A couple weeks ago, Mike Ryan put out a funny post at Uproxx that said he dared anyone to explain the Return of the Jedi “rescue Han Solo” plan that happens in the first act of the film.
He threw down the nerd gauntlet.
The Star Wars nerd gauntlet.
And so, here, on the day that The Last Jedi is released in digital video, I am picking up that gauntlet, and I am — wait, what do you do with a thrown gauntlet anyway? Is that even the right terminology? A thrown gauntlet? A gauntlet is an armored glove, so I guess it’s someone throwing their glove to the ground, but man, you shouldn’t throw that away, dear duelist — now your tender hand is exposed, like the tendon of Achilles.
Plus, this is Star Wars, where the chopping-of-hands is all-too-common.
Point is, who would I be if I did not defend this (erm, admittedly absurd) plan?
So, here’s the thing, as a kid, I never really questioned what was going on there. That’s not to say it’s plainly writ or sensibly told, and in fact is more chalk-uppable to the fact that I was, well, a kid. Things just make sense to you when you’re a kid because you have the critical thinking skills of a sea cucumber. It looked cool, and it ended with Luke Skywalker flipping off a desert diving board and then lightsabering some dudes into a giant tentacled butthole. It was great. Logic? Who gives a shit about logic? Pssh.
And of course, Star Wars cares very little about rigorous logic. The books sometimes do, but the films? Nyeaaah, not so much. We’re not exactly talking about a methodical devotion to science or physics or any kind of common sense. Hyperspace moves at the speed of narrative. TIE fighters shriek like banshees despite the void of space. Droids are basically enslaved sentient beings but everybody’s like, “No no, it’s cool, we’re their makers, so basically they’re into it? I guess? Shut up.” The point of Star Wars isn’t exactly to turn your brain off, but it is to turn your heart on, and let that organ be the shepherd that guides you through all the stars and all the wars.
Just the same, nerd gauntlet.
So, here’s my explanation, loose and flabby as it may be, of the Return of the Jedi heist on Jabba’s palace — because, ultimately, that’s what it is: a heist.
Think of it as an Ocean’s Eleven slash Leverage style caper.
Before we begin, this is what you need to understand about this Skywalker Six heist — it’s not just a single-serving plan, but rather, a series of failsafe sub-plans that culminate in the kind of extraction and result you’d get if you were all sitting around a roleplaying game table trying to get your characters to perform any complicated task (robbing a bank, invading a country, scheduling and hosting a galactic orgy). It’s less a “finely-tuned machine” of a plan and more the “Millennium Falcon” plan — it’s a ship, once designed for a purpose and since re-purposed with spare parts and swaddling tape and lots and lots of hope. Probably some midichlorians. That’s right, the Falcon is a Jedi. You know it. I know it. Artoo and the Falcon are basically the masterminds behind the entire Star Wars series — and you can learn more in my upcoming novel, Artoo and the Falcon, coming out from Del Rey Star Wars in May, 2042.
Let’s do this.
Fresh out of the gate:
Lando has to go in first. He’s their scout. He hides in plain sight as a guard in the palace, and he’s just chilling there. One might ask, how does he get a job there, but you have to take for granted that he’s one of the galaxy’s greatest swindlers and con artists — if anybody can con his way into a job at the den of iniquity belonging to a greasy butt-slug, well, it’s Lando Motherfucking Calrissian. Plus, Jabba’s gang doesn’t seem to be particularly discerning in terms of its employment practices, do they? From blubbery rancor keepers to murderous Twi’lek dancers to crummy bounty hunters, Jabba keeps a pretty cruddy crew around. I don’t get the sense he’s really in charge of hiring practices, either. Whatever shitty LinkedIn variant they use, it isn’t working. Point being, Lando is there.
So, Lando knows what’s up.
He’s on the scene.
And he probably knows that Jabba needs a translator.
Because Jabba destroyed his last translator.
Enter the droids.
The droids are utility players. Luke offers them up as a “gift,” knowing that his threat against Jabba won’t work — Jabba’s not a pushover, he’s not going to be like, “Whoa, what, a couple of droids? For Han Solo? FUCKING SWEET. Boshuuuuda, motherfuckers, I hit the lottery. Somebody get Solo down off the wall. Dengar, you do it. Don’t give me that look, Dengar, you diaper-wearing scum, just do what I say or you’ll be rancor chum.”
And you can already see what Luke is doing here with this plan — he’s basically stacking the deck with his best players. He’s putting into play a number of critical assets, all hidden in plain sight, all able to be on-scene when the shit goes down. At any point, the plan could work and they could get Solo, and if that happens, it doesn’t end with barbecued Hutt-slug, but in place are also a series of failsafes — if the plan foils at Point A, they move to Plan B, and if that fails, then Plan C, and on and on, until, well, crispy strangled Hutt.
