The Annual Winter Marathon is one of my favorite events of the year – three related movies (and pizza!) in one very long day.  Usually we have highlighted the work of a single director for our marathons, but the first marathon (though they were all directed by Sergio Leone) was more strictly showing the “Man with no name” spaghetti western trilogy.  So, seven years after the first marathon it seemed like a good time to take a sabbatical and go for a trilogy rather than highlight the work of a single director.

Of course, there’s still the choice of trilogy – though that was mostly made for us with the mid-December release of the highly anticipated Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens.  And given that, what could be better (you might ask) than showing 1977’s Star Wars (directed by George Lucas), 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back (directed by Irvin Kershner) and 1983’s Return Of The Jedi (directed by Richard Marquand)?

Well, perhaps watching that trilogy in the “Despecialized Edition”, a fan-edit which has painstakingly removed the digital insertions that Lucas made to the films starting in the late ’90s and which cannot be avoided in any current release of the film. That would do nicely.

It’s not entirely clear how the best way to write these movies up would be. Pretty much everybody knows the storyline, and so I think I’d like to couch this is terms of an argument.

Thesis: Star Wars is a far superior film to Empire and Jedi.

When I was growing up, it was pretty clear to me that Star Wars was the best of the three films, with Return of the Jedi following it up and The Empire Strikes Back taking up the rear. Despite the fact that this ranking was never explicit, and established by about the age of 12, I’m not sure that I’ve changed the order of the three films in my mind in all the three following decades (though, admittedly, the gap between Star Wars and Jedi has grown, and that between Jedi and Empire has shrunk).

So you can imagine my confusion when the Star Wars fans I met in college insisted (to a fan, and to the death) that it was Empire, and not Star Wars, that was the best film of the three. I think they did have persuasive arguments about the shortfallings of Jedi, but their attraction to the second film in the series basically seems to come down the the fact that it’s dark and Darth Vader reveals that he’s Luke’s father. But what it comes down to for me is that from a narrative point of view, Star Wars is amazingly tight, while Empire and Jedi are a complete and total mess. And if you don’t believe that’s true: read on, Joel Robinson!


OK, so I’ll ignore the fact that we don’t have the same illumination on the moon and on Tatooine

I’ll start with Star Wars. The amazing thing about this script is that basically everything that happens in the entire film – everything – is driven by the backstory established in the opening crawl and the first scene. The backstory is that the rebels have stolen the plans to the Death Star and Princess Leia has them; the opening scene has the Empire capturing Leia’s ship and the evil Darth Vader searching for the plans.


Preboarding is now available for families with small children, our Business Plus Class travelers, and Sith Lords.

Little do we know it at the time, but we see a brief moment of Leia putting a holographic message onto R2-D2 during the chaos of the Empire storming the ship. Leia, who was trying to get to former ally General Obi-Wan Kenobi anyway, in desperation has sent off the two droids (and the plans) on their own to get to Kenobi. And everything that follows makes step-by-step perfect narrative sense.


Could be the human race race is run

The droids are captured by desert-roaming scavengers, which results in them being sold to a moisture farmer. Now, this moisture farmer happens to be the exact right moisture farmer (that’s what makes it a story), but this coincidence is basically the single and only coincidence that has to occur in the entire film. Why is it the right moisture farmer? Because Uncle Owen is raising orphan Luke, who happens to be (unannounced to Luke, but known to his guardians) the hidden son of one of the greatest Jedi who ever lived. Obi-Wan Kenobi is also one of the greatest Jedi who ever lived, and why is he on this godforsaken planet? Well, he’s in hiding more or less, but in hiding on this particular planet because he’s watching over Luke from afar. He’s even keeping Luke’s father’s lightsaber in storage, ready to give to him at the right time.


Ooooh!  I *love* JEM!

And the right time turns out to be driven by the battle between the rebels and the Empire. R2-D2 accidentally shows Luke a short clip of Leia’s holographic message, and Luke is immediately smitten. So when the droid manipulatively suggests that removing his restraining bolt might allow him to show the remainder of the film, Luke removes it. R2-D2 immediately clams up, but now uses the opportunity to escape and try to complete his mission of taking the message to General Kenobi. This means Luke has to chase that droid down.


