Yesterday, I read Mike Ryan’s article, We Date You to Explain Luke’s Plan to Rescue Han in ‘Return Of the Jedi’, and immediately thought: challenge accepted! So here we are. For the tiniest bit of background on me before I get started, just so no one has to go digging through the rest of this site: I’m a reader, writer, programmer, gamer, and rabid Star Wars and Star Trek fan and have read in excess of 80 books of the former before they were disavowed by Disney.
Luke’s plan didn’t anticipate much of what happened within Jabba’s palace, but was a multi-tiered, fault tolerant plan with contingencies and unmentioned assistance. But read on for the full explanation.
The Simplest Explanation
The simplest and most dull explanation is that Luke, using the Force, saw much or all of the rescue in a vision, particularly the outcome. This would mean that Luke only had to know how it all ended and then work out how to get all of his Team Skywalker players into position. This is also most likely the path that Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Rick Kerb took to resolving the Solo subplot; start at the resolution and work backwards in time placing characters’ entrances in a staggered pattern with various purposes as their roles in the “master plan.”
So in all likelihood, even with the Force vision explanation, the plan really didn’t have to be sound or even really make a lot of sense as Luke and the filmmakers knew it would work.
My Thoughts on the Plan
Without bringing a Force vision (deus ex machina) into play, according to lore I’ve acquired over the last 35 years, there’s a lot more going on in the Jedi opening than what’s been presented on-screen. Some of this knowledge is from the various novels I’ve read, some from comics and various Star Wars games over the decades, some from discussions with friends who acquired it from God knows where. Some of this will undoubtedly have been considered canon prior to the New Disney Order, some may have only been rumor. At this point, with all the things I’ve been exposed to related to Star Wars, the only way to back up some of this stuff would be to go digging through my books and write a full on research paper which I’m not interested in doing at this time. Given my bachelor’s degree is in film analysis, I probably will end up writing that paper, but for the moment…
Things that you need to know that aren’t expressly stated in the opening of Return of the Jedi:
- Jedi takes place roughly 1 year after the events at Bespin.
- The Rebel Alliance infiltrated Jabba’s palace.
- Luke spent more time training and developing his Jedi skills with Yoda.
Some of this is just common sense inferral… We know, for instance, that Luke had to have gone back to Yoda to complete his training prior to the grand master’s death because Luke constructed a new lightsaber. I believe the original novelization of Jedi —originally entitled “Revenge of the Jedi” in paperback, magazine style format — noted that the film too place after a year of chasing Boba Fett around the galaxy trying to rescue Han prior to his arrival at Jabba’s palace. I’ll concede again that I’m not 100% sure that I got the source right, but I’m more than 99% sure that this was canon.
The fact that Jedi took place so long after Han’s entombment gave our heroes plenty of time to prepare. Before you get started with it, it was common knowledge among them that Fett was going to take him to Jabba. After all, Han had been complaining about owing the Hutt a large debt since Tatooine. So the destination was never in question.
Now, how do we know a significant amount of time has passed? The biggest two clues are that the gang suddenly knew Lando well enough to trust him and, more importantly, Luke had constructed a new lightsaber. Let’s start with Lando…
Empire introduced Lando out of no where as an old friend and rival of Han’s. Some of the lore makes them out as having been childhood friends, theoretically growing up on Corellia together. Other lore seems to indicate they met gambling or smuggling or during other shady activities, some of which seem to be indicated in the upcoming spin-off film. What’s certain, however, it’s from the moment the Falcon touched down in Bespin, the gang was nervous about Lando, Han going as far as saying, “Of course I don’t trust him, he is my friend!” So after Lando sold them out to Vader and the Empire, how could Jedi possibly pick up immediately after Empire with Luke and the others trusting Lando enough for him to be in a crucial position during their final rescue attempt? The answer is they wouldn’t, unless they knew him better. Ergo, some significant amount of time has passed.
The second clue is something you never really think about until you consider the film very closely. If Jedi picks up right after Empire, when did Luke build his new lightsaber? You could say that he learned while he trained with Yoda during Empire, but he had no need: he had his father’s lightsaber. Vader later comments to Luke that he’s “constructed a new lightsaber” and that his “skills are complete.” This implies additional training had taken place off screen, because Luke surely didn’t have time onscreen to learn these things. Mastering the subtle control over the Force to construct a lightsaber is time consuming and is considered one of the final steps in achieving the rank of Jedi Knight. (Just because the Sith are passionate and generally blunt in much of what they do doesn’t make them incapable of subtlety.) This all points to Luke returning to Dagobah to continue his training under Yoda. What the remaining lessons besides constructing a new weapon were remains a mystery, though some books have indicated that Ben and Yoda only trained Luke in what he needed to defeat Vader and the Emperor. He was occasionally referred to as a weapon that they used to defeat the two Sith lords, and that he was taught what he needed to become a complete Jedi afterwards. But that’s all besides the point: Luke spent some time during the Fett Chase to get fully into the Jedi game.