(Now, here you say: it seems foolish to waste their critical assets on this. Couldn’t they get someone else to do it? But to imagine that is to ignore the theme ever-present in Star Wars: a small group of characters eschewing the larger strategy to save their friends. Is it smart to rush into the Death Star to save Leia? Or wise to leave your Jedi training to help your pals on Cloud City? Han goes against the New Republic to help free Kashyyyk, and Leia goes against the New Republic to begin the Resistance — this is their whole schtick. Again, it’s a series of movies that is far more interested in following its heart rather than its head. Their devotion to one another is what stirs hope and what literally changes the galaxy time and time again.)
Okay! So, the droids get their roles. Artoo is on the barge, but also, he’s Artoo, master of wandering around and going wherever the fuck he wants to go (seriously, that’s kind of his entire modus operandi, isn’t it?), and Threepio is right on the dais with Jabba.
Enter Leia and Chewie.
Leia, dressed as now-dead bounty hunter Boushh.
Boushh, who needs a — wait for it — translator.
(Meaning, Threepio is essential to this part.)
She gives up Chewie, threatens everyone with a fucking hand grenade, Jabba is like HO HO HO I LIKE THE BALLS ON THIS MASKED WEIRDO, and everything is happy. Now Leia-as-Boushh sneakily sneaks to Solo, makes a lot of noise getting him down, unfreezes him and —
HO HO HO NAY WANNA WANGA
*the mad cackle of a monkey-lizard*
So, at this point, I think there was a very real chance she could’ve gotten away with it. I suspect it was intended that maybe, just maybe, she was going to go in, get Solo, and get the fuck out again — I mean, the exit to the palace is right there. You go up some stairs and the door is like, a hundred yards away. And here you might say, well, what’s the deal with Chewie and the droids? Fuck ’em? Remember, though: Lando is in the house. Wouldn’t take much for Lando to free Chewie in the chaos, and the droids are pretty crafty themselves — well, okay, Artoo is crafty. Threepio would basically just say ohhhh in a panicked, mournful voice as he spun around in a circle for an hour, but Artoo can save both their aluminum asses, as he does repeatedly.
But, it fails.
The curtain falls and somehow, Jabba has hidden himself in like a… a breakfast nook or whatever? (You wanna try to explain something, explain that: how exactly does Jabba and his entire cabal hide in what essentially looks like a walk-in closet?)
So, Leia’s now on Hutt-Slayer duty, and Solo is with Chewie (meaning Chewie works as a good support system for the blind smuggler when he’s released), and now it’s time for Luke to show up, all bad-ass and, let’s be clear, a little bit Dark Sidey.
(I mean, real talk: his first move is to Force Choke some Pig Dudes.)
From here on out, it’s Skywalker, the big gun, showing up and knowing he’s going to need his whole team for total extraction. And here the question might be, well, why doesn’t Luke just go in by himself right at the beginning? He could’ve, but that would leave him vulnerable at several steps along the way — getting Solo down and out is a task all unto itself. He needs assets in play. And the palace is stacked now with friendly faces. All of whom come into play at various points of the plan’s execution.
The rancor is an unexpected speedbump — though I figure he should’ve known, given Lando being in there, but maybe Lando forgot to mention that. Maybe Lando was in love with the rancor? Maybe they got up to some sexy times? We just don’t know.
Luke keeps his (new) lightsaber off him, expecting capture — and he keeps it in Artoo, knowing that Artoo has the Force and would clearly weave the narrative in such a way to ensure that Skywalker had access to his shiny new laser sword.
From there, he’s got that saber out, Lando’s on the scene, Artoo is going to free Leia, Leia is going to slay that gropey slime-worm, and so on and so forth. The players play their parts. They bring death to the Hutt’s regime. Huzzah and hooray.
So, to me, that’s it — that’s the plan. A kind of clumsy, “get everyone in and then work to get everyone out” heist, a heist that would work poorly with only one of them in there, but that works much better with several assets in play to support redundancies and failsafes.
Now, if someone wants to explain to me the plot of Attack of the Clones…
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DAMN FINE STORY: Mastering the Tools of a Powerful Narrative
What do Luke Skywalker, John McClane, and a lonely dog on Ho’okipa Beach have in common? Simply put, we care about them.
Great storytelling is making readers care about your characters, the choices they make, and what happens to them. It’s making your audience feel the tension and emotion of a situation right alongside your protagonist. And to tell a damn fine story, you need to understand why and how that caring happens.
Whether you’re writing a novel, screenplay, video game, or comic, this funny and informative guide is chock-full of examples about the art and craft of storytelling–and how to write a damn fine story of your own.