Study Guide

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Analysis

  • The Force

    Let's be honest: It's difficult to tidily sum up what the Force represents. It's deliberately abstract, and it's shrouded in more mystery than Sia.

    In the simplest terms, the Force represents transcendence, which is a fancy way of saying that those who possess the Force aren't restrained by the same limits that the rest of us are. It's how Luke and Darth Vader share a telepathic bond, for example, and are able to sense each other's feelings and physical presence:

    DARTH VADER: A small rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor.

    THE EMPEROR: Yes, I know.

    DARTH VADER: My son is with them.

    THE EMPEROR: Are you sure?

    DARTH VADER: I have felt him, my master.

    We love our cat, Sir Shmoops-A-Lot, but we can't read his thoughts because we're just ordinary folks who don't have the Force. (If we did, then we'd probably just know he wants to barf in our shoes.)

    Because Luke uses the Force for good and Darth Vader and the Emperor use it for evil, the Force also symbolizes morality. It's just like Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: with great power comes great responsibility.

    By bestowing all those who have the Force with spiritual clout, the Force, well, forces all those who have it to make important, sometimes life-or-death choices. You can break bad like the Emperor and pump young punks full of Force Lightning on your path to galaxy-wide domination… or you can go the Jedi route like Luke, Yoda, and Obi-Wan and use the Force to forge connections with your community and protect the natural world:

    YODA: Remember, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware: anger, fear, aggression—the Dark Side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.

    In short, the Force represents an eternal ethical dilemma: self-importance vs. self- sacrifice. Do you use your power to nab the last piece of pizza for yourself, or do you use it to evenly divide that slice between all of your hungry pals? If you're Luke, you split that pepperoni up. If you're the Emperor, you not only eat that last piece, but then you order nine more pizzas for yourself, make everybody else pay for them, and then chow down on all of them in front of those "friends" while you talk with your mouth full about how stupid they are.

    With the Force, the choice is yours.

  • The Death Star

    In Return of the Jedi, the Death Star proves that bigger isn't always better. It's a giant, technologically advanced weapon that symbolizes two unsavory aspects of the Empire's flawed worldview.

    First, it's the size of a planet. Know what else is the size of a planet? The Emperor's overblown ego. He has Darth Vader to do his bidding, he thinks corrupting Luke will be a cinch, and he doesn't even entertain the thought that the Rebels might pose a real threat. In the end, the Emperor's Death Star-sized arrogance not only leads to his demise, but also gets the Death Star itself blown up. Blown up real good.

    Second, the Death Star symbolizes the Empire's overreliance on technology. For these guys, there's nothing that a machine can't fix—or really, nothing that a machine can't terrorize and force to submit to the Empire's shady will. If Darth Vader is, as Obi-Wan tells Luke, "more machine than man," then the Death Star proves that the same is true of the entire Empire, floating in space in their big, shiny ball of hate. Until Darth Vader is unmasked, there isn't a shred of humanity on board.

    In contrast, the Rebels occupy Endor, a.k.a. nature-palooza. With the help of the Ewoks and their primitive weapons and tactics, the Rebels take down the Death Star's defense shield and then the Death Star itself. Ultimately, the destruction of the fancy-pants Death Star is made possible by a bunch of aboriginal teddy bears with sticks and rocks, symbolizing the superiority of the natural world over technology.

    As Luke's lightsaber, Leia's gun, and the existence of C-3PO and R2-D2 demonstrate, it's not that the Jedi and the Rebels don't believe in using technology; they just don't lump all of their faith into it. Instead, they put their faith in their friends and the land first, and save tech for Plan B.

  • Color

    The Hues Make the Man

    We're going to go out on a limb here and say that notoriously stormy Vogue editor Anna Wintour would absolutely be on board with Darth Vader and the Emperor's fashion choices. Their all-black ensembles are chic. They're understated. They're slimming. Oh yeah, and they totally represent these two dudes' commitment to evil.

    In Return of the Jedi, color reflects character. Darth Vader's and the Emperor's black wardrobes illustrates their allegiance to the Dark Side and their embrace of anger, hatred, and aggression—pretty gloomy concepts, no?

    Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, on the other hand, are decked out in brown: It's warm and earthy, signifying their link to nature and the connectedness of all things, two of the Force's most important ideas.

    Now what's the deal with Luke? Does his all-black outfit mean he's secretly Team Dark Side? Nope, but it does signify two other important things: First, it illustrates the bond he has with his father. Whether they like it or not, Luke and Darth Vader are eternally—and even telepathically—linked.

