Episode 116: Revisionist Ending of Return of the Jedi

I’ve decides to turn this into finale week and keep going with some of the more interesting endings to movies, TV shows, and other serialized texts. Today I want to expand upon Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi. I know what you are thinking, it’s not technically the ending to anything since the prequels were done like 20 years later and Episode VII is on the foreseeable horizon. For some of the purists there is only one trilogy and that’s the original one. It also makes sense within the context that if you look at the episodic chronology of the films, 6 is still technically the end, notwithstanding the new upcoming ones. So let’s revisit a story from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Let’s set the stage: Han, Chewie, Leia, and a hundred or so Ewoks are battling stormtroopers trying to infiltrate the shield generator base. Out in space we have Lando Calrissian and a Rebel fleet being almost destroyed by a new Death Star that is fully operational though still under construction. Inside we have Luke and Darth Vader facing off to the Emperor’s delight. Should Vader win then one of the single most powerful threats to his power will be destroyed and he can further guilt his apprentice into undying loyalty. Should Luke win then he would only do so by giving into the hate and the Dark Side so brand new apprentice without the asthmatic cyborg look. The son defeats the father but decides to follow the light, much to the Emperor’s dismay so Force lightning until Vader’s sacrifice throws the old space wizard down the shaft of planet destroyer. In the ensuing chaos of everything blowing up, Luke must drags his redeemed father who has died in his arms unto a ship and an escape. As the action finally wades down and we are reaching the conclusion, a funeral pyre is lit right after the sun sets on the forest moon of Endor.

Funeral pyres in literature are pretty epic for a lot of cool reasons. First off, we are 100% sure the character can’t be revived beyond this point. It’s a more satisfying moment than just falling down a pit never to be seen again or caught in an explosion. It means something when you get to have a moment with a fallen character and be able to provide a proper ceremony/ritual to mourn their passing. Burial evokes a sense of ending but goes with the image of descent, not to mention that there is a chance that someone could desecrate the body or undead issues. The funeral pyre shows just as much work without the idea of things getting muddy/dirty. The body is consumed by the flames and the energy ascends with the smoke. When Luke did this it seemed appropriate at so many levels but then we see that in Episode 1 the same thing is done for Qui Gon Jinn so maybe this is the official Jedi funeral ceremony (which then raises the question as to whether this was a coincidence or if Toda’s training was far more extent than we thought.) Luke is visibly conflicted the entire time as a whirlwind of motions runs through his mind. His father saved him, and in doing so found his way back to the Light side, but he could not save him. His greatest enemies are destroyed and he has helped usher in an era of peace but only through the destruction and death of so many. The war is now over and the only girl who has ever kissed him is actually his sister. And yet, as he stares into the flames his own problems start to be consumed away as the nearby celebrations call to him to be happy once again.

Now we get to the controversial part below is the ending you will find if you do a standard search online of if you happen to own any of the recent versions of the film. Right after the funeral pyre scene we have a small montage of celebrations going on in various locales across the Star Wars planetary system. Naboo, Coruscant, Cloud City, and even Tatooine are shown in celebration that the Empire is no more. If you hear close enough, you can almost make out Jar Jar declaring that “Wesa free!”. From the dramatic change in lighting and overall new tech, you can easily assume that these scenes were digitally added in. As bad as they may be, they help tie in the prequel trilogy to the overarching ending of this moment. However the one part that really got everyone mad is that they replaced old Anakin hologram ghost with Hayden Christensen and completely left out Qui Gon (who kind of invented the whole, giving your spirit to the Force before dying, which is why his voice comes in at some points during 2 and 3). Urgh still mad at this one.

Below here is the link to the original ending as I saw it, and by I saw it I mean in an old VHS a decade after it came out and then in the only slightly upgraded theatrical release in the mid 90s. No extras, just Ewoks and the rest of our heroes hanging out and dancing. No camo or uniforms, just fancy clothes and smiles as people finally have a moment to celebrate as the memorable score by John Williams again gives us a nice tune that makes your head waddle. The central cast comes together one last time and then bang, roll credits. Bittersweet resolutions plus a reunion after all the main conflicts have been resolved equals a proper ending in my book.

May the Force be with you,

G

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