It is Star Wars, after all! Where are the wars? If you’re bored with me answering Return of the Jedi to every question, well, you might as well pack it in now and go home without reading the rest of this, because my favorite battle is the Battle of Endor!
Raise your saber if you’re surprised!
See, as I’m sure I’ve made clear, A New Hope has just never done it for me. It’s consistently been at the bottom of my preferred SW movies, and if you tempt me, I can give you a lengthy treatise on its general weakness and other et ceteras. I will concede, though, that recently the Battle of Yavin has been climbing in my estimation. Yavin is one of my favorite systems, and ever since Fanboys pointed out that “the greatest thing Luke Skywalker ever did was take down the Death Star — and that’s all you’ve got to do, just find your Death Star,” I’ve been more attracted to the whole thing. I got cold chills when I listened to it the last few times on the radio drama, even.
But, it’s not favorite material. It’s just honorable mention material. Favorite is and always will be the Battle of Endor, which is the reason I love Star Wars in the first place.
Here’s what we’ve got. The Battle of Yavin consists of three threads, plaited skillfully into an ultimate climax that is able to touch on, echo, or tie off themes and concepts throughout the entire saga. First, there’s the fleet.
Space battles: the nougat of SciFi
It’s all come down to this. The rebel administration have been trying for decades to bring the Emperor down (ignorant of the fact that a little green toad prevented them from nipping the Empire off in the bud at its inception!) — they’ve had a few successes since the dissolution of the Senate, increasing sympathy throughout star systems, and they’ve also managed to build up a respectable fleet. It’s now an echo of their first major victory three years previous, another Death Star, but the stakes are even higher. The Emperor himself is overseeing the final stages of construction, which means that if they can repeat their feat of total destruction of the planet killer, they can defeat the Empire!
(Because there is no contingency plan for Imperial rule once the Emperor is dead. Because it’s not suspicious at all that the Empire allowed its super secret plans to leak, allowing the rebels to find an even more convenient self-destruct button than the last one. Because the Emperor sitting on this half-completed and relatively unprotected planet destroyer isn’t a bit of juicy live bait. You know, I think Ackbar could’ve squealed, “It’s a trap!” pretty much right after the rebel briefing started . . .)
But the point is that everything rides on this final battle! And with the unexpected functionality of the Death Star, it’s even more dire. Good thing the Emperor is too hyper-focused on his project of replacing his worn-out apprentice for the newer model, because otherwise he might’ve focused on his military strategy for two seconds and simply blown up the moon as soon as the prime weapon was functional! (SWL, stop poking holes in Imperial strategy!! Well! It’s not my fault!)
Then we’ve got the “pitiful little band” on the Sanctuary Moon.
Sneaky rebel scum
This intrepid crew was sent down to knock out the power generator that keeps the Death Star II shielded. Without that shield, they can get in and take out the main reactor, oddly built even more exposed than on the previous model. (Perhaps the completed Death Star II would’ve been more protected?) Han leads them through the forests of this alien moon and, while they pick up some diminutive allies, they also find themselves confronting a huge threat by way of an entire legion of his majesty’s best troops. If they fail, the fleet fails. The Galaxy falls.
And finally, the irresistible chocolate ganache on the franchise, the Showdown in the Emperor’s Throne Room!
Now, the other two battle scenes rely heavily on each other. If Han’s commandos fail, the fleet fails and all is lost. But what happens if Luke loses? Well, then all is lost again. Because if Luke loses and turns to the dark side, he will become the most powerful enemy the Alliance can face. You know how Vader’s always going on about how the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force? I bet Luke could pull a Professor X and kill every enemy of the Emperor’s with his mind, he’d be that powerful.
But this is where the whole series has been going, the whole time. Luke and Vader — Yoda wanted Luke to crush Vader, but Luke wanted to redeem him. Luke isn’t a Jedi, he’s a son, a son who believes no one is truly lost. And while he walks along the slippery abyss to the dark side, he embraces his father’s legacy of light at the end. When he says “I am a Jedi like my father before me,” he holds out the hand of redemption to Anakin, who realizes (unlike Marlowe’s Faust) that he is not required to let the demons take him to hell. He can seize heaven in the last minutes of his life.
It’s probable that if Luke didn’t win — if Vader didn’t destroy the Emperor — that no amount of reactor core smashing would have destroyed the Death Star or saved the Alliance. (Remember all that “the Force is so much more powerful than blowing up planets”? The Emperor’s got to be good for something! He was so powerful, he made a Dark Side explosion happen at his death!)
So you see, all the parts are neatly connected and woven together. And the good guys win, and the bad guy is dead, and the other bad guy is a good guy, and all the neutral guys somehow end up losing and acquiescing the Empire because there’s no contingency in place for “death of the commander in chief” . . . okay, I won’t pursue that line.
Instead, why don’t you go read my post about Vader’s final moments, just to conclude all this neatly?