Study Guide

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Cast

  • Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)

    Luke 2.0

    Return of the Jedi finds Luke becoming a man. Just like that kid on your basketball team who grew six inches, packed on twenty pounds of muscle, and learned how to dunk in the off-season, Luke is bigger, faster, and stronger—not just physically, but psychologically.

    When we first meet Luke, he struts into Jabba's palace solo, clad in head-to-toe black, and immediately Force-chokes two of Jabba's thugs. Then he strolls right up to Jabba himself and demands the release of his friends. When Jabba tells Luke, "There will be no bargain, young Jedi. I shall enjoy watching you die," Luke doesn't even flinch.

    You don't need to have seen the previous installments in the Star Wars saga to know that Luke is growing up. These aren't the actions of an impetuous kid; these are the moves of a confident, disciplined young soldier.

    No Mask for Me, Thanks

    Luke 2.0 knows what he wants: namely, he wants to not turn into his dad. Really, though, you'd be hard pressed to find any young man who wants to turn into his father when he grows up. (Dad jeans and classic rock radio 24/7? Nope.)

    Of course, for Luke, the stakes are a lot higher than Dockers and Aerosmith. Luke has witnessed his father's path into the gnarled heart of the Dark Side and can sense the conflict in him. That's why he repeatedly rebuffs the Emperor's taunts to "give in to [his] anger" and join the Empire. When the Emperor tells Luke, "It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now mine," Luke's trying not to hear that. He doesn't just want to avoid his father's nasty fate. He wants to full-on rescue Darth Vader and rewrite the ending of his story.

    Keeping the Faith

    Luke's faith is his greatest weapon in the war between good and evil being waged for his soul. The Force is strong him; it's up to Luke to decide how to use it. He can use it for good, like Obi-Wan and Yoda, and embrace the Jedi path of love, non-violence, and friendship.

    On the other hand, he can use it for evil, like Darth Vader and the Emperor, and try to rule the world through arrogance, aggression, and an intergalactic closet full of floor-length black robes. They're slimming, sure, but they're also totally evil.

    Emotional Ninja Warrior

    In his effort to do what's right, Luke plunges himself into a series of increasingly difficult situations, and in each case, he relies on his faith to carry him through unscathed—or at least minimally scathed.

    First, he surrenders himself to Darth Vader. Turning yourself over to a dude who's made no bones about the fact that he wants to bump you off? That takes guts. When Darth Vader asks Luke if his surrender means that he's accepted the truth that he's fated to follow his father's evil footsteps, Luke flips the script. "I have accepted the truth," Luke says, "that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father." Your move, Vader.

    Next, Luke is forced to fight Darth Vader head-to-head. Now, we know what you're thinking: "As a Jedi, isn't he supposed to be all about non-violence? Like Space Gandhi?" Fair point, but here's the thing: Luke doesn't want to fight Darth Vader, even stating directly that he will not, but when Vader charges at him with a lightsaber, Luke finds himself in a kill-or-be-killed situation. When it comes down to it, Luke can't save Darth Vader if Luke's dead.

    When Luke chops off Vader's hand, he's reminded of how much they have in common—they're just two regular guys who have robotic right hands—and it only bolsters his faith in his father's capacity for redemption. He has Vader on the ropes, but he can't deliver the knockout blow. To do so would go against everything he believes as a Jedi, and it would mean the Emperor was right.

    Even as his father hacks at him with his lightsaber, Luke insists that Darth Vader is a good guy:

    LUKE: Your thoughts betray you, Father. I feel the good in you, the conflict.

    DARTH VADER: There is no conflict.

    LUKE: You couldn't bring yourself to kill me before, and I don't believe you'll destroy me now.

    You know what? He's right.

    The Student Becomes the Master

    When Darth Vader refuses to kill Luke, and instead chucks the Emperor down a reactor shaft to his explosive death, Luke's faith is finally rewarded. "You were right," Darth Vader tells Luke, after asking his son to remove his mask so he can finally see him for real:

    DARTH VADER: Now, go, my son. Leave me.

    LUKE: No, you're coming with me. I'll not leave you here. I've got to save you.

    DARTH VADER: You already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister you were right.

