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I had always assumed the Jedi in the title of Return of the Jedi referred to Luke Skywalker's return from defeat. But Jedi is its own plural -- could it be referring to the rebuilding of the organization/movement/religion that presumably occurs after the Empire is defeated? Or maybe even to the return of Anakin's good side?

Yes, the title was originally Revenge of the Jedi, but that doesn't make it much clearer. It could still be either Luke's revenge, or the Jedi's revenge over the Sith, or even something else.

Did Lucas ever say exactly what it was he intended?

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Perhaps he meant all 3... – ElendilTheTall Jul 24 '14 at 10:38
The German title is "Die Rückkehr der Jedi-Ritter", literall translation, "The return of the jedi knights" - plural. However, I don't want to claim that this can not be a mistranslation. – Philipp Jul 24 '14 at 11:00
@sigber No, that would be Genitiv (genitive case). In German, plural cases are: die (Nominativ), der (Genitiv), den (Dativ), die (Akkusativ). "The Return of the Jedi Knights" would indeed be translated as "Die Rückkehr der Jedi-Ritter". – SQB Jul 24 '14 at 13:12
I always thought of is as an uncountable noun, meaning the return all the JEDI. – TecBrat Jul 24 '14 at 17:33
I'm with @ElendilTheTall. There's nothing wrong with a title that evokes several meanings and is intended to stand for all of them. That kind of title is rather clever, in my opinion. – jpmc26 Jul 24 '14 at 22:58

Luke: I am a Jedi, like my father before me.
Palpatine: [angrily] So be it... Jedi!

This is the crucial moment when Luke fully claims his heritage and asserts his Jedihood.

Before that, Jedi didn't exist anymore. The few remaining after Order 66 were in hiding or had died since (Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda).
But with Luke's claim, and through his and his father's actions, the Jedi as a concept, as a factor of importance in the world, has returned. Comparable with "Return of the Knight" or "Return of the Light".

So it's not the return of a specific Jedi (Luke or Anakin), it's not the return of a number of Jedi, but it's the return of the concept, the role of a Jedi.

The caption of the very last picture in the official Luke Skywalker bio on underlines this:

Returning to his friends, Luke saw a trio of Force spirits -- Obi-Wan, Yoda and Anakin, redeemed by his sacrifice. Luke's love for his father had saved the galaxy, and brought about a chance to restore the Republic and the Jedi Order.

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66? Where does that number come from? – Mason Wheeler Jul 24 '14 at 21:51
@MasonWheeler Order 66 was the order Palpatine gave in Revenge of the Sith to begin the extermination of the Jedi. It was in the movie. – Brandon Jul 24 '14 at 22:03
@Brandon: Oh, I read that wrong. Thought you said there were 66 of the [Jedi] Order left, who were all in hiding or at that point. – Mason Wheeler Jul 24 '14 at 22:09
Yes, I've always thought that this title was more like "Return of the Age of the Jedi". – Chris O Jul 25 '14 at 13:33
"The Jedi" was used in many places in the movies to refer to the entire order. Beyond that, unless Lucas did an interview somewhere I don't imagine there's much evidence one could find. You can ascribe whatever meaning you want to it: Luke returning to complete the heroic journey as a Jedi, Anakin becoming a Jedi once more, or The Jedi (Order) returning to the galaxy. The last seems the simplest explanation. – Joe Jul 25 '14 at 15:57

According to the official biography of Luke Skywalker, the film "Return of the Jedi" ends with the return of Anakin Skywalker.

It follows that the 'Jedi' mentioned in the title is Anakin rather than Luke or "The Jedi Order".

