Monday, June 6, 2016

Alternate Ending: Return of the Jedi

For a long time now, the ending of Return of the Jedi has bothered me. Despite having such a great setup from the first two movies, I've often felt that the ending of Return of the Jedi was weak. The impact is missing. Well, I was thinking about this last weekend and it finally struck me both what was wrong with the ending and how to improve it.

The problem as I see it with the ending of Return of the Jedi is that it lacks emotional punch. This comes from the characters not being consistent with their motivations. For example, Luke has been taught to be "a Jedi." We are told over and over that a Jedi will not fight out of anger. Luke accepts this and even lets himself be captured by Vader with the hope of turning him to the good side. This is reminiscent of Ben Kenobi letting Vader kill him, a tremendously emotional moment.

But Lucas doesn't know how to write a dramatic ending without a fight, so he gives Luke a pretext to get angry and start fighting -- the discovery that Leah is a Jedi. That's both inconsistent with his Jedi training and it makes all of his motivations throughout the earlier part of the film irrelevant. Essentially, Luke's Jedi training is now pointless.

Vader also gets shortchanged. Vader was once good, but got co-opted. Luke thinks he can be saved and there is some hint of that, but Vader doesn't really struggle with it at all until the Emperor is on the verge of killing Luke. Then he suddenly saves Luke and thereby saves himself. Meh. Too easy, too obvious.

The Emperor too gets shortchanged. He has this influence over Vader, but he never gets to show it. There is no struggle for Vader's soul. He sucks at converting Luke too. And besides that, this most powerful of Sith Lords is basically chairbound.

The result of these defects is that the finale of the film, the climax of climaxes... is kinda dull. Want proof? Ask yourself if anyone talks about the lightsaber battle being all that special.

So think about this instead...

The scene begins aboard the Death Star. Luke has given himself up to convert Vader. It seems to have failed. The Emperor makes a sales pitch to Luke, but Luke holds firm. Luke, at the same time, keeps trying to convert Vader. Finally, the Emperor decides to switch to torture. When he does, Luke frees himself and escapes into the dark maze of the unfinished room.

The Emperor orders Vader to hunt Luke down and kill him. Vader, however, shows conflicting emotion and hesitates. His hesitation angers the Emperor. The Emperor takes his own lightsaber and goes after Luke, leaving Vader out of the chase.

As the Emperor hunts Luke, Luke is doing his best to re-awaken Anakin Skywalker inside Vader by talking about father-son relationships. It frustrates the Emperor that he needs to fight Luke for Vader's soul and he becomes increasingly angry. Meanwhile, Luke remains calm. He refuses to draw his lightsaber. He knows he cannot beat the Emperor in a fight because the Emperor is too good of a swordsman, plus he knows that if he draws his lightsaber, Vader will respond instinctively to the danger and will revert to the Dark Side. He also realizes that if he does fight, he will violate his Jedi beliefs and will corrupt himself. Hence, he is stuck with nonviolence.

Finally, the Emperor finds Luke and starts destroying the object blocking him from Luke. At this point, Vader finally loses control and blocks the Emperor's blow. The Emperor pushes him aside and says that he has taken everything else from Vader, he will now take his son. Vader goes into rage mode and brutally attacks the Emperor with his lightsaber. The Emperor is stunned by the force Vader uses because he combines both the Force and the Dark Side of the Force in his attack because he now has a foot in both camps. Vader overpowers the Emperor and knocks him to the ground with his blows. Then in one final strike, Vader hits the Emperor's lightsaber so hard that he cuts through the Emperor's lightsaber blade (a seeming impossibility) and kills the Emperor. However, using this much force mortally wounds Vader and he dies after a quick discussion with Luke about regret.

The end.