    A parent admitting that their kid was right? That's huge… in any galaxy.

    Wait—there's more. Vader doesn't just verbally validate Luke's faith; he also does it through his actions. He sacrifices himself to save his son. In other words, Darth Vader models his behavior after Luke, who was constantly willing to lay his life on the line for dear old dad. In the end, the student becomes the master, the Empire is defeated, love conquers hate, and faith trumps fear.

    Luke, we never doubted you for a second, buddy.

  • Darth Vader (James Earl Jones)

    Before we get into this, we've gotta ask: Raise your hand if you think of James Earl Jones when someone mentions Darth Vader. Are you all raising your hands?

    Put 'em down, cause James Earl Jones is not the only Darth Vader out there.

    In fact, Darth Vader is portrayed by a whole slew of actors throughout the Star Wars movies. Vader is actually played by three different actors in Return of the Jedi alone. Here's who we've got:

    • James Earl Jones as Darth Vader's voice
    • David Prowse as Darth Vader all suited up
    • Sebastian Shaw as Darth Vader unmasked (a.k.a. Anakin Skywalker)

    You were kind of right that James Earl Jones is Darth Vader. At least his voice is the one consistent thing we have going here. You can put your hands… halfway up.

    Now that we've got that cleared up…

    The Darth Side

    Darth Vader proves that, sometimes, we really do get a second chance to make a first impression. He starts the film as the Emperor's icy guard dog, but, by the end, Vader is reduced to a repentant puppy.

    Darth Vader's introduction in Return of the Jedi screams "evil." He's decked out in black armor from head to toe, dons a menacing, skull-like mask, and speaks through a voice box that lowers his tone a couple of ominous octaves.

    Vader struts onto the Death Star like he owns it, and wastes no time in threatening the crew:

    DARTH VADER: You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I'm here to put you back on schedule.

    MOFF JERJERROD: I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast as they can.

    DARTH VADER: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.

    It's clear that when he says "motivation," he's not talking about installing a frozen yogurt machine on the flight deck. For Darth Vader, intimidation is the name of the game.

    The Force is strong in Darth Vader—even stronger than it is in Luke or Obi-Wan—and Vader uses it for personal gain. He's #TeamDarkSide all the way, placing him in stark contrast to his son and his former mentor. Vader uses anger and fear to control everyone with whom he comes into contact… and he does so in a cold, calculating, almost rational way that's ten times scarier than if he was an unhinged, bloviating nutjob like the Emperor.

    Think about it: When you were a little kid and broke a dish, spilled Hawaiian Punch all over the rug, or blew off curfew, it was way more frightening when Mom didn't get upset, right? Sorry for comparing your mom to Darth Vader.

    Somebody Get This Dude Some Self-Help Books

    What gives, then? Why is Darth Vader such a stone-cold menace? In short, he's given up on himself. Yoda warns Luke that if one heads down the path to the Dark Side, it's virtually impossible to make a U-turn. That's exactly where Vader is: He's stuck. He's convinced that he's a lost cause. "It is too late for me, son," Vader tells Luke as he hands his own kid over to a pack of Imperial stormtroopers. "The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force." Vader is resigned to his fate as the second-biggest baddie in the galaxy. Womp womp.

    Ironically, for all of the fear he cultivates in others, the biggest scaredy-cat in the galaxy is actually Darth Vader himself. Luke insists that there's a good guy buried beneath all those yards of black fabric, but Darth Vader denies it—and by "it" we mean not just Luke's claims that Vader isn't a lost cause, but also Luke's love, period.

    When Luke says to Vader, "I feel the good in you, the conflict" he hits the nail on the head. Darth Vader wants to change his ways—you know, like stop murdering people and being a deadbeat dad—but he's too chicken to try. The Force may be über-strong in him, but his faith in himself? Not so much.

    Better Late Than Never

    Ultimately, Darth Vader is a tragic figure—and we're not just talking about his fashion choices. When Vader saves Luke from the Emperor—and then tosses the Emperor down a reactor shaft for good measure—he starts atoning for his past mistakes and purging himself of the decades of havoc he wreaked on the galaxy. Then, when he asks Luke to remove his mask so he can look upon his son with his own eyes, Darth Vader dies. Not literally—that won't happen for another minute or so.

