Dark Side

Cheating Death: Vader’s Hatred

The first time I watched Revenge of the Sith, sitting in the darkened theater surrounded by other excited Star Wars fans at the midnight showing, I was left momentarily unsettled by Vader’s immolation. Fire consuming his broken body, the hair on his head burnt away, skin melting and charred, the scene left me feeling uneasy, uncomfortable, and slightly nauseated. Panic stormed through me, a desire to flee from the confines of the theater so I could escape the grotesque image. I was able to hold it together, able to continue sitting in my seat and finish watching the film, but my mind continued replaying the scene, reminding me of what I had witnessed.

Today, I am able to watch Vader burn. I remain bothered by it but I no longer have an impulse to run away when the moment arrives. My anxiety riddled brain can handle it, but I would not call myself desensitized to the horror of seeing someone burn alive. For me, it will always be hard to watch, as it should be.

Stating my unease with the scene is not a criticism of it, though. Rather, I have always appreciated the moment. Disturbing as it may be it is also profoundly important, radiating with meaning. Earlier in the film, for example, Anakin underwent his religious conversion from Jedi to Sith, assuming the title “Darth” and name “Vader” which are bestowed upon him by his new Master, Darth Sidious. Now, the defeated man laying on this small ashen hill side undergoes his baptism. The heat from the river of lava washes over him, igniting fires that consume him. His body is transformed, the physical appearance of the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker stripped, charred, and melted away. He is now unrecognizable, a broken  shell of the man and Jedi he once was. His old self burnt away, he will be reborn in a new shell, encased in a suit of armor that sustains his life and represents who he has become.

This outward destruction is symbolic of his inner, spiritual transformation. But the fire, too, radiates with meaning. Just before he catches fire, Vader declares his hatred for Obi-Wan Kenobi, his former Jedi Master and friend. Laying there on the ashen hillside the dismembered Sith Lord screams “I hate you!” His words are piercing and sulfuric, his eyes bloodshot and the look on his face distorted by the boiling emotion within him. Kenobi responds by declaring his brotherly love for Anakin but the young man is too far gone. It is now, after declaring his hatred, that the flames erupt, the fire raging across Vader’s body a perfect symbol for the hatred raging within him.

Vader declares his hatred for Kenobi.
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

It is the hatred swirling within him, consuming him, which also enables Vader to cheat death in this horrifying moment.

In my piece Cheating Death: The Dark, I explain how Darth Maul survived his injury in The Phantom Menace, cut in half at the waist by Obi-Wan Kenobi. In The Clone Wars episode “Revenge”, Maul explains how his intense hatred sustained his life force, enabling him to descend into the abyss of the dark side to cheat bodily death. But this journey into darkness also came with a price, exacting a tole on Maul’s psyche and driving the young Sith Lord mad, turning him into a feral animal until he was discovered and his wounds, in mind and body, were healed.

“The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural,” Darth Sidious in the guise of Chancellor Palpatine explains to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. That Darth Maul cheats death is a clear example of this unnatural ability, his narrative return in The Clone Wars confirming the authenticity of Sidious’ dark insights. We can likewise apply Maul’s story of hate-filled survival to Vader as well.  Laying upon the ashen hillside, when the heat from the lava ignites the fires on his body it is Vader’s hatred – a hatred we see on his face and hear from his mouth – which takes him into the depths of darkness, enabling him to cheat death.

The fire only consumes him for a few moments but the horrific and disturbing damage is done. Laying there, left for dead by his former Jedi Master, the young Sith Lord uses his mechanical arm to grasp the soil and slowly pull himself up the slope, a visual sign that Vader is barely clinging to life.  His new Master will discover him there, traveling to Mustafar when he senses far away on Coruscant that “Lord Vader is in danger.” In film, the time between Sidious sensing Vader’s imminent danger and discovering Darth Vader on Mustafar, “still alive,” is relatively short, a narrative necessity to keep the plot moving forward. In-universe, however, the time it takes for Sidious to travel from Coruscant to Mustafar is significant, which makes Vader’s survival all the more impressive. The Dark Lord must not only survive his agonizing immolation, his body externally and internally decimated by fire, but must also continue laying there on the hillside, by the lava, with the intense heat still washing over him.

Vader’s mask is lowered.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

That the intense heat continues to flow across his body seems appropriate, another apt metaphor for the hatred flowing within him. Like Maul, Vader will use this hatred to tap into the dark side, enduring agonizing pain and torment to keep his body alive. Yet, his mind does not plunge into madness. While Darth Maul succumbed to the torment of his dark descent, his mind ravaged over the course of years as he continued to rely on his hatred to sustain him, Darth Vader avoids this frightful fate. He must survive for a shorter period of time than Maul, hours or perhaps a day, before Sidious arrives. Once his new Master discovers him, he will no longer need to rely on hatred alone, relieved of the necessity by the medical droids which work to preserve his devastated body within a cybernetic suit of armor and mask.

