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.
2.) After escaping Jabba’s palace, the newly promoted General Solo and General Calrissian (to this day I don’t understand how Lando made General so fast after literally betraying the leaders of the Rebel Alliance just a year prior to this) lead a two-pronged attack on the new Death Star. And it’s Han Solo’s crew who is in charge of disabling the Death Star’s shield on the forest moon of Endor.
I will give this first example a pass: When the stolen Imperial Shuttle approaches Endor, Vader knows Luke is on the it, but he lets the team pass because Vader wants to confront his son and hopefully talk Luke into joining his father for some galaxy ruling together. So, everyone should be dead here, but at least there’s a legitimate reason why they are not. (I’ll also let the Ewok capture slide, too. In reality, I don’t think the Ewoks alone could have killed the Rebel team.)
3.) Han and Leia are captured by Imperial forces while they are setting charges at the bunker. But the Stormtroopers don’t just kill them! There is no explanation for this! Surrounded, Han even throws a charge at an Imperial officer, knocking that officer over the edge of a platform and, we assume, killing him. The Imperials could have just shot everyone right then and there and the movie is over, the Empire wins. But, no. Instead, we get a lot of, “Freeze! Don’t move. We gotcha!” as Han and Leia and their team is marched out of the bunker.
What’s interesting about this is that the Rebels aren’t trying to capture Stormtroopers. The Rebels are just killing Stormtroopers left and right and not even thinking about it, but when the Empire could have just done the same thing, they don’t. There is no motivation to keep the Rebels alive in this instance. And, of course, once outside, the Rebels escape – only to be captured again!
4.) Han Solo is trying to hotwire the bunker door back open while Leia gives him some cover. Leia is shot in the arm, then the pair are surrounded by two Stormtroopers who have them dead to rights. It’s over. The two Stormtroopers are going to just shoot Han and Leia and save the Empire. Nope, they do some more, “Freeze! Don’t move. We gotcha!,” before Leia just shoots them.
So, right now, our heroes should have been killed four times during Return of the Jedi and only one of these reasons has a plausible explanation. For all the grief the Ewoks get in terms of, “they brought the Empire down and that’s dumb” – the truth is, they didn’t. The Empire had many chances to just kill the Rebels and be done with the whole thing and just decided not to for unknown reasons.
Honestly, The Force Awakens suffers from this, too. The First Order could have easily killed Han, Chewbacca, and Finn, but just decided to capture them instead – which gave them time to be rescued. This drives me nuts! And I hope going forward this type of situation is expelled into the Pit of Carkoon (or, better yet, just killed right there on the spot).
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