My other point listed above was that the Rebel Alliance infiltrated Jabba’s palace. As much as I love Lando, by the time we meet him, he’s no longer fit to be the scoundrel that Han had once hung out with and made him out to be. He was a rich businessman by the time we meet him, though I’ll admit that he’s still very much a shady character. (By the way, his initial harsh greeting to Han was an attempt to warn him away, but when it failed, he committed to Vader’s plan.) That said, there’s no way that he would’ve had the contacts to quietly become a member of Jabba’s staff without help, and the lore I’ve heard indicated that there were Rebel spies throughout Jabba’s palace. In fact, I’ve heard that the Twi’lek dancer that Jabba drops into the rancor pit was one of them. I admit that my claim that Lando wouldn’t have had the contacts is a bit tenuous; Bespin mined tibana gas, which is used in the blasters and turbo-lasers of pretty much everyone in the Star Wars galaxy, and Lando was selling to both legal and illegal purveyors of the gas. So he might have had some contacts, but I would think that anyone that he had contact with would’ve been known to Jabba, and Jabba certainly would’ve heard of Lando. So Lando had to go in with a false identity, without using his own influence, and I would say that would’ve taken a great deal of time to get into a position where he had access to prisoners, Jabba’s throne room, and sail barge. He had to have help. Perhaps it started with a couple of Rebel spies bribing some low ranking members of Jabba’s gang to get themselves into the gang. Perhaps there were a few members of the Rebellion that were already members of the gang. (Another fact: the Rebel Alliance and New Republic — in the Expanded Universe/Legends books at least — had long had an association with the criminal element of the galaxy as they were frequently common allies against the Empire. When the Rebels went legit after Jedi, they kind of toned down relationship and didn’t look the other way quite as much, but they never fully cut ties to the pirates and smugglers that made up a significant portion of their ranks at one point.) Regardless of how many spies there were in Jabba’s organization, they succeeded in getting Lando into position, and I think they would’ve played more roles had Luke’s plans gone differently.
Now, on to the nitty gritty…
Luke absolutely would’ve sacrificed the droids to Jabba if the Hutt had agreed to free Han for them. There’s no doubt in my mind. Artoo and Threepio were dear friends to him and the gang, but they were property first and foremost. Some of the EU books had a strong undercurrent of just how droids were treated in the Star Wars universe, and while these two in particular were well treated and cared for, they were still just machines and Han clearly meant much more to Luke and the others than the droids did. I don’t really think that would’ve been the end of the pair, mind you… It’s my belief that if Jabba had taken the deal, the Rebel spies within his organization, including Lando, would’ve stolen the pair on the way out… Much like lifting office supplies from an employer when you quit. Not that I’ve ever done such a thing… I have no evidence to back this up, but that seems logical to me. Jabba had plenty of droids, and plenty of staff; I think he would’ve missed the staff that suddenly departed after a hypothetical bargain than he would’ve the pair of droids that he got in the deal. And if he did miss the droids, then all he’d probably do is set a bounty on Luke’s head just like he had with Han. I have serious doubts that Luke would’ve felt bad about receiving stolen property (his own droids) liberated from a major criminal; just because Luke is on the light side of the Force, and our story’s hero, doesn’t mean he isn’t practical or a law abiding citizen.
From Luke’s own words in his projected speech to Jabba, he offered the droids as a gift regardless of whether the bargain was accepted, meaning that he really didn’t expect a pair of droids to be worth Han’s life and so this part of the plan was just getting Artoo into position.
Chewie and Leia
This part of the plan is a bit more interesting. It’s my assessment that this was purely about putting Chewie, Leia, and Han into position for the grand finale of the rescue, however, there are things that really stand out that I want to draw attention to that were not taken into account in Mike Ryan’s post.
- Why wasn’t Chewie cuffed?
- Where was Leia/Boushh when Jabba and crew supposedly called it a day?
- Why did Leia/Boushh make so much noise while entering and freeing Han?
- Why didn’t Leia/Boushh see Jabba and the others behind the thin curtain?
- Why did Jabba and gang happen to be awake and waiting on Leia/Boushh?
- Why did Jabba allow Leia/Boushh free Han from the carbonite?