    Rather, we mean Darth Vader, in all of his over-the-top evil Sith posturing, kicks the bucket. Just check out this loving Papa Anakin (played by Sebastian Shaw) that comes out:

    DARTH VADER: Now, go, my son. Leave me.

    LUKE: No, you're coming with me. I'll not leave you here. I've got to save you.

    DARTH VADER: You already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister you were right.

    Suddenly, Anakin's a family man, focused on righting wrongs with the son he tried to murder and the daughter he never met. The timing may royally suck, but Anakin Skywalker is reborn and ready to be redeemed, if only for a moment.

  • The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid)

    Whoever said you can't judge a book by its cover never laid eyes on the Emperor. From his black, hooded robe to his droopy skin and yellow eyes, everything about Emperor Palpatine's appearance oozes malevolence. "This character [is] solidly evil," explains Ian McDiarmid, the actor who plays the Emperor; "it wasn't as if he had a difficult childhood. He just seemed to have come from whatever ghastly womb he was ejected from, born and bred evil."

    It's Good to Have Goals… Unless They're Evil

    The Emperor has three twisted goals he wants to accomplish in Return of the Jedi. They're all interconnected, and they're all motivated by his wrinkly lust for power.

    First, the Emperor wants to turn Luke to the Dark Side just like Darth Vader:

    THE EMPEROR: Come, boy, see for yourself. From here, you will witness the final destruction of the Alliance and the end of your insignificant rebellion.

    [Luke eyes his lightsaber]

    THE EMPEROR: You want this, don't you? The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger. With each passing moment you make yourself more my servant.

    LUKE: No.

    THE EMPEROR: It is unavoidable. It is your destiny. You, like your father, are now mine.

    The Emperor's confident that the capability for corruption is part of the Skywalker DNA.

    Speaking of Luke's father, let's take a second to look at Darth Vader's role in the Emperor's nefarious plans. The Emperor may call Vader his friend, but, really, he's just using him. Vader is the Gretchen Wieners to the Emperor's Regina George—part bait and part guard dog. Knowing that the Skywalkers can sense each other, the Emperor just hangs out by Darth Vader and waits for Luke to visit his dad. Then, when Luke finally shows, the Emperor takes a seat and sends Vader in to do his dirty work. While Vader and Luke duke it out with their lightsabers, the Emperor chills on the sidelines, like the ugliest cheerleader in history.

    Why is The Emperor so hell-bent on turning Luke to the Dark Side? Luke's just one guy, right? The Emperor has two reasons: first, the Force is super-strong in Luke. If the Emperor can get Luke to break bad, he'll be a huge asset to the Empire. Second, bringing Luke onboard Team Dark Side would help the Emperor accomplish his next goal: crushing the Rebel Alliance's morale.

    In Return of the Jedi, there's a war being waged between good and evil. Luke's the #1 draft pick for both sides. If the Emperor turns Luke, it won't just bolster his squad, it'll deliver a painful blow to the Rebels. Luke's fellow members of the Rebel Alliance aren't only his teammates; they're his buddies. Seeing Luke turn into Darth Vader, Jr. would really mess with the collective head of the Rebel Alliance.

    Which brings us to The Emperor's final goal: He wants to wipe out the Rebel Alliance, period. It's textbook villainy. The Emperor wants to rule the entire galaxy, and he won't let anybody stand in his way.

    President of His Own Fan Club

    Ultimately, the Emperor's arrogance is his downfall. Exploding to death in a reactor shaft played a pretty big part in his demise, too… but it's his overconfidence that got him there.

    Like many a classic movie villain before him, the Emperor has a big mouth. He has despicable plans, and he just can't help but explain them to everybody 24/7. When we first meet him, he's reminding Darth Vader that Vader's the first step in the Emperor's scheme to corrupt Luke:

    "In time, he will seek you out and when he does, you must bring him before me [...] Only together can we turn him to the Dark Side of the Force."

    The Emperor has no interest in Darth Vader himself; he's just another cog in the Emperor's cocky machine. That's precisely why Vader has no problem turning on the Emperor in the end. Would it have killed the Emperor to welcome Vader's input, or compliment his shiny mask once in a while?

