Flickering Myth’s writing team are counting down to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens by discussing their most memorable Star Wars moments. Next up is The Week in Star Wars’s Luke Owen with Luke Skywalker in the Rancor pit from Return of the Jedi…
Return of the Jedi gets a lot of stick for having teddy bears take down The Empire, but the opening of the movie in Jabba’s Palace is one of the best parts of the entire Star Wars franchise.
The Star Wars Saga is beloved by so many because it contains everything you would want from a movie series. There are heroes to cheer and villains to boo, there are thrills and spills, there’s romance, comedy, exciting action and gripping drama. But there’s also fear. Whether it be Luke confronting Darth Vader in Cloud City or our heroes trying to escape being crushed in a trash compactor, there are moments within the Star Wars Universe that put you on the edge of your seat.
Never is that more true than The Rancor Pit.
Luke Skywalker has dealt with a lot since leaving his burnt family members on a farm in Tatooine. He’s saved a princess, helped destroy the Death Star, survived the freezing temperatures of Hoth while also taking on a Wampa, and he’s braved a fight against the man who killed his mentor, who also happens to be his father. But for some reason, falling into a pit and facing off against the Rancor is perhaps his scariest challenge.
Just as Merian C. Cooper had done with King Kong back in 1933, the scene builds brilliantly as the gate slowly opens to reveal this magnificent beast. C-3PO tells us that this is the Rancor, and his frightened tone tells us everything we need to know. But it’s one thing to tell us this guy is trouble, it’s another thing to show us. And with that, The Rancor reaches down and picks up a Gamorrean Guard and eats him whole. It’s really gruesome when you think about how this film was made for children. Back in 1983, a giant puppet eating a guy in a rubber suit with bone-crunching sound effects was more than suitable for a U rating. Luke, realising he’s in trouble, grabs a giant bone to defend himself. Just this little detail here is exquisite. Where did the bone come from? It’s quite a giant bone too, was it from another Rancor? Was it from something bigger than the Rancor killed? Whatever it is, Luke uses it to block the Rancor giving him the same fate as the Gamorrean Guard by placing it between his jaws. But like the Gamorrean Guard, the bone is no match for the Rancor, who bites down and snaps it in half. Using his brains over his brawn – a good way of showing that he has learnt a lot over the last two films and his training with Yoda – Luke dives between the Rancor’s legs and then – in a stroke of brilliance – leads the Rancor back through the gate and uses a rock to smash down on top of him and kill him dead. Leia may be happy to see her friend survive, but Jabba is none too pleased about this one.
In an wonderful scene closer, Malakili (the Rancor’s owner) is comforted as he cries over the loss of his pet. Who was the real villain here? The Rancor, or Jabba the Hutt for using him as a killing machine? Or was Luke the monster for killing the misunderstood beast?
I mean, it was clearly the Rancor.
It’s hard to pinpoint just why this scene is so awesome. John Williams’ score is excellent and the crowd reactions watching over the battle give it this ‘Gladiators in battle’ feel with Jabba acting as Julius Caesar. Mark Hamill is brilliant in acting against literally nothing, and the effects of the Rancor himself are superb. It’s decades later, and this puppet is still terrifying.
For me, Luke taking on the Rancor is one of my most vivid memories of watching this film as a child. It’s probably one of the reasons why I loved Japanese monster movies so much, and continue to do so to this day. I just hope we get a moment like this for our new heroes in the next trilogy of the Star Wars Saga.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and a contributor on The Flickering Myth Movie Show. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.