Dagobah

Forgotten Faith: Doubting the Sacred

What Luke Skywalker accomplishes in the climactic final Act of Star Wars: A New Hope is nothing short of miraculous. Tasked with the responsibility of destroying the Empire’s planet killing Death Star, to succeed and win the day Skywalker unexpectedly gives himself over to the mystical energy field known as the Force. Doing so at the behest of the recently “deceased” Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, young Luke puts his faith in something greater than his available technology (or luck, or logic and reason), allowing the sacred and mysterious energy to guide his actions. In doing so, Skywalker not only saves the galaxy by destroying the Death Star, but also takes a giant leap of faith into a realm of wondrous possibility. As Skywalker speeds back to the Rebel base after the battle station explodes, Kenobi speaks to the young pilot from “the beyond”, reminding Luke that “the Force will be with you, always.” Luke Skywalker, farmer-turned Rebel pilot-turned galactic hero, will always have the Force as his ally.

Yet, when we once again meet Luke in The Empire Strikes Back three years after his leap of faith and heroic deed, the young man has all but forgotten the Force is with him.

After putting his faith in the Force in A New Hope, one would anticipate that when we meet Skywalker again that he will have started to more fully develop his understanding of, and connection to, the Force. This, however, is not the case, and is actually hinted at early in The Empire Strikes Back as Luke hangs upside down in the Wampa’s lair (having been ambushed and knocked unconscious by Hoth’s apex predator). His lightsaber protruding from the snow a few feet away, Luke’s initial instinct is to desperately grab for his weapon, and only concentrates on using the Force to bring the weapon to him once he recognizes the blade is out of reach.

 

Luke Wampa Cave
Luke hangs upside down in the Wampa’s lair.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Luke’s use of the Force in this instance reminds the audience of his connection to the energy field while likewise foreshadowing the lessons he will learn when he makes his way to Dagobah in the film’s second act. After all, in the Wampa’s lair we see for the very first time that one can move objects using the Force. Later in the film, this reality will be expanded, with Luke moving boulders and the ancient Jedi Master Yoda using the Force to move Luke’s X-Wing Starfighter.

The episode in the Wampa’s lair likewise foreshadows the doubt and disconnect Luke will display, with respect to the Force, when he travels to the Dagobah system to learn from Yoda. The Force is certainly with him, but at the outset of The Empire Strikes Back it is a curious afterthought, a seemingly forgotten aspect of his being. Even after bringing the lightsaber to him in the lair, the Force seems to fade away as panic sets in, Luke maiming the Wampa and anxiously fleeing the snowy cave.

At the end of A New Hope, Luke was the victorious hero who we last saw receiving a medal for destroying the dreaded Death Star. Now, only a short way into The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker stumbles out of the Wampa’s lair, his flight response fully in control. Unsurprisingly, Luke will succumb to the harsh elements on Hoth, collapsing into the snowy Tundra. Face down in the snow (see featured image above), his body surely experiencing the effects of hypothermia, it is here and now that Obi-Wan Kenobi curiously chooses to re-appear. Calling to the (freezing) young man, Kenobi appears in astral form and commands Luke to “go to the Dagobah system” where he will learn the ways of the Force from Yoda. 

Crashing into a Swamp

It is Luke’s journey to Dagobah that serves as the surest example of his mystical disconnect. Consider that as Luke flies his X-Wing into the planet’s atmosphere – the very same X-Wing he piloted to destroy the Death Star! – he relies entirely on the starfighter’s technology to guide him to the planet’s surface. “All the scopes are dead. I can’t see a thing…” he exclaims as he descends into the thick, dense atmosphere/fog covering the planet. The technology at his disposal fails him, and [a panicked] Luke does not call upon the Force to serve as his guide. It is no wonder he crashes into the swamp.