Then again, the iconic black armor and mask also serve as a representation of Vader’s hatred, a terrifying expression of the dark monster residing within. While he no longer needs to actively use his hatred to tap into the depths of the dark side to maintain his body, his armor and mask never-the-less serve as a reminder, to Darth Vader and to us, that it is his hatred which enables him to continue to cheat death.

TC-326: The Military Protocol Droid

Making its only appearance in “Brain Invaders,” a Season Two episode of The Clone Wars, TC-326 is the military protocol droid which assists Anakin Skywalker when the Jedi interrogates the Geonosian Archduke Poggle the Lesser. Demanding to know how to stop an infestation of parasitic brain worms on-board his Padawan’s starship, Anakin relies on the TC-series protocol droid with masculine programing to translate what Poggle says. His attempt at a mind probe of the Archduke failing, Anakin then turns to violence and torture, Force choking the Geonosian while TC-326 stands in the corner.

TC-326
TC-326
Photo Credit – The Clone Wars Season 2, Episode 8: “Brain Invaders”

Truthfully, there is not a great deal more to say about TC-326 beyond just a handful of points. The protocol droid never shows up in another episode of The Clone Wars so far as I can tell, and even in “Brain Invaders” it only appears in the scene described above and, briefly, in an earlier scene at the beginning of the episode. What I can offer, though, is a question I have often wondered regarding the protocol droids involvement in the interrogation of Poggle: did Anakin wipe TC-326’s memory?

Moments after Anakin tortures the Archduke, we see him explain to the other Jedi present on the Venator-class Star Destroyer that he was able to extract the information from Poggle they needed. Surprised, the gathered Jedi Masters – Luminara Unduli, Ki-Adi Mundi, and Obi-Wan Kenobi – question how he was able to do this, wanting to know how he was able to get Poggle to cooperate. Unsurprisingly, Anakin ignores their questions, instead declaring that “there wasn’t time to get the rest of you” and “all that matters is he [Poggle] told me how to stop the worms.”

While this exchange is brief, with Anakin otherwise blowing off their inquiries, there is also an obvious concern among the Jedi Masters, particularly Unduli and Mundi. They know something is amiss and one can easily presume their concern was heightened by Anakin’s dismissive tone. This, then, is why I have oftened wondered whether Skywalker wiped TC-326’s memory, to ensure that the protocol droid could not be interrogated by the other Jedi about the technique(s) he used to extract information from Poggle.

This is not to suggest an answer needs to be provided regarding the memory wipe, or whether the Jedi Master’s ever investigated the matter. Some things are better left to the imagination, not needing any type of “official” explanation. For my part, I like to imagine that Anakin did not wipe TC-326’s memory. Instead, so caught up in trying to save Ahsoka Tano, his Padawan, as she fought the brain worms lightyears away, the Jedi Knight simply forgot. In turn, I also like to imagine that Unduli and Mundi did investigate, wanting to know precisely how Anakin convinced Poggle to assist them. And since TC-326 was the only witness available to them, I like to imagine TC-326 describing Skywalker’s dark actions with an emotional less, matter-of-fact tone as the two Jedi Masters listen in silent horror.

What happened after that? Well, I will leave that to your imagination.


Check out these other posts about random protocol droids in Star Wars:

U-3PO: The Other Protocol Droid

K-3PO: The Dead Protocol Droid

E-3PO: The Rude Protocol Droid

TC-14: The Federation Protocol Droid

TC-70: The Hutt’s Protocol Droid

R-3PO: The Red Protocol Droid

AP-5: The Singing Protocol Droid

4A-R2: The Pirate Protocol Droid

4-LOM: The Bounty Hunting Protocol Droid

Haikuesday: Darth Vader

Prophecy. Chosen.
Slave to Fate. Destined to Hate.
Dark Lord. Sith. Vader.

The Temple attacked.
Younglings hide. Vader enters.
Do what must be done.

Descent into Hell,
Mustafar, where He will be
baptized by fire.

Body burned, broken.
Pain fuels His rage, His hatred.
He is still alive.

The crash of thunder.
A dead man Reborn, entombed
in armor of black.

More machine than man.
Is there good in this monster?
Pain. Rage. Darkness. Shame.

“Shame is worse than death” 
Shame embodies, inhabits Him.
Shame is Pain, is Hate.