    Second, Luke's murky color palette echoes the conflict brewing within him. The Force is strong in him, and the Emperor's doing all he can to lure Luke to the Dark Side. In other words, Luke has more pressure on him to "Just Say No" than a high school student at Coachella. The dark color of his clothes represents not only his maturity, but also the fact that being an adult means making some super-tough choices.

    Accessorize It!

    While we're dishing on the symbolism of color when it comes to intergalactic fashion, let's take a moment to talk accessories: You're never fully dressed without your lightsaber.

    Darth Vader's burns red, reflecting his hot temper and bubbling rage. In contrast, Luke's lightsaber glows Yoda-green, mirroring his commitment to the Jedi values of peace and harmony. When these two men finally come to blows on the Death Star, their neon blades light up the room in a colored clash of ideologies. It's like an intergalactic game of "Red Light(saber), Green Light(saber)"—Luke means go and Vader means stop.

    Home Sweet Home

    However, there's more to the symbolic use of color in Return of the Jedi than just the main characters' sartorial selections. It also extends to their environments. The Death Star is sterile and cold, just like the villainous guys who call it home and want to use it to take over the galaxy. The Empire sees the world in black and white—the Dark Side and the Light—and its stark interior decorating choices reflect its rigid, uncompassionate view.

    The Ewoks' home planet of Endor, on the other hand, is a nature nerd's paradise: all warm browns and verdant greens. It makes sense, then, that the Rebels fit right in and find both safety and some important new allies on the forest moon. The lush, hospitable surroundings on Endor reflect the importance the Rebel Alliance puts on selflessness and community.

  • Hero's Journey

    Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

    About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

    Ordinary World

    He may hail from Tatooine, but Luke's real home is wherever his friends are. At the beginning of Return of the Jedi, that spot happens to be Jabba the Hutt's palace, where Luke is reunited with Leia, Han, Chewbacca, Lando, C-3PO and R2-D2 and they work together to defeat Jabba.

    Call To Adventure

    When Luke visits Yoda on Dagobah, Yoda gives Luke a clear call to adventure: If he wants to be a full-fledged Jedi, he has to confront Darth Vader.

    Refusal Of The Call

    Luke's refusal of the call is brief. After Yoda kicks the bucket, Luke tells R2-D2 that he can't take on Darth Vader alone.

    Meeting The Mentor

    Obi-Wan Kenobi is literally Luke's mentor, and he shows up at just the right time. After Luke expresses his self-doubt to R2-D2, Obi-Wan's spirit visits Luke in the swamp to provide a little motivation to his former student. He tells Luke that Leia is his sister, and he also gives Luke some useful advice: Luke needs to bury his feelings deep if he doesn't want the Emperor to use them against him.

    Crossing The Threshold

    When the hero crosses the threshold, his quest really jumps off. For Luke, that's when he joins Han's team to destroy the Death Star's defense shield on Endor. Since he knows Darth Vader can sense his presence, he's making a statement—his quest is on like Donkey Kong.

    Tests, Allies, Enemies

    Once Luke commits to his friends and the Rebel Alliance's plan to knock out the Death Star, Luke faces an assortment of obstacles.

    First, there's the psychological impact of Luke and Darth Vader's bond; Luke worries that he's endangering the whole mission simply by being there since Vader can sense his presence and feelings.

    Then there are the waves of enemies Luke and his friends square off against on Endor. Luke and Leia chase after stormtroopers on speeder bikes. When Leia gets knocked off of her bike in the pursuit, Luke joins the search party.

    Fortunately, through all of Luke's travails on Endor, his allies have his back. We're talking about Han, Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, and, last but not least, the Ewoks. Luke starts his journey with a handful of loyal friends. When he meets the Ewoks, his circle of trust expands like Jabba's belly on Tatooine Taco Night.

    Approach To The Inmost Cave

    When Luke surrenders to Darth Vader on the Death Star, there's no turning back. He's in the heart of the Dark Side, and he's either going to complete his quest or die trying.


    Luke's most life-threatening battle comes at the hands of the Emperor—or really, at the fingertips of the Emperor, as he zaps Luke with Force Lightning again and again and again. Luke begs Darth Vader to help him, and writhes on the floor in pain, waiting for his pops to intervene.

    Reward (Seizing The Sword)

    Luke's faith is ultimately rewarded when Darth Vader steps in and stops the Emperor from killing Luke. His actions don't just save Luke's life; they prove that he was right about his dad all along.