Luke Crashes on Dagobah
Luke stands on the nose of his X-Wing after crashing in the swamp on Dagobah.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

In turn, what makes this scenario all the more fascinating is that Dagobah is teeming with life, and as Yoda will explain to Luke, it is life which makes the Force grow. “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” the elderly Master will note once young Skywalker has started his rigorous Jedi training. Luke, we know from his actions in A New Hope, already has a special connection to the Force, an ability to destroy a planet killing superweapon thanks to faith alone. Never-the-less, piloting his X-Wing to Dagobah, Luke Skywalker is incapable of navigating his way to the surface of a planet glowing with the radiance of the Force.

In the three years between the end of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker has chosen to ignore, or has simply forgotten, his connection to the Force. Or, perhaps over time he began to doubt the mysterious energy field, placing more trust in technology than on the mystical source of his power. Indeed, Luke express such doubt to Yoda – “you ask the impossible”, the young man will exclaim when given a Force-specific task – and Yoda will note that it is Luke’s doubt, his inability to believe in the possibility of the impossible, which makes him fail.

Whatever the reason for Luke’s disconnect with the Force – be it doubt, forgetfulness, ignorance, or something else entirely – from a narrative perspective it is a profound way of highlighting that even after becoming a hero one can still face incredible challenges. Luke may have relied on the Force to destroy the Death Star, but he must also face great external/internal struggle to ascend beyond a singular act of heroism to become truly heroic. In fact, The Empire Strikes Back goes to great lengths to show Luke stumbling, being knocked down, and crashing time and time again as he embarks on this new path of ascendance, towards becoming a Jedi Knight. Consider the following:

  • Luke is knocked off his Tauntaun when the Wampa attacks.
  • He falls from the ceiling of the Wampa’s lair.
  • He stumbles over a snow drift as he escapes the lair, and later falls to the ground as he walks across Hoth’s desolate tundra.
  • His Snowspeeder crashes when it is struck by a laser blast.
  • After destroying an AT-AT using his lightsaber and a thermal detonator, he unhooks his harness and falls far to the ground below.
  • Piloting his X-Wing, he crashes into the swamp on Dagobah.
  • Exiting his X-Wing, he jumps into the swampy marsh and must crawl up the muddy embankment.
  • When he is doing his first handstand during his Jedi training, moving large rocks while Yoda sits on his feet, Luke becomes distracted and falls.
  • Later, doing another handstand, suspending a number of containers and his droid R2-D2 in the air, he again becomes distracted once again.
  • As he battles Darth Vader he is knocked into the carbon-freezing chamber; he is blasted out of a window; stumbles to the ground and barely escapes Vader’s next attack; and falls, by choice, into the great abyss at the center of Cloud City after learning he is Vader’s son (presumably choosing death rather than continuing to face his father).

After falling into the abyss on Cloud City, Luke ends up literally hanging below the city on a weather vane, grasping desperately with his one hand (the other had been cut off, along with his lightsaber, by his father) for the door above him. Even here, in this desperate situation, the literal and metaphorical lowest point in his life, Luke forgets his connection to the Force, instead trying to climb to safety with his single hand. Unsurprisingly, Luke once again slips and begins to fall, this time only being saved by his legs (which catch the weather vane).  Just as he was hanging upside down in the Wampa’s lair at the beginning of the film, at the end of the film Luke is once again in a desperate situation hanging upside down.

Luke Weather Vane
Luke hangs upside down from a weathervane below Cloud City. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

In a sense, this is the most appropriate metaphor for the existential situation Luke Skywalker finds himself in throughout The Empire Strikes Back – his heroic journey has quite literally been turned upside down. Where he gave himself willingly to the Force in A New Hope, placing his faith in something greater, in The Empire Strikes Back he stumbles and falls as he attempts to rekindle, and grow, in his understanding of and relationship with the Force. Eager to learn about the sacred energy field in A New Hope, Luke’s forgetfulness and doubt are why he crashes and fails in The Empire Strikes Back.

