What If Darth Vader Didn’t Go Back to the Emperor After the End of Star Wars?

Usual disclaimer: Star Wars in this context means Episode IV: A New Hope

A number of things I’ve written lately about Star Wars have come back to the same question of how much time passes between the chapters of the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Usually I harp on the idea that the films seem to work best if you allow the least amount of time between them, or at least a minimal duration.

One was spurred from a Words With Nerds listener who made the poor choice to taunt me with a question on Twitter. He was concerned why there was a wait between Luke’s Death Star victory and his departure to Dagobah.

I helped him out with that, but then I got to thinking.

If I’m willing to compress the timelines as I see fit as an audience member (as any audience member should), then I have to entertain the thought that Darth Vader went straight from the defeat at the Death Star to his fleet.

Incidentally, Vader’s fleet is accepted to have been named the Death Squadron, which seems silly since Death Fleet would indicate a fleet. In all honesty, Death Fleet is a scarier name. When I think of “Death Squad,” I think of a crack troop command sent out to depose rival governments; when I think “Death Fleet” I think “end of Carthage.” Maybe that’s just me.

Anyhow, if we do compress time so there’s at most a matter of months between Star Wars and Empire, I think that adds a lot of urgency to Vader’s search as well. He doesn’t need to know the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star at first; he only need to know that there is a pilot and he’s with the Rebel fleet.

Death Fleet on the Move

So he gets to the Death Fleet (I’m just calling it that now) and commandeers them, makes them hang a sharp turn, and goes to Yavin to pound the Rebels into dust only to find they were too quick and relocated already.

The establishing shot of the Executor Super Star Destroyer from The Empire Strikes Back
It is the brute squad!

If you want to add intrigue, make his commandeering of the Death Fleet be a source of irritation for Ozzel and an origin point for the obvious enmity between them. Ozzel was happily going about his mission when Vader, hot off the Death Star loss, shows up and turns what should be a quiet assignment before retirement into a hellacious goose chase.

Vader stays in contact with the Emperor finding out information as he goes. True to the Sith way, the two are racing to find out about this mysterious pilot and never know what the other knows, adding even more subtext to their conversation in Empire.

Tying It Together

So let’s pair this with my explanation about Luke’s delayed Dagobah journey, as it’s viewed by @roberthayjr. The Rebels are all too aware of this pursuit — as established at the beginning of Episode V — and so Luke never has the time to quiet his mind enough to hear/see Ben’s spirit clearly.

It takes a near-death experience to spur Luke into the next stage of his life. This pairs nicely with things, I think, and even serves as a nice symbolic fact about how people approach their own lives: they have to appreciate how fragile mortality is before they start living wisely.

What do you think?

Darth Vader: Never Meant for Promotion

A lot is made of Darth Vader’s management style by fans of the Star Wars series. Everyone gets a thrill out of his willingness to choke his subordinates into submission and death when they fail him. Nearly everyone who has ever craved the power to do so with impunity has envied this command ability.

However, it betrays a fatal flaw in Vader’s character that is oft overlooked.

Vader Was Never Meant To Command

He was groomed for command. The Emperor wanted him to command. But the very things that made us love Vader as a character made him a terrible commander at his core.

As enjoyable as it is to choke someone out who fails you, because it conveys how little you tolerate failure, think of the other messages it sends. You have disregard for the lives of those who serve you. You consider people expendable cogs. You don’t consider feedback a necessary piece of management, but punishment.

Further, think of how much it actually paralyzes the command chain. Once you get a couple chokings out there, word spreads not just not to f*** up, but that Vader never tells people what it is that they’re f***ing up until it’s too late. I don’t know about you, but I’d be terrified to make a decision.

“What should we do?”

“I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure you’re the one that should do it.”

—Theoretical Conversation at Imperial HQ

If Vader had instead at least offered some sort of feedback, or possibly just wounded the mildly incompetent, you have a different landscape where people are willing to take responsibility for their actions. I imagine promotions are turned down in the Empire at an alarming rate if there’s an option.

You’d also cut down on back-stabbing d-bags like Piett. Everyone has an affection for him because he survives an error, but let’s face it. He maneuvered Ozzel into a position to get killed. So Vader’s obvious (invisible) hand at fast-tracking promotions motivated people to get their superiors whacked.

Therefore, it turns the military into a much more political organization, which probably explains why the Imperial one was so inept as to be able to let a beat up YT 1300 continually get away from them.

Anyway, that’s my take. Am I off-base about Vader here?

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

To wrap up the reviews, we turn to the third film released in the series, sixth in the chronology and a guaranteed fanbase-splitter. Return of the Jedi is essentially the second half of The Empire Strikes Back, which unfortunately gives it the great burden of resolving every plotline opened in the previous. Will Han Solo return? Will Princess Leia return to his arms? Will Luke return to Dagobah to complete his training? Will Darth Vader return with the Imperial forces to tempt Luke again? So there really is a lot of returning involved in the story. The title seems like a natural fit. There’s another level to the title as well, with the return not just of the Jedi through Luke, but the return of the fallen Jedi, Vader. The hero returns from the Dark Side thanks to the loving redemption of his son.

Jedi also has to concern itself with resolving the rebellion’s war against the Empire since this is the last film. This winds up complicating Jedi by a fair amount, which plays into the fanbase split over it.

Empire is a much more personal story. Jedi has to sacrifice some of its intimacy for the sake of moving the larger background plot along. Instead of getting a resolution scene between Han and Lando, for instance, we all just have to assume that Chewbacca filled him in that Lando had made moves to redeem himself. Instead of a more intimate reuniting between the three leads at the end, it’s couched within a larger celebration scene.

