get his light saber back. So it all works out.

Except, nothing in Luke’s plan set up this victory. It was just pure dumb luck that got everyone on that sail barge. (Or, to be more precise, narrative convenience for George Lucas.) Sheesh.

So why did Luke get to be the one to put the whole plan together? Is it just because he was the last of the Jedis? That’s nice and all, but it doesn’t trump real world results. Of the little group, only C-3PO is more tactically useless. Why not let Lando plan the job? He didn’t get much of an opportunity in the films to show what he could do, but after having been the administrator of Cloud City for so long, he must have some leadership skills. Or how about Leia? She definitely had proven herself as a leader. Even R2 is pretty handy in a fight.

But the one who really should have been in charge of this job was Chewbacca. Not only did he have years of experience in the criminal underworld as a smuggler, he also worked for Jabba and must’ve had plenty of inside knowledge. Plus, as the prequels established, he also had combat experience in the Clone Wars. That’s a storehouse of premium tactical knowledge right there. And yet he’s forever the sidekick while Luke gets to be the hero. There’s just no justice, I tell ya.

Best Line:
It might not be from the Jabba’s palace sequence, but there’s no way you can beat “It’s a trap!”

Side Note:
Before Richard Marquand was hired to direct this film, the job was reportedly offered to Steven Spielberg, Paul Verhoeven, David Lynch and David Cronenberg.

Companion Viewing:
Compare and contrast with the other two movies in the series with significant portions set on Tatooine, “Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope” (1977) and “Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999).


Take a Look:
The original trailer:

Let’s try that Chewie-as-a-prisoner thing again:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. tinaw permalink
    February 11, 2011 12:17 pm

    I agree that Luke’s plans worked based on dumb luck, and more specifically, the will of the writer. In reality, the whole operation would have been cut short. Once Jabba realized that he’d been infiltrated, security would have tightened, the infiltrators sifted out and killed without ceremony. In reality, the one where Tunisia is run by a gargantuan criminal slug.

    But the lack of reality starts before this movie. Princess Leia knew upon meeting him that Luke wasn’t much of a planner. He had some talent, he helped get her out of prison — these things would guarantee his entry into the rebel alliance. But the fact that she had to take over almost immediately after she was out of her cell would make her think twice before allowing or even suggesting that he be given any sort of leadership role.

    The movie itself is a bit of a disappointment. I felt that even at 9 years old. If Stephen Spielberg had been able to direct the movie, many of the idiotic parts (Ewoks jumping on Stormtroopers? Ugh!) might have been worked in such a way as to seem plausible. Also, the destruction of the second Death Star was anti-climatic. We had already seen this. Lucas said he was forced to use that in the first movie, because his treatment was too long and needed to be split up. I understand that. But, perhaps if he had spent a couple more weeks on the screenplay (why not? He’d already been working on it for a year), he might have been able to create a conflict for the first episode that would have presented a threat and an urgency that would save the destruction of the Death Star for the finale, as originally intended. Or at the very least, he could have thought of something else to destroy in the finale and not *yawn* another Death Star.

    Just my two cents. I love talking about Star Wars.

    • February 11, 2011 2:49 pm

      Yeah, reality – or even plausibility – didn’t enter much into the screenplay. And you’re right, a better director could’ve smoothed over some of those rough spots. What I didn’t realize until I did a little research while writing this is that Lucas was in such a snit with the DGA at the time that he didn’t want to hire a union member to direct it. That’s why he settled on some unknown guy with only a few TV episodes to his credit instead of the better, bigger names I listed above. Any one of them would’ve turned in a better film.

      But having said that, I loved it in the theater as a 12-year-old and I still enjoy it now. Mostly in a turn-off-my-brain sort of way, but still…

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