Kooyanisqatsi.
Under a Dark facade lives
an unbalanced soul.

To balance the Force.
No, to defeat His Master.
He must be balanced.

Submerged in hatred,
swallowed by the Dark abyss,
chains will be broken.

Darth Vader, like Fate –
immanis et inanis,
monstrous and empty.

A desolate world,
Malachor, there He will break
a chain: Ahsoka.

Out of the Darkness
a red blade ignites, the Lord
of Death is revealed.

A man screams for help.
From Death, from Dark Lord Vader,
there is no escape.

With graceful malice
the Dark Lord grants death to all
who might oppose Him.

A black clad figure
emerges from the smoke and
walks among the dead.

Lacking faith in Him
irritates Him, disturbs Him.
Lack faith, invite death.

Padmé, she lacked faith.
She brought Obi-Wan to Him.
She invited death.

Entering a cell.
Within, a young woman waits…
…waits for His torture.

Red blade ignited.
Vader stands ready to break
a chain: Kenobi.

The Death Star destroyed.
Failure, another failure.
His Master, displeased.

Searching for the truth,
the truth about the pilot.
The truth: it’s His son.

Clumsy and stupid
Admiral Ozzel receives the
Dark Lord’s gift of death.

“What is thy bidding?”
Kneeling before his Master…
…when will Vader strike?

Apologizing
to Lord Vader, Needa is
forgiven with death.

Battle in the clouds.
Over a chasm, Vader
maims His foe: His son.

“I am your Father.”
“Search your feelings, you know it
to be true.” “Join Me.”

Vader’s forgiveness,
more gracious than His Master.
Jerjerrod takes note.

Twisted and evil.
Is there good in this monster?
His Son believes so.

In a Star of Death
the Father and Son battle.
A clash of titans.

Thoughts betray His Son,
He can sense the boy’s Fear for
a twin, a Sister.

A thought arises:
If the boy will not join Him
then perhaps SHE will…

A wave of hatred.
A swift and violent attack.
Son maims the Father.

His Master joyful,
tells His Son to strike Him down.
But His Son resists.

His Son, a Jedi.
His Master strikes, His Son screams.
Vader knows that sound.

Rise. Stand. Watch. Hear. Feel.
His Son in pain, pleads for help.
He knows pain, lives pain.

Pain. Rage. Hate. Shame. Love.
Emotions invade His mind.
The moment has come.

His Master is strong,
but He has become stronger.
Apprentice no more.

Last Rites in Lightning,
Darth Vader, Lord of Death, dies.
A Jedi Returns.

Worshiped, revered by
Raiders, Dark Acolytes, Knights.
Vader, a Dark God.

The pull to the Light
threatens to overwhelm Ben,
Darth Vader’s grandson.

Knight of Ren: Kylo.
Another life unbalanced.
Kooyanisqatsi.


Haikuesday is a monthly series on The Imperial Talker, a new post with poetic creations coming on the first Tuesday of each month. The haiku topic is chosen by voters on Twitter so be sure to follow @ImperialTalker so you can participate in the voting. Now, check out these past Haikuesday posts:

Droids (February 2017)

Ahsoka Tano (March 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

The Truce at Bakura (June 2017)

Queen Amidala (July 2017)

Ryloth (August 2017)

A Stirring in the Force

In one of the Interlude chapters in the novel Aftermath: Life Debt, author Chuck Wendig takes the reader back to Maz Kanata’s castle on the verdant world of Takodana. While Kanata and her castle/world have appeared in a spattering of stories since she was first introduced in The Force Awakens, she has otherwise not received greater treatment in the Star Wars canon. Her unmistakable absence has left me disappointed since what we learn about Kanata and her connection to the Force in The Force Awakens is incredibly fascinating. Still, I know that her story will eventually receive a much larger treatment – I shared my own idea for a story that would suite her in a previous post– and in the meantime smaller stories like the Interlude in Life Debt satisfy my need to know more about her. 

LifeDebt
The cover of Life Debt.
Photo Credit – Del Rey Books

Now, while I am happy that we are given this glimpse of Kanata in Life Debt, the Interlude also includes a rather peculiar remark which Kanata voices about the state of the Force. It is an otherwise subtle comment, coming on the last page of the chapter after she handles a minor situation that unfolds in the fortress she calls home. Standing on a parapet of the ancient castle, she is approached by the droid 8D9 who tells Kanata that “Peace has returned to the Castle.” In turn, Maz states the following:

“Good, good, good. Still. Peace has not returned to my heart. Something is off balance. Some stirring in the Force has made the water turbid. Hard to see. But I think it best we be prepared.”

