It’s been a point of contention on this blog, and on the Words With Nerds podcast as to how “convoluted” Luke’s plan to save Han from Jabba was. I won’t recall all of the steps because if you haven’t watched Return of the Jedi, please do so now.
Anyway, it seems like there were a lot of unnecessary layers, especially when he could have just shown up with his lightsaber and kicked a ton of exhaust port.
Of course, that action isn’t necessarily Jedi–like. And that plays into my new thinking on this matter, because I think we need to start drawing the distinction between Luke’s intended plan and his crisis plan management.
Always In Motion, the Future Is
A lot of people forget that Jedi cannot see into the future with any reliability. To presume that Luke knew for certain that his plan would end with the sail barge fight is fooling ourselves.
As a result, Luke was executing several plans in succession, not one ridiculously ill-conceived one.
To wit, Lando was planted as a scout. This is really good thinking, as he could let Luke know the strength of numbers, who was armed and how closely-guarded our favorite frozen Corellian was.
The one hitch with that, and I freely admit it, is that Lando should have given some sort of heads-up about the Rancor pit trap. But let’s presume he didn’t want to blow cover until things went down.
Luke may have also misjudged his ability to get at Jabba before the trap was sprung. In which case, he was just rolling with one more piece of the plan going wrong.
And this plan starts going wrong from the beginning. But we’ll fast forward to the key component.
Luke is testing Jabba at each stage to see if he can find a peaceful resolution to everything. The lightsaber is not on him for three possible reasons in this scenario, all of which I think make a lot of sense. You could also take two or all three in conjunction with each other.
- They are:
- Luke wants Jabba to underestimate him.
Think about it. The Jedi have been extinct for decades by that point, at least so far as the public knows. Better to have Jabba believe he’s a crackpot that presents no threat.
- He doesn’t want to rely on the weapon as it sends a more-antagonistic signal than walking in unarmed.
Sticking to that pacifist ideal, Luke wants to project that he is unarmed and so avoid escalation. As Lucas repeatedly demonstrates unintentionally, being the billionaire ex-hippy that he is, pacifism never works.
- There’s not a chance they’re letting him walk in to see Jabba with it on his belt.
This is the obvious one. No need for explanation.
So, he puts it in Artoo as that last-resort option. He does not know that last resort will be on the sail barge. He likely thought Artoo would be in the throne room (Artoo gets places) and he could get the saber in a pinch if the last negotiations fail. Of course, this opens up the question of why no one ever thinks of searching Artoo since everyone hides vital things in him constantly, but at that point you’re nit-picking.
Dealing With Things Going Wrong
So with this cascading waterfall of miscues, Luke doesn’t count on Leia being captured and displayed in the way she was.
Remember, she sneaks in to Jabba’s palace to get Solo. Jabba catches her, but instead of imprisoning her with Han and Chewie, he chains her up. You could make the argument her presence makes it difficult for Luke to threaten Jabba with the gun.
R2 isn’t where he expects him to be. Lando is unable to assist, because he wants to make sure Leia is safe once Luke goes into the pit (notice he was positioned to help if things had gone differently). Threepio is useless in a crisis. Han and Chewie are in the dungeons.
So basically, it’s not that Luke had a convoluted plan, it’s that things constantly went sideways and he kept trying to adapt the plan. He should be lauded for adapting in such a way as to guarantee victory. We never get clued in as the audience because like Qui-Gon, Luke maintains an even keel even in the worst storm.
I think all of us, who manage people and/or projects, should admire this.