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Toy Story 3 vs. The Return of the Jedi: A Comparison of Two Films

Updated on September 24, 2013

The Force is Strong in You

I began noticing the similarities between Toy Story 3 and The Return of the Jedi immediately. Of course, many people have noticed one or two, but I began seeing the films almost as counterparts. The characters, the settings, the conflicts: I discovered links and references I'm sure no one ever intended. My kids were only mildly entertained by my ravings. They're too young to feel the full force of the early Star Wars movies, so my thrill was mostly lost on them. I, however, persevered, noting whatever commonalities I could find, rewatching sections of film. While I'll spare you some of my less-probably theories, here are what I see to be the top similarities between Pixar's Oscar-nominated film and George Lucas's Episode VI.

The Trilogies

Yes, I know that prequels were made in the Star Wars series, but let's face it, most of us who grew up in the 1970s don't recognize Hayden Christensen as having anything to do with the franchise. I've seen the newer Lucas films, and I didn't enjoy myself all that much.

In any event, both Toy Story 3 and The Return of the Jedi end their respective trilogies. Both movies are more enjoyable when watched third, though either film can certainly stand on its own merits. I know people who have never seen the earlier films in either series, and there doesn't seem to be any major complaint. TS3 completes the saga by coming full circle in the lives of Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the rest; ROTJ also comes full circle by suggesting that the universe is right once again.

The Toy Story Series

Woody and Luke Skywalker

Both movies have strong leads. Woody is in a constant struggle with his sense of obligation, as is Luke, both to their friends and a higher power. Both are on a path of self-discovery: it could be argued that the nature of "play" is equivalent to the notion of the Force. The hope of being "played with" drives the characters on a mission comparable to Luke's journey to understand the Force. It's almost as if all will be right with the world (and a trancendental understanding will occur) once the toys are in the hands of the right child. Luke, of course, must master his Zen-like control of an unseen dynamism, and Woody sputters his own aphorisms when the cord on his back is pulled. Woody's moment comes when he understands that "he will always be with Andy" (this is reminiscent of several exchanges between Luke and Obi-Wan throughout the series). Neither film can be resolved until the two primary characters reach a boundless, almost spiritual state of mind. At this point, each can let go of a certain pain that has held them back.

Aside from this, both Woody and Luke wear distinct clothing (Woody's trademark hat and Luke's Jedi garb), and both characters have a now-and-again wide-eyed view of others. Woody and Luke interact with their friends in a steady, responsible manner, while also maintaining a certain kind of innocence.  Both heroes also share an amazing agility, as evidenced by Luke's flipping about on Jabba's barge and Woody's escape and ensuing kite ride out of Sunnyside.

The Supporting Cast

There's no question that parallels can be drawn between Buzz Lightyear and Han Solo. Both add a comedic value to the films, both act as foils to the protagonists, and both are known for their laser guns. At the start of The Return of the Jedi, Han Solo is encased in carbonite for the pleasure of Jabba the Hutt; he has lost the ability to move, think and behave in a normal way. This fits well with Buzz Lightyear's switch being flipped by his enemies. As a result, he is essentially brainwashed and is unable to behave normally (he does, however, do a great job with Spanish). Both individuals have a propensity to get into troubling and adventurous situations, and both are strong and action-oriented.  "To infinity and beyond" sounds exactly like what Han Solo would be thinking as he throttles the Millennium Falcon into hyperspeed.

Buzz and Han's romantic interests are Jessie and Princess Leia. Both females are strong in their own right, but have a growing admiration and love for their men. Jessie has a sisterly relationship with Woody (they share the cowboy theme, as well as a fondness for Bullseye, who serves almost as an unintelligible R2D2 counterpart); clearly, Luke and Leia are actually brother and sister, so they have a growing likeness by Episode VI. Jessie and Leia both play mainly complementary roles in their respective films, but both also add a necessary female vibe to otherwise male-dominated nuclei.

The Bad Guys

Lotsa Huggin Bear is in some ways the spitting image of the Emperor in ROTJ. Both characters have somewhat gentler pasts: the Emperor was once Palpatine and Lotsa once knew the love and comfort of a real family, until each grew bitter and resentful, resulting in their "souls" undergoing traumatic change. Both initially meet the heroes with ingratiating, persuasive tones (Lotsa convinces Woody of his good intentions at the Death-Star imitator, Sunnyside Day Care Center; the Emperor woos Luke to join the Empire), but lead ill-intentioned armies who are as afraid of their generals as they are intolerant of the protagonist. Interestingly, both characters hobble a bit when they walk (think cane ), and both hold authority over memorable deputies.

Those deputies are Big Baby and Darth Vader, of course. Both have been turned to the "dark side" by an all-controlling master, and both have an eerie and silent ability to ration out their own form of justice. The scene with Big Baby swinging and staring at the stars is much like a scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Vader gazes out in wonder after his departing son. Both characters have an uncanny ability to sense when someone is nearby, and both ultimately turn back to their original states. BB and Vader undergo final transformations when the truth of their commanding officers' evil and manipulation is revealed; both have "sons" threatened, and both respond by heaving their former masters into a dark abyss (Big Baby lifts and tosses Lotsa Huggin bear into the dumpster, and Darth Vader lifts and tosses the Emperor into the "funnel" to space). While once the most imposing of the maleficent figures in their films, both resolve to renounce evil and redeem themselves when confronted with the memories of the good that was once within them.

The Tip of the Iceberg

I'm leaving out a considerable amount of peripheral connections, in fear of losing all credibility. Sunnyside Day Care is divided into Rebel and Empire camps; the second Death Star is destroyed in a flame-filled scene reminsicent of the foundry scene in TS; the squeeze-toy aliens from Pizza Planet behave and save the day much like the Ewoks on Endor; heck, even the multiple dumptrucks in Toy Story 3 remind me of the AT-ST Walkers in Return of the Jedi. There are so many similarities between the films. I could turn into a lunatic listing them all.

Both movies have struck a chord with audiences that resonates beyond the normal range for a "family" film. It's fascinating and fun to delve into the overlapping motifs of the two, and unfortunately for my kids, it leaves me wondering about other seemingly unrelated pairs. I'll try not to discuss my theories while they're watching a new movie. As far as my kids go, they'll tolerate my nonsense, so long as I bring the popcorn.


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    • shogan profile image

      shogan 7 years ago from New England

      Thanks, Chris. I have a bad habit of overanalyzing everything I read and watch. :)

    • profile image

      Chris McGowan 7 years ago

      I really enjoyed reading this. I never noticed it before but you make a good point.