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Yes, for better or worse - this is how I've always seen it. At the end of the film there are two "true" Jedi - Luke and Anakin. And its that moment that allows Luke to restart the Jedi Order, etc. However, I've also always hated the "redemption" of Vader. The guy is basically Hitler of the Star Wars universe and is "redeemed" because he decided he didn't want to sentence his son to death. Lucas has a very flexible concept of redemption. – joshbirk Jul 24 '14 at 16:51
@Beofett - Lucas has made it clear that he sees the two trilogies as "the story of Anakin" with various other characters involved. – Valorum Jul 24 '14 at 18:59
@Richard Too bad Lucas has been turned to the Dark Side, and can no longer be trusted.... – Beofett Jul 24 '14 at 19:00
@Beofett - I guess that even when you're a billionaire, you've still got your price. – Valorum Jul 24 '14 at 19:03
"I have altered the movie, pray I don't alter it any further" -George Lucas to Star Wars fans – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jul 26 '14 at 0:08

I thought about that too, a long time ago in a town far away.

The title Return of the Jedi simply means the destruction of the Sith and the return of the Jedi Order.

However, who knew Lucas at that time was to continue the Saga and subsequently stories and Paths change, so the title may be null if we find soon enough in part 7 that the Sith are lurking somewhere in the Galaxy.

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You don't need the Sith to be destroyed for the title to have this meaning (which it always has for me). As long as there now Jedi again. – George T Jul 24 '14 at 11:56
But Luke was a Jedi, "I am a Jedi like my Father before me". if your talking about his dad making up the numbers well he returned to being a Jedi for 10 minutes. – Tasos Jul 24 '14 at 12:22
Do you have anything to go on other than speculation? – Plutor Jul 24 '14 at 12:44
Yea i spoke to George Lucas Just now and confirmed my answer. :)) jokes aside its not speculation, i read that (what i said) in a old 80's Staburst magazine in an Interview. I'm actually looking through them now but the only one i found is the Special Issue on Star Wars Vol 4 Number 7. – Tasos Jul 24 '14 at 13:02
On page 6 its says "Editors note: the rumor about the title change a couple of months ago. Naturally we checked the information with the London Lucasfilm office. It was the first they heard of it too. We thought no more of it. Now in the American film magazines we see the film still being referred to (Return). We still unclear about what the title will be. but usually no smoke without etc." – Tasos Jul 24 '14 at 13:02

Return of the Jedi, not a Jedi.

For words where the plural and singular are the same, you should use "the" to refer to the group, and "a" to refer to the singular.

"The migration of the salmon" refers to all the Salmon migrating, not one.

It's the Return of the Jedi, as an organization.

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"The" is used in both singular and plural cases. "The girl," "the man," "the cookie," for singular examples. In your salmon example, salmon could be singular or plural; we'd need more context to know which it referred to. So I don't think your grammatical argument holds up. The distinction between "the" and "a" is that between definite and indefinite articles. "The" refers to a specific instance of the noun it acts on, while "a" means any single unspecified instance of the noun. – jpmc26 Jul 26 '14 at 3:47
nice try nonetheless – yitwail Jul 27 '14 at 1:24
'The little sheep moved swiftly downhill.' In this statement, how many sheep moved downhill? – Pharap Jul 27 '14 at 4:11

Return of the Jedi refers to the return of Anakin Skywalker as previously stated above. This answer is to add up to Richard's answer. By using the term THE Jedi tries to focus on a specific Jedi Master (similar to THE ONE, or THE BEST or something like that). It a slur/slang in English and as we all know using it helps defining someone as the best in their field. "He is not a farmer, he is THE farmer".

So using the term THE instead of A in the title refers to THE Jedi which in fact is indeed Anakin Skywalker. The person who was born of a virgin mother, born directly from the force itself. He is THE JEDI.

Along with Richards answer that also explains on how Anakin returned in the movie this are what I believe the intentions of the title

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According to the epilogue of the now-noncanonical book The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader, the title refers - at least in part - to Anakin Skywalker.

Night had fallen by the time Luke placed Anakin Skywalker's armor-clad body atop a pile of gathered wood. As he ignited the pyre, Luke said, "I burn his armor and with it the name of Darth Vader. May the name of Anakin Skywalker be a light that guides the Jedi for generations to come."

Luke was unaware of the spirits who watched him from the shadows of the lambent woods. But later, when he rejoined his allies for their victory celebration in the treetop village that was home to the Ewoks, Luke saw three shimmering apparitions materialize in the darkness. They were Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda... and his father, Anakin Skywalker.

The Jedi had returned.

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