Return of the Jedi
A Situationist perspective

by Jon Lewis

from Jump Cut, no. 30, March 1985, pp. 3-6
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1985, 2005

STAR WARS, and now its second offspring, RETURN OF THE JEDI, has from pre-production been more of an event than a movie. Long lines, screaming fans (of all ages, no doubt), and the elimination of discounted tickets has created — even mandated — a certain experience specific to the STAR WARS films. Dolby quadraphonic, 70mm, fantastic technological effects have heightened the special STAR WARS experience. We do not view STAR WARS just as cinema. Instead, we are to participate in a spectacle on screen, in the theater, out in the street, and finally in the larger culture, which so celebrates the film's total experience.


In an extremely well laid out — and clearly Marxist[1] — reading of STAR WARS in JUMP CUT, No. 18, Dan Rubey examines the seductive and problematic issue of STAR WARS' popularity. Certainly, Rubey did not identify a single aesthetic formula. Still, he did succeed in revealing STAR WARS' multivalent attraction: that it is all-at-once "high adventure," "epic fantasy," "romance," "sword-and-sorcery," "space opera," and "romance fantasy."[2] In fact, as Rubey notes, George Lucas himself identified the far-reaching and varied nature of STAR WARS in a remark printed in Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. Said Lucas,

"I call it (STAR WARS) the fairy tale or myth … It's a children's story … It all came down … through the western."[3]

Stylistically, STAR WARS is grand — it celebrates the very technology that produced it. In theme and genre, it has the stuff of all successful entertainment. It is, according to my application of Guy Debord's analysis in his situationist manifesto, Society of the Spectacle, not merely contemporary divertissement (diversion, entertainment), but contemporary ideology packaged (and turned into a commodity) as divertissement. As Debord himself puts it:

"The spectacle is not a collection of images but a social relation among people."[4]

The situationist "method" in broadest terms refers to the at times inspired, at times violent anarchist and always provocative mass-cultural/mass media critique engaged by the Situationist International, especially the French journal Internationale Situationniste and its high profile editors and contributors: Guy Debord, Rene Vienet, Raoul Vaneigem and Michele Bernstein. No single party-line can be synthesized here, given that these texts cover rather wide terrain (urban geography, art and the avant-garde, geopolitics, third world terrorism, Western bureaucracy, the cinema, local politics, campus politics, and the conquest of space) and that they evolve and at times contradict earlier works through the period 1957-1972. Thus I have focused on the best known work (Society of the Spectacle) by the movement's iciest voice, Guy Debord.

Society of the Spectacle addresses the problematic relationship between mass media and contemporary society through a complicated discussion of the issue of "separation," first of the symbolic and economic (that the former is subsumed by the latter), and then of worker and product, allegorically and practically presented in terms of spectator and spectacle. In Debord's words:

"The spectacle within society corresponds to a concrete manufacture of alienation" (paragraph 32, 1970 edition).

Such an alienation structurally prevents the formation of counter-ideologies and the assemblance of any functional collective. For Debord the collective shares but one thing, a profound separation that is continuously re-enforced by the spectacular mass media.

The political/ideological mediation presented by the spectacle — what Althusser cited as a process of subjection and interpellation — is often clearly marked on a commodity's surface. In fact, the power and effect of the political/ideological mediation helps make STAR WARS a spectacle and such a popular cinematic event.

The STAR WARS films depend on a collection of spectacular images: grand and small; frenzied and pastoral; and on characters spanning animal, robot, centurion, humanoid, and human modes of being. We can see this same variety — or at least the same dynamics — within the confines of the films' politics. Rubey correctly asserts that the STAR WARS' message is implicitly "conservative and reactionary"[5] — mimicking the political climate generally. In fact, STAR WARS' reactionary nature as a political parable, as an epic adventure in rightwing U.S. politics, offers yet another suggestion for its unprecedented box office appeal,

Rubey argues that

"… much of its (STAR WARS') appeal depend(s) on the ways in which the striking special effects reinforce the fantasies …"[6]

Through the course of his essay, Rubey explores these fantasies. In extending his argument to mine, I can only surmise that these fantasies contribute to the spectacular effect and nature of the film, By and large, the fantasies Rubey cites are political, or at least politicized: "The desire for destruction," "war as an aesthetic experience," "use and support of racist habits," and the catharsis "of feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness" combine with "youthful exuberance" and classic high adventure notions of heroism, sexuality, family and transcendence.[7]