The Seduction of the Dark Side

Guest Talker: Michael J. Miller

“You don’t know the power of the Dark Side,” Vader promises Luke during the climactic scene of The Empire Strikes Back. As Luke struggles to survive his encounter with the Sith Lord, both physically and emotionally, we see the central struggle of the Star Wars Saga once again – the struggle between the Light and the Dark…and the Dark looks like it’s winning. We see this play out through all six films, in Anakin, in Luke, and across the galaxy as a whole. It’s a struggle we share, and one that often gets the best of us. That is one of the most important parts of Star Wars as a modern myth. It’s meant not just to entertain us but to teach us as well.

We’re meant to connect to the myth, just as it masterfully connects to itself. With this in mind, a thought struck me as I read the first issue of Marvel’s (brilliant) Darth Vader comic. Whether this connection was intentional on the part of the author Kieron Gillen or not isn’t the point (although I’m pretty sure it was). The revelation hit regardless. The comic opens with Vader entering Jabba’s Palace for a negotiation. The whole thing feels very familiar, calling to mind the opening of Return Of The Jedi and Luke’s entrance to Jabba’s Palace. The gate raises. Vader decapitates two Gamorrean guards. He then forces an audience with Jabba where the Hutt warns him not to attempt any mind tricks.

Lord Vader chastises Jabba the Hutt. Photo Credit: MARVEL Comics - Darth Vader Issue # 001

Lord Vader chastises Jabba the Hutt.
Photo Credit: MARVEL Comics – Darth Vader Issue # 001

But a deeper connection came a few pages later. Jabba tells Vader, “Oh Jedi…always making everything so difficult.” Without hesitation Vader immediately cuts apart Jabba’s forces with brutal efficiency. Vader then proceeds to Force choke Jabba while warning, “You called me Jedi. You know nothing. Mind tricks are not of the Dark Side. We prefer force. Do you understand?” When Luke appears before Jabba to bargain for Han’s release four years later, Bib Fortuna confidently affirms, “He’s no Jedi.”

Yes, this is a condescending swipe at Luke. But, as with so many moments in Star Wars, this serves multiple purposes. Bib Fortuna is stating a very real truth. Luke is no Jedi. He has fallen quite far from the path and the opening pages of Darth Vader #1 illustrate that in a new (and brilliantly connected) way. Darth Vader shows Jabba, in no uncertain terms, the difference between the Jedi and the Sith. When Luke appears in the same spot years later, he acts as a Sith does. He is no Jedi.

In A New Hope, Obi-Wan taught Luke (and the viewer) much about the nature of the Force. In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda teaches Luke (and the viewer) what it means to be a Jedi. It is interesting to note that “Yoda” is Sanskrit for “warrior.” The diminutive Yoda is not what one would traditionally picture when you think of warrior. Yet, with his name, he is meant to symbolize the model in the Star Wars universe for the ideal warrior. This ideal warrior chides Luke for craving adventure and excitement. He tells Luke that “wars not make one great.”

On Dagobah, Yoda teaches Luke, “A Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the Dark Side. Anger. Fear. Aggression. The Dark Side of the Force are they. Easily they flow. Quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will. As it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.”

Yoda teaches Luke about the Force. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Yoda teaches Luke about the Force.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Anger. Fear. Aggression. Easily they flow…yet they will consume you. The Dark Side offers power – quick, easy, and strong. But it will take and corrupt you as payment. It is impossible to use the Dark Side without sacrificing all that is good in you. It seems like it can be helpful, that it can even be used to good ends. But that is an illusion, the seductive allure of the Dark Side.

We live in a culture where the Myth of Redemptive Violence reigns. We are taught, by the silent (and often sinister) voices of our culture that we can solve our problems, right wrongs, even defeat evil by using violent means. It is a challenge to even consider rejecting the Myth of Redemptive Violence, much less committing to and living out that rejection. It’s scary to reject the norms of culture. It’s also difficult to believe we can triumph over the forces of darkness in our world without violence and retribution. Luke poses the same questions to Yoda as they train.

Luke—“Is the Dark Side stronger?”