The Jedi Safety Coordinator came down hard on Obi-Wan for not giving Luke the mandatory Lightsaber Training Course before handing over his father’s weapon

Meanwhile, the Empire having failed to find the plans on the rebel ship surmises that they must have been jettisoned to the planet on the unmanned escape pod. They trace the droids to the scavengers, they trace the scavengers to the moisture farm, and they slaughter any and all involved, Luke escaping because he was chasing down a runaway droid that has taken him into the arms of old Ben, who is perfectly ready to train just one more young Jedi.


Hey Chewy, if we put you in a scanner, your MST would be lighting up like a Christmas tree!

With his guardians dead, there’s nothing left for Luke on Tatooine so he agrees to accompany Ben on his mission to take the droids to Leia’s father on her home planet of Alderaan as requested by the hologram. They go to the Mos Eisley spaceport and hook up with a greedy and scofflaw smuggler in Han Solo in the hopes of making it to Alderaan without any “Imperial entanglements”.


Don’t pull his finger, your highness!  His mask has a filter!

In the meantime, the captive Leia has been taken to the Death Star, where Darth Vader tries to learn from her where the secret rebel base is, so that the Empire can crush it once and for all. She successfully resists his attempts to torture the information out of her, so the Empire tries a different strategy – threaten to use the Death Star’s massive power to blow up her home world of Alderaan. At this point she talks (though she gives bad information) but the Empire blows up Alderaan anyway (because they’re evil and not to be trusted).


Planets are so last eon anyway.  Asteroid fields are where the real action is these days.

So naturally, when Luke and Ben and Han arrive at Alderaan, it’s not there. They hardly have time to consider what this means before they encounter an Imperial TIE Fighter scout, which they try to chase down only to get captured by the tractor beam of the Death Star. Keep in mind, they went to Alderaan because Leia said to, and the Death Star was there to blow up Alderaan because the Empire needed to pry information out of Leia. They didn’t just randomly find the Death Star. This is still completely tight.


And this is for Trainspotting!

They evade capture because Stormtroopers are stupid, though Darth Vader senses Obi-Wan’s presence. R2-D2 hooks into the main computer to find out where the controls to the tractor beam are, and happens to learn from the detainee list that Princess Leia is on board the Death Star. Obi-Wan sets off to disable the tractor beam while Luke and Han go to rescue Leia. Why? Well, Luke’s in love with her hologram, and she’s really important…and of course while they don’t necessarily consider this at the time, THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO NEXT IF THEY ESCAPE. They don’t know where the secret rebel base is. They only know to go to Alderaan, which got all blowed up. Escape is the next order of business, but escape with the Princess? All of a sudden the mission continues because she knows where the rebel base is.


Is this going to be on the test?

Of course, the Empire has this one figured out too, and basically lets them escape with only a token show of resistance, because they have planted a tracking device on the Millennium Falcon. Leia even suspects this, but there isn’t much alternative to escaping, so they analyze those plans (remember, the plans from the opening crawl?) fast at the secret rebel base on Yavin, because they’re pretty sure the Death Star is on its way. They’re right. However, during the transit time the rebels find a weakness, and in one of the great air/space battle scenes of all time they manage to destroy the Death Star with (predictably) only a few seconds left on the clock. Han Solo (who everybody thought had bailed out with his reward) even comes back as the ultimate surprise wingman. And everybody lives happily until the next movie.

And there you have it – you take some stolen plans to a massive Imperial base, you force the rebels to jettison the plans in a last-ditch effort to keep hope alive, and you follow it where it goes. Everything falls into place. There aren’t any plot holes, basically every plot point that gets introduced gets introduced for a good reason, every character’s motivations are clear and their actions make sense within the narrative, and the only coincidence is the droids being sold to Uncle Owen. Tighter than tight and wholly satisfying. The rebels go from a desperate position to winning, Luke goes from a restless unknown desert dweller to a rebel hero and one of the few remaining force users in the known galaxy in a classic Hero’s Journey, Han redeems himself, Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to allow his friends to escape in a showdown with his former pupil – there are lots of great elements to this story.

