While growing up in the late eighties/early nineties, the original Star Wars trilogy was unquestionably linked to the Thanksgiving holiday, often playing marathon-style on one of the national broadcast networks. While many fellow Star Wars fans will argue that The Empire Strikes Back is definitively the best of the original three films, I’ve always preferred (much to the chagrin of some) Return of the Jedi, especially as a young geek who used many of its morals and messages to help build my world view and determine just exactly who I wanted to be. What follows are just a handful of the life lessons present in Return of the Jedi that I’m thankful for having in my life during my formative years.
Revenge is not a Jedi concept.
When Lawrence Kasdan mentioned to George Lucas that Return of the Jedi was a weak title, it inspired Lucas to rename the film Revenge of the Jedi. Only a matter of weeks before the film opened, Lucas changed the title back to Return of the Jedi. His reasoning? Revenge is simply not a Jedi concept.
It’s a moment in Star Wars history that perfectly illustrates the genius of Lucas and the power of the concept of Jedi Knight’s as warrior monks who use the Force for “…knowledge and defense, never for attack.” This subtle change speaks volumes and certainly helped this young geek forge a set of beliefs that was quite uncommon during a period of pop culture anti-heroes who found satisfaction in the destruction of their enemies.
Boba Fett (a.k.a. Ice Cold Badass) dies exactly the way he should.
Boba Fett, intergalactic bounty hunter and all-around badass, dies a horrible death because a “blind” Han Solo bumps into him.
Some fans are still outraged over this death for their beloved Fett. Some call his death lame. Some say it shows what a joke Fett actually is. My personal opinion is that not only does it not change how badass Fett is, it’s the absolute perfect way for him to go out. Genghis Khan fell from his horse while hunting and died from his injuries. Attila the Hun died from a nosebleed. Why shouldn’t the baddest bounty hunter in the galaxy meet his end in an equally pathetic and ironic fashion? In reality, no one’s a badass all the time, and everyone shits their pants when they die.
Han Solo learns to say “I’m sorry.”
Shortly after Luke reveals to Leia that he is her brother and Darth Vader is their father, Leia finds herself unable to share that impactful news with Han. In classic Han fashion, the smuggler jealously questions if she’d rather tell Luke than him and begins to storm off as Leia breaks down. Realizing his error and callousness, Han returns, apologizes, and takes Leia in his arms, unexpectedly using the moment to strengthen their bond instead of weakening it.
The growth of Han throughout the series is an important narrative for young people, demonstrating the value of learning to care for others beyond yourself and fighting for causes that are bigger and more important beyond just bringing you immediate, individual gain. Han’s moment with Leia in Return of the Jedi continues this character progression, but also reveals a clear effort by Han to change for the better and place someone else’s concerns before his own. It’s a fairly spot-on depiction of a mature, healthy relationship, where no one is perfect, apologies come quickly, and the members of the partnership strive to support one another.
Luke Skywalker as a role model
As a young geek, Luke Skywalker was the ultimate role model. Not because he was the hero of the story, but, despite his fear and uncertainty, he faced absolute evil and resisted its corruption. Luke stands by his beliefs and is willing to die for them. (In fact, he expects and accepts that outcome.)
When pushed to the extreme and manipulated by the threats made against his friends, Luke does temporarily give into his anger, slicing his father’s hand off in an ominous callback to their conflict on Cloud City. Realizing his misstep, Luke stops himself and centers himself emotionally, tossing his weapon away and informing the Emperor that the Sith’s attempt to turn him has failed. In one of the most emotionally satisfying and powerful moments in the trilogy, Luke stands between the Emperor and a fallen Vader, stating, “I’m a Jedi, like my father before me.” Luke’s acknowledgment of the good left in the twisted and broken Anakin and the palpable anger in the Emperor’s retort of “So be it, Jedi” illustrate that this was never a physical conflict as much as a battle for the fate of Luke and, more importantly, the soul of Darth Vader. Luke’s repeated vocal declaration that there is still good in his father flies in the face of all that he’s been told about Vader (whether from Yoda and Obi-Wan or the Emperor), but it’s also the act of love that, in the end, opens the door for Anakin's redemptive actions.
Luke was the example of a hero who avoided physical conflict except when absolutely necessary. In my youth, Luke taught me to have moral certainties that I held true and to believe in the ultimate power of kindness, empathy, and compassion.
Ewoks confirm size matters not
There’s a puzzling hate of Ewoks in the Star Wars community, with claims that their supposed “cuteness” taints Return of the Jedi in some sort of despicable way. This is nothing more than Imperial propaganda, my friends, as the Ewoks unmistakably represent a major theme in the Star Wars mythos.
“Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm?”
As Yoda explained and Star Wars reminds us time and again, assumptions based on appearance are foolish (and often detrimental to your health). And, frankly, if we go by what’s shown on screen in Return of the Jedi, Ewoks are hardcore. They eat people. They set booby traps. They fight brutally. They die with honor.
Inspired by the Vietcong forces fighting an over confident and technologically superior foe, the Ewoks have both a thematic importance in the overall Star Wars saga and serve as a memory of lessons from our country’s past. As a young fan, the depiction the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi spoke to me in several ways, including convincing me not to underestimate those who are seen as weak and dismissed by others.
No one is irredeemable
It seems that, these days, many would disagree with this concept, but it’s an absolute truth that no one is irredeemable. Even if they don’t deserve it. As Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Rupert Giles once stated, “To forgive is an act of compassion… It's not done because people deserve it. It's done because they need it.”
Vader’s crimes are not forgotten or washed away. If the Star Wars expanded (now “Legends”) universe is to be believed, his children will struggle with the his evil legacy for years beyond his death. In this new era of Star Wars, Vader’s destructive presence continues on through Ben Solo’s misguided worship and idolization of his grandfather. But in a moment of epically dire importance, Anakin chooses love over hate and changes the course of the galaxy for the better.
Yoda becomes one with the Force… as will everyone.
It was a moment that wasn’t even included in the original drafts of Return of the Jedi, but the passing of the great Jedi Master is huge impactful, as is his message that all beings, no matter how powerful, must eventually become part of the living Force. It’s a important lesson for young people, who, in my experience, often have thoughts and fears surrounding death that remain unanswered by the adults around them. Yoda’s peaceful acceptance of his own mortality illustrates how death is a part of life, and his actions lie in direct contrast to Anakin and the Sith’s attempts to use their powers to stall or avoid the inevitable at any cost.
Everyone looks cool in all black.