What Works

These are not knocks against the film. In fact, for me it’s what makes it work. The entire story is about resolution and there’s not a plot stone unturned. Vader’s story is both expanded and resolved; everything we knew about him from the previous films is turned on its head when we meet the Emperor (referenced briefly in A New Hope). Though we see him kneel before a hologram in Empire, we actually see someone so unafraid of Vader as to chastise him openly. Moff Jerjerrod actually mouths off to Vader a little bit at the beginning of the film, whereas mere mention of the Emperor makes him practically wet himself.

That was off-putting enough for the producer of the first two, Gary Kurtz, to walk from the production to pursue other projects. According to at least one source I’ve read, Kurtz adamantly disagreed with Lucas diminishing Vader in such a way.

I never had any problem with it. Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films, largely for a lot of these story aspects. Now that it’s couched in the larger saga of all six films, the story works even better. Again, to draw a comparison to the Lord of the Rings book, I imagine that if you read Return of the King without Fellowship of the Ring, certain story elements would be off-putting. Tom Bombadil once again comes to mind.

What Could Have Worked Better

Most everyone loves to knock on the Ewoks, but they make sense in a certain way. If you look at the Emperor scenes, Jabba the Hutt’s court, the battle at the Sarlacc, Yoda’s death, the revelation of Vader being Luke’s father, Luke nearly going to the Dark Side and the intense action of the space battle, Jedi actually skews darker than Empire. The Ewoks lighten the tone a bit and evoke the Munchkins from Wizard of Oz; Lucas has also said that they’re supposed to evoke the Vietnam war, which seems a little insane.

I also like to throw out there that if you really watch the battle, the Ewoks were getting their asses handed to them until Chewbacca jumped in and took over the AT-ST. Just saying.

Matte painting of the Mon Calamari Hangar
Seriously, I know it’s weird. I just don’t like this matte painting, or the one behind Lando in the next few shots. They don’t match the models.

The design sensibilities seem a bit off in Jedi, which is unfortunate. The Rebel cruiser briefing room, for instance, is pristinely clean and sterile. The walls are unmarked white. The uniforms are pressed. This reads inconsistent visually with the rest of the rebel forces we’ve ever seen. The cinematography is a bit off on the indoor “outside” sets as well, especially when Luke talks with Leia and Vader. Whether this is because for those scenes they wanted so much secrecy and so had a skeleton crew, I don’t know. I hope that at some point that question gets answered.

I’ll also say that the matte painting of the rebel hangar drives me insane and I wish they’d “Special Edition” it. It’s always bothered me.

The pacing after the escape from Jabba the Hutt is also disjointed. From the gathering at the rebel fleet to Luke’s departure to see Vader, the story feels a little forced, as if they were struggling with how to get the characters where they needed to be. There are some terrific moments, such as the Speeder Bike chase and Vader sensing Luke’s approach to Endor, but the flow is not what it should be.

Special Edition Changes

The improved Sarlacc is a non-event for me. I could have lived without it, I don’t care that it’s there.

The improved celebration montage is exactly that: improved. I never disliked the Ewok celebration, but the new ending actually brings the entire series together and gives a real sense of the scope of the victory. The musical scene at Jabba’s palace, including the extended fate of Oola the green dancer, is another one of those things that I could have lived without, but I like the sense of fun and whimsy attached to it. Also, as much as I have an emotional connection to the song Lapti Nek, it was a terrible 1980s synth-laden workout song, so I’m not one to mourn its passing.

Three Blue Ghosts
The Real Anakin appears to Luke, not the broken shell who caused him pain and sorrow. I imagine that if I become a horrible person before my girls ever know me, and I find redemption and have the opportunity to show them who I was before I was terrible, I’ll take it.

Which brings us to Hayden Christensen’s insert at the end for the 2004 DVD release. I like it and not just to be contrarian as at least two of my friends have accused of me. it rings more true for at least two main reasons. The first is, as a spiritual projection, Anakin is making an effort to show his son what he looked like before he was a hideously disfigured half-machine monster. The second is that, when I “see” relatives who have died, I don’t see them as they were at the end. I see them as the vibrant people of the happy times in my life. I’ve actually blogged about this in greater detail before, in the first blog I ever wrote.

To anticipate a certain counter-argument, Obi-Wan and Yoda knew Luke in life and had a positive influence on him in such a way that there’s no need for them to appear in a way he never knew.

The Final Analysis

As I said earlier, Return of the Jedi came to be my favorite of the original three films. It remains so, thanks to its place in the larger story arc formed by all six. It’s not perfect, but it’s perfect enough. Williams’ theme for the Emperor is freaking awesome, a perfect zombie horror counterpoint to the gentle serenity of Yoda’s theme. The theme actually sounds like the music you’d expect for the Lord of the Undead.

There are missteps in the middle again, as there were with Empire, but Jedi has some moments of editing wizardry that blow my mind to this day. The Battle at the Sarlacc is amazingly perfect; according to notes from the annotated screenplays, the negative processors sent a note back with the final version that said that one sequence contained more cuts than most films. Much like the Factory scene in Attack of the Clones or the desert truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it holds up as one of the most tightly-edited action sequences ever.

So that’s it. I’ll be taking a break from Star Wars for a little bit now, but I just got a wild hair and promised myself I’d write these this year.

Now I can focus on more important things like beating up on Star Trek fans.