The big Boushh-Chewbacca entrance is somewhat epic: a few blaster hits just off screen and a body flying into scene. But if you look closely, you can see Chewie’s arm coming down after the body starts flying. Why, if Chewie is a prisoner, is he not cuffed? There’s reason to believe that he may have made some pledge to never be cuffed again; he’s almost willing to hurt Luke in A New Hope when the farmboy went to put them on for his plan. Lore has it that Chewie and other Wookiees were slaves when Han found and freed them, at which point the life-debt was established; I guess we’ll see if that becomes canon (a second time) in a few months. So, from that perspective I can understand Leia/Boushh not forcing the issue. Instead, she led him in with a leash and collar that didn’t stop him from doing what he wanted. I don’t care what your reputation as a bounty hunter may be, that collar isn’t enough for a Wookiee, even a runt like Chewbacca. Jabba and crew should’ve been highly suspicious. And perhaps they were.
Another interesting point is that while Boushh negotiated for a bounty for Chewie, this is the first time we hear about such a bounty for the Wookiee. Han freely and repeatedly mentions the bounty on his head, but nothing is ever said about Chewie until now. Think about it: do you really think that Boba Fett would’ve left Bespin with Han alone when he could have received two bounties by bringing in Chewie too? There literally wouldn’t have been any extra work since Chewie had been captured too. What would Vader want with the Wookiee? Yes, he tells Lando to “take the Wookiee and the princess to my ship” but for what purpose? Leia makes sense, she was a traitor and a valuable Rebel leader that had thwarted him in the past, but he had no reason to believe that Chewie was worth keeping. So, why wouldn’t he let Boba Fett take him as well if there was a bounty on his head?
Simple. The bounty was a MacGuffin made up for Jedi, though you could canonize it by simply saying that Chewie was a bonus bounty on Han’s larger bounty. Still, though, I can’t imagine Fett just walking away from easy money. So this brings me back to Rebel infiltrators: perhaps they convinced Jabba to put a bounty on Chewie’s head to give Leia/Boushh and Chewbacca an “in” for the plan. I also admit that it’s possible that in that time between films, Chewie may have made such trouble for Jabba that a bounty was indeed placed on his head, though I think the Wookiee is much more of a team player than that.
So getting past the bounty, at some point Leia/Boushh leaves the general party and good time in Jabba’s throne room, and effectively disappears for uncounted and unknowable time only to return noisily to rescue Han. This particular scene has always been a bit troublesome for me. First she bangs until some wind chimes in the doorway. Then she makes her way across the room, wearing a helmet probably equipped with as much data collection sensory as Boba Fett’s own while still missing Jabba and the gang behind a thin curtain. Lowers Han’s entombed body to the floor with a loud bang, and the releases him, only to be surprised when Jabba starts laughing.
Assuming that the goal was to free Han and escape at that point, then Leia is doing a terrible job, and is making every rookie mistake in the book. Leia is only human, but she’s not that incompetent. I’ll give her a pass on the chimes — it was dark, they would’ve been room temperature so would have been difficult to see on a thermal imaging scan, maybe infrared as well, and they were hanging so that just a few of them were at head height. In reality, that may have been a completely goofed up entrance that they thought added character and left in as a result; visibility in that helmet had to have been terrible. I’ll also give a slight pass on the initial landing of Han’s carbonite slab; there’s no way Leia would or could have known how much noise it would make when it hit, still it seemed to drop to the floor way too fast. Then, of course, it hit the wall behind it as it settled. If Leia were trying to make a stealthy exit with Han, she failed completely at this point because she could easily have used the controls while he was still hanging on the wall to free him. There’s no excuse for missing Jabba & Pals; she should have seen them.
And maybe she did. Like I said, if she was trying to make a stealthy exit, she utterly failed, but if the plan was to make Han significantly more mobile, then the plan was a clear success. Even blind, a thawed and conscious Han is far more mobile than Side-of-Beef-Han with or without the hover-sled he’d been on in Bespin. My guess is that Luke’s plan was for Leia to merely free Han, and to take any opportunity to escape that presented itself, otherwise hang out and wait for the third tier of the plan, Luke’s entrance.
This explains why Chewie was “sacrificed”: he was moved into position, the dungeons where Han almost certainly would be moved after being released from the carbonite. How could they guarantee they’d end up in the same cell? The Rebel infiltrators, including Lando, would be in charge of moving prisoners around and could easily arrange for the partners to share a cell. Chewie and Han would hang out waiting for Luke’s part of the plan to succeed or fail.
I think the only part of Leia’s part that wasn’t anticipated was her being chained to Jabba’s dais; I think they probably expected her to be moved to the dungeons as well, but the earlier execution of the Twi’lek opened up the spot for the princess to be degraded and put on display for Jabba’s pleasure.
