Star Wars: 5 Ways Return Of The Jedi Is The Lightest Movie (& 5 Ways It’s The Darkest)
Return of the Jedi is often seen as the lightest Star Wars movie and while that’s sometimes true, it also has its share of dark moments.
One of the great things about the original Star Wars trilogy is that each installment has its own distinctive tone. The Empire Strikes Back took a dark turn after the 1977 original with carbonite freezing, creepy Force visions, and a downer ending, before Return of the Jedi went the other way with fun, lighthearted, family-friendly fare.
But while Return of the Jedi is often referred to as the lightest movie in the Star Wars saga – thanks in no small part to the army of teddy bears in the final battle – it also has some surprisingly dark moments in keeping with Empire’s refreshingly grim tone.
10 Lightest: Ewoks
The clearest way that Return of the Jedi is the most kid-friendly Star Wars movie is its inclusion of the Ewoks in the third act. The Rebels go down to the forest moon of Endor to deactivate the shield generator protecting the second Death Star and end up teaming up with the natives.
Ewoks are essentially walking, talking teddy bears with an arsenal of weapons made out of rocks and sticks that they manage to use to defeat the most elite Imperial forces.
9 Darkest: The Emperor Is Terrifying
While the Ewoks lighten up the Endor-set segments of the cross-cutting final battle, the Emperor provides plenty of terror in the throne room-set segments. Whether he’s blasting Luke with Force lightning or just cackling as Rebel ships are destroyed by his fleet, Palpatine is petrifying.
All of Ian McDiarmid’s line deliveries are spot-on, but one in particular that stands out is, “Now, young Skywalker, you will die,” because he says it so casually, as if killing Luke will be super easy and mean nothing to him.
8 Lightest: Slapstick Gags
There has always been humor in Star Wars movies, but it took a slapstick turn in Return of the Jedi with gags like Han stepping on a twig while sneaking up on a Scout Trooper.
During the Battle of Endor, there’s a ton of physical comedy. When the Ewoks roll a bunch of logs down a hill, it turns an AT-ST walker into Charlie Chaplin.
7 Darkest: Leia Is Forced To Become Jabba’s Slave
Leia’s “slave bikini” is one of the most controversial wardrobe choices in movie history. While everyone else who tries to save Han from Jabba’s palace is thrown in a jail cell, Leia is chained up to be a sex slave.
Jabba ends up getting his comeuppance during the battle on his barge. Leia serves up some poetic justice by strangling the Hutt to death with her chains.
6 Lightest: Jedi Rocks
This musical number only appears in the much-maligned “Special Edition” cut of Return of the Jedi, but that’s the only version of the movie that’s been available for nearly 25 years.
Performed at Jabba’s palace by the Max Rebo Band, the “Jedi Rocks” number is completely unnecessary and drags the first act down, but some kids get a kick out of its animated musicians, like the singer Sy Snootles, who supposedly ad-libs all the lyrics.
5 Darkest: Reframing Vader As A Tragic Hero
In the original Star Wars movie, Darth Vader was introduced as a faceless symbol of evil and instantly became one of the most iconic villains ever created. However, in The Empire Strikes Back, he was somewhat humanized with the revelation that he’s Luke Skywalker’s father.
In Return of the Jedi, the genocidal war criminal villain is reframed as a fallen Jedi and a tragic hero. His son brings out the good in him and he’s redeemed in his eyes.
4 Lightest: Luke And Vader’s Father-Son Reunion Is Surprisingly Heartfelt
When Vader was introduced as a callous killer with magical murder powers, viewers didn’t expect that they would one day cry at his death. But in Return of the Jedi, Vader’s death is heartbreaking. The scene works because Luke and Vader’s father-son reunion is so heartfelt.
After making the ultimate sacrifice to save his son from the evil puppet-master who manipulated him for years, Vader asks to look at his son with his own eyes before he dies. Sebastian Shaw’s performance is incredible.
3 Darkest: The Rancor Is A Frightful Movie Monster
In a dungeon underneath his palace, Jabba keeps a rancor as a pet. When his subjects are insolent, he opens a trapdoor and sends them into the rancor’s lair to be eaten alive. Jabba’s first sacrifice to the rancor introduces its fearsome might.
The second sacrifice is Luke Skywalker, who manages to outwit the rancor by throwing the skull of one of its previous victims to activate a heavy metal door that crushes the beast.
2 Lightest: Happy Ending
After The Empire Strikes Back’s groundbreaking downer ending, Return of the Jedi offered a warm, fuzzy, happy ending. Following a solemn funeral service for Vader, Luke joins his friends for a party on Endor celebrating the victory.
The Rebels have defeated the Empire, peace has been restored to the galaxy, and all the heroes have a bright future (or so it seemed before The Force Awakens revealed their miserable fate).
1 Darkest: Luke Is Tempted By The Dark Side
The “I am your father” twist in The Empire Strikes Back essentially revealed that Luke was susceptible to the dark side. Just like his father before him, he could be turned. Lucas even dressed the character in all black to suggest that this was a real possibility.
When Luke arrives in the Emperor’s throne room, he initially refuses to fight Vader, but Palpatine manages to tap into Luke’s anger and he finds himself genuinely tempted by the allure of the dark side.