What is so strange about this comment, what made me immediately stop reading the novel and left me in deep contemplation, is the phrase “Something is off balance.” Given that she follows this by saying there is “some stirring in the Force,” it is obvious that Kanata is referring to the Force being off balance. But what makes this so odd is the timing of her statement, coming only a handful of months after Anakin Skywalker – redeemed by his son Luke – fulfilled his prophetic destiny as the one who would bring balance to the Force. The entire trajectory of Anakin’s life, guided at times by the Force and at other times by his own feelings and actions, led him to that moment aboard Death Star II where the balancing act would finally be completed. It was not the first action towards fulfilling the prophecy, but it was, so far as Star Wars lore is concerned, the last.

Again, this is what makes Kanata’s statement so strange. How can it be that the Force is already stirring, that Maz Kanata can sense that the Force is off balance when the Chosen One literally just completed the balancing act? This question has bugged me ever since my first reading of Life Debt, and while a handful of explanations/ideas have been floating around in my mind, some way of reconciling what she says with the reality of Anakin’s actions has eluded me. For the life of me I just can’t figure it out, at least not in any crystal clear way. Of course, it would be simple enough to just ask Chuck Wendig for an explanation, but going to the author for answers isn’t how I tend to roll. Besides, I am sure Wendig is a busy guy, and he surely has better things to do than answer every question/comment a reader throws his way. But I digress…

mazkanata
Kanata sits at a table in her castle.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Basically, I think the simplest explanation is the one that probably makes the most sense: Kanata’s senses are correct, the Force feels off balance to her because it is off balance, a result of whatever is “stirring” within the mystical energy field. But beyond Kanata telling the truth, we really cannot extrapolate a great deal, there is just not enough information to help us understand the relationship between Anakin’s balancing act and the Force being off balance once again. While we cannot understand that relationship we can, however, acknowledge that if Kanata is correct then Anakin being the Chosen One and balancing the Force is called into question. Is it possible, we must ask, that Anakin did not actually balance the Force in Return of the Jedi? Or, if he truly did balance the Force, what could have caused the Force to be off balance right after he had fulfilled his prophetic destiny? And on this point, are we as fans okay with this new imbalance to the Force knowing that it runs the risk of undermining the fundamental lore at the very heart of the six Star Wars films George Lucas created? Or, is there potential for this new imbalance to add to that lore in a way that honors and expands, but does not detract from, Lucas’ original vision and story?

Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck

“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”  Gautama Buddha

Ever since The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015 there has been a lot of speculation about the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. To be fair, questions about Snoke’s identity began even before the film came out, but in the wake of the movie’s release the conversations about the First Order’s mysterious, Force-sensitive leader exploded. Just doing a simple Google search of “Snoke” will result in a trove of articles, videos, and podcasts attempting to identify/explain who Snoke may or may not be. With the next film, The Last Jedi, only months away, conjecture about Snoke will undoubtedly ramp up, and if his identity remains a secret beyond Episode VIII the cavalcade of Snoke theories will continue to pour onto the interwebs until Episode IX arrives.

Like others I too have my own theories and hypotheses about Supreme Leader Snoke, and while I won’t be putting each and every one to paper in any elaborate form, I never-the-less find myself constantly drawn back to my Snokie thoughts. Honestly, I just can’t help myself. Mystery breeds curiosity, it attracts me like a moth to a light, drawing me in and igniting my imagination. From there my imagination runs wild, my brain using the information available to me – information from the Star Wars movies, novels, comics, games, etc. – in hopes of figuring out something about Snoke’s mysterious identity. At times I return to the same theories my mind has conjured up, at other times I head down a different path, a new thought leading me on an imaginative journey which may center on Snoke’s disfigured face, or perhaps his connection to Kylo Ren, or his relationship with General Hux, or his statements about the Force/Jedi, and so forth.

snoke-2
Kylo Ren stands before Supreme Leader Snoke.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Mystery breeds curiosity, and as the trove of Snoke-related articles/podcasts/videos prove, the mystery surrounding Supreme Leader Snoke has captivated Star Wars fans of all types. While I certainly haven’t sifted through every Snoke theory or hypothesis, I have dabbled in a handful that have crossed my path. Some theories have left me really intrigued, and I have incorporated ideas from these theories into my own musings. At other times I have found theories uninteresting or based on questionable Star Wars logic. Still, even in moments where I am not captivated or believe a Star Wars-related flaw exists in the theory, I can still appreciate that the theory means something to that person, that they put the time and effort into its construction. After all, it is hardly my place to trash someone for engaging in space fantasy inspired speculation, to tell someone their Snokie ideas suck simply because I might not agree or because I have my own theories. 