You can always nitpick along the way. Shouldn’t it have been harder to blow up the Death Star than that? (Sure, but the idea of exploiting an unforeseen vulnerability is nearly universal – if you want the defeat of the bad guy to be anything but routine, the bad guy has to be stronger. But if the bad guy is stronger, the good guy has to win by being more clever, and it should be in a way that the bad guy doesn’t anticipate – or else he would adjust strategy accordingly. The idea of hubris plays in here as well – “I think you overestimate their chances” – but this is a tried and true story element.) Isn’t Ben’s ghost voice talking to Luke a bit hokey? (Maybe, and given how I’m going to rip into Empire and Jedi for ghost Jedi stuff it could be minorly problematic, but it’s not like Ben is giving him a cheat code. “Use the force” is the admonition, and for all we know on first viewing it could simply be Luke remembering Ben’s training and not a ghost voice at all. The future films would seem to blow that theory out of the water, but in real time, it’s reasonable.) How come the Death Star can obviously travel at lightspeed to get to the rebel base at Yavin, but then has to passively orbit around the planet to get a clear shot at the moon holding the base? (I admit it, that always bugged me.) A parsec is a unit of distance, not time! (OK, you’ve run out of legitimate complaints.)

The Empire Strikes Back, on the other hand…

This is a film that is riddled with logical and chronological issues, and that’s before it establishes C-3PO as the Jar-Jar Binks of the original series. I mean, this robot is so annoying that it has to be mouth-shushed, shut down, and even after it is torn into pieces and being carried around on Chewy’s back it’s still the most irritating force in the trilogy (sorry, Ewoks!)


Wanna see me do a cherry-drop?

We start on the ice planet of Hoth, where the rebels for unknown reason have established a hidden base that is about to get sniffed out by the the Empire. One wonders why they would choose a completely inhospitable planet, especially considering that their in-space rendezvous points seem to go completely undetected by the Empire throughout the series. Luke, while out on a scouting mission (not sure what there is to scout on an ice planet – and the worst of it is that he actually sees an Empire probe land and is unable to identify it) is attacked by an arbitrary Yeti (another danger Luke failed to scout out), chops off its arm with his lightsaber, and then has to be rescued by Han – but not before ghost Obi-Wan tells him where to go next. Remember in Star Wars how when Luke and Han wouldn’t have known where to go next, but they rescued the princess which gave them their next move? Yeah, way better than having a ghost show up to tell you where to go.

kiss 1

Hey, we’re all watching your incest here!

But first Luke has to get healed up, so he is allowed to get himself into an uncomfortable position that maybe could have been prevented had Obi-Wan bothered to tell him a little about his family.

we have atats

This is why turtles have short legs

Of course, we have to have a battle, so the Empire shows up with AT-ATs, which are probably nifty toys but are pretty silly war machines, considering that for all their armor they can be taken down with a tow cable and if they fall to the ground they explode. But in the end the Empire is too strong and the rebels have to run away again. So to recap: The rebels, who are running and hiding from the Empire, get found and have to go run and hide some more. That’s the first like 40% of your movie.

Sell THIS toy, Lucas!

Sell THIS toy, Lucas!

However, the Millennium Falcon fails to get away because its hyperdrive is unexpectedly on the blink, forcing them to first take cover in a cave on an asteroid the belly of a ridiculous asteroid worm, ultimately forcing them to try floating away from the Imperial fleet in the space garbage.

