47 Great Movie Moments #7 – Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi (1983)

Directed by:  Richard Marquand

Newly-trained Jedi warrior Luke Skywalker and rebel leader Princess Leia team up to rescue their friend Han Solo from capture, before moving ahead with a daring plan to defeat the Empire forever.

The Set-up

In the previous movie, Han Solo was captured by bounty hunters and handed over to Jabba the Hutt, a huge, disgusting slug-like gangster to whom Han owed money.  Luke Skywalker has sent droids R2-D2 and C-3P0 ahead as gifts to Jabba in his efforts to negotiate with him.  These efforts fail, though, and eventually Leia finds herself enslaved to Jabba while Luke, Han and Chewbacca the Wookie are to be executed.  They are brought by a ship that sails over sand to the edge of the pit of Carkoon, a big hole in the desert where a creature called the Sarlaac lives who will happily consume them and then digest them over 1000 years (eww…).

The Moment

Jabba announces that it is time for the prisoners to die.  Luke is pushed out over the pit on a plank while his friends watch helplessly on.  Han Solo is nervous but defiant, but Luke remains icy calm.  He speaks out, “Jabba, this is  your last chance.  Free us, or die.”  Jabba, of course, laughs, and the other heroes look on with uncertainty.  Suddenly Luke jumps off, turns mid-air, grabs the plank with his hands and launches back up over everyone’s head, grabbing the new, green light-sabre that R2-D2 has smuggled in and shot into the air, and unleashing all his Jedi fury on Jabba’s entourage.

The scene is brilliant at building anticipation and suspense.  We know that Luke is not going to die, we know that he is going to make good on his threat to destroy Jabba, but we have no idea how.  The thrill is watching it play out before us. Up to this point in the Star Wars saga, this fight was the most Jedi-awesomeness that we had seen–the first time we ever really saw one go into combat.  It’s also caps off some great character development for Luke:  when we last saw him, he was still a bit whiny and out of his depth; now for the first time we see him in command and in control of himself.

The Payoff

The ensuing fight demonstrates one of the strengths of Return of the Jedi, which is its ability to show multiple streams of action side-by-side.  We get this especially during the climax, with the final battle taking place on three simultaneous fronts.  But here, even though the conflict is all in one area, the scene does a great job cross-cutting between Luke jumping around and light-sabreing down a bunch of pig guards while Han Solo resuces Lando Calrissian from the pit (accidentally killing Boba Fett in the process) and Princess Leia strangles the life out of Jabba the Hutt.  It’s a well edited sequence which gives all of our stars heroic moments (even R2-D2) and provides the perfect action set-piece for the first act of this movie which is quite different than anything we’ve seen before, and prepares us for the fun ride that will follow.

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