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The Ending Of Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi Explained

Return of the Jedi was a momentous chapter for the heroes of the Star Wars saga. As the conclusion to George Lucas' original trilogy, it wrapped up all of the loose plot threads that had been unresolved by the stunningly dire ending of The Empire Strikes Back. Fans around the globe had waited three years to see how the heroes would somehow triumph in the next film.

At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker and his friends are left temporarily defeated by their enemies. The Empire has destroyed the Rebel base on the ice planet Hoth, Han Solo has been frozen in carbonite and taken to Jabba the Hutt's palace, and Luke has just lost his hand in a duel with Darth Vader — a duel which also revealed the shocking truth that Vader was once known as the fallen Jedi Anakin Skywalker, Luke's father. It's a tough act to follow for any sequel. Here's how Return of the Jedi brought the original Star Wars trilogy to a close.

Return of the Jedi brings the original Star Wars trilogy full circle with a second Death Star

Luckily for fans, the events of Return of the Jedi see the protagonists rise up in spite of their recent defeats. As hopeless as their cause may seem, the Rebel Alliance still manages one last desperate attempt to overthrow the Empire. Just as in A New Hope, the Empire has built a new battle station capable of destroying planets. This second Death Star gives the Empire another chance at galactic domination, something which the film's heroes have spent the better part of two movies trying to prevent.

In a climactic, all-or-nothing space battle, the Rebel fleet engages in combat against the Empire's second planet-destroying Death Star as it orbits the forest moon of Endor. The Millennium Falcon, piloted by Lando Calrissian, manages to fly inside the Death Star and destroy it, thereby freeing the galaxy from the Empire's tyranny. It's a heroic charge that offers Lando a chance to redeem himself after Vader manipulated him into betraying the heroes during the events of The Empire Strikes Back. However, Lando's daring mission would not have been possible without his friends on the forest moon below.

Han and Leia lead a band of Rebel heroes into the future

Return of the Jedi's opening act sees Luke, Leia, Lando, and the droids rescuing Han Solo from Jabba's palace. As a result, Han is then available to lead a ground assault team on a mission to disable the Death Star's remote shield generator. After teaming up with a community of forest-dwelling Ewoks, Han and Leia succeed at disabling the generator.

Their victory opens the way for Lando to fly into the Death Star's core so he can destroy the space station from within. Following that victory, Han and Leia are finally able to reconcile the romance interrupted during the climactic struggles of Empire. As Return of the Jedi wraps up, Han has at last embraced his transition from a scoundrel smuggler on the run to one of the galaxy's heroes. Likewise, Leia has secured her place in history as one of the Rebel's greatest leaders, poised to lead a New Republic as it rises from the ashes of the Empire.

Luke and Anakin Skywalker bring the Star Wars saga to a close... for now

Luke Skywalker goes on his own journey in Return of the Jedi, with a dual mission to fight for the Rebel cause and to redeem his father. Darth Vader had once been an honorable Jedi, but fell under the influence of Emperor Palpatine. As the final battle draws near, Luke breaks off from Han and Leia's ground mission on Endor to confront Darth Vader and bring him back to the light. 

In a dramatic confrontation on the Death Star, Luke prevails over his father in combat. When the Emperor encourages Luke to strike Vader down and take his place, Luke resists — only to be struck with the Emperor's Force lightning. As the Emperor tortures Luke, Vader finally has a change of heart, and Anakin's goodness reawakens. He retaliates against the Emperor, throwing him to his death. Unfortunately, Vader does not survive the effort, and dies before Luke can get him off the space station. His final request is for Luke to remove the breathing mask that has so long been a symbol of terror in the galaxy, so that the man who was once Anakin Skywalker can look upon his son with his own eyes.

Even if the destruction of the second Death Star is arguably more important on a galactic scale, Luke's character arc is the most vital to the conclusion of Return of the Jedi. As Lucas' prequel trilogy would later underline, Luke's persistence in bringing his father back to the side of good finally resolves the central character arc in Star Wars: the story of Anakin Skywalker, whose sacrifice completes a story six movies in the making.