It’s about here that one of the more disturbing logical flaws of the film comes up. The opening crawl tells us that Vader is obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker. Doesn’t tell us how the Empire knows Skywalker’s name – perhaps his fame has spread through the galaxy. It could charitably be interpreted as the Empire searching for an unknown rebel leader that the audience knows is Skywalker, but that theory is crushed 21 minutes into the film, when Vader announces that he is sure that Skywalker is at the rebel base they have detected on Hoth. So the Empire knows about Luke Skywalker, and you would THINK that Vader could put two and two together…named Skywalker (hmm, THAT’S familiar), strong with the force, probably the right age considering when the events at the end of Episode III went down…doesn’t take an evil mastermind to figure this one out. Yet when the Hologram Emperor tells Vader he thinks Skywalker must the son of Anakin, Vader seems surprised. Really?

Unzip my head you may. Carry inside your algebra book you can.

Unzip my head you may. Carry inside your algebra book you can.

Meanwhile, Luke having been given the address “Yoda, Dagobah” has gone off and despite being one of the best pilots in the galaxy has crashed his X-Wing into a swamp. This swamp just happens to be the dwelling place of one Yoda. He crashes into the only place on the planet where he can find the guy he is looking for. Yoda, naturally, turns out to be an irritating troll muppet, who instead of saying, “Hey, I’m Yoda!” insists on pretending that he’s some sort of moron. Then he trains Luke in some boring montages because ghost Obi-Wan (somehow, not a terrible shock to him) says to. But naturally, Luke has a vision that his friends are in trouble (a vision – that’s like just as good as a ghost telling him where to go next, right?) so he bails to Cloud City.

We always take my spaceship cause it's never been beat/And we've never missed yet with the girls we meet

We always take my spaceship cause it’s never been beat/And we’ve never missed yet with the girls we meet

Cloud City, of course, is where Han and Leia take the Falcon next, because it’s nearby and the Yellow Pages says that his old buddy Lando Calrissian is in charge there. But they’re followed by bounty hunter Boba Fett, which means that the Empire, who wants to use Han and Leia as a trap to draw Luke out, gets there…before them. Which is pretty impressive and chronologically a bit iffy. Not the worst chronological fault in the sequence, because while Luke is training on Dagobah, which should presumably take months, the Falcon only seems to take hours to get to Cloud City…and the Falcon actually left first. This makes no sense at all.


Han Solo ignores his parents’ repeated warnings about not playing in the dry-cleaning bag

Of course, the “setting a trap for Luke” plan doesn’t make any sense either, because outside of Luke having a vision that tells him not only that they are in trouble but also exactly where they’re at, he can’t know that they’re captive. This is a dumb plan, and it shouldn’t work. Not only does it work, but Lando (Lando?) somehow is the one who tells the audience that Luke is on his way – like how in the world does he know? What, did they have some sort of telescope watching Dagobah where they didn’t even know he was? Dumb. But the upshot is that Lando betrays Han and Leia, gets Han frozen in carbonite as a test case for Luke (who Vader hopes to take to the Emperor), unbetrays Leia, and they bail out in the Falcon.

I can almost...reach it...

Indiana…let it go

Luke, who has taken the bait, confronts Darth Vader and gets hit with the news that his dad is being kept alive on an ambulatory ventilator. He refuses to give in to Vader’s seditious offer to rule the galaxy as father and son (pushing out the Emperor…there’s some blackmail material right there!), gets his hand cut off, and then decides to just jump into the void. And of course, he sticks the one-in-a-million landing into a dry waterslide which slows him down but then inexplicably dumps him out of the bottom of the floating city, where he catches onto an antenna long enough to send a telepathic Uber request to Leia to come pick him up.

And you’d think it would be over there, but they do still have to escape the Imperial fleet, and there’s yet another plot hole where the fleet general tells Vader that within a few moments the Millennium Falcon will be in range of the tractor beam, but then the Falcon flies right past the Star Destroyer and they don’t lock them down with it. And the movie ends with an unhatched plan to go save Han.