Yoda—“No, no, no. Quicker, easier, more seductive.”

Luke—“But how am I to know the good side from the bad?”

Yoda—“You will know when you are calm, at peace, passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never attack.”

Luke—“Tell me why I can’t…”

Yoda—“No, no! There is no ‘why.’”

Yoda refuses to even entertain the idea of using the Force for anything other than knowledge and defense. Anything else is of the Dark Side. Luke, like all of us, wonders why we can’t use it – from time to time – if our motives are pure and our cause is just. Why can’t we, to quote singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, “kick the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”? Because, Yoda would answer (traditionally with far more inverted syntax), that’s the Dark Side. Yet Luke can’t see this, as we learn when he reaches the cave.

Luke—“What’s in there?”

Yoda—“Only what you take with you. Your weapons…you will not need them.

Luke descends into the cave on Dagobah, weapons anchored around his waist.  Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Luke descends into the cave on Dagobah, weapons anchored around his waist.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Ignoring Yoda, Luke straps on his weapons belt and (quite symbolically) descends into the cave. He also takes in his anger, fear, hate, and self-doubt, illustrated (again, symbolically) by his weapons belt. These emotions take the form of Darth Vader because he is of the Dark Side and the Dark Side gets its strength from those very same emotions. This vision of Vader doesn’t draw his weapon or attack until Luke does so first. Therefore, Luke fails the test in the cave because he becomes the aggressor. He attacks. He gives in to the Dark Side.

Once Luke kills Vader he sees his greatest fear—his face in Vader’s helmet. This symbolizes what Luke may become. (It also symbolizes something Luke doesn’t know yet, that Vader is his father and they are both susceptible to the pull of the Dark Side.) Despite his failure at the cave, Luke still draws his lightsaber first when he’s confronted by Vader on Cloud City.

Vader toys with Luke in combat, goading him to let go of his hate as it’s the only way Luke can hope to defeat him. With Luke physically beaten, Vader reveals he is Luke’s father, breaking him spiritually and emotionally. He takes Luke’s hand as well as any sense of self Luke had.

Luke's face appears in the helmet of Darth Vader. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Luke’s face appears in the helmet of Darth Vader.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

This all leaves Luke balancing on the precipice of the Dark Side – a place his father has stood before. So when Return Of The Jedi opens, it’s no surprise that Luke is acting as Darth Vader did in Jabba’s Palace. Vader is no Jedi. And, at that moment, Luke isn’t either. The struggle at the core of Star Wars continues to play out, in Luke as it did in Anakin a generation before…as it plays out in each of us every day.

Fear. Anger. Aggression. They feel omnipresent, in our world as well as in Star Wars, and they can often seem impossible to overcome. But they aren’t, as Luke shows us. Luke transcends the seductive pull of the Dark Side. He shows us what we are meant to be. We are called to so much more. “Luminous beings are we.” But if we believe that it’s impossible to transcend these violent forces, well that is why we fail.


Check out these other Guest Talker posts by Michael Miller:

The Nature of Hero

A Man in Debt to a Hutt

So, What’s Luke Been Up To?

Star Wars: Yoda

“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we…” – Master Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back

Like a number of other long-time Star Wars fans, I have some heated thoughts about a Han Solo film being made that looks at the iconic smuggler’s back story before A New Hope. To save some time I will just say this: Harrison Ford is Han Solo. There, now you know where I stand on the film. My friend Alicia, who will have the honor of being the first guest writer on The Imperial Talker, will have a much more thorough analysis of the Han Solo film announcement soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to take an opportunity to bounce around a couple of my own stand-alone film ideas. Now, I could very easily just start listing off films I would like to see, but that would be pretty underwhelming. Instead, I decided to come up with a synopsis for two stand-alone films based on characters who have been floating around the “will they get their own movie” rumor mill: Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

In the remainder of this post, I will lay out my idea for what I personally want to see in a Yoda film and, in the next post, I will lay out my idea for a Kenobi film. After painting a picture of the Yoda film, I will give a little rationale on why I want to see this film in particular…but only a little. I don’t want to give away everything I have in mind because, well, I want to see if you like the idea without me trying to sway you one way or the other.