    Similarly, the Emperor has no interest in what the Rebel Alliance is actually doing. He's only interested in his own plan, and, in his arrogance, he's never considered that it might not be a very good one.

    For example, you'd think the Death Star's defensive shield being blown to bits would send the Emperor back to the drawing board, pronto, to reconsider his strategy or launch Plan B. Instead, what does the Emperor do? He ignores the Rebels' monstrous blow to his strategy and, instead, invests his energy in telling Luke how much smarter he is. He sneers at Luke while the Empire is in utter chaos:

    "Young fool, only now, at the end, do you understand. Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side. Now, you will pay the price for your lack of vision."

    Ironically, it's the Emperor's lack of vision—or at least his inability to get over himself—that ruins the Empire. His giant ego prevents him from accepting others' help and ideas; it leads him to craft a flawed plan for the Rebels' annihilation, and it inspires Darth Vader to turn against him.

    In short, the Emperor may be the baddest dude in the whole entire galaxy, but he sure ain't the smartest.

  • Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

    Leia isn't your average princess. In fact, in Return of the Jedi she's a full-fledged action star. Nobody's taking her to another castle.

    That Bikini

    Let's cut to the chase and address the golden elephant in the room: Leia's slave girl bikini. If your first reaction to Leia's revealing attire was something along the lines of, "Oh, great! We finally get a major female character, and she's basically naked. Way to set feminism back a hundred light years, Star Wars," that's understandable.

    Here's the thing, though: Leia's skimpy wardrobe isn't as important as her reaction to it is. Not only does she hate it, she ultimately uses it as a weapon. When Luke starts his attack on Jabba's sail barge, Leia springs into action and promptly uses the chain around her neck to choke Jabba out. In other words, she uses Jabba's attempt at objectification as a weapon. Then she helps blow up his sail barge for good measure.

    You Love Her? She Knows.

    In Return of the Jedi, Leia fights right alongside the guys. She doesn't need Luke to rescue her on Jabba's sail barge; she rescues herself. She doesn't need Han to save her, either. In fact, she saves him—not once, but twice: first, when she infiltrates Jabba's palace disguised as a bounty hunter and unfreezes him and then later, on Endor, when she shoots the stormtrooper looming over Han's shoulder at the shield bunker.

    "I love you," Han says, spotting Leia's gun. "I know," she replies in a clever role reversal that harkens back to Star Wars' previous chapter.

    She may hail from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, but Leia is a thoroughly modern princess. She trusts her gut, she packs heat, and she holds her own. She's valued, trusted, and respected by her male counterparts. Oh yeah: she's got a little bit of the Force in her:

    LUKE: If I don't make it back, you're the only hope for the Alliance.

    LEIA: Luke, don't talk that way. You have a power I don't understand and could never have.

    LUKE: You're wrong, Leia. You have that power, too. In time, you'll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it. And my sister has it. Yes. It's you, Leia.

    LEIA: I know. Somehow, I've always known.

    Ultimately, Leia proves that it's possible for a princess to retain her self-possession and femininity—and still kick some major butt, Jedi-knight-in-training-style.

  • Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

    Han Solo's name says it all. (Well, not his first name. That doesn't really say anything.) We're talking about the fact that Han Solo is a textbook loner. He may be charming and quick with a witty one-liner, but he's always looking out for #1—until Return of the Jedi, that is.

    Return of the Jedi sees a kinder, gentler Han. Gone is the selfish dude from the previous installments in the Star Wars saga who was scared of commitment and motivated by money. When he's unfrozen and freed from the carbonite in which Jabba had imprisoned him, he doesn't just warm up physically; he warms up socially and emotionally.

    Instead of toying with Leia, he tells her loves her, and he forges a real friendship with Luke. Check out this exchange—there's no way that Han of Star Wars would have been so generous or open:

    HAN: I'm sure Luke wasn't on that thing when it blew.

    LEIA: He wasn't. I can feel it.

    HAN: You love him, don't you?

    LEIA: Yes.

    HAN: All right. I understand. Fine. When he comes back, I won't get in the way.

    LEIA: Oh, it's not like that at all. He's my brother.

