Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

Inciting Event: Before the Inciting Event, a new Death Star is nearly finished and operational, and soon the Empire will become unstoppable because of it.

The Inciting Event takes a while before we reach it, because in the Dirst Act, the mission to rescue Han Solo is a mini-adventure in itself that shows Luke has become a full-fledged Jedi Knight (but with some potential to turn to the dark side). It also resolves the Han Solo vs. Jabba the Hutt conflict that was introduced in Episode IV and hit its low point in Episode V, climaxing here in the first act of this episode.

After that, the actual Inciting Event for this episode’s main plot hits, when Yoda commissions him to face his father, Darth Vader, one last time in a bid to bring balance to the Force and end the Emperor’s reign of terror. Simultaneously, Darth Vader and his master, Emperor Palpatine, scheme to seduce Luke to the Dark Side of the Force. Luke also learns that Leia is his sister and that she is strong in the Force, which creates an additional conflict that sets up a heightening of the stakes and a very pinchy plot turn leading into the Climax later.

First Plot Point: Luke joins his friends on the mission to destroy the second Death Star’s shield generator ahead of the Rebel fleet’s arrival. He regrets this decision when he and Vader sense each other as Luke and Co.’s stolen Imperial shuttle flies past Vader’s ship. This makes Vader aware of his son Luke’s whereabouts, thus sealing their final confrontation.

First Pinch Point: Luke and friends encounter Imperial scouts on the Endor moon and defeat them in a speeder bike chase through the forest before they can report the Rebels’ presence. Soon after, they are captured by Ewoks.

Meanwhile, Emperor Palpatine orders his fleet hidden behind the moon, setting a trap for the coming Alliance attack.

Midpoint: The Rebels, with the aid of Leia’s befriending a native Ewok named Wicket, and with Luke and C-3PO putting on a theophanic display, have gone from being slow-roasted by the Ewoks, to having the Ewoks join their cause. They can now go on the offensive with the whole native population on their side.

Luke tells Leia she is his sister and that Vader is her father too. He surrenders to the Empire and they take him to Vader.

Second Pinch Point: Luke fails to convince Vader to abandon the Dark Side and become again the good man he once was. Vader instead takes him to the Emperor, even as he confirms that part of him wishes he could be redeemed, but feels it is too late.

Third Plot Point: The rebel fleet comes out of hyperspace and falls into the Empire’s trap: The Death Star is already operational. The Rebels immediately start being destroyed by the Imperial fleet, and then the Death Star joins in by wiping out entire battle cruisers.

The Rebels on the ground are captured before they can destroy the shield generator.

Luke surrenders to his dark thoughts and attacks Palpatine, launching an all-out duel between himself and his father.

Climax: Vader reads Luke’s thoughts of anxiety for his sister Leia, and turns his fears against him by threatening to turn her to the dark side if Luke will not join the Emperor as a new dark apprentice. This ironically both enrages Luke to protect her and coerces him to offer himself in her place whether he means for it to or not. Luke unleashes his full fury upon his father until he cuts off his hand. This deed mirrors Vader cutting Luke’s hand off in Episode V, echoing Obi-Wan’s description of Vader being “more machine than Man.” Luke is becoming what he fears most. He stops the fight in remorse when he realizes  destroying his own father is just what the evil Emperor wants.

Luke throws away his lightsaber and refuses to kill Vader or turn to the Dark Side, no matter the price. The Emperor makes him pay that price, tearing at his body with a Force lightning attack that will soon kill him. Vader sees his son’s suffering and breaks his dark covenant with the Emperor. He chooses to return to the light, and he throws the Emperor down a deep shaft into the bowels of the Death Star where he dies in a torrential explosion of dark energy.

The Rebels on the Endor moon turn the tables on their captors with the help of the Ewoks, and destroy the shield generator protecting the Death Star.

Climactic Moment: Luke is dragging his dying father to the hangar to fly them both away from the Death Star, when his father requests he remove the mask of Vader, knowing he will die without it. Vader’s redemption is complete when he looks on his son with his own eyes, the eyes of Anakin Skywalker, before he dies at peace with himself. Luke has saved his father and together, they have destroyed the last of the Sith, bringing balance to the Force.

With the shield finally down, the rebels break through to the Death Star’s core and destroy it. The remaining Rebel starships narrowly escape the explosion, as does Luke.

Resolution: Luke cremates his father’s remains. The Rebels celebrate their victory with their new friends the Ewoks, Han and Leia finally get together, and the Anakin Skywalker joins Obi-Wan and Yoda as a spirit of light, smiling back at the son who saved him. The galaxy is at peace, and free from the Emperor’s tyranny, and the restoration of balance to the Force prophesied since Episode I is finally coming to fruition.

Comments From Aaron: Like Episode V, Episode VI has two major parallel plots, one for Luke and one for the rest of the Rebels, with a focus on Han and Leia (though less so here than in Episode V). Luke’s arc is his more internal conflict of light versus dark, saving his father or being destroyed by his fears for his family’s destiny.

The other Rebels’ arc is the external conflict of the war in the stars and the battle on the ground, which are the result of this conflict of the Dark Side trying to corrupt the Light on a large scale.

The parallel arcs aren’t evenly distributed or completely in sync at the beginning because we have to wrap up the unresolved problem of Han being imprisoned by Jabba (from the ending of Ep V), but the parallel plots come together into an extremely tight synchronization as the action funnels gradually into the climactic moment.

Comments From K.M. Weiland: The structural timing of the turning points would actually have Luke’s arrival at Jabba’s Palace as the Inciting Event and the triumphant escape from Tatooine as the First Plot Point. But Aaron’s analysis is closer to the heart and purpose of the actual structural moments.

This is by far the least well structured of the original trilogy. The Jabba mini-episode in the beginning doesn’t strictly affect any of the plot to follow, and the Endor section prior to Luke’s departure doesn’t offer a strong thematic throughline.

Everything of importance happens in the Third Act, which means there’s a lot crammed in there (including, in my opinion, the best space battle ever put on film).

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