Yet, there has been a proclivity within elements of the Star Wars fan base to do just that, to tell people that their Snoke theories suck. The phrase “Your Snoke Theory Sucks” has become a spontaneous, uncritical and churlish way to throw shade on any theory that explores Snoke’s mysterious identity. Well, I am here to tell you this: if you have a Snoke theory, it absolutely does not suck. Is it possible that when Snoke’s history, background and identity are finally revealed that your theories, or my theories, end up being incorrect? Absolutely! The potential to be wrong is omnipresent, a reality that always exists when one engages in contemplative and abstract thought. But here is a little secret: when it comes to Star Wars, I don’t theorize because I think I am 100% right, I theorize because it is fun. And if you have fun theorizing about Snoke, or anything else in Star Wars, then I say keep it up. We all might end up being wrong, in fact we probably will be wrong, but who the hell cares? 


Check out this piece by Michael from My Comic Relief for an expanded take on the topic:

Really, Your Snoke Theory Doesn’t Suck

Generational Echoes in the Star Wars Saga

Guest Talker: Andrew

A few weeks ago while watching Return of the Jedi, I was struck by a particular scene. In fact not a scene per se but a small section of a scene that lasts for just over ten seconds in total. It occurs in the middle of the film just after Luke Skywalker contemplates his father (now Darth Vader, formerly Anakin Skywalker) and pronounces, “then my father is truly dead“. Luke is led away by Imperial Stormtroopers and as the doors shut one senses a distinct lapse in Vader’s demeanour as he places his black gloved hand on a steel girder in the corridor where the scene takes place. Although Vader is masked, one is left with little doubt as to the turmoil boiling within him which his son has sensed only moments before being escorted away.

CapturedLuke
Captured, Luke stands before his father.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

This is a scene that I am extremely familiar with and it’s no exaggeration to say that I have viewed it hundreds of times at this point. Many of you reading this will be in the same position. An interesting point of note however, is that as time progresses in Lucasfilm’s new canon, layer upon layer of light and shade is gradually being cast onto erstwhile familiar scenes. What made this particular scene reverberate once again for me was both the advent of a sequel within the cinematic saga – namely,  The Force Awakens, and the work on Anakin/Vader’s back story that we are now aware of from the new canon (the novel Lords of the Sith, and television series The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels).

Now I’m no neuroscientist, but I’m in no doubt that some neural connection (figuratively or otherwise) fired within me during my recent viewing of this “Vader scene” in Return of the Jedi. I think that having been shown evil and vulnerability co-existing so obviously on screen in the character of Kylo Ren, I may now have increased sensitivity towards those traits within Vader. One can’t help but note the incongruity of Kylo Ren seeking strength in Vader’s artifact (his Mask), when Return of the Jedi shows us, particularly in its last scenes, that Vader himself obviously harbored tensions between internal light and shade. Indeed, those tensions within Vader would have occurred not just in that scene but presumably at other points that George Lucas did not show us. Our insight into Kylo Ren has shown us that witnessing a character purveying violence and atrocities, does not mean that they aren’t conflicted. We know that Ren seeks strength from his Sith relics, erroneously viewing Vader as a pillar of pure, un-tempered dark power.

KyloRenVaderHelmet
Kylo Ren sits with and speaks to his most precious artifact – the mask of Darth Vader.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Ironically it is actually Ren’s insecurities that heighten his ability to strike fear in the viewer. Vader’s representation of ultimate martial strength may have been underpinned by the portrayal Lucas chose to focus upon in episodes III, IV, V and VI. Importantly though Lucas also spoke of the need to use Vader sparingly so as not to dilute his impact on the viewer.

Consider for a moment your perception if all you had seen of Kylo Ren was the Battle of Jakku, the interrogation of Poe Daemeron, and the killing of his father Han Solo. You would in all likelihood take the view that Ren demonstrated darkness and nihilism on par with Vader. As it is, due to the different approach to character portrayal within Episode VII, we have been given an insight with a wider focus as plot device. In turn that insight sends us back to what we have seen before and makes us wonder if the same kind of internal conflict occurred in Vader’s early years, only to be buried deep before ultimately being released by his son Luke in advance of his final hours at Endor.

In The Force Awakens itself we see Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, also struggle with a pull towards the light, the draw of his family, and the effects of surprise dissent and challenge. Vader’s struggle, although less obvious, is sensed by Luke and is driven by his son’s appeal to the traces of the Anakin Skywalker that his father once was. What adds a further dimension to the scene in question from Return of the Jedi, and shades of gray to Vader’s portrayal in the overall saga, is the fact that we now know so much more about Anakin than we once did.