In short, nothing happens. The rebels are hiding out at the beginning of the movie, they’re on the run by the end of the first act and we don’t even hear about them again until the very end. Luke goes and does some boring whiny training with a tiny trolly muppet and then bails out early, finds out his Dad is Vader and gets his hand cut off. Han, Leia, and Chewy get betrayed and then immediately unbetrayed by Lando, but not in time to save Han from getting frozen in carbonite. The end. Nothing happens. Nobody changes outside of some minor training, one revelation, and the whole carbonite thing. The main characters are on the run at the beginning of the movie, and they’re pretty much on the run at the end of the movie (hanging out with the displaced rebel fleet and making plans to rescue Han). Totally unsatisfying in basically every way. And this is the movie that is “better” than the incredibly tight Star Wars?  I don’t think so.

But don’t forget the red-headed stepchild of the trilogy – Return Of The Jedi.

When I was a kid, for my money Jedi was an awesome film.  I can see the flaws in it now, but I loved it at the time.  So I guess Lucas got that Ewok bit right after all.


Ah yes, notorious gangster “Too Fat To Move”, very frightening

We start the film on Tatooine, because Han is frozen in carbonite and has been delivered to Jabba’s palace and needs to be rescued before we can move on with the real plot of the film. The rescue that Jedi comes up with is silly at best. First Lando infitrates the palace. Then C-3PO and R2-D2 present themselves to Jabba for no particularly good reason. Then Leia, disguised as a bounty hunter (in whose language “yo-to, yo-to” means, well…everything) delivers Chewbacca to Jabba and then defrosts Han in the middle of the night, which is kind of a bad call because in Jabba’s palace, everybody sleeps in the living room on the couches. Yeah, she gets caught, which leads to the whole metal bikini thing which is now being endlessly lamented on social media. Finally, Luke shows up, flubs trying to do a Jedi mind trick on Jabba, and has to escape a near-dinner encounter with the Rancor just to get to the Sarlacc pit, where the heroes can finally execute their plan – which is to have Luke use his lightsaber, hidden inside R2-D2, to kill a bunch of bozos.

I cannot stress more fully how terrible this plan is. Clearly Luke missed the whole strategies and tactics bit when training with Yoda. Given that Jabba is basically so fat he can’t move and has tiny vestigial T-Rex arms and Luke is capable of Jedi mind tricking his way past the guards right into the main chamber, why not just bring your lightsaber, slice Jabba’s throat, and then decapitate a bunch of people in the chaos, rather than be forced to deal with all the blasters and the laser cannon on the deck of the observation ship and possibly falling into the Sarlacc?

Also I cannot overstress the fact that this operation takes at least 30 minutes too long. You’re like 45 minutes into the movie, and nothing really important has happened yet.

When 900 years old you reach, make sense this script still will not.

When 900 years old you reach, make sense this script still will not.

But, not to get things moving, the story next transfers to Dagobah, where Luke goes back to see Yoda just in time for the formerly spry Jedi master to give up the ghost. Apparently once the extended warranty comes up on those Yodas, they just fall right apart so you have to go buy another one. Of course, Yoda does feel a bit bad about Luke having the hots for his own sister, so he dies with the words “There is another Sky…walk…er.” (Incidentally, when I first saw this as a kid I simply did not catch the “…walk…er” part and I thought “There is another sky” might have been Yoda having a near-death experience.) So Luke has a conference with ghost Obi-Wan and establishes that maybe he should just be a wingman for Han on that one. Good advice.

Still, nothing plotworthy has yet happened in our movie.


When the Emperor says “fully functional”, he doesn’t mean like Data

Finally we join the rebel fleet where we learn that the Empire is making another Death Star. Their intelligence indicates that it’s not yet operational, and that they should be able to mount an attack by disabling a shield generator on the nearby forest moon of Endor. So our heroes are sent off to the moon so they can disable the shield allowing the fleet to attack.

I want my two somethings!

I want my two Imperial credits!