    The Road Back

    Even though the Emperor's been defeated, Luke isn't out of the woods just yet. For starters, the Death Star is about to be destroyed. Also, he still needs to confront his dad emotionally, and he needs to do it quickly: Vader takes a ton of damage when he disposes of the Emperor, and is on the verge of death.


    The resurrection stage in a hero's journey is all about transformation, and Luke gets his when he unmasks Darth Vader and finally has a real heart-to-heart with his dad. Anakin verbally confirms Luke's faith in him, and Luke makes peace with his twisted family tree.

    Return With The Elixir

    Luke returns to his friends at the Rebel victory party on Endor a changed man—emphasis on man. He's grown up, he's redeemed his father, and he's become a Jedi.

  • Setting

    A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

    In 1929, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe is expanding. Before you get sidetracked by what a cool name "Edwin Hubble" is, think about that for a second: The universe isn't just big. It's getting bigger everyday.

    Super-Size It

    Return of the Jedi uses its massive, outer space setting to illustrate how epic the battle between the Rebels and the Empire truly is. The world isn't at stake; the whole dang galaxy is. The film's action spans the planets Tatooine, Dagobah, Endor, as well as space itself. When the Rebels win, the entire galaxy celebrates, as we see fireworks and victory parties on a host of additional planets like Bespin, Naboo, and Coruscant.

    Nobody Vacations on Tatooine

    These planets are as diverse as Jabba's menagerie of monsters. Endor, a.k.a., Ewok Central, is lush and earthy, matching the Ewoks' primitive personalities and technology. These tiny warriors are totally in touch with nature, and they use it to their advantage against the Empire's sterile stormtroopers. Tatooine, Luke's home planet and the site of Jabba's freaky palace, is appropriately desolate and eerie. It's not a place where you want to hang out any longer than you have to.

    Still, Tatooine has nothing on the deep reaches of outer space where the Death Star resides. It's cold, remote, and just as out-of-touch as the Emperor and his icily flawed plans for galaxy-wide domination. Each locale in Return of the Jedi's vast setting stands in contrast to the others, and each reflects the character and motivation of the people—or creatures—who choose to live there.

    Time After Time

    Similarly, Return of the Jedi's vaguely ancient time period—"a long time ago"—is the perfect backdrop for the movie's themes. Family, friends, spirituality, redemption, good vs. evil: These are concepts as old as the universe itself. Refusing to name a distinct place in time—like, say, 200 B.C. or 1991—only reinforces their timelessness. Really, who wants to watch a space opera set in 1991? Nobody wants to see Darth Vader wearing a fanny pack.

    Okay, so maybe we want to see Darth Vader wearing a fanny pack a little bit.

  • Point of View

    Return of the Jedi's narrative unfolds in a straightforward, chronological fashion that picks up right where its predecessor, The Empire Strikes Back, left off.

    There are no showy flashbacks or flash-forwards. There's no wistful voiceover from a nostalgic narrator. Jabba is subtitled, but that's about it when it comes to narrative devices, and we're grateful for it. We don't know about you, but our Huttese is pretty rusty.

    The movie is equally practical when it comes to managing its two storylines. The action simply cuts back and forth between the Empire and the Alliance. Later, when the Rebels break into two teams, one in space and one on Endor, the narrative is fractured further. While Luke has his showdown with Darth Vader and the Emperor on the Death Star, Lando leads the Rebel fleet in space, and Han, Leia, and the rest of the crew fight to destroy the shield bunker.

    Following three storylines at once can be frenetic, for sure, but the overall effect only ratchets up the intensity of the on-screen action. As a bonus, it makes the Rebels' victory party extra satisfying. The whole gang's back together, the music is jumpin', and, best of all, nobody's frozen in carbonite.

  • Genre

    Fantasy; Science Fiction; Adventure


    From Ewoks to Force Lightning, Return of the Jedi is, in a word, fantastic. (Not just because it's so awesome.) It has all of the magical markers of a fantasy film: mystical events like the return of Yoda and Obi-Wan; supernatural powers, like those bestowed by The Force; exotic locales like Tatooine and Endor; and outlandish creatures like the unsettling band of misfits who call Jabba's palace home.

    Movies in the fantasy genre are all about escapism, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a setting more remote than "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

    Science Fiction

    Sci-fi is a genre as vast as the universe itself.

