Scene of the Week: Return of the Jedi - Luke Confronts The Emperor
In the second instalment of our new weekly feature, I’m going to look at the confrontation between Luke and The Emperor in Return of the Jedi. RotJ is the final instalment of the original Star Wars trilogy, and is full of classic moments, but the scene in the throne room of the second Death Star is right up there with the best moments in the entire Star Wars universe.
RotJ stars, as I’m sure we all know, the fantastic former Actor of the Week winner Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, alongside the high-end talent of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and many others. However, in this scene, it is Ian McDiarmid who steals the show. McDiarmid plays The Emperor, the evil Sith Lord, Vader’s boss, and ruler of the galaxy. Luke’s conflict with The Emperor comes after he has dipped into, and overcome, emotions a Jedi should not to defeat his father, Darth Vader aka Anakin Skywalker. The Emperor orchestrates the whole thing from start to finish. He has sensed how powerful Luke can become and plans to have him defeat Vader and take his place. He does this by goading him, explaining that he knows all about his friends, and sister, on Endor and that he allowed them to know the Death Star’s location in order to both trap them and get hold of Luke. This riles up the previously mentioned forbidden emotions in Luke; fear, anger, hate, and this causes him to lash out at The Emperor, only for Vader to intervene, and their fight begins.
Having tapped into these emotions briefly, Luke beats his father and instantly realises the price of that victory, and throws down his lightsaber, exclaiming to The Emperor that he has lost. The acting from both Hamill and McDiarmid here is excellent, as they perfectly convey two polar opposite outlooks and philosophies, Light and Dark. Luke is calm and content with his choice, and The Emperor is angry and vengeful, causing him to unleash forks of blue Force lightning, a key power of a Sith Lord.
It is here that the score is vital to the scene. Behind the dialogue and the later crackles of Force lightning bolts, you can hear the music building, playing its own part in the telling of the story. It is, yet again, impeccable work from the legendary composer John Williams, as he manages to come up yet another iconic piece that is synonymous with a particular character. The score builds and builds in drama and intensity, bringing in haunted vocals, really hammering home the ghastly nature of The Emperor. There is a fantastic part when The Emperor has hit Luke with a number of jolts, and he stops at the exact moment there is a break in the score, and during this break, McDiarmid perfectly delivers the chilling line “Now, young Skywalker, you will die”, only for the music to kick back in as he’s finished. Everything from the score, to the acting, to the editing is absolutely on point here and it is an absolute treat to behold. This is where the second vital part of the score follows, as, in the background, Vader has been grappling his inner conflict of hatred and anger vs. love and saving his son, and it’s is the latter that wins the day. As Vader decides to finally redeem himself and come back to the light, the score changes drastically, and we see Vader sacrifice himself and lift up the lightning-charged Emperor and throw him over the rails, plummeting to his death in a reactor. From start to finish, the scene flows impeccably and brings Anakin/Vader’s story full circle, as well as toppling the Galactic Empire in the process.
I cannot praise this scene enough, and it is one I have seen a countless number of times, as it really encapsulates every emotion and trait of Star Wars, backed up by a fantastic piece of music. That piece of music is simply titled ‘The Emperor’, and I strongly recommend it to any film score lover. Star Wars, these days, is subject to many a debate, but one thing that is for sure is that this scene, along with the original trilogy as a whole, is cemented in history as iconic.