Then comes the best part of Return of the Jedi – the Imperial speeder bikes. Sure, they’re kind of impractical, and the success of the speeder bike chase probably led directly to the horrid pod races in Episode I, but when I was a kid, that was the greatest thing ever.

jub jub

Carnivorous teddy bears – good choice of ally there

Unfortunately, despite being the kind of folks who can fight their way out of Jabba’s palace, Jabba being the most notorious gangster in an entire sector, our heroes manage to get captured by creepy unblinking teddy bears. And I say “creepy” because cute as these little Ewoks are, they are going to roast and eat their captives until C-3PO, who they believe is a golden god, tells them not to. Technically, Luke even has to force-levitate C-3PO in order to convince the Ewoks that he’s really angry or they were going to roast and eat them in despite of the commands of their golden god. This doesn’t make much sense. Also, Luke goes to the effort to force-levitate Threepio, but can’t be bothered to force-grab his lightsaber and make the fluffy stuffing fly?


Beta-testing indicates that carnivorous forest teddy bears can defeat our latest walking armored thing.  Can we just develop a freaking TANK already?

Well, to be fair, it was probably for the best that Luke didn’t follow in the footsteps of his father and go on an indiscriminate slaughter of the teddy bears (as compared to Tuscan raiders or younglings) because the Ewoks end up being instrumental in helping our heroes (sans Luke) finally if belatedly disabling the shield generator. Making friends. It’s what the light side does.

Should I go with the lightsaber bowtie for the Death Star Opening Ceremony, or...?

Should I go with the lightsaber bowtie for the Death Star Opening Ceremony, or…?

But I said “sans Luke” because he has surrendered himself to the Empire so he can go hang out with his Dad on Take Your Kid To The Death Star Day. The Emperor does his best to get Luke to turn to the dark side, because apparently he figures that Luke is a better Jedi than Vader. You know, the typical “strike down your dad, rule the universe with me” kind of stuff. In the meantime the rebel fleet has jumped in and found that not only is the shield still up, but the Death Star is fully functional, and its big laser starts picking off the fleet one by one. Here the Emperor reveals his own lack of appropriate tactics – apparently the intelligence of the new Death Star that got the rebel fleet was planted as a trap. “Oh, the Death Star isn’t functional! Oh, it will be easy to take down the shield generator!” Well, it works, of course – but why in the world cue them in to the actual location of the actual shield generator?!?!

I mean, duh! I don’t care if you put an extra legion of troops on the shield generator, why not make up some sort of lie that can’t possibly give the rebels a chance to take down the shield, like, I don’t know, giving them a fake code to shut the shield down. (“1…2…3…4…5! That’s the same as the combination on my luggage!”) Oh, sorry! There is no code! Ha, ha!


Waiting on the thunder

But more immediately, Luke resists giving in to the dark side, despite using his anger to cut off his dad’s hand (so much limb-chopping in this trilogy) and the Emperor gets pretty cheesed off and starts force-lightninging Luke.

Let me just say that force-lightning is pretty much the lamest Jedi power around. I mean, at least Darth Vader’s patented Force Choke actually successfully kills people from a distance (even over a hologram transmission). Lightsabers are awesomely vorpal. Force lightning just kind of hurts and burns Luke’s hair and makes his skeleton light up a bit, but takes so long to actually do anything other than disable him that Vader is able to repent of his evil, stagger over to the Emperor, pick him up through the force lightning, and throw him down a convenient exhaust shaft to his death. What good is this crappy force lightning? Also, it’s interesting to note that while Jedi are capable of levitating incredibly large objects like X-Wing fighters, they are not capable of levitating themselves, even when they’re falling down a convenient exhaust shaft to their death.

At least we'll never have to blow one of THESE up again!

At least we’ll never have to blow up one of THESE again!

To make a pretty short story short, the shield finally goes down, Lando pilots the Falcon into the middle of the Death Star to blow it up in a way that, although slightly different in detail, is essentially the same as that seen in Star Wars, Luke escapes in time with dead Vader and everybody lives happily ever after. Well, until the sequels come around anyway. The end.

At least this is a real ending – something Empire doesn’t have – but the story just seems to be missing the depth that it really needs. And the main problem here is that the script spends way too much time closing up plot threads from Empire to actually deal with its own material in earnest.