STAR WARS approaches every style, every genre, every form. Politically, it is at once both transcendent and subjective. All negative aspects (at times, a ceaselessly violent and machine-worshipping negativity) are rendered positive by the all-engulfing, all-encompassing spectacle. Connecting again with Debord's situationist thesis, Debord sees this as the very nature and function[8] of the spectacle:

"The spectacle presents itself as something enormously positive, indisputable and inaccessible. It says nothing more than 'that which appears is good, that which is good appears.' The attitude that it demands in principle is passive acceptance which in fact it already obtained by its manner of appearing without reply, by its monopoly of appearance."[9]

One of the best brief discussions of Debord's situationist writings appears in John Brenkman's "Mass Media: From Collective Experience to the Culture of Privation" (Social Text, Winter 1979). Brenkman moves from Habermas' discussion of "separation in consumption" to Debord's notion of separation and alienation necessarily mediated by the image (by the spectacle). Debord argues that in advanced capitalism the commodity's functionally determines culture — in that the commodity is "pregnant with significance, not a significance located in its intrinsic qualities … but a significance constructed out of the commodity's separation from human activity."[10]

This separation results from the spectacle — in the case of STAR WARS, the effected separation and alienation is on a mass level,

Brenkman's reading of Debord helps to clarify the frightening and insidious socializing effect of the spectacle:

"… the double tendency of late capitalism and its culture (is) to make the subject's separation in the object consumed (at) the core of social experience, and to destroy the space in which proletarian counter-ideologies can form."[11]

Brenkman's reading of Debord also suggests a connection between situationism and the distinctively U.S. paranoid political vision of elites, the theory of which was spearheaded by C, Wright Mills. But Mills found it necessary to identify who, in particular, was behind the media — that mediating force between powerless receivers (individuals disconnected by the media) and social action. That Debord shies away from specifying who or what shapes the spectacle makes him all the more appropriate as a theorist here, since STAR WARS is not only a multivalent text but also a commodity produced by a highly distanced, specialized, and somewhat invisible and indiscernible source.

A situationist reading of STAR WARS posits that the film (spectacle) functions in our culture as a mediation between the following: individuals and the workplace, individuals and the culture, individuals and heroism, individuals and family, individuals and God, and finally individuals and political-social-economic power. In the way that it heaps together genres, styles, special effects, machines, advanced weaponry, future worlds and races, STAR WARS offers an experience still further separated from any "real conditions of existence."[12] Separation, Debord argues, is "the Alpha and Omega of the spectacle."[13] Separation mediated by the spectacle has come fundamentally to define our reading and understanding of our "real conditions of existence":

"The spectacle is the map of this new world, a map which covers precisely its territory. The very powers which escape us show themselves to us in all their force."[14]

Like the earlier STAR WARS films, RETURN OF THE JEDI identifies itself as and reveals in its very nature that it is a commodity. STAR WARS' obvious, superficial commodification has not only led to booms in the toy, clothing and publishing industries, but it has also leaked over (and trickled down) into the massive "buying into" rightwing political strategies, This commodification has renewed positive attitudes towards religion and the military and finally has helped create a positive course for Hollywood mass media to follow.

In discussing RETURN OF THE JEDI as a spectacle, we cannot categorically distinguish its ideological underpinnings from the formal cinematic strategies that package these political strategies. We also cannot disconnect the film's popularity from its narrative or its obvious status as a contemporary cultural phenomenon from its conscious (new and improved) packaging of old, time-worn genres and ideologies. Debord is again correct and relevant here in asserting that

"the spectacle is capital (accumulated to such a degree) that it becomes an image."[15]

Arguably, we have only the image itself (the plastic material and our experience) to critique. And such critical activity, according to Debord, ends up offering support to the spectacle itself, even if the critique offers a counter-ideology. My own critical activity here becomes part of the spectacle. Even negation of participation can only serve the ideology of the spectacle and only reinforce the spectacle's liberality and all-encompassing/all-inclusive nature. With this caveat, I think that analyzing RETURN OF THE JEDI as a spectacle will let us see it as an event which clearly mediates and obscures the distance between aesthetic form and personal action, and thus explore its logic as a commodity.


