Study Guide

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Themes

  • Good vs. Evil

    Odds are, you've felt the tug of good versus evil, clawing at your soul. Maybe it's that fifth slice of pizza. Maybe it's studying for your algebra final vs. watching seven more episodes of Veronica Mars. Whatever the conflict is, you've been torn between right and wrong.

    In Return of the Jedi, Luke's soul is in all sorts of turmoil. The Force is strong in him, and he has to decide what to do with it: Should he follow Obi-Wan's teachings and embrace good and righteousness? Or, should he succumb to his daddy issues and follow The Emperor down to the Dark Side? Luke's choice between good and evil won't just plot the course of his own life, it'll determine the fate of the entire galaxy. No pressure, Luke.

    Questions About Good vs. Evil

    1. Why does Obi-Wan think he failed Anakin? Is he right?
    2. What is Luke really fighting for: a cause or his dad?
    3. Do you think Darth Vader would've been able to turn Princess Leia to the Dark Side? Why or why not?
    4. How does The Emperor fit the mold of a classic movie villain? Start with a list of traits embodied by the villain archetype and go from there.

    Chew on This

    Luke's journey in Return of the Jedi shows that good and evil are choices, not destinies.

    Darth Vader's death suggests that there's no such thing as a truly happy ending.

  • Friendship

    Whenever we think about BFFs, we think of the friendship metric created by the esteemed Atlanta philosophers T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli. They asked, "What about your friends? Will they stand their ground? Will they let you down again? What about your friends?"

    In Return of the Jedi, friendship equals survival. Loyalty, trust, and compassion are the Rebels' greatest assets in their battle against the Empire. Luke, Han, and the rest of their crew know that an adventure is far more epic with pals, and that sometimes an extra pair of hands comes in really handy when you're trying to triumph over evil and save the galaxy. Or, to bring it back to the TLC test, they'll always stand their ground, and they'll never let each other down.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Why are C-3PO and R2-D2 shocked when Luke offers them to Jabba as a gift?
    2. Even though we can't understand anything Chewbacca says, it's evident that he'll do anything for Han. How does the movie make that clear?
    3. Who is Luke's best friend? Show your work.

    Chew on This

    The Rebel Alliance's victory in Return of the Jedi illustrates that friendship is a greater motivator than fear.

    The Emperor's greatness weakness is his lack of compassion.

  • Family

    At its core, Return of the Jedi is a family drama on an epic scale. They don't call the Star Wars saga a space opera for nothing.

    Luke and Anakin, a.k.a., Darth Vader, have father-son problems the size of Tatooine. Vader, meanwhile, has his own daddy issues with The Emperor; all he wants is his approval. Luke and Leia's brother-sister bond is equally knotty; for starters, there's the fact that they were raised separately, not knowing the other one even existed until they were adults.

    In short, when it comes to the Skywalker clan, relationships are complicated, and mending their broken family bond is the galaxy's only chance for survival.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why were Luke and Leia separated at birth?
    2. Does Luke have a right to be mad about everybody lying to him about his family tree?
    3. If Leia knew deep down that Luke was her brother, how come she never said anything?
    4. Why does Darth Vader ultimately save Luke from The Emperor? And, while we're at it, what takes him so long? We mean, he lets The Emperor zap Luke with Force Lightning for a long time before he finally puts the kibosh on it.

    Chew on This

    Luke's refusal to go down the same malevolent path as his father proves that nurture is stronger than nature.

    Darth Vader and The Emperor have a thoroughly dysfunctional father-son relationship.

  • Spirituality

    The Force is strong with Luke. That's what we're told. But what the heck is The Force? The short answer is that it's a spiritual path that leads to transcendence. You can use it for good, like Luke, Yoda, and Obi-Wan. Or you can use it for bad and shoot lightning out of your shriveled fingertips like The Emperor.

    Looked at another way, The Force is a moral compass. For those who pursue the Dark Side, like Darth Vader, it's an aggressive, anger-fueled path to absolute power. And you know what they say about absolute power—it corrupts absolutely.

    For the Jedi, on the other hand, The Force is an unwavering faith in the power of love and non-violence. In short, while Yoda and Obi-Wan nudge Luke in the right direction, Luke's spirituality is his ultimate guide to saving the galaxy. It's why he's willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good—and it's why, like a boss, he triumphs at the end of Return of the Jedi.

    Questions About Spirituality

    1. How does being a Jedi-in-training influence Luke's sense of self? What about Darth Vader? How does the Dark Side impact his identity?
    2. Does Luke ever break the Jedi code of compassion and non-violence?
    3. Do you consider yourself a spiritual person? How do your beliefs impact your actions? Who is your Yoda?

    Chew on This

    Return of the Jedi uses the mystery of The Force as a stand-in for religion.

    The #1 rule of The Force is the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

  • Redemption

    Everybody loves a rousing heel-face turn: just ask pro wrestling fans—the heel-face turn is what happens when a bad guy (a heel) transforms himself into a good guy (a face).

    In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader does exactly that. He starts out deeply enmeshed in the Dark Side; he's The Emperor's right hand man, and he's hell-bent on his own son's destruction. Here's the thing, though: Anakin Skywalker wasn't always such a bad dude. In fact, he used to be a Jedi, who trained with Obi-Wan just like Luke.

    Fittingly, it's Luke's unwavering faith in his old man that ultimately saves Anakin. Luke just won't stop believing that there's a good man behind the mask, and that serves up the strength Anakin needs to redeem himself.

    Questions About Redemption

    1. How come Luke refuses to give up on Anakin? Everything works out in the end, but the guy was trying to kill him. Is Luke being naïve?
    2. Why do you think it's so tough for Anakin to accept his true self?
    3. What does Obi-Wan mean when he tells Luke that, as Darth Vader, Anakin is "more machine now than man?"
    4. Why is Anakin's dying wish that Luke tells Leia he was right about him?

    Chew on This

    Luke is more instrumental in Anakin's redemption than Anakin is because Luke's the one who shows forgiveness.

    Obi-Wan was wrong: He may have changed his name, but Darth Vader never really stopped being Anakin Skywalker.