I recently read this post by Albert Burneko about how Return of the Jedi spoiled the original Star Wars trilogy by seeking to legitimise Vader’s actions and make him out to be a redeemable, conflicted and ultimately loving estranged father figure.
The article is in equal measure funny and analytically astute, and well worth a read.
Indeed, hidden amongst the comments, Burneko argues that Vader’s transition from heel to hero should never have been the climax of Return of the Jedi at all. And when someone asks him “How do you wrap up the saga? What’s your rewrite?” he responds with an elegant and rather more satisfying ending to the original trilogy.
I include that comment here, because I wanted to share it, and it was too long to tweet an image of it, and too obscured below the line to simply leave a reply commending it.
And so, imagine Jedi if it ended thusly:
… Maybe, as would make more sense, Luke feels conflicted, rather than Vader. Maybe he gives himself up to Vader earlier in the movie, takes a crack at trying to reach the guy’s fatherly soul, and learns, heartbreakingly, that Vader doesn’t have one, when Vader gleefully hands him over to the Emperor to be Force-lightninged. And then maybe Luke has to come to terms with the devastating reality that he has no family (because in this version, the Leia-as-sister shit never happens) and maybe he discovers agape—the brotherly love of all humanity—is what motivates him to fight for the Rebellion.
Maybe he has to confront and triumph over his own anger and hurt at being rejected by his father to vanquish him (imagine how emotionally crushing his final blow against Vader would be in this case) and the Emperor. Or, hey, even better! Maybe he bursts into fury, outfights Vader, and whacks the old man’s hand off (as in Jedi)—and then watches in stunned horror as the Emperor callously executes Vader and dumps him down the shaft for this one final disappointment! Maybe the Emperor figures now he’s got his new apprentice, this badass young fella who just wore out Darth fucking Vader! Maybe Luke has to resist this one last Dark-Side temptation, this flattery at being offered so much power to make people fear him and the momentary flash of spurned glee he felt at seeing the father who rejected him tossed into the trash. Maybe that’s when he pulls himself together and utters the “I am a Jedi, like my father” speech and the final showdown begins! Luke versus Palpatine. Tell me that wouldn’t be badass.
So then maybe he defeats the Emperor and wins the day for the Rebellion, but (sorta like Frodo) finds that it’s bittersweet for him personally, because he’s still alone, and now he’ll live with the memory of having participated in the killing of the only other Skywalker in the world. Maybe this makes Luke more of a hero, because what he accomplished benefits pretty much everybody else in the galaxy more than it benefits him personally—like the protagonists of many of the Westerns from which the original Star Wars drew inspiration. Maybe the movie ends with a hokey but understated sign—him coming back to the celebration and putting his arm around somebody after a moment of sad reflection—that in the long run, Luke will be okay, because of the joy he takes from knowing he gave everything he could to the people he loves.
And maybe this makes Vader an even more tragic figure, because Luke summoned Dark-Side emotions in his fight with Vader, felt the hate flowing through him, and tasted the temptation to follow it all the way down to total corruption, but pulled himself back—and this shows the fullness of Vader’s fall, casts into devastating relief all the chances he had to redeem himself, and never took one. Maybe we all (Luke included) come to understand that Vader was the way he was not because of one mistake or an overdetermined misunderstanding, but because he chose the Dark Side—and we can think about the horror he became, and have the insight that a man would have to be really, reeeeally fucking broken to choose to be that, and then to keep choosing it over and over and over again, even to the point of re-choosing it while a genocidal god-king is electrocuting his son right in front of him. Maybe it illustrates just what a tragic character poor Anakin Skywalker really was, that when he fell, he just kept falling forever.
This storyline still makes Vader a tragic character! More of one, I think! And it never requires him to have even the least lapse in his fanatical zeal for the Dark Side; in fact, it benefits from him maintaining that zeal right up until the moment the Dark Side kills him. Hell, it’s even compatible with almost everything from the prequel trilogy! And, most crucially, I spit-balled it in like 15 minutes. George Lucas sucks balls.
I see this as a huge improvement, but who knows? Maybe it’s not our story to tell. What do you think?