The first aspect of RETURN OF THE JEDI I will discuss is how it organizes its spectacular events and stunts into a formalized, mythic-epic package. With regard to this particular film, two distinct stories that comprise the two halves of the film must be considered. Both of these stories are, as Lucas describes them, epic adventures. Everything in them appears on a grand scale, despite the fact that much of the internal structure of the stories is little more than mild soap opera combined with conventional war-action fare, Though the two halves, different as they are, seem to stand alone, they are artificially grafted together in order to form a more appropriate spectacle length.

The first story half involves Luke Skywalker's rescue of Han Solo from the "clutches" of Jabba the Hutt. This first story coheres into a formal "monomyth" structure — as in Joseph Campbell's formula for the "legendary" story.[16] In the first stage of his heroic quest, the search, Luke returns (corresponding to the final stage of his quest in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) to his home planet, which has been taken over by Jabba the Hutt. Luke embarks on a search for Han Solo, who has been incarcerated for not paying a debt (dating back to the bar scene in STAR WARS).

Once Luke has located Solo, the second (trial) stage begins. Before acting, Luke must evaluate the relative ethics of the situation. As with all ethical questions in the film, he reaches a decision with ease and assuredness. Though Solo owes Jabba money, Jabba is shown as wrong because he has sought satisfaction through vigilante justice (kidnapping) and torture. Jabba's methods, inhuman as they are — and he is not human — allows for Luke's uninvited, and for the most part unprovoked, imperialist entrance into Jabba's territory.

Through several revealing cuts, we come to recognize that Lando and Princess Lea in disguise form part of an elaborate rescue plan. We thus will root for this elite band of expert warriors as they attempt to extricate a valued hostage from an inscrutable, racially different, inferior enemy. This staged, positive, and successful rescue coincided with the Tehran crisis, in which U.S. citizens were held hostage, although the film proposes a simpler problem and a much easier and quicker resolution.

The Jedi-led invasion is covert and politically and morally questionable. Yet the invasion's relative merits are not offered for debate. I'd argue that its success, especially since we suspect that Solo (Harrison Ford) will become a hero again, is not in question either. Thus our only real concern becomes the rescue's spectacle, not with the story's content but with its effect. The story serves the spectacle, and the spectacle itself is an ideological exercise.

That Luke, Lea, Solo and Lando all escape and that Jabba is killed results from two distinct technological events: (1) the organization of the plan of rescue and (2) the skill which the Jedi and his cohorts display with advanced yet ancient-blessed weaponry. Right and wrong are here based on success and failure — one results logically from the other. As it is with the new spaghetti western, another genre co-opted here, expertise and success become the only clear identifiers of good and evil.

Because of the importance of expertise and success, we come to read the plot's trial period independent of ethics. Luke is seen as a hero because of his clear-cut technological superiority and not because of any moral or political code. Within the far-reaching nature of the spectacle, this primary technological index of heroism gains a religious significance. Jedi spirituality coheres around the mastery of a weapon, the light saber, which is anointed by God and the Force. Using the saber becomes an elitist rite.

Princess Lea is a Jedi, too, Here the spectacle integrates as positive an elite-power-oriented connection between heroism, expertise, religion and family (Lea and Luke are siblings).

The final stage of the first story has a return from the first heroic venture, which leads to the search that begins the second story half. Luke, with an army behind him, ventures forth to meet his nemesis, Darth Vader, who he discovers is his father. They feel a powerful, mutual, elite-based bond, for they have common expertise, religion, social standing and family. As elites, they resolve their personal conflict. Again because of its central place within the spectacle, their personal coming together resolves any and all conflicts in the society at large. As in many other heroic spectacles, resolution by elites provides a "logic" for elites' functioning in the political arena.

Though Debord does not refer to C. Wright Mills, his society mediated by spectacle resembles Mills' mass society, powered by elites and populated by individuals who join together temporarily and fruitlessly in powerless and silly interest groups. As a mediating entity, Debord sees the spectacle, and Mills the media, as a general force. In both cases, spectacle and media convince audiences that power exists, but only elsewhere. In mass society, public participation on any level seems fruitless, primarily because power always already exists elsewhere. And whenever people participate in mass society or in the society of the spectacle, such participation then ensures that future power shall also always exist elsewhere.