    Here's how Return of the Jedi fits in: first, it's littered with fictional science and technology, like spaceships, lightsabers, and interstellar travel. Second, it's loaded with aliens. By definition, every character in the film is an extraterrestrial from outer space. That's right, even Luke. Last but not least, there's the Force, which is essentially a morally-charged form of ESP. Political or social unrest is also a popular theme in science fiction movies, and Return of the Jedi has that, too, as the Rebel Alliance fights to end the tyrannical rule of the Empire.


    Return of the Jedi is an adventure film with a twist. We have a hero, Luke, on an epic quest to save his father. We have a historical time period, albeit it a vague one—"a long time ago." We have swashbuckling lightsaber duels full of hacking, slashing, and parrying. We have battles up the wazoo, and a full-scale rebellion being waged against the evil Empire. All standard stuff when it comes to adventure flicks.

    However, Return of the Jedi tweaks the conventions of the adventure genre with its location. Adventure films are typically set in exotic locales. With its vast, outer space setting, Jedi takes the idea of exoticism to the extreme. It doesn't so much break from convention as it expands it. Jungles and pirate ships are one thing; the forest moon of Endor and Jabba's house of horrors are something else entirely.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The original title of Return of Jedi was Revenge of the Jedi, and here's why: It's the third movie in what was, at the time, a trilogy. Of course, we now know that it's the sixth in a series of nine movies—that's called an ennealogy—but back in 1983, Revenge of the Jedi was poised to tie up all of the loose ends in the Star Wars saga, and bring the whole shebang to a satisfying conclusion: The Jedi return, led by Luke, and they finally get their tasty revenge over the evil Empire.

    Why'd they'd change the title, then? Because, according to screenwriter George Lucas, the concept of revenge isn't very Jedi-like. Revenge became Return, and everything was hunky-dory. Well, except for the fact that promotional materials like posters—and even a teaser trailer—with the Revenge of the Jedi name had already been produced. Whoops!

    In the end, the Revenge of the Jedi trailer is preserved online, and those posters were happily scooped up by Star Wars fans. Today, they're super-cool collectors items.

    Don't worry: Lucas got to plug the concept of revenge back into his ennealogy with Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. The Jedi may not be cool with revenge, but the Sith? They love the smell of vengeance in the morning.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    The end of Return of the Jedi is a little problematic if you've only seen Return of the Jedi… and a lot problematic if you've seen any or all of the Star Wars films that precede it. Let's break this sucker down:

    The final moments of Jedi feature the Rebels' victory party on Endor. The whole gang is there, dancing their butts off and hugging everyone in sight. Good times. Then, Luke steps away for a moment, and he's visited by the silent, grinning ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda, who are promptly joined by the spirit of young Anakin.

    One way to look at the ending is to surmise that the spirits are silently telling Luke they're proud of him. After all, these three characters were all mentors to Luke in one way or another. When Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anakin stop by the party, it's them saying to Luke, "Good job, kid. Now, go teach the Ewoks how to do the chicken dance." That makes sense, right?

    What makes less sense is the fact that Anakin is there in the first place, standing side-by-side with Yoda and Obi-Wan. His inclusion in the spectral trio suggests that he's found peace. Seeing Anakin team up with Yoda and Obi-Wan in the afterlife may make Luke rest a little easier, but it makes us scratch our heads.

    Here's why: In Return of the Jedi, before Anakin saves Luke, he tries to kill him. Not cool. Across the trilogy's five earlier films, Anakin, as Darth Vader, tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of people—including Jedi and children—and even destroyed an entire planet. A whole planet full of innocent civilians, guys. Also, just for good measure, he personally tried to kill Obi-Wan, too. Twice. He succeeded.

    Our point is, if the ending of Return of the Jedi is supposed to show Anakin's total redemption, that was a super-fast rehabilitation and a crazy-quick show of solidarity from the Jedi. Don't get us wrong: We're glad to see Luke is comforted by seeing Anakin reunited with Obi-Wan and Yoda, but if we were Obi-Wan or Yoda, we'd need a longer cooling off period before we welcomed back our genocidal old friend.

    What do you think, Shmooper? Is our skepticism justified, or is the Force just not very strong in us? Either way, the ending of Return of the Jedi not only ties up the original trilogy with a satisfying victory for the Rebel Alliance, but also gives Luke some well-earned closure.

  • Shock Rating


    Return of the Jedi nabs a PG rating primarily for its mild violence: we're talking lightsaber duels, exploding spacecraft, and Force Lighting aplenty. There are also a handful of semi-scary scenes, most of which involve the infinitely slimy Jabba the Hutt and his equally odious monsters.