This all leads me to believe that Jabba was tipped off, most likely per Luke’s plan. Again, mainly for positioning the players. I think Team Skywalker would’ve been fine if it worked as it seemed to be planned, but I think this failure was all part of the real plan. The fact that Jabba and a dozen of his goons were still present and awake when Leia made her entrance and freed Han, and remained utterly silent while that happened seems way too coincidental. The only answer is that Jabba was tipped off by someone that this was a rescue attempt. It could be that Jabba was intelligent enough to put the pieces together but I don’t think he was that smart personally. It makes much more sense that one of the Rebel spies tipped off the rescue attempt and urged a public execution rather than a hail of blaster bolts to ensure a more orderly and less elaborate escape plan or to enable Luke’s phase of the plan. Otherwise, Leia and Han would’ve been dead before the latter fell free of the carbonite: Jabba was not known for his patience or mercy.
Luke’s part of the plan was probably the most critical, though it had the most risk. Luke’s part had three goals:
- Negotiate the release of everyone, using the Force if necessary.
- Assassinate Jabba.
- Get captured for the last ditch escape effort.
Having received additional training from Yoda and feeling cocky despite himself, Luke’s part in the plan was undoubtedly — in his mind — the part with the highest chance of success. This is evident in his solitary entrance, the Force choking of the guards, the domination of Bib Fortuna, and his attempted domination of Jabba himself. Being the newest Jedi with a host of new skills he was eager to test out, Luke’s arrogance didn’t quite anticipate Jabba’s resistance. Luke had only been told by Obiwan that “the Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded”, not that some species are immune to the power. So Luke had to try it, because if it worked, he and friends could just walk right out of the palace without firing a shot.
But it didn’t work, so Luke moved on to plan B: assassinate Jabba right there in the throne room. Using the Force, he summoned a blaster to his hand and went for a shot on the Hutt before dropping into the rancor pit. I hadn’t thought about it until recently, but why didn’t Luke use a lightsaber instead? I mean, yeah, we know that he’d hidden a newly built lightsaber in Artoo, but why didn’t he construct two lightsabers in advance, one to have on him in Jabba’s throne room and one for the last ditch effort? Perhaps he could only come up with one Khyber crystal, or maybe he didn’t think that far in advance. Maybe it was so Jabba and the gang wouldn’t expect to fight against a lightsaber wielding Jedi later. I’m not sure, and I have never seen an explanation of this apparent oversight. Luke would’ve been hard-pressed to deflect blaster bolts from so many sources, but he would’ve been much more likely to have killed Jabba in this throne room than with the blaster. Nonetheless, you make every plan with contingencies, and while he probably didn’t anticipate a fight with the rancor — where a lightsaber would’ve been supremely useful — he probably did anticipate being captured and publicly executed.
Why the public execution? Luke lived on Tatooine most of his life by this point, and Jabba wasn’t exactly hiding from the authorities, so it’s probably a fact that the Hutt’s favorite type of punishment was public execution in a sarlacc pit, and kids growing up on that works were probably told tales of being fed to it deliberately to scare them into behaving. Again, Rebel spies might have influenced this outcome, and though we don’t see them in the ensuing battle that ended this part of the film, it’s my belief that they were there and doing their part. I think this because the sail barge was easily large enough to carry several hundred people, no matter how good our small cadre of heroes is, they’re no match for several hundred of Jabba’s thugs, or even several dozen, and Jabba would’ve wanted as many people to witness his gruesome punishment as possible. Yes, Leia smashed the controls to the window seats but that didn’t prevent anyone from opening them individually and firing out. There was no rush of troops to the top deck to blow the heros on the skiff away; something had to be delaying them. What would prevent them from doing so? A fire fight inside the barge with even a small small opposition force located at key locations. More indirect evidence: who tried to stop or kill Leia when she was busy choking the Hutt to death? She was alone, unarmed, and out in the open for an easy kill shot but not one came her way from any of the thugs aboard. Can you imagine the reward Jabba would’ve paid to someone that saved his life in that moment?
So all this is to say there was a lot more going on in these scenes than we were shown. The simple things we were shown we’re good enough to get the point across, Luke had a plan, it didn’t go exactly as expected but it worked. But as with the absence of sound, it’s sometimes there absence of something in a scene that gives us a bigger idea of what’s going on.
Finally, just for giggles, a bonus for those that haven’t read the books, Luke had nightmares about the sail barge part of the plan going wrong some years after the fall of Jabba and the death of the Emperor. In Tomorrow Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, Luke kept dreaming that his lightsaber flew not to his hand, but to the hand of a red headed woman standing on the deck of Jabba’s barge as she started down at him. This woman was Mara Jade (later Mara Jade Skywalker), the Emperor’s Hand.
In The End
So, while I think I have answered the question thoroughly with my explanation here, and I honestly do believe that most of this is how it went down behind the scenes given all that I’ve heard and read over the years, the simplest explanation really is that Luke saw the vast majority of it in a Force vision, and just had to tell the individuals how to get into position. That means he didn’t have to have an answer to everything, just had to have certain goals met to end up in the position that the team did.