The trial stage in the second story leads to Luke and Vader's long-awaited confrontation. Luke's ability to infiltrate enemy territory here seems recklessly passive since it is primarily based on faith (in good, in other elites, and finally in family). By confronting not only Vader but an even more powerful evil one unarmed (the Emperor), Luke's faith is rewarded, His father vindicates the mass genocide that Vader had executed in two previous films and in much of this one by his penultimate efforts to save his son.

In that scene Vader, big and black-armored, fascinatingly speaks with the voice of a familiar black actor (James Earl Jones). He becomes white and unmasked only after he comes to Luke's defense, In his dying moments, he becomes an old white man with an egg-shaped bald head, lionized along with Yoda and Ben Kenobe. Those father figures form a trinity for Luke.

In the final stage of the story, Luke returns to a world with no death star. He is no longer jealous of Solo's relationship with Lea (now his sister) and no longer in search of his lineage. RETURN OF THE JEDI reduces Luke's story to that of an orphan seeking an absent, negligent parent. As Luke comes face to face with an antagonistic, contradictory father figure, the nuclear family's love and power win out. What plagued a galaxy pales in comparison. All the death-star's wrongdoings become rectified symbolically and effectively with Luke's reconciling his family drama. As the story restricts itself to family drama, it makes love the Force[17] and the convention of the family the logical social order. That's the heart and soul of this All-American adventure parable,


Strangely, the mass media's master criminals can amass a prodigious, loyal workforce to effect world domination and mind control, For example, Goldfinger (in the James Bond spectacles which preceded and now borrow from STAR WARS) manned his factory with Koreans, whose loyalty he thought resulted from their stupidity, malleability, and complete lack of conscience and regard for morality. Goldfinger's racism was not his undoing but rather his underestimating Bond's expertise. Goldfinger's dark side — colored by greed, cheating at cards and golf, cold-blooded murder of enemies and associates, and fanatical ambition — in fact licensed 007's covert activity.

In RETURN OF THE JEDI, evil literally stands as a dark side of the Force. That side operates through mind control and gains power from man's, especially Vader's, innate tendency toward violence. The films, however, often render violence positive, and Dan Rubey cleverly argues that such an attitude toward violence offers part of the complex explanation for STAR WARS' success.[18] Within the Force, an elite status accrues to those who feel the Force (the Jedi knight, Lord Vader, Princess Lea and the Emperor). The white armored centurions and the uniformed functionaries are just subjected to it,

Debord argues that the spectacle's thematics extend well beyond formal, narrative-logical significance. Thus we can understand these fundamental thematic divisions as indications of fundamental social divisions. According to Debord, this is one of the spectacle's essential functions:

"The institutionalization of the social division of labor, the formation of classes, (has) given rise to a first sacred contemplation, the mythical order, with which every power shrouds itself from the beginning."[19]

Once we learn that Vader himself is at least half machine, we can see how the centurions (the enslaved workers) are like him and how to an extent he is like them. This could explain, for example, why his identity as the evil black Lord Vader is so temporary. For the time being, Vader and the centurions' understanding of the common good as promised in the Emperor's technological-totalitarian future is not only part of their very nature but perhaps also necessary for their very survival. It makes their allegiance to the Emperor logical, despite his distance and cruelty.

Ironically the droids, all machine, have personality and uniqueness. The wanton annihilation of the centurions not only exposes that they are just soldiers, "bodies doing a job "[20], but that they are undifferentiated and interchangeable as well. The droids, on the other hand, scream as they are branded in Jabba's dungeon. As members of the Alliance, the droids are elevated to the status of active bearers of democracy. Though Rubey is generally correct in maintaining that STAR WARS "supports racist habits," the droids' humanization does stipulate a non-racist revolutionary force. Here droids are people, too,

In the second half of the film, the animal kingdom joins the droids. Here we see the extent to which the Alliance contains all. Now, the Ewoks (fighting beavers) and the droids range from mere pets to tin woodsmen (with hearts already as big as an autumn Kansas sky). Alongside these personified beavers and robots, Luke, Lando, Solo and especially Lea hilariously appear wooden and stiff. Not only are Hamill, Williams, Ford and Fisher weak actors, but it is irrelevant to the film whether or not they can act.

