Recently, I have been following (and have chimed into) a running debate that has been taking place in the comment section of The Seduction of the Dark Side, a recent post from Guest Talker Michael Miller. On the one side, Miller has been defending his stance that at the beginning of Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker is wading into but is not yet fully immersed in the Dark Side when he goes to save Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt. On the other hand, Miller has been challenged by one commenter who argues that Luke’s actions against Jabba and his cronies, while perhaps not fully of the Light Side, are not of the Dark Side. And, to make the conversation even more exciting, Cameron Clark (from the Four Letter Nerd) decided to jump into things as well. Needless to say, this whole conversation makes me really happy because, well, what good is a Star Wars blog called The Imperial Talker if people aren’t, ya know, talking about Star Wars???
Now, I am not going to rehash the entire debate from the comment section, though I would encourage you to check it out as it has taken a lot of interesting twists and turns. Instead, as I have read through and participated in the “Great Comment Section Debate” I have found myself pondering that very first time we see Luke in person (his hologram doesn’t count) in Return of the Jedi. Here is a recap of the scene, or you can just go watch it HERE:
A hooded and dressed-in-black Luke Skywalker confidently strolls into Jabba’s palace. As he moves deeper into the palace, he is confronted by two Gamorrean Guards who bar his way by standing in front of him, axes crossed. Stopping in front of them, an expressionless Luke raises his right hand and use the Force to choke the two Gamorreans whom we see put their hands to their necks in distress. Then, the scene moves onto a new one.
In terms of pure, straight up symbolism, when Luke strolls into Jabba the Hutt’s palace, he is dressed like someone who would use the Dark Side. In fact, from a distance, the hooded figure could very well be mistaken for Lord Vader. Now, to say that Luke’s appearance is symbolic of the Dark Side is not to say that Luke has been consumed by the Dark Side. It is an important difference. But while he may not be consumed by the Dark Side, Luke does use the Dark Side when he Force chokes the Gamorrean Guards. Naturally, this is a bit of a shock because Luke is supposed to be the good guy, the character who doesn’t use the evil Dark Side of the Force. Yet, his first on-stage appearance in the film is the exact opposite of what we would expect from the hero.
This warrants a deeper exploration and the best place to start is by making sure we are all on the same page about the the use of the Force to choke someone.
The Force Choke
The Force Choke is a Dark Side technique, plain and simple. The Star Wars Databank confirms this point but I hardly need the Databank to prove anything. All the proof rests with Darth Vader.
In the Original Trilogy, we see Darth Vader utilize the Force Choke three times:
- In A New Hope, he chokes Admiral Motti (for a lack of faith).
- In The Empire Strikes Back, the Dark Lord chokes Admiral Ozzel (for his clumsiness and stupidity).
- Also in The Empire Strikes Back, Vader will Force choke Captain Needa (for losing the Millennium Falcon).
When Vader Force chokes Admiral Motti, it is also the very first time in the ENTIRE Star Wars saga we see an individual utilize the mystical power of the mysterious Force. From the get go, it sets a very important tone for the saga about Vader and the Force: this menacing looking bad guy can use this strange power to kill you simply raising his (right) hand.
On top of this, his use of the Force to choke Motti is also eye opening and shocking because at the beginning of A New Hope the first action we see Vader take is when he physically lifts a man by the throat and chokes him to death. This scene alone sets up Vader as powerful and terrifying, a cold blooded killer with incredible strength and power. The fact that he later engages in not just choking a subordinate, but does so by using the Force, elevates him to a frightening, supernatural level.
Now consider this: from the beginning of A New Hope up to the moment with Captain Needa, we only ever see Vader use the Force three times and each time he uses it to do what? Choke someone. In other words, the Force Choke is established as the Dark Lord’s go-to technique with the Force, each time strangling a subordinate who has said or done something that displeases him. While a scene in Return of the Jedi would have been the fourth instance of Vader Force choking a subordinate, it was ultimately deleted from the final cut of the film. Instead, the last time we see the Force Choke utilized in the Original Trilogy is when Luke confronts the Gamorrean Guards.
Like Father, Like Son
When Luke heads into the tree cave on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, he will end up being confronted by an illusion of Darth Vader. When he bests the illusion of Darth Vader by cutting off Vader’s head, Luke will see his own face appear in the Dark Lord’s helmet. The lesson is obvious: Luke could become Vader. And of course, this possibility is all the more profound when we later learn in the film that Vader is Luke’s father. The face in the helmet is not just an abstract lesson – if he is not careful, Luke could succumb to his own Dark Side potential and literally take his Father’s place.
When Luke Force Chokes the Gamorreans, the abstract symbolism of the lesson collides with the reality of action. The act is not just symbolic of the Dark Side potential within Luke, it IS the Dark Side. There is no way to explain it away. The potential that exists within Luke to become Vader has now manifested and is on full display as he uses his Father’s go-to technique. In fact, Luke even raises his right hand to choke the Guards, mirroring Vader who also raised his right hand to choke Motti.
This moment of mimesis goes deeper than a gesture with the hand, though. If we were to peel away the skin on Luke’s right hand, what would be revealed is not muscle and bone but wires and gadgets. It is his new, prosthetic hand, the one he received after he was maimed by Vader on Cloud City. Later in Return of the Jedi, the Force Ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi will tell Luke, among other things, that Anakin (Vader) is “more machine now than man.” It seems only right that in calling upon the Dark Side of the Force to choke the Gamorreans, Luke would utilize the part of him that is machine, the part that physically ties him to Vader.
And tying him to Vader, literally and symbolically, is precisely the point. Luke may not be consumed by the Dark Side when he chokes the Guards, but he has begun to show his Darkness, starting down a path where he could, very well, become the new-Vader. It is no wonder that the trajectory of Luke’s journey in the film will take him from this moment to his showdown with his Father. At that point, on the new Death Star, the Son will not only face his Father, but will come to recognize his own Vader-esque Darkness. Only after going into a rage filled assault and defeating Vader will Luke understand the seductive draw of the Dark Side of the Force and his own potential to take his Father’s place by the Emperor’s side.
Interested in reading more about Luke’s journey? Check out these posts from Guest Talker Michael J. Miller: