While Return of the Jedi might not have the character development of The Empire Strikes Back or the innovation that drove the success of A New Hope, it finished out the trilogy in an incredibly satisfying way, ending the Darth Vader redemption arc that we didn’t know was happening at the time. And it probably has some of the better known scenes by the public at large:
- Leia in the slave costume (hi, Friends!)
- Threepio being worshipped as a god by the Ewoks
- Vader tossing Palpatine down the shaft
- Han’s carbonite shell melting
- “I love you.” ~ Han / “I know.” ~Leia
- Luke battling Vader while Palpatine looks on / Luke being electrocuted by Palpatine while Vader looks on
Luckily, narrowing it down to just one favorite scene was not tough at all because, well, it involves Leia, and that should surprise no one.
The assault on Jabba’s sail barge is still one of the most fun action scenes I have ever seen. From Han’s sarcasm about his blindness to the droids waiting head-first in sand to get picked up by the skiff at the end, it’s constantly moving, and even though you know the good guys are going to escape in the end, there’s some real drama there. Plus, my favorite part of the scene happens to be when Leia chokes Jabba with the very chain she was tethered by, which is so beautifully poetic, if not on-the-nose in the best way possible, and stayed true to the type of woman Leia was. She’s just as creative and wily as the men she has to rescue all the time, but it’s almost always done out of the limelight.
It’s not entirely unproblematic, though. The humiliation of women in order to drive the plot is nothing new in storytelling, and it will probably continue to be A Thing, especially when it serves the men in the story. With Leia, because she never gets that recognition from others – she fucking killed Jabba the Hutt by herself, y’all – that she deserves and has to suffer alone, something that women who are brutalized often have to do. In the novelization of the movie, Leia thinks about how the torture she endured under Lord Vader was way worse than what Jabba was doing – lecherously licking her face and forcing her to drink stuff – so she just bears with it, never mentioning it again. This is supposed to paint her as this strong, badass bitch, but … like, that’s trauma. Physical and emotional trauma that is never discussed. The women watching the movie are just supposed to cheer and feel a certain solidarity with her, I guess?
Ugh, and then Han is like, “Hey, thanks, Luke!”
Because his girlfriend being sexually assaulted by a slug guy after trying to rescue his carbonite ass means nothing. This whole thing just seemed to set up the whole Sansa arc in Game of Thrones: look! She’s resilient and crafty now! She wouldn’t be that strong if she hadn’t been raped and brutalized!
Despite my modern take on Leia here, I still adore this scene and can at least celebrate Leia’s badassery (all while wearing basically nothing). And I do feel like things are at least getting a little better in terms of the treatment of women in Hollywood. We’ve got Mad Max: Fury Road, Orphan Black, A Promising Young Woman, I Care a Lot, Wonder Woman, etc., that are giving us examples of powerful women who are also multifaceted, not necessarily with sexual trauma to make them so. We’ve still got a long way to go, especially in terms of women of color, and maybe I’m being too optimistic, but things can only get better, right?