Society here is built upon spectacular technology and its embrace of family, religion and heroic myth. Contained within the spectacle as relevant and important is hard work. Ironically such work is relatively unimportant for the elites, who profoundly affect culture by their day-to-day resolving of family problems. Thus, the rather extensive killing in RETURN OF THE JEDI becomes irrelevant in the overall scheme of things, despite the fact that Alliance fly-boys are killed along with centurions. Alliance fighters are all also just workers, interchangeable, in stark contrast to the story's star-elites.

In an obvious parallel between Jedi society and our own, workers on both sides are interchangeable and expendable. This leads to their muddled position between human and not-human and to an emphasis on the elite-controlled, lineage-based culture where religion and progress develop only at the expense of the workers' lives. RETURN OF THE JEDI also sets up a clear distinction between labor and effect. Not only is the individual laborer's life and death unimportant, but his work, however much he struggles, is irrelevant as well. Unlike the elites, the individual worker is not only separated from the fruits of his labor, but also from any real efficacy which may come from his labor. Work for its own sake gets performed as part of a cultural habit, resulting in alienation and irrelevance. This seems consistent with Debord and again with "elite theory," here argued by Erich Fromm in "Alienation under Capitalism":

"It is (a) fact that man does not experience himself as the active bearer of his own powers and richness, but as an impoverished thing dependant on powers outside of himself, onto whom he has projected his living substance."[21]


The domino theory has been the pervasive paranoid delusion dominating U.S. foreign policy since World War II.[22] Here, the death star is this illusion come to (represented/spectacular) life. The death star runs with a constantly self-replenishing work force of loyal military-industrial workers. And its proposed goal is to spread, virus-like, across the universe. It engulfs or destroys whole planets in the name of its master[23], the Emperor, and his mission. Imperialism wears no veil in this society, but simply is part of the society's evil nature,

The Alliance, the rebel force, is comprised of diverse frog-people, Ewoks, personable droids, Wookies, blacks, little black sambo first mates, Knights, Princesses and individualist rogues. Its appeal arises from its out of many, one credo. That society expresses the original U.S. revolutionary (as opposed to contemporary revolutionary) ethos in its construction and is led by a conventional U.S. military hierarchy (Solo and Lando lead the attack force after being made generals). The revolutionary force is made more hierarchical by the elevated status of Princess Lea and the Jedi knight. The film thus suggests a correlation between this revolution and the glorious days of Arthur and Charlemagne, between all heroic guests and U.S. military missions, past and present, and finally between making battle into a mere spectacle and any rational political and/or moral analysis.

We are informed at the start of the film that the empire is an imperialist force and that poorly armed rebels have organized to restore freedom to the galaxy. From the outset, we encounter a clear distinction regarding relative imperialisms. The empire represents bad imperialism because it opposes freedom. Bad imperialism is connected with high-powered military warfare, a tendency to use devastating weaponry and a will toward totalitarian rule. The rebels, elite-led, expose the brighter side of imperialist action; their activity is licensed in the name of liberation.

Ironically, the U.S.-identified rebel force — this band of freedom fighters — wins because of expertise at guerrilla warfare. The failure of U.S. forces in Viet Nam and today in Central America here becomes victoriously reversed by invoking heroic myths. For example, it invokes the U.S. revolutionary force which defeated the more powerful British colonizing force through a superior sense of terrain and the employment of a new style of warfare. In fact, RETURN OF THE JEDI must resurrect the Revolutionary War, since that war provides the first and last successful guerrilla operation in U.S. military history.

The film makes obvious contemporary political parallels. The human soldiers on the dark side wear Russian-style uniforms, love military processions, and have an apparent over-confidence in their military equipment and work force. Such details point to U.S. notions about Soviet militarism. The film then contrasts this Soviet military style with the Alliance's U.S.-style video technology and capitalist division of labor. In the war room scene, for instance, each of the Alliance's elites gets to speak on their own field of expertise, as they stand in front of computer graphics on a giant video screen.

Each side is clearly revealed in the confrontation scene between Luke and the Emperor. Luke petulantly remarks, "Your overconfidence is your weakness," to which the Emperor replies, "Yours is your faith in your friends." The Emperors final two words, spoken with scorn, emphasize depersonalized imperialism: domination for domination's sake and victory for victory's sake, superior weaponry, betrayal, entrapment and the unabashed celebration of the military-industrial complex. With the Empire as exemplar of evil, the rebel force can define and mask violent conquest as liberation — as a sanitary, God and Force-anointed victory for a galaxy-wide culture, who will then all share an elitist ethic. Here the film seems most clearly a spectacle. Imperialism and liberation here differ solely in style, not in content.


