It Makes Me Happy
I’m supposed to tell you a scene in Star Wars that makes me happy. I think that was the original sense of the question, not just what about Star Wars makes me happy in general.
No doubt you will be totally astonished to learn that the moments in Star Wars that make me the happiest occur in Return of the Jedi.
There’s the scene where Han has all these rapid-fire requests for the Ewoks and keeps interrupting Threepio as the droid tries to hurry up and translate. I always laugh out loud at this. It’s just one of the funniest scenes in anything, however kitschy it is.
But the thing in ROTJ that makes me happy, apart from the closing shot, is Luke’s “I Don’t Smile.”
I love Luke Skywalker and I love ROTJ. You should know those two things if you’ve never managed to figure anything else out about me based on this blog. He’s the hero, but oddly he doesn’t seem to get much love — not compared to the others, anyway. Maybe people take him for granted?
But the hero is a lonely gig. It’s that way in Joseph Campbell, which is what Lucas was using as he wove mythology into a space western. The hero can never have anyone else, because no one else can walk where he’s walked. (PS, the fact that the hero must be alone is why I never liked Luke and Mara ending up together.) He doesn’t start the journey alone, since the old mentor starts him off on it, but he does make the journey alone. In ANH, Leia says that Han must choose his own path; in the radio drama, Aunt Beru says very much the same thing to Owen about Luke.
And yet, heroes don’t choose their own paths. That’s why Luke is so frustrated at Han’s insisting that he’ll take the money and run, because Luke never does have a choice from the moment Artoo calls to him from the line of droids for sale. Here’s this young man — 22 years old — who has never been anywhere, not further than the dusty town of Anchorhead — who is suddenly handed the legacy of knighthood and the burden of vengeance without any previous preparation for it. He’s like Prince Hal (warrior king) and Hamlet (blood revenger) combined with Miranda (sheltered girl with no knowledge of her own past) — and how’s he supposed to deal?
He grins at the end of ANH, rocking on his feet, a young brash pilot ready to take on the Empire singlehandedly. Three years later, though, when his gunner says that very thing, there is a weariness to Luke’s reply: “I know how you feel.” There’s no canonical answer to what happened in those three years, but he’s become a far more independent person than Yoda ever intended to train. He’s taught himself to use a lightsaber (clearly, since Yoda never has time or inclination to teach him and he holds his own against Vader to the point the Sith lord has to cheat) and has led men into combat (look at his rank). He is absolutely grim with purpose when he goes up against Vader — at last! Time to cut down his father’s murderer! — but Vader’s announcement cuts his legs out from under him far more effectively than his saber cut Luke’s hand off.
Luke has embraced the monk’s identity by the time we first see him in ROTJ. He is the son of Darth Vader, and this means it is his responsibility, not to avenge his father’s murder, but to redeem his father’s evil. He must end the Empire and save his father. He has aged far more in the three months between ESB and ROTJ than in the three years separating ANH and ESB. He is a Jedi, with or without the assistance of bloody Yoda.
But Yoda told him Jedi must have an absolutely serious mind. Not only does he not have the time for humor, he doesn’t have the will, either — he has a grim life, filled with loss (again, the radio drama emphasizes far more just how much Luke lost with the deaths of his aunt and uncle).
Which is why it is beyond delightful to me that at this point in ROTJ, with so much riding on the success of their mission, with the knowledge that Vader knows he’s in the system and could be on them any minute, Luke breaks down laughing at their capture by diminutive fuzzy bear creatures.
Even better, he can’t let anyone know he’s laughing. So he hides it in his hand, not once, but twice, trying for all the world to disguise the fact that he has a light soul somewhere in his traumatized body. It’s the kind of thing you could miss no matter how many times you watched ROTJ, but once I finally saw it, it became the scene I always have to see — and sometimes backtrack to see it more than once.