So, here we are at the end of the original trilogy and this, in any other series, is a place where the creatively has drained out. Second sequels are almost always just a creative void, or as the late Roger Ebert called them “An annuity in action.” Not so with the original Star Wars trilogy and while most people devalue Return of the Jedi as the wobbly third-leg of the trilogy (mostly due to the teddy bears), I think it reveals some surprisingly original elements to the mythology.
While most of Empire dealt with the Jedi powers, it did reveal the destructive nature of the Sith. That being that a Sith Lord is prone to killing without mercy and, even more disturbing, without being in the same room. More than that, it also revealed that the Sith can seduce a Jedi over to the dark side by manipulation of the mind through weakened emotions. Those elements really come to the surface in Return of the Jedi.
While Empire was primarily Luke’s story, Jedi focuses primarily on Vader. We learn for the first time, a little more of his backstory, not only that he is a fallen Jedi but that his body is mostly metal. That would explain the limitations of his fighting style and, based on the way that he dies, we understand the reasons that he doesn’t use force lightening. Later in the series, we see the full-bore terror of what a Sith Lord can do, but Vader has limits because his body has limits. That may be one of the reasons that The Emperor is so keen on attaining Luke, because he knows that Vader is never all that he can be as far as physical strength.
Force lightening is the grand hat-trick of The Emperor in Return of the Jedi. Before he whips out the lightning bolts, he’s seen as a feeble old man whose chief function is to order everyone around. When, in the last 20 minutes of the movie, we see the full-girth of his power, we understand why The Emperor is the BMOC. When Vader kills him by throwing him down a reactor shaft, the lightning shorts out Vader’s breathing apparatus and explains why he is unable to use this power. It’s not that he’s never been trained on this and its long-term effects are not explored until we get to the Expanded Universe. It is a Sith ability. The Jedi apparently never use it due to its associate with anger and aggression.
The use of Force Lightning may explain some of the relationship between Vader and The Emperor. Their relationship was one element of Jedi that wasn’t really explored before. It is apparently hinged, not on respect, but on intimidation or more in line with a form of military protocol in line with the way that Hitler’s underlings knew the fatal cost of their disloyalty. Vader knows that The Emperor can wipe him out just by snapping his fingers, and further that telepathy allows the Emperor to read his thoughts, his fears and his misgivings about turning his son over to the dark side. Yet, there’s something interesting that is introduced in this movie but never really explored. There’s a point midway through the movie in which Vader visits the Emperor in his throne room and admits that he has felt his son in The Force. The Emperor is curious and says “Strange that I have not.” Has Vader gained this ability? It is hard to be sure.
The movie focuses primarily on Luke’s ability to settle Vader’s personal conflict and return him to the good man that he has suppressed. In the end he is able to do this and his father dies but is able to appear as a Force Spirit. We know that, by their very nature, only Jedi can give themselves completely to the force thereby gaining immortality. We see him allied with Ben and Yoda at the end of the movie but that raises questions of commitment. How long does it take a Jedi to learn the power of becoming a Jedi and what does it entail? Also, one element to the film that I have always appreciated is that Luke gives his father a funeral by the Jedi rite of cremation on a funeral pyre. It is suggested in The Phantom Menace that this is wholly a Jedi ritual, especially since the Sith seem to always go out in a way that leaves no corpse behind.
Jedi leans heavily on the familial elements of The Force. That being that it is largely hereditary. We learn at last that Vader and Luke are, in fact, father and son but also that Luke and Leia are brother and sister. Leia’s force abilities are barely hinted in Empire but slightly more fleshed out in Jedi. When Luke approaches her about their family bond, he asks about her mother which leads to one of the most controversial elements of the whole Star Wars saga. Do you remember your mother?”, Luke asks. “Just images really, feelings.” This raises questions since Padme died at the moment of birth. Images, I’ve always maintained could mean photographs, but feelings I think come through The Force. Leia’s force abilities aren’t as much a part of her character as they are with Luke possibly because it tangles with her larger military and political role so that element is there but not really explored. She is in charge of the New Republic while Luke is in charge of the New Jedi Order.
In the end, Luke is apparently the only Jedi left, but we wonder if he will pass his knowledge onto his sister. That’s touched lightly on in the expanded universe (not Disney’s). The attempts by Luke to start the Jedi back up won’t be introduced until The Force Awakens some 30 years later. What we come to realize from this original trilogy is that The Jedi Order and nature of The Force are revealed slowly and mostly kept in check. There are some holes still left open but they would be patched up only to have new plot holes and new questions spring open as we move forward into Star Wars lore.