I think this would be much more true to the ideals of the characters. I think the battle for Vader's soul would be much more dramatic than the half-assed lightsaber fight between Vader and Luke. I think the symbolism of cutting the Emperor's lightsaber in half would be amazing and would become the most talked about moment in the entire series. It would also finish the same cirle of betrayal that the Emperor started when he got Vader to betray Ben.



tryanmax said...


AndrewPrice said...

Thanks, tryanmax. This is really the only ending that ultimate makes sense, I think.

After Star Wars, the fight we wanted was Luke versus Vader. But then they introduced the Emperor and suddenly, beating Vader only meant beating the second best. At the same time, Lucas introduced Vader's backstory, which made the real fight the one between Vader and the Emperor. So having Vader and Luke fight it out was never the emotionally best choice even though Lucas saw the father v. son angle because he had clouded it with something more important.

This ending fixed that issue while addressing both storylines. And it ends with that amazing moment of seeing a lightsaber beam cut in half.

Anonymous said...

I like it alot.

Jason said...

Actually, that scenario isn’t too far off from the early drafts of Return of the Jedi. In those, the Emperor actually took Luke prisoner by his own agents and didn’t want Vader involved. At one point Vader leaves his ship and confronts the Emperor, the Emperor responds by using the Force to deactivate Vader’s breathing apparatus for a moment to discipline him, then tells him to leave. Vader then returns secretly, stalking the Emperor and Luke in the dungeon (I think in this draft they were on the Empire’s city-planet and not the Death Star). There is still a Luke-Vader fight afterwards. Vader does dispatch the Emperor in an apparent suicide move by dragging both of them into a lava pit.

There was also a subplot where Moff Jerjerrod (the Death Star commander) had a bigger role and was actually Vader’s rival. He facilitated Luke’s capture and had him shipped to the Emperor. (At one point Vader says, “Luke, beware, you are the Emperor’s prey now.”) Vader goes after Luke and breaks Jerjerrod’s neck when he tries to interfere.

I suspect a lot of that material was jettisoned because it pretty much turned Vader too quickly from his villain status into a kind of anti-hero for much of the movie until his final redemption. But I think if done well some intrigue along those lines would have helped the film.

That said, I actually like the Luke-snapping scene where he beats the tar out of Vader. It shows how close he would have come to being like Vader – the shot of Vader’s smoldering mechanical stump coupled with Luke looking at his own mechanical hand illustrated it visually. It was like Luke’s “final temptation” moment. When he finally throws away the saber, it marks the moment where the Emperor has lost any grip on Luke’s soul, as well marking a turning point in Luke’s growth as a Jedi knight. You can also tell in the Emperor’s face how this development has pissed him off, as he stops being as smug as he was throughout the picture.

Even as imperfect as the Luke/Vader/Emperor arc was, I still appreciate the subtlety in spots, before Lucas figured out to toy with his old movies a thousand different ways. At least Vader wasn’t shouting “Noooo!” just as flung the Emperor down the reactor shaft in the original version…

I will say having a lightsaber beam actually be broken in two would be pretty awesome. :)

Koshcat said...

Your's and Jason's are both very good. I felt the same way at the end as Jason. Luke nearly turned but at the last moment stopped. Vader discovered that Luke was stronger in his soul and wanted a better future for his son. Who then proceeded to become a virgin monk on a deserted Irish island.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks GypsyTyger! I think this would have been an amazingly strong ending.

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I think that would have been a stronger ending than the one they used, though it seems rather convoluted, which as we saw with the prequels, is something Lucas trended toward.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, Yeah, I don't know how he ended up in Ireland.

Kenn Christenson said...

I think another problem - is the cutting away to Endor and the Death Star attack. It took the steam of whatever tension/conflict was building in the Emperor's chamber.

AndrewPrice said...

Kenn, I agree with a caveat. IF you do it right, then cutting away can raise the tension. To do that, you need to build to a near climax and then cut away at the cliffhanger.

Lucas tended to cut away either after resolving a tension moment, or right in the middle of the tension without giving you a cliffhanger.

Post a Comment