RETURN OF THE JEDI employs a rather conventional modus operandi, using religion and sexuality to locate good and evil. Jabba, for example, likes bondage, as seen in the opening scene in his lair. The exotic dancer he has chained to his flipper resists. This gives him almost as much pleasure as dropping her into a pit under his platform. He subsequently replaces her with Lea, who does not dance or act but is still held on a leash until that day when she will learn to love him. As one of many off-color jokes in this early scene, Jabba appears as a giant limp penis to which Lea is reluctantly and temporarily chained. She is dressed in a futuristic bikini[25] that is pressed up against Jabba's tail, which flicks up and down as he sleeps.

Jabba's habitat is highly eroticized. He lives in a dark den of iniquity over which only his own supreme aberrance could so clearly rule. His decision to drop Solo and Luke into a giant desert anus indicates his love for an "unclean" kill. This seems a fatal flaw shard by all master criminals, be it Lex Luthor or the Riddler or Goldfinger. Jabba's reluctance simply to vaporize the Jedi and his future brother-in-law reveals why he's bad and why he fails. And Jabba's style of eroticism and violence sets up Luke as a moral force who will clean up that salacious world.

Lea murders Jabba with the very chain he had used to captivate her. Then his style of sexuality — that of exaggerated male aggression and sadistically imposed sexual fantasy — becomes replaced by Lea's significantly more conventional love for Solo and sisterly affection for Luke. As she defeats the perverse Jabba, Lea moves away from a role as a sexual object, one which she simply cannot play. She is returned to a less uncomfortable role as sister/friend. We see clearly her tendency to be an earth-mother type, which Fisher acts well, in her confrontation with an Ewok, whom she tames with a wafer and motherly caresses. Later on we see her emerging from an Ewok hut up in the trees dressed all in deerskin. Stripped of her warrior raiments, she has become the earth goddess the highly masculinized Ewoks need.

The Ewoks — animists, pygmies, cannibals and loyal freedom fighters — are highly spiritual. Thus they simply must fight alongside Luke and oppose the agnostic masses aboard the death star. Earlier, while tying Luke and Solo to stakes, they deified C3PO. As nature's beings, they ironically worship the golden droid, which reveals their foolish nature[26] and enables Luke to exploit their ignorance and superstition with a simple (advanced culture/Jedi) magic trick. Here he extricates himself and his cohorts from that curiously Christian-looking burning at the stake. In this scene, and formally in the Ewoks' decision to join the rebel force, the narrative unites the Force with primitive religion. All mysticism and animism, all ancient cults, are shown to be related. They become reconciled and contained by the conventional contemporary ethics and iconography of Western Christianity. Here again the spectacle effectively contains all that is good but superficially different. Everything is homogenized in the name of the all-encompassing spectacle and the common good,

In an early scene in Jabba's fortress, the first time we see Solo, he's frozen in Carbonite. His suspension and subsequent resurrection leaves behind a Shroud of Turin as he re-emerges as a Christian hero. As Luke enters Jabba's chamber in robes, he sports a priest's collar and looks much like Ben Kenobe and his pre-Vader father. Luke's mystical power becomes reinforced by that other-worldly trinity — Yoda, the father, and Ben Kenobe, who appears repeatedly as an apparition. The film clearly marks Luke's divine right as an imperialist and as a hero, not only because of his activities and journey in this heroic adventure-myth, but also because of his exalted status in a religious parable.

Such Christian religious iconography, mythos, and sexual attitudes make RETURN OF THE JEDI so North American. The conventionality of and promised return to old ethics identify Luke as an earth-bound deliverer — a Moses or a Christ bearing up under the strains of world liberation. The convergence of Christianity and imperialism not only identifies the Alliance activity with Divine Will (be done), but also again reveals the spectacle's power to reconcile and contain disparate cultural elements, rendering them consistent and positive,

The convergence of religion and liberation/ imperialism makes the "clean" kill important — in the case of this film, vaporization. Unclean deaths are faced (but escaped by Luke and Solo) and an Ewok actually experiences one in a jarring moment on the forest moon. Clearly his/its death with body intact feels different to the viewer than vaporization. Such emotional manipulation reveals the way the film stylistically differentiates between imperialism and liberation. Violence is connected to the religious iconography and, in terms of warfare and imperialism, it is rendered either positive or negative depending on whether or not it is Christian or involves characters whom we have come to see as Christian.