There is literally zero connection between rescuing Han from Jabba’s palace and the rest of the movie. None. The rescue of Han rightly belongs in Empire. It would make Empire 45 minutes too long and Jedi WAAAAY too short, but from a narrative point of view it belongs in Empire.

Furthermore, there is literally zero connection between Yoda’s death scene and the rest of the movie. None. Like the rescue of Han, it probably belongs in Empire. Now, I hear you say, “but Yoda was healthy when Luke left and then he goes back and Yoda is elderly and dies?” Sure, point taken, but THAT POINT STILL EXISTS WHEN THE SCENE IS PART OF JEDI. Yoda is like, not old in his 900s, then in what is by canon about a year later he’s so old that he’s about to lay down and die. (But not before cooking dinner, I mean he’s got company over and you can’t really expect the whiny Luke to fend for himself – hey, that’s the refrigerator, that’s the stove. You get on it, buddy!)

If you end Empire there – right as everybody is gathering with the rebel fleet – with Han rescued and Yoda dead and Luke on his own, crying into his oatmeal on Dagobah and not sure where to go next…maybe it works. You gotta cut out a bunch of fluff from Empire to make it work – Han’s gotta get captured way earlier for one thing – but there’s a lot of fluff to cut out. (Yeah, I’m looking at you, Yeti. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Asteroid Worm. For all I care, we can jump right into the middle of the Battle of Hoth…) Now it’s working for me in my head. Empire starts like this: Luke has already left, and is training with Yoda without ghost Obi-Wan having to tell him what to do next (“Tell you how to find me before his death, Obi-Wan did? Believe I would train you, Obi-Wan thought?”). The Empire is attacking Hoth. The rebels are losing. We can show parts of the battle so the fanboys get their AT-ATs if that’s what they want. The rebels bail out under cover of the big laser cannon, but something is wrong with the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive. So they make a (much simpler) escape to Cloud City, get followed and betrayed (with the Empire showing up AFTER them), Han gets frozen, Luke realizes his friends are in trouble and bails from his training (with far more credibility given to the potentially dark consequences of doing so), confronts Vader, etc. They find out that Han is being shipped to Jabba via Boba Fett, make a plan (that doesn’t suck) to rescue him, execute it, and then the others hook back up with the remainder of the fleet while Luke goes to Yoda, learns about Leia and kind of sits there dumbfounded as the movie ends with Yoda dead. Not too bad, that works! Everybody is pretty much still in as down of a position as they are at the end of Empire (Han could argue against that point) but it ties up story arcs that simply don’t belong in Jedi and don’t belong open at the end of Empire.

Of course, that leaves Jedi really, really short. But it could be fleshed out. The fundamental thread in Jedi is the Luke/Vader/Palpatine dynamic – is Luke going to turn to the dark side, is Vader going to turn to the light side – and that’s way underexamined. I don’t think it ever really appears that Luke is truly tempted. A real and legitimate temptation could easily get another 30 minutes worth of narrative elements into that dynamic, while leaving the story of the rebel attack mostly unchanged (but certainly expanded a bit, mostly on the planning stage). I can deal with the Ewoks, I can deal with the AT-STs – and as long as Han gets the shield down and the rebel fleet moves from “It’s a trap!” to victory we haven’t really changed the story.

So with Jedi, the makings are there (even if they DO resort to blowing up ANOTHER Death Star), it’s just too short. And maybe it’s too short not because Lucas couldn’t come up with ways to round it out, but because he was stuck with closing out storylines that damn well should have been closed out in Empire. And just maybe he shoved Empire storylines into Jedi because he had to spend too much time in Empire having Luke being attacked by Yetis and getting stuffed into Taun-tauns and fighting AT-ATs with tow cables, and having the Millennium Falcon hiding in Asteroid Worms and garbage dumps and other stuff that is totally irrelevant.

Anyway, recall the thesis: Star Wars is a far superior film to Empire and Jedi.

Q.E.D., right? Q.E.D., my friend. Q.E.D.