Earlier this week, I was hanging out a local New York City neighborhood pub with a couple of friends and the bar started playing Return of the Jedi on one of its televisions, as this bar often does. Now, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time (and, this may come as a shock, my favorite Star Wars movie, too) but I may be more fascinated by Return of the Jedi, and not in a good way. It’s a movie where a lot of character decisions make almost no sense. (We’ve already been down the road that the Empire had many chances to kill the Rebels in this movie and just decided not to for some reason.) But, on this night earlier in the week, a question was asked that at the same time put everything about this movie in perspective and no one could properly answer. That question is:
If Luke’s plan to rescue Han from Jabba had worked perfectly, what would that plan have been?
Seriously, no one could answer this question. (And this wasn’t a group of Star Wars slouches either; frequent Star Wars author Jason Fry was part of this group.) So let’s kind of go through what does happen in the opening act of Return of the Jedi, character by character, and see if it makes any sense.
C-3PO and R2-D2: They are the first characters we see show up at Jabba’s palace. R2-D2 plays a recording of Luke Skywalker who states that he’d like to bargain for Han and, as a gesture of goodwill, gives Jabba C-3PO and R2-D2 as gifts. So now, right off the bat, C-3PO and R2-D2 are captured. And, yes, Luke knowing that Jabba would turn down Luke’s offer for a bargain was probably part of his plan. But I do wonder what would happen if Jabba had said, “Oh, this is a good deal. Yes, I accept these droids and you can have Han Solo.” What would Luke have done then? I think, in good faith, Luke would have had to just leave C-3PO and R2-D2 behind. And we would have gotten a scene with a forlorn Luke telling Leia, “Yeah, I really misjudged Jabba. He seems nice.”
Lando: Lando is already working as a skiff guard when Return of the Jedi opens. I’ve always wondered about his interview process. I can only assume Lando had to interview with someone higher up, like Bib Fortuna.
Bib: “So, you want to be our new skiff guard?”
Lando: “I do.”
Bib: “You look familiar.”
Lando: “Nope, I’m just a resident of Tatooine looking for a job.”
Bib: “Do you like the musical styling of the Max Rebo Band?”
Bib: “Well, you’re hired. Head downstairs past the dungeon and Rancor pit and we can get you set up with a uniform and a helmet mask.”
Anyway, even though Lando is there, he doesn’t really do much until later in “the plan” except let us know he’s there.
Leia: Disguised as a bounty hunter named Boushh, Leia strolls in and hands over Chewbacca. So already three of our heroes have been captured as part of this, “Let’s just all surrender,” plan. Later that night, Leia unfreezes Han, but as they start to make their getaway, Jabba and all his friends are literally hiding behind a curtain and capture Leia and Han. (I’d watch a whole A Star Wars Story offshoot movie about Jabba planning this curtain surprise. I’d love to see him explain to Weequay, “And then we will all be super quiet and just wait there behind the curtain all night. It’s going to be great. Okay, yes, it might take a few hours, but the payoff will be worth it. We will all laugh.” I also picture Squid Head back there, “Ohhhh, I think I see someone moving. I think this is it!,” and the rest of the gang all shushing him. “Shhhhhh, Squid Head, you’re going to ruin it!”) Okay, so now, including Han, we have five heroes captured.
Luke: In now what starts to feel like a repetitive SNL sketch, Luke Skywalker is the fifth hero to stand before Jabba and start demanding the release of Solo and Chewbacca. (What is Jabba thinking at this point? I can only guess, “This has been a weird day.”) So at this point, Luke tries to use a Jedi mind trick on Jabba, to which Jabba responds, “Your mind powers will not work on me, boy.” Was this the plan? Did everything get thrown off right here? When that didn’t work, was Luke thinking, “Aw, crap, well now we are screwed”? Luke then tells Jabba he can either profit or be destroyed. Jabba, kind of understandably, reacts unfavorably to this demand and sends Luke down to the Rancor pit. Anyway, the end result is Luke gets captured. Now everyone but Lando is captured.
Okay, so what was this plan? Seriously. If you have a legitimate answer, I would like to know.
Everything culminates when Luke, Han, and Chewbacca are going to be thrown into the Sarlacc. Luke signals for R2-D2 to shoot him over his lightsaber – and after a dazzling backflip, Luke starts killing hard-working, blue-collar skiff guards. There’s no way this was “the plan.” Yes, Luke planed for his lightsaber to be with R2-D2, but there’s no way this was Luke playing three-dimensional chess, “And then, after I beat the Rancor, instead of killing us all right there on the spot, Jabba will send us to the Sarlacc and that’s where we make our move!” So let’s not try to pretend that what happened was “the plan.” There are way too many variables. And that would have to assume Leia knew her and Han would be captured after she unfroze him, which makes no sense. Speaking of that, what happens if those two had just walked out? Do we go back to Luke, “Hm, well this is good news you two escaped, but before all this Jabba had one of us and now he has three. Maybe we should have thought this plan through a bit more.”
So, back to that night at the bar, we did come up with one explanation and it’s the only thing that even starts to make sense, even though it still doesn’t make total sense: Luke, Lando, and Leia never once spoke to each other about rescuing Han. It’s just coincidence they were all there at the same time. Or if they did speak before, they all just said things like, “Well, you know, he was deserting us anyway. I think we should just forget about him,” as they secretly forged their own separate missions.
So Lando, on his own, gets a job as a skiff guard and is still casing out the place, playing all the angles and trying to decide the best time to make his move. This is when the droids show up, throwing everything off. And when we first see Lando, he kind of has a look on his face that says, “Well this is going to mess up everything.”
Leia and Chewbacca conspire, on their own, to infiltrate Jabba’s palace with the whole, “I brought you Chewbacca, so now let me hang out here and party,” plan. Leia is thinking she will unfreeze Han, which she does, then I guess figure out a way to help Chewbacca? And she had to be wondering what the hell C-3PO was doing there as Jabba’s interpreter.
Luke uses the droids as a decoy as a way to sneak his lightsaber into Jabba’s palace, which didn’t really seem to be needed because no one really checked him for weapons, but maybe he couldn’t rely on that not happening. Luke is thinking, “Okay, I’ll just cruise in there, do a mind trick, and we’ll get Han and the droids back and be out of there lickety-split. If there are any problems, R2-D2 will shoot me over my lightsaber.” Then Luke gets in front of Jabba, his mind trick doesn’t work, R2-D2 is nowhere to be seen, and for some reason, Leia is there as a prisoner.
This is the best explanation we could come up with. If you have a better one, please make it known. It’s been 35 years since Return of the Jedi came out, it’s time we knew, exactly, what was Luke’s plan?
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