It’s worth noting in this context that I write this article after the broadcast one of the most heart-rending moments in the Star Wars canon, the confrontation between Vader and his former Padwan learner Ahsoka Tano. Forged in The Clone Wars series, their relationship as Anakin and Ahsoka reached its cessation (for the time being) in the Rebels Season 2 Finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Like the scenes within that finale, this scene in Return of the Jedi is rendered so powerful through a contextual knowledge of the Star Wars saga. We now watch such scenes while projecting both forwards and backwards in our Star Wars knowledge. This isn’t compulsory for viewer enjoyment, but it will significantly enhance it.

VaderAhsoka
Ahsoka Tano receives a Force vision that reveals the truth – her former master, Anakin Skywalker, is Darth Vader.

Photo Credit: Star Wars Rebels Season 2, Episode 18 – “Shroud of Darkness”

Unlike a viewer of the Return of the Jedi scene in 1983 we are now aware of a cinematic portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, the innocent young boy from Tatooine, and his desire to assist the stranded Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé, we are aware of his later awkwardness as a teenager, and his ultimate seduction by Palpatine towards the ways of the Sith immediately in advance of Mustafar. We know of the Shakespearean tragedy of Anakin’s fall in Episode III Revenge of the Sith, and his becoming the symbol of terror known as Darth Vader. Likewise, we know that those events occurred due to a desire to save and preserve family, and in some respects as a response to loss of family, both his mother Simi and his wife Padmé, and his unborn child (in fact his unborn twins although he didn’t know this).

Now we see Vader facing his only son, a son who senses a residual light within Vader through the Force. Luke is certain that there is good left in him. Let’s watch the scene in question, paying close attention as the scene builds towards its conclusion:

The scene begins with an exchange where Luke acknowledges his father and Vader notes his acceptance of the familial relationships. Luke qualifies this however. His first move in this meeting of minds is to state “I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker…”. Note how quickly Vader interjects, instantly snapping that, “that name no longer has any meaning for me!”. The reaction of Vader is instinctive; Luke has sparked a reflex triggered by Vader’s most private of ruminations. Luke persists however stating that, “It is the name of your true self you have only forgotten” and concludes “that’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor now.” Watch Vader closely in the background behind Luke. He marginally but notably withdraws. Crucially there is no sense of aggression or loss of control.  Instead Vader’s eyes, or at least his direction of vision indicated by the direction of his Mask, turns towards Luke’s new lightsaber. One senses an indication of remorse, regret, or contemplation.  The crisp ‘snap-hiss’ of the lightsaber igniting then throws us, and immediately breaks any sense the viewer has that Vader doubts his position in any way. The noise, one of the many unique sounds in the Star Wars universe, snaps the viewer back into focus on the peril Luke is facing.

Vader says to Luke “your skills are complete – indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen.” In doing so he brings the conversation back to Luke as the focus. Luke in turn again  attempts to persuade and this time we start to anticipate a much more noticeable thaw within Vader. Crucially we are given our first verbal indication of the doubt conveyed earlier only by discrete body language. Vader speaks to Luke and states “Obi Wan once thought as you did…”and the soundtrack theme softens. The viewer is now thinking of the brothers in arms that Anakin and Obi Wan once were. Luke tries to persuade but Vader eventually concedes, “it is too late for me Son“. There is a marked sincerity in Vader’s voice and as he utters the words “The Emperor will show you the true meaning of the Force – he is your master now” one is left wondering if the warped mind of what once was Anakin Skywalker now actually believes that Palpatine will do the best for his son, and the best for the galaxy.  

Then comes the highlight of the scene. Luke responds with the words “then my father is truly dead.”  Luke’s tone highlights his disappointment but also his courage given what lies in wait for him. It shows the strength of Luke that he is not cowed in this situation. He is confident that his path lies in his Jedi teaching, and his compassion towards his father.

FatherisDead
“Then my father is truly dead.”

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Vader tracks Luke’s withdrawal with the Stormtroopers and this to me is critical. At 3:19 on the video, watch Vader and wonder what is going on behind that Mask, knowing as we now do that Luke was right. What are the thought processes that occur? The door of the elevation capsule closes, and Vader turns and looks out the window of the corridor, there are almost ten seconds that pass while the viewer listens to Vader’s mechanical breathing apparatus and looks into the depths of his blank stare.