    It takes a serious amount of zen to say "Yeah, if you love someone else, that's okay." Han also takes on more responsibility with the Rebel Alliance, accepting a position as a general and leading the team on Endor. He even loans out his precious Millennium Falcon to Lando.

    Maybe all of these positive changes are just side effects of hibernation sickness, but probably not. In Return of the Jedi, Han finally grows up. He commits to his friends, he commits to his girlfriend, and he commits to a cause greater than himself. In short, he's solo no more.

  • Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness)

    Looking for Obi-Wan Kenobi? Head over to our analysis of Luke's Wise Mentors to read up on his role in this movie.

  • Yoda (Frank Oz)

    Looking for Yoda, are you? Head over to our analysis of Luke's Wise Mentors to read up on his role in this movie.

  • Wise Mentors

    Sure, having a wise, old mentor is cool, but you know what's really cool? Having two wise, old mentors.

    Obi-Wan and Yoda share the same role in Return of the Jedi: They give Luke the brain boost he needs to confront Darth Vader. Both insist that the only way Luke can triumph—and become a full-on Jedi—is to face his father:

    YODA: No more training do you require. Already know you, that which you need.

    LUKE: Then I am a Jedi.

    YODA: Not yet. One thing remains: Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.

    Yoda puts a kinder spin on things, expressing his regret that Luke already rushed in and met Vader once before. Obi-Wan, meanwhile, indulges in a little reverse psychology, telling Luke that he thinks his father is probably too far gone to be redeemed, practically daring Luke to do what Obi-Wan himself couldn't and save Anakin.

    Both mentors also urge Luke to check his gut. Yoda warns Luke that, if he lets his guard down and embraces the Dark Side, there will be no coming back. Obi-Wan, on the other hand, simply encourages Luke to bury his feelings deep if he wants to protect himself, and his plans, from the Emperor:

    OBI-WAN: Your insight serves you well. Bury your feelings deep down, Luke. They do you credit, but they could be made to serve the Emperor.

    While Obi-Wan and Yoda don't exactly play "Good Cop, Bad Cop" in the swamp with Luke, they do take different approaches to bucking young Skywalker up for battle. The effect? Luke leaves Dagobah wiser, secure in his faith, and ready to kick a little emotional and psychological butt.

  • Minor Characters

    We're confident that Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 wouldn't mind being addressed as a group. They probably wouldn't even take offense at being labeled minor characters. These guys—okay, this guy, this Wookiee, and these droids—are all about the awesome power of loyalty, friendship and self-sacrifice. They're the Rebels Alliance's support system. Without them, the Empire would never have been defeated.

    Check it out:

    If Lando never went undercover as a guard in Jabba's palace, Luke, Han, and Leia may never have escaped from Jabba's slimy clutches. They'd be stuck there, enduring one creepy dance party and rancor attack after another.

    Later, Lando plays an even bigger role, leading the intergalactic charge against the Death Star. He guides the Rebel fleet, and never loses faith in Han, even as his buddy struggles to destroy the Death Star's defense shield. With his cool head and fierce devotion, it's no wonder the Alliance makes him a general.

    Chewbacca is equally instrumental in the Rebels' success. He lets Leia bring him to Jabba as a prisoner, just so they can save Han. When that plan goes awry, Chewie's indispensible in the mutiny on Jabba's sail barge. Later, he helps fend off waves of stormtroopers on Endor as the Rebels fight to destroy the bunker. Chewbacca is as loyal as they come… and not just because he looks like a gigantic dog.

    Last but not least, we have the droids. How do they help? Let's see: C-3PO delivers Luke's message to Jabba, even though he's wicked scared, and R2-D2 tosses Luke his lightsaber so the young Jedi can lead the assault on Jabba's sail barge.

    On Endor, C-3PO unites the Rebels with the Ewoks—and we all know that without an assist from the Ewoks, that bunker was never getting blown to bits. Then R2-D2 takes one for the team and gets electrocuted trying to crack the code on the bunker's front door. They may be machines, but when it comes to protecting their pals, these droids are all heart.

    Ultimately, Luke, Leia, and Han may get all the glory and grace more Return of the Jedi T-shirts and lunchboxes, but without the help of this brave, motley crew of supporting players, the Jedi would've never made their spectacular return in the first place.