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You've Failed, Your Highness.

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First draft. Thoughts?

An apparent error exists in the pivotal throne room sequence in Return of the Jedi, but by carefully considering the knowledge and motivation of all players concerned, we can reconcile this error and learn more about the scene. The apparent error occurs in this exchange:

PALPATINE: Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny. Take your father's place at my side.

LUKE: Never. I'll never turn to the dark side. You've failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.

PALPATINE: So be it, Jedi.

The apparent error occurs when Luke Skywalker address Emperor Palpatine as "your higness." The proper form of address for an Emperor is, "Your Imperial Majesty." Luke used, "Your highness," which is the form of address for, "reigning dukes and members of reigning ducal houses, members of some grand ducal houses, junior members of some royal houses, emirs and sheikhs" (Wikipedia). Why did Luke use the incorrect form of address?

The first possibility is that the creators of Return of the Jedi simply did not know how to address an Emperor. Certainly, few people have occasion to interact with an Emperor. But this is unlikely; Lucas had spent years designing the story of a rebellion against an empire, which is certainly enough time to discover those courtesies on adopts around an emperor. Furthermore, the Emperor was played by Ian McDiarmid, a subject of HRH Elizabeth II. Any well-read subject of Elizabeth would know that the HH style is inappropriate for a sovereign.

The second possibility is that Luke did not know the proper way to address the Emperor. Darth Vader failed to provide any social cues when he addressed Palpatine as, "My master." Luke must have known, or suspected, that Palpatine was Vader's master in the Sith cult, and that only Vader could address Palpatine as such. But Luke would have had any number of other cues instructing him on how to speak to the Emperor. By this point in galactic history, Palpatine had reigned for over twenty years; he would have been the subject of innumerable news broadcasts, documentaries, propaganda pieces, and entertainments. Even on Tatooine and with the Rebel Alliance Luke would have been exposed to at least some of these materials, providing him with an education in Imperial courtesies.

The third possibility is that Luke deliberately used a lower style in order to insult the Emperor, or bring him down a notch. It seems Palpatine suspects this, too; when he calls Luke, "Jedi," his voice is full of mocking derision. But if Luke did use a lesser form of address to insult the sovereign, why did he choose, "Your highness?"

Luke was not intent on simply slinging harsh language at the Emperor; he wanted his barb to have a true point. He chose to delegitimize the Emperor with a lesser style, probably one in accord with the last position held by Palpatine that the Rebel Alliance consideres legitimate. If that position had been President, Luke would have used, "Your Excellency;" had it been Senator, he would've used, "Senator." Why did he instead choose a style of nobility that had no place in galactic governance? The answer must lie further back than Palpatine's galactic career.

We know that Naboo has an elected sovereign; it is possible they create other noblepersons by election or royal fiat. Palpatine may have held a minor title and style on Naboo before being elected a planetary or sectorial representative. When he took up his duties on the offworld parliament, this courtesy title would have been superceded by his new title ("Senator" in the Galactic Senate), which was later superceded by the titles of Supreme Chancellor and Emperor, and the HH style superceded by HE and HIM.

When Luke faces down Palpatine, he denies thoroughly Palpatine's authority.

"You are no Emperor, you're not a legitimate President, and you don't even have the right to sit on the Senate you've disbanded! You are a minor noble from a backwater world with a sinecure office and a courtesy title! And I shall show you that courtesy, and no more!"
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Cool analysis my friend. Very cool and detailed. I loved that movie when I first saw it. I thought it was the best of the series. Now I'm leaning towards ANH.
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Wow, that is a very lengthy analysis. Unfortunately, I don't believe Luke was trying to insult the Emperor by calling him "your highness." In the scene he has resigned himself to possible death and shown that he has control over his own actions. He is saying that even the threats of an Emperor will fail before the decisions of his heart.

I just believe Star Wars takes place in a fantasy world and that the address of "your highness" simply translates the notion of superiority into our language in a way that sounds cool. "Your Imperial Majesty" is clumsier in a dramatic line.

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Cool analysis indeed. I never would have known the difference if you hadn't said anything, so thanks for keeping me informed. I bet those involved didn't know the difference, but it's a very good rationalization. ^_^

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I think it is more likely, from a character point of view, that Luke was thinking of his good friend Han Solo when he used "your Highness". After all, Solo had thrown that one at Leia many times. We should probably be grateful that he didn't just say:

"Look, your worshipfulness, I take orders from just one person! Me!!"
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I think you are reading too much into the semantics. "Your highness" can also be used as a general term to denote supreme authority. Luke's use of it acknowledges Palpatine as the supreme authority of the galactic civilization yet he uses it in the context of defiance--what he is really saying is "you may be the supreme ruler of this world but i will not bow down to you."

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I think you can never "read too much into something". If you come up with an imaginative expansion of a simple thing and it fits so beautifully like this one - it's merely taking the story into a larger world. I love how passion for a thing that at first glance looks like "a mistake" can turn into an intrigueing detail (even if it may truly be a mistake of the author). Colorful imagination > dry scepticism when it comes to enjoy a film, I say.

Thanks for that Scruffy.
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I think that the original line was, "You failed, motherfucker." To which Luke jumps up and slices off the Emperor's head which lands on the ground before Luke does. But Lucas thought it would scare children.
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Originally posted by: Invader Jenny
I think that the original line was, "You failed, motherfucker." To which Luke jumps up and slices off the Emperor's head which lands on the ground before Luke does. But Lucas thought it would scare children.