Projecting forward, and as noted above, we are at the time of writing exploring the legacy of this scene and the events immediately thereafter. The Knights of Ren in the new sequel era have a false understanding of both this event and those immediately surrounding it. They view Vader as a quasi-Divine figure. We are not quite sure of their relationship with the Sith at this point. What is certain, however, is that Ren seeks strength from the ultimate in Vader artifacts, his Mask, indeed literally Vader’s death Mask. Ren seeks strength to overcome the same emotions that trouble Vader in the scene we are contemplating, and then tragically uses the inspiration obtained from that relic to do what Luke refuses to do: kill his own father, Han Solo.

The reason that I now view this section of Return of the Jedi as one of the critical scenes in the saga is because from it we see the linkages that span from the opening scenes in The Phantom Menace and trace the repercussions those events still have around 70 years later. We see how Luke’s relationship with his father is having a direct effect in the sequel era on a misguided Ren’s relationship with his own father. We see the death of one of the saga’s most beloved characters and the hero of the New Republic slaughtered because of a false impression of strength that has cascaded from the myth of the grandfather to the reality of the grandson. We see Luke’s beliefs and Luke’s obvious failure to impart his own beliefs, and their wisdom, to his nephew who has become corrupted.

This is what is beautiful about these films and why the latest developments in the saga and new canon have enriched and embellished films that we have known and loved for nearly 40 years. With the developments in the beautiful animation found in The Clone Wars and now in Rebels, and the love and passion brought to such works by people like Dave Filoni, we can probably look forward to another 40 years of thoughtful and inspired mythology.


Writer’s note: I know that others will have different takes on these cinematic events and portrayals. As always this is part of the enjoyment of these films and I look forward to exchanges with fellow fans on these issues. Find me on Twitter @PartisanCantina and check out my site (Partisan Cantina).

The Cantina Incident

This is not the post you are expecting it to be. Read on and see what I mean…

It’s a Star Wars question so common that I rarely think about it: since Obi-Wan uses his lightsaber to cut off Ponda Baba’s arm in the Mos Eisley Cantina, why does the arm bleed? A fair question to be sure – technically, there shouldn’t be any blood because the wound should be cauterized when the blade goes through the arm. When others are dismembered by lightsabers, like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back or Zam Wesell in Attack of the Clones, their wounds are cauterized, there is no blood. But Ponda Baba is the exception, his wound is a bloody mess and I haven’t the slightest clue how to explain it. Perhaps Ponda Baba’s race, the Aqualish, are incapable of being burned and only bleed when wounded? Or maybe Obi-Wan cut the arm at just the right angle to open an artery but not cauterize it? Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.

But I’m not really interested in solving the dilemma about the bleeding arm (though I think my “Aqualish always bleed” approach makes sense). Instead, I’d rather take this moment, since I have your attention, to pose a much different question about this particular incident in the Mos Eisley Cantina…

Why does Kenobi dismember Ponda Baba and kill Baba’s partner, Dr. Evazan?

This is a question I have wrestled with for some time, with the starting point to answering it always being the most obvious explanation: Kenobi is simply acting in self-defense.

Baba and Evazan
Ponda Baba argues with Luke while Dr. Evazan (background) looks on.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Initially, Luke is the one who is threatened by Evazan and Baba, and when Kenobi intervenes to calm the situation, the two nefarious individuals become rather violent. Kenobi ignites his lightsaber and, rather quickly, puts an end to the scuffle. The deed finished, the bloody arm lying on the ground and the groans of pain being heard, Kenobi stands resolute with his blade upright. And, just as quickly as the incident began, the scene moves along and we are introduced to Chewbacca and Han Solo.

Now, first and foremost, I certainly think Obi-Wan is allowed to defend himself and Luke. But the issue I’m raising in the question is not whether Kenobi can act or should in self-defense, but how he acts in self-defense.

To me, the issue of the bleeding arm is a distraction from the real issue inherent in the incident – the fact that one of the last remaining Jedi, a Jedi Master no less, chooses to kill one individual and maim another. When Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba become enraged and attack Old Ben, why is Kenobi’s immediate reaction also a violent one? Surely a Jedi Master could disarm these two in a less confrontational manner, doing so without the need to call upon the Force in an obvious,  attention grabbing way. Kenobi needn’t, for example, use the Force to throw the two across the room. Rather, using his finely tuned Force skills, Obi-Wan could have easily incapacitated the two, making them trip over their own two feet if he wanted.

cantina-Obi-wan-light-saber
Kenobi holds his lightsaber after the brief fight with Evazan and Baba.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

But, that isn’t what happens. Instead, we are left with the absurd reality that Kenobi uses deadly force, inflicting pain and death without the slightest bit of remorse. And this is where things get tricky. Suggesting, for example, that Kenobi’s actions are of the Light Side of the Force would entirely undercut the fact that the Light Side does not lend itself to the destruction of life. At. All. So no, I absolutely do not think Kenobi is guided by the Light when he strikes down Evazan and wounds Baba.

