Recently, I was home from work without anything planned. I decided to watch Return of the Jedi because it had been a while since I just sat down and watched it. One of the thing that always impressed me about Star Wars films was how much detail and story inhabits each scene. One example of this is the briefing room scene for the attack on the second Death Star. This well-designed scene includes character development, exposition, world building, and consequences in three carefully crafted minutes of the film.
Action movies are fond of the three-act structure. The final act almost always features the final confrontation with the antagonist or villain. Usually, sometime before the final act, someone explains to the audience what the plan is. In Return of the Jedi, General Madine and Admiral Ackbar take on this responsibility in the briefing room scene. They describe the Rebellions plan as they outline the final act of the movie in the conference on Home One. First, Admiral Ackbar describes the attack on the Death Star. Then General Madine explains how the shield generator will be deactivated.
The briefing room scene is key to the rest of the movie. The final act plays out in three locations. While Han and Leia fight alongside the Ewoks against stormtroopers on the surface of Endor, Lando and Ackbar control the battle on behalf of the Alliance in space. The third part occurs on the Death Star as Luke confronts Darth Vader and the Empire. The action shifts between all three locations frequently. Yet, with this plan, audiences know what is going on from the start.
In addition to outlining the Rebellion’s attack plan, the briefing room scene also outlines the stakes. The threat posed by the new Death Star is obvious. However, the stakes are greater than a new technological terror. The weapons systems are not yet operational. Plus, the Death Star is unprotected as the fleet is spread throughout the galaxy looking for the Rebellion. Shortly after this scene, audiences realize this is all wrong, and the Emperor set a trap for the Rebellion. Despite that, Mon Mothma makes a compelling case for attacking the new Death Star now.
As if that weren’t enough, the Emperor himself is overseeing the final stages of production. This statement is significant on its own. However, the looks Han Solo and Lando share in response mark the gravity of the situation. Should the Rebellion’s attack be successful, they would achieve a major victory for the Rebellion.
Han’s Character Growth
The briefing room scene is the first that features Han and Leia after the fight with Jabba’s minions at the Pit of Carkoon, the nesting place of the Sarlacc. Leia, Luke, Lando, Chewbacca, and the droids successfully rescued Han Solo. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han broke the news to Princess Leia and the Rebellion that he intended to leave the Alliance. Then the Empire struck (no pun intended) the Rebels base at Hoth. This forced Han to stick around, and ultimately, he aided Leia’s escape from the base. However, if not for the Empire’s attack, Han would have left.
Things are different in Return of the Jedi. Having been rescued from Jabba’ clutches, Han makes a new plan. Instead of leaving, he sticks around. He surprises Leia by volunteering to lead the strike team tasked with taking down the shield generator on the Sanctuary Moon of Endor. Although Han always had a heart of gold, he routinely made it clear his number one priority was his own well-being. Clearly, he experienced some character growth.
Leia’s Reaction to Han
Speaking of Leia, her attitude towards Han changed. It wasn’t so much her attitude as her behavior. Tension existed between her and Han that gradually melted over the course of The Empire Strikes Back. Leia admitted in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, that she loved Han. Although, it wasn’t until this briefing room scene that she appeared to try and impress him. As General Madine describes the operation to take down the shield generator, she mutters to Han, “I wonder who they found to pull that off.”
Han turns to Leia with a stunned look on his face. He must have thought she knew. Then General Madine addresses Han Solo as the leader of the strike force. After that, it was Leia’s turn to look surprise. Her shock melted into awe and perhaps relief. The man she wanted to stick with the Rebellion took the initiative to serve the Rebellion without her prodding. That is a huge change from their days at Echo Base in The Empire Strikes Back.
The briefing room scene even manages a bit of world building. Before the meeting starts in earnest, Han and Lando have a brief discussion. Han remarks on Lando’s promotion to general. In response, Lando states that someone must have told “them” about his maneuver at the Battle of Taanab. Although the battle receives no further development, viewers knew Lando had experience leading fleet engagements. This lends him credibility as the commander of the Alliance’s starfighters during the Battle of Endor.
In addition, Mon Mothma starts the meeting with some introductory remarks. She explains the stakes of the engagement, and then adds that Bothan spies brought them the information. Furthermore, she concludes “many Bothans died to bring [the Rebellion] this information.” Prior to that line, the Bothans were an unknown entity in Star Wars. However, with just that line, audiences learned of another race or organization of beings aligned with the alliance, that these beings had some espionage talents, and that they sacrificed themselves for the better of the galaxy and the Alliance.
In both instances, George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan declined to expand on the reference. It was largely up to the audience to use their imaginations and fill in the blanks. The story wasn’t incomplete for the omissions. If anything, these details added a sort of vibrancy to Return of the Jedi.
The Achievement of the Briefing Room Scene
In addition to the character moments, plot outline, and world building, the briefing scene on Home One highlighted the comradery and chemistry between Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids. When Han announces his strike team is assembled, he still needs a command crew. His loyal friends step up immediately. In just three minutes, Lucas, Kasdan, and Marquand established many elements crucial to the film and details that added color to the Star Wars galaxy. The briefing scene from Return of the Jedi is an achievement in storytelling and shouldn’t be overlooked.Powered by Sidelines