Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Return of the Jedi

Viewed hot on the heels of the Prequel Trilogy, Return of the Jedi sings, managing to tell an emotionally engaging story that thrives on character moments. Jedi is simple, once the gang has disposed of the Hutt fraternity the focus narrows to two mutually supportive storylines - the rebel army's attempts to scuttle the second Death Star and Luke's collision course with Vader. Unlike the messy second trilogy, there is very clearly a main character, Luke Skywalker. His mission is both effortlessly understood and thematically rich.

It would be easy to frame Luke and Vader's confrontation as two gunslingers lumbering up to see who's top dog, but that requires an animosity that neither character possesses. Vader's intentions are particularly cloudy, we're not sure if he's preparing to invite his son into the family business or staging a needlessly complicated suicide attempt. When he talks to Luke he rambles on about fate and the inevitability of Skywalker corruption. Vader is old and broken, a deadbeat father who could never fully pull himself together. Lacking any sense of certainty other than violence, Vader cannot understand his son.

Vader's thinking is built on presumption, he assumes he understands Luke's dilemma, but he doesn't. Neither, for that matter, does Yoda. The ancient Jedi coaches caution first and foremost. He understands the inevitability of Luke and Vader's conflict but his ability, or willingness, to guide is slim. Vader and Yoda both think in the abstract, they understand their power as an ability to tap into something greater than themselves.

Since they both consider this power ultimately unknowable they allow this intangible might to steer them. They are passengers. Luke is not. The Force does not overwhelm his thinking, it is a tool in his arsenal. Luke has not only made peace with his heritage, he has decided it can be changed. Fate is malleable, Vader can be saved. Luke is a redeemer, he allows himself to be captured by his father and The Emperor because it isn't a setback. Luke's identity is fixed and immutable. They won't change him, he will transform them.

This is what makes him so threatening, Luke is certain that no matter what he will not waver. Yoda feared what close proximity to Vader and Palpatine would do to the young Jedi. The father turned, why not the son? He needn't have worried, Luke is not so weak willed. When father and son meet on Endor, Vader attempts to gloat about his son's capture. Luke brushes it off, then lasers in on their predicament. There is good in Vader and Luke intends to draw it out.

Vader is instantly subordinated. As the prequels went to great lengths to illustrate, Anakin Skywalker has always been a hollow child desperately seeking approval. He wasn't born into the Jedi's inhuman religion, he was captured by it, crowbarred into a lifestyle that did not suit him. All his misery rooted in a blood-test and some half-remembered prophecy. Luke is different, he sought this life out, seizing it in the company of Obi-Wan Kenobi and conquering it under the tutelage of Yoda.

Luke goes even further than his masters, able to control both The Force and the untidy emotional drives that the Jedi feared and buried. The Prequels are built around an order of Knights that shrink at the sight of their own shadow. Any dalliance with their humanity is treated as an opportunity for total calamity. Luke Skywalker has transcended this limitation. He feels and loves, willing to lay down his life in order to draw out his father's goodness.

When the Force Ghosts appear to Luke at the end of Jedi, they are acknowledging not only his success but also his superiority. He did what they could not. Luke knows love, he felt it and expressed it. He understood its value and therefore its power. Luke walked into Jabba's lair unarmed to rescue his best friend, he removed himself from Leia and the Endor rebels as soon as he realised Vader could track his Force signature.

Luke will die for the people he loves and is willing to bet, given the opportunity, his father will too. The Emperor scoffs and ridicules Luke, assured of his fall, but the son is playing a longer, deeper con. Luke appeals to Vader on the most basic, biological imperative - blood. Service to a dusty old crone is nothing measured against the adulation of your child. In this moment, wracked by Force lightning, Luke is the master offering Vader salvation.

Worry surrounds Luke in Return of the Jedi. His masters advise prudence and his sister pleads with him to flee. Even worse, his enemies assume that Luke's defeat has already been written. Rather than try and understand what Luke has become, everyone appraises this chosen one using their own limitations. When he sets the pyre that burns away his father, Luke Skywalker has become the most dangerous being in the universe. He has surpassed them all, Sith and Jedi alike.

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