Chris and I had a long talk the other day. I had rewatched Return of the Jedi for the first time in a month or so, and as I watched the final battle between Luke and Darth Vader, I had a revelation: Darth Vader did nothing good or redeeming. He merely repeated the same mistake he had always made–except this time we like it. We like that he saves Luke, we like that he kills the Emperor and we like that he dies doing it.

I had always thought of the ending of Return of the Jedi like this: Luke confronts his father and the Emperor. He tries to stand up to his ideals, but he falters, and so he fights his father. Vader goads him into a fury (which is a further failure) and Luke wails on his father. Then he slices off Vader’s hand, revealing a hidden connection between them. This wakes him up enough to realize what he’s done and so he throws away his lightsaber, preventing himself from failing in that way again. The Emperor sees that as far as getting Luke to submit, he is beaten, and so he starts electrocuting him. Luke finally asks someone, anyone (in this case his father) for help. Darth remembers what compassion looks like, and tosses the Emperor into a pit, thus saving Luke and redeeming himself.

Basically canon.

What I now think is this: the only reason Darth Vader killed the Emperor is because the Emperor was taking control over Luke and his death away from him, and Vader’s obsession was always that the people close to him die as he wishes. For all of Revenge of the Sith he runs around insisting that he will find a way to keep Padme from dying. At the end of the movie, what happens? He kills Padme. It isn’t that he wanted her alive, he just wanted her alive (or dead) on his terms. Same with Luke.

I brought this up with a friend of mine, who occasionally talks about “necessary changes” to ROTJ in order to “make it work within its own mythology”. I’ve always disagreed with him about this, and I think I’ve finally figured out why: I think texts are inviolable in a very specific kind of way.

I’ve heard a story about the Buddha, where he said that seeking the cause of suffering was like getting shot with a poisoned arrow, but refusing treatment until the poisoner had been found and his motives laid clear.

I feel the same way about texts.

They are mixed up and nonsensical within themselves. This isn’t news. And yet over and over and over again humans find new ways to understand old texts, and get into arguments about the different understandings. I feel that with Return of the Jedi and the Bible alike, the text isn’t the problem. Even if it is, who cares? That’s not the point, or the changeable point anyway. What can change is one’s mind, and one’s understanding.

When I was young I had a young, binary view of Return of the Jedi, heavily informed by the fact that I had never truly questioned my Christian culture. Now I am older, and I have begun to learn how to understand different worldviews. Now I can see the movie through different lenses, and in some of those the idea of dying in pain to make up for past misdeeds makes no sense. It is horrifying and grotesque. In others, it is the only possible way to repay the debt.

We know George sucks at mythology. He managed to get it mostly, gloriously right exactly once. Every time he goes back and touches that shining ephemeral beauty, he messes it up worse. We are discussing a man who couldn’t be bothered to make sure that in the final film of the prequels, Obi-Wan had become Ben, and thus fulfill a promise he’d made decades before. And a promise is exactly what it is every time an author tells the audience any given detail: having mentioned a gun, someone must shoot it. This is why Lost is so frustrating: it has far too many broken promises.

So, we have authors who don’t know what they are doing, are occasionally lazy and basically mess up a lot. Is questioning them and rewriting for them, or working on deepening and widening our understanding going to benefit us more? If we rewrite Return of the Jedi, we have rewritten Return of the Jedi. Maybe we’ve honed our editing and critical skills. If we find a new, more satisfying way to understand the text, we enrich our whole lives–other characters making similar mistakes, other times we failed to read carefully, all these things become clear to us.

And then we suffer less.