I myself would have shit my pants laughing.

IMO Luke said "your highness" just to be kind of cocky in a very small way. He's obviously not going to show any formal respect to the enemy he has no respect for and doesn't care about. He's merely mocking The Emperor's position just as Palpatine is mocking Luke in the next line by calling him a Jedi even tho he really could care less.

It's this kind of "loaded" dialogue that is missing in the PT. Nothing is subtle there like this mocking banter between Luke and Palp. It would have been drawn out and obvious, not natural.

And again, IMO, yes something can be read into to much. This borders on my version of that but to each his own. If you've got the time and the interest a little out of the box in-depth analyzing sin't so bad. It's picking apart things that are so obviously shallow that is kinda lame....like Jar Jar.

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I love the analysis (and, bizarrely enough, was looking for the proper way to address an Emperor on a completely unrelated matter) .... but, alas, I don't think any of it entered into the thoughts behind the screenplay. I simply think the much simpler "Your Highness" was easier on the tongue, easier on the minds of the audience, and a merely expedient way to convey what the script wanted to convey - without doing somersalts of language.
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Originally posted by: Invader Jenny
I think that the original line was, "You failed, motherfucker." To which Luke jumps up and slices off the Emperor's head which lands on the ground before Luke does. But Lucas thought it would scare children.


Nah, he originally morphed into Mace Windu and released a load of poisonous snakes. Snakes on a Star Destroyer, now there's an idea for a sequel. 'What we got here is a load of motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' Star Destroyer!' Sometimes I scare myself...
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I have had it with these mother@#$ing snakes on this mother$%^&ing Star Destroyer!

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Wow Scruffy. That's really cool. Thanks for posting your thoughts. It makes lot of sense, and definately makes that whole scene cooler.
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Originally posted by: auraloffalwaffle
I think it is more likely, from a character point of view, that Luke was thinking of his good friend Han Solo when he used "your Highness". After all, Solo had thrown that one at Leia many times. We should probably be grateful that he didn't just say:

"Look, your worshipfulness, I take orders from just one person! Me!!"


I'm going to do "your worshipfulness" next.
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Originally posted by: zombie84
I think you are reading too much into the semantics. "Your highness" can also be used as a general term to denote supreme authority. Luke's use of it acknowledges Palpatine as the supreme authority of the galactic civilization yet he uses it in the context of defiance--what he is really saying is "you may be the supreme ruler of this world but i will not bow down to you."


"Highness" has not represented a supreme authority in English-speaking countries for a number of years. A totalitarian dictator like Palpatine really should've used "majesty." It comes from maiestas, the dignity of the state in the Roman Republic, which later came to refer to the person of the Roman Emperor. Palpatine was definitely the "L'etat, c'est moi" type who would demand the dignity of maiestas.

If Lucas did not wish to use Imperial courtesies in his writing, he would've made Palpatine something other than an Emperor. He had no problem creating new words to represent rank or titles that did not translate well into English, e.g. Moff and Padawan.
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"Emperor" denotes tyranny much more than "King" or "Supreme [insert title]". Its associated more with dictatorship type of government. The truth is that most people--and I'm sure Lucas himself--don't know that "majesty" or "highness" have specific uses. I sure didn't. Lucas just choses things for their aesthetic sound or associative connotation. Highness just seemed to be a better word to use, and Emperor is more apporpriate for a tyrant.

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"When George went back and put new creatures into the original Star Wars, I find that disturbing. It’s a revision of history. That bothers me."

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Originally posted by: zombie84
"Emperor" denotes tyranny much more than "King" or "Supreme [insert title]". Its associated more with dictatorship type of government.

By whom? I've never made this association. Is HIM Akihito a greater tyrant than HM King Saud? Was HIM George VI a dictator and HM George VI not? Is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei a better ruler than Imperators like Caesar Augustus or Marcus Aurelius? Was the Fuhrer really better than the Kaiser?

No, Imperial dignity does not imply anything about the relation of the ruler to the commoners (except, perhaps, distance). It implies an unequal relationship between the ruler and other rulers. An Emperor is superior to kings, either by virtue of maintaining a political empire or by heading both state and church. Palpatine was an emperor because he assumed monarchical dignity but did not strip such dignity from his subjects, such as the monarch of Alderaan.

The truth is that most people--and I'm sure Lucas himself--don't know that "majesty" or "highness" have specific uses. I sure didn't.


Lucas spent years working on Star Wars. That is more than enough time to get an education, and learn the meaning of words that one uses. Many people do come up with glaring holes in their education, but part of being a productive adult is recognizing them and filling them in when necessary. And again, Lucas was not the sole creator of Return of the Jedi. Kasdan helped him write it, and at least three British subjects were on set when the lines were spoken (Marquand, McDiarmid, Prowse, and/or Anderson). They probably had a greater understanding of royal styles than the American Lucas. Hamill may have picked up a bit about royal styles, too, while working on Britannia Hospital. I haven't seen it, but it seems to use HRH rather freely.
"It's the stoned movie you don't have to be stoned for." -- Tom Shales on Star Wars
Scruffy's gonna die the way he lived.
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Maybe Luke was just being sarcastic.

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yeah that's pretty much all there was to it, imo. Not really that deeply thought out. Just him probably being flippant. Or they just call emperor's your highness.
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Or maybe Luke, raised as a backwards farmer and then spending his life as a soldier or in intense Jedi-training, just didn't care.

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