Star Wars: Return of the Jedi ending explained

Mark Hamill, Gerald Home, and Hugh Spight in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983). © Lucasfilm Ltd.
Mark Hamill, Gerald Home, and Hugh Spight in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983). © Lucasfilm Ltd. /

After a successful run with the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, in 1983, it was time to close all that out with Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

Episode V left things off on a cliffhanger. Luke had just found out that Vader was his father, and he narrowly escaped the Sith Lord on Cloud City. But Han was missing! He had been sent off to Jabba the Hutt via the bounty hunter Boba Fett. And the group of Rebels couldn’t move on with one of their friends missing.

That’s where Return of the Jedi picks up. And once Han is captured from Jabba the Hutt’s clutches, things get more interesting from there. The Rebels discover that the Empire has built a second Death Star above the forest moon Endor. And of course, it becomes their goal to destroy the Empire’s mega-weapon yet again. The team then heads for Endor, where they each split up duties, and this is where our breakdown begins.

The battle in space recapped

As the ground team headed to Endor, Lando Calrissian — a general now — took the Millenium Falcon to lead the assault on the Death Star II. But Lando could only do so much because his mission was dependent on the ground crew lowering the Death Star’s shields.

Lando’s mission is probably the easiest to explain here. Wait for the Death Star shields to go down, then blow it up to bits. And, eventually, he did just that. This time, the crew knew not to build in the self-destruct mechanism that the last Star had. But with a few explosives to the reactor core, Lando was successful in pulling it off.

The mission on Endor explained

As mentioned above, Lando’s mission was dependent on Han, Leia, Chewie and the droids. In order to attack the Death Star, the shields would need to be down first. And the only way to do that was by entering the Empire’s station on Endor and putting down the shields themselves. At first, they encountered some trouble with the natives of the planet, the Ewoks. But they eventually gained their trust, and the Ewoks became an ally when it came to helping fend back the Empire’s troopers. With some success, Han, Leia and the rest of the crew were able to breach the station, and their plan worked. But where was Luke?…

Why did Luke leave Endor?

Luke was initially on the ground on Endor. But he revealed to Leia that he had to go confront Vader first. He also confided in Leia that Vader was his father (which he had learned in the previous movie) and that Leia was his sister. In the end, it was always going to come down to Luke and Vader, so Luke figured he shouldn’t delay the inevitable. And so, Luke was captured and brought to Vader. But Vader naturally had other motives than Luke. And they boarded a ship together so that Luke could be brought to see the Emperor.

Of course, the Emperor was hopeful to sway Luke to the Dark Side just as he did Vader, because both father and son were incredibly powerful in the ways of the Force. Luke, though would not give in, and the Emperor retaliated by punishing him with lightning bolts. That’s when Vader did something out of character, saving the young Skywalker by lifting the Emperor and throwing him down a shaft. But why did Vader betray his master? Perhaps the call to the Light had been too strong when he saw his own son in pain and agony. We’re sure Vader had seen enough of that in his day, and this was the final straw.

That act was enough to redeem Vader in the end. But the lightning strikes he suffered from lifting Palpatine were enough to damage his whole body, leaving him to die only moments after saying his final words to Luke.

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In the end, the Rebels were finally able to celebrate, knowing the Empire had finally been defeated. The Emperor was “dead”, Darth Vader was too, and the Death Star was no more. It ushered in an era of the New Republic, and there would be a period of peace in the galaxy in the years to come.