Recently, I watched Return of the Jedi for the first time in a while – like, really watched it as opposed to just having it on in the background, which happens far too often than I really want to admit.
Anyway, Return of the Jedi has always bugged me and I’ve never been able to fully grasp why. And not for the super-obvious reasons like, “Harrison Ford phoned in his underwritten role,” or, “Ewoks are annoying,” or, “They went back to the Death Star well.” But this time it finally hit me why. And I’m not going to pretend no one else has written about this, but I’m writing about it now for my own mental health. I want to get this of my chest and here it is:
Han, Luke, and Leia should have died at least three times in this movie. While the Rebel Alliance took a “shoot first” attitude, the Empire’s whole strategy was yelling, “Freeze! We got you!,” over and over and over again, giving the heroes time to escape over and over again. My gosh, this drives me nuts.
But before we get to the examples, let’s point out that this never happens in the first two films – which is another reason why they are both so great. In Star Wars, there’s never a scene in which our heroes are surrounded and the Empire just lets everyone live for no good reason. Yes, Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca are certainly surrounded by troops in the Death Star, but were never “caught” before they fought their way out and then were allowed to escape for a greater purpose: to track the Millennium Falcon to the Rebels’ secret hidden base.
In The Empire Strikes Back, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca are captured on Cloud City as they enter a banquet hall expecting dinner. Now, the reason this doesn’t count either is because (as you know because you are reading this), Vader needs the heroes alive so that he can torture them in an effort to get Luke Skywalker to rescue them – then very bad things happen to them.
Okay, back to Return of the Jedi: Here are all the moments our heroes should have died, but didn’t, because the story didn’t call for them to die.
1.) First of all, the whole Jabba’s palace sequence plays out like a Saturday Night Live sketch with character after character showing up, saying some words in front of Jabba, then promptly getting captured. This happens three times. Now, you’d think with the resources of the Rebel Alliance at their disposal, Leia and Luke and Lando could have just shown up with an army and said, “Hello, we are taking our friend Han back.” But, no, they went for “harebrained scheme” instead. (Now, if I remember correctly, the novelization addresses this by insinuating the Empire has a blockade set up around Tatooine in anticipation of a large-scale Rebel rescue attempt. So, fine.)
But, there is a moment when Han, Luke, Chewbacca, and Leia are all captured and could easily have just been killed right there on the spot but, instead, Jabba decided he wants to feed them all to the Sarlacc – which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but does set up a pretty nifty fight scene. But, regardless, our heroes should be dead right here but they are not.