So, here it goes…

Star Wars: Yoda

Yoda on Dagobah Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Yoda on Dagobah
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

You and your friends arrive at the movie theater on opening night, eagerly anticipating the newest Star Wars film aptly named Star Wars: Yoda. Taking your seats, you each banter about what you will discover about the mysterious green alien and Jedi Master.

Will we finally discover his species? Where he came from? What Yoda was like as a young Jedi Padawan and Knight? How he became a Jedi Master and the head of the Jedi Council? Will the film present his adventures traveling the galaxy with his own Master, or will it delve into his own internal temptation and the lure of the dark side?

The lights dim to signal the beginning of the movie. On to the black screen appears the iconic phrase “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Silence sweeps across the theater as everyone eagerly anticipates the iconic Star Wars theme song…

…but the theme does not begin. Instead, the sound of a gentle breeze can be heard blowing. The screen begins to fade into an opaque and misty white, a fog. Now, with the gentle breeze remaining a constant sound in the background, other sounds begin to invade your ears: A creature in the distance lets out a cry, water splashes, a twig snaps.

Ten minutes have elapsed and finally the fog begins to break, allowing you to make out the landscape more clearly. A dark swamp is all around, moss hanging from mangled and knotted trees, the muddy ground covered by a foggy haze. A black pond rests in the foreground, bubbles periodically breaking the purity of the water’s surface. In the distance, a reptilian creature flies between trees and disappears into the darkness.

The scene and the sounds persist. 20 minutes elapse, then another 20, and another. It isn’t until an hour and ten minutes into the film that something different finally happens – a light rain begins to fall. The drops disrupt the tranquility of the pond. The rain continues, becoming a downpour that waxes and wanes as storm clouds move above this part of the swamp. Finally, the storm passing, the downpour lightens and eventually ceases.

Out of the distant darkness, a low growl can be heard, and a branch cracks. Then, except for water dripping from branches and vines, there is silence.

Yoda observes the life that surrounds him on Dagobah Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Yoda observes the life that surrounds him on Dagobah
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

A serene sense of calm descends upon the dank forest and marsh. Suddenly, without warning, the scene tilts up and to the right, and you can see into the tree canopy above. Slowly, the scene pans left, and then downward following a nearby tree trunk to the muddy ground it calls home. Returning to the starting point, the same scene you have viewed for the last hour and a half, but you can now hear someone breathing along with the sounds of the swamp.

Something unexpected happens. Moving forward, the camera turns around 180 degrees, bringing him into focus sitting on a decaying log near the water’s edge. He turns his head upwards, rotating from one side to the other.

Looking into the dense foliage above, Yoda takes a deep, relaxing breathe and smiles. Marveling at the swamp around him, Yoda states: “Lovely this planet, yes. Incredible the universe is.”

Yoda’s breathing remains, along with the sounds of the swamp, as the scene fades to black and the credits begin to roll.


I know what you are thinking: A lot of people would be really upset if they paid to see this film. Yeah, you aren’t wrong. I bet people would be outright furious. But the thing is, I don’t want to see a film about Yoda that creates an experience any different than what I just presented. Frankly, I want an aura of mystery to constantly swirl around the elderly Jedi Master, and worry that any work dedicated to him will eliminate that mystery for the sake of profit.

To me, the thing that is most important about Yoda is not what species he is, or what he was like as a young Jedi, or the adventures he has had in the past, but rather, his simplicity, his serenity, his connection to the living Force. Give me a film where we sit with Yoda as he takes in and experiences the beauty around him in a swamp on Dagobah, a film that honors the Jedi Master’s love and respect for life.

This is what I want, but what about you? Would you want to see this film or do you have a different vision for a film dedicated to Yoda? Let me know in the comments below.