Violence and sex — so long as they are Christian in style or motivation — surface as part of the lighter side of the homogenized culture that the spectacle mediates. RETURN OF THE JEDI correlates essential aspects of mainstream U.S. culture: Christianity, stylized militarism, stylized sexuality, stylized violence, and legendary notions of heroism and elite-ruled society. In addition, the film reveals what should make it the essential U.S. entertainment package of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It offers little excuse for its political function and purpose. RETURN OF THE JEDI (read here all the STAR WARS films) emerges as the motion picture spectacle of United States at its blessed, clean-kill, imperialist best.


1. I am making sure to point this out here because (1) my reading of RETURN OF THE JEDI is from a situationist perspective and not Marxist, and (2) Rubey clearly marks his agenda as Marxist on the surface of his text. The best example of this is his reading of the Force:"… the Force is actually a mystical substitute for the collective action, learning and hard work needed to effect change" (p. 12). Such an optimistic/ humanist assumption would hardly fit in a situationist reading. For this very suggestive Marxist reading of STAR WARS, do see: Dan Rubey, "Star Wars: Not So Far Away," JUMP CUT, No. 18, p. 9-14.

2. Rubey, p. 10.

3. Rubey, p. 10.

4. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1977), paragraph 4.

5. Rubey, p. 11.

6. Rubey, p. 9.

7. Rubey, p. 9-12.

8. It is interesting that both Debord and Althusser put emphasis (for different reasons) on the relation between ideology's function and definition. For both writers it is the function of ideology that defines it:

  1. "The spectacle subjugates living men to itself to the extent that the economy has totally subjugated them," (Debord, paragraph 16).
  2. "… all ideology has the function (which defines it) of 'constituting' concrete individuals as subjects." (Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses," in Lenin and Philosophy, trans. by Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971), p. 171.

9. Debord, paragraph 12.

10. John Brenkman, "Mass Media: From Collective Experience to the Culture of Privation," Social Text, Winter 1979, p. 100.

11. Brenkman, p. 100-101.

12. "Real conditions" for Althusser distinguish "actual" existence from representative/fictive/imaginary existence. Here I am using his term to offer the same distinction.

13. Debord, paragraph 25.

14. Debord, cited by Brenkman, p. 100. (Note here that Brenkman is referring to the 1970 Black and Red edition of Society of the Spectacle.)

15. Brenkman citing Debord (and the 1970 edition), p. 100.

16. Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (New York: Pantheon Books, 1949), p. 30.

17. I think that it is important to note here that I do not see the Force as "collective action" as Rubey does (see note #1), but rather as an indefinable and far-reaching concept.

18. Rubey, p. 9, 10 and 12.

19. Debord, paragraph 25.

20. Being "just a soldier" is an important point here. It is precisely this "I am just a body doing a job" philosophy (a verbatim reference to the final speech in Frederick Wiseman's HIGH SCHOOL) that allows people to transcend their fear of death and respect for the life of others.

21. Erich From, "Alienation Under Capitalism," in Man Alone, ed. by Eric and Mary Josephson (New York: Dell, 1962), p. 59.

22. The domino theory seems a common belief among most U.S. conservatives. Ironically, it also has provided a formalized link between the White House (of Nixon, Carter and now Reagan) and Anastasio Somoza, whose book, Nicaragua Betrayed, compiled from data acquired by his secret police, promises that the conflict will hit the southern border of the United States in the next few years. That the White House should share anything at all with the likes of Somoza remains a frightening reality.

23. Both Jabba and the Emperor are referred to as "master." Lea and Luke prefer less obvious and questionable titles. Differentiation here again seems a matter of rhetoric and style.

24. Thanks here to Sharon Lemmis for her help on this section.

25. Ironically, on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, Carrie Fisher had donned a bikini in a STAR WARS/BEACH PARTY spoof. Perhaps that skit proved to be an inspiration for this scene.