Does this mean, then, that Kenobi was being guided by the Dark Side? Well, if he does the deed out of anger and malice, then sure, we could say he is using the Dark Side. However, we have no idea what Kenobi is thinking in the moment, so it’s hard and a bit unfair to suggest he is dropping into the Dark Side without knowing his thoughts. Then again, dishing out pain and death are specialties of Dark Siders…

So where in the name of Malachor do we go from here? Honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea. The fact that Kenobi kills Evazan and maims Baba opens the door to a cacophony of thoughts and questions, the Light Side/Dark Side being just the tip of the iceberg. Thinking about the incident for some time, and now putting the thoughts into a post, I am pulled in numerous directions with no clear-cut end in site. Part of me wants to absolve Kenobi because he is one of my favorite characters, another wants to chastise him for not acting the way a Jedi Master should act, and yet another wants to throw papers into the air in frustration (maybe I will).

In lieu of all of my hair going gray thinking about this, I want YOU to chime in. Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments and, as a team, think about Kenobi killing Evazan and maiming Baba. I’m curious to hear what others have to say about Kenobi’s actions during this short but violent incident in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

Doing What Must Be Done

While short, the scene in Revenge of the Sith is intensely powerful. Jedi younglings, hiding in the Jedi Council Chamber from attacking Clone Troopers, emerge from their concealment when a familiar figure enters the room: Anakin Skywalker. Unbeknownst to the young Jedi children, Skywalker is no longer the Knight they have all come to love and respect. Instead, he is Darth Vader, and he is the one leading the Clone Troopers in the attack against the Jedi Temple.

As the younglings emerge, one young boy steps forward and in a calm but obviously scared voice asks, “Master Skywalker, there are too many of them, what are we going to do?” Immediately, the camera shot changes from the innocence of the boy’s face to the malice of Vader’s. Reacting with only the slow downward nod of his head, Vader stares at the child who has addressed him.

The shot changes again and we now see the child in the center of the shot with other younglings to his sides and behind him. Vader’s body is cut off, and all that is visible of him is his left hand and the lightsaber he holds within it. His hand moving, Vader ignites the saber into a brilliant blue beam. At this, the child jolts, takes a step back, and the scene ends.

Anakin
A Sith Lord and a Jedi youngling.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I can still remember sitting in the theater watching Revenge of the Sith the night it opened and being absolutely shocked by this scene. We all knew going into the film that Anakin Skywalker would fall to the Dark Side, that he would become Darth Vader. Hell, we even knew he would end up leading an attack on the Jedi, beginning the purge that would whip out the vast majority of the ancient Light Side order. But what I wasn’t prepared for were these few seconds where young Jedi children, innocent, adorable, and hiding from the Temple attackers would come face-to-face with Vader.

While it hurts to watch the systematic destruction of the Order as Jedi Generals are killed by their Clone Troopers, it was at least bearable since those Jedi were adults. Children though, that’s tough. We may not see Vader do the deed, but we all know, when the lightsaber is ignited, what’s about to happen. Our imaginations are strong enough to put the pieces together.

The thing is – and I admit this is a weirdly absurd thing to say – he is fully justified in killing the younglings. I’m not suggesting I like that the younglings die, but within the context of the story that is Star Wars, their murder makes perfect sense. After all, the person we see enter the Council Chamber is not Anakin Skywalker but a newly minted Dark Lord of the Sith – Vader.

Before attacking the Temple, Vader’s new Master, Darth Sidious, gave him strict instructions to “Do what must be done.” He told Vader “not to hesitate” and to “show no mercy” to the Jedi he would encounter. Is what happened to those children heinous and cruel? Of course, but why should a Sith care? Those children weren’t just any children, they were Jedi younglings. Their collective death is justified by virtue of their being members of the ancient, mortal enemy of the Sith. Should a Sith be blamed for acting like a Sith? I don’t think so.

Besides, would we be as shocked if the Sith doing the killing wasn’t Vader? Say it was Darth Maul, or Darth Tyrannus,  or even Darth Sidious – what then? They, too, would be justified in killing Jedi younglings, and we can easily imagine a scenario in which any one of these Sith Lords would kill any Jedi, young or old, if given the chance.

But this scene needs Vader to make it work. The dramatic effect in the scene hinges on “Master Skywalker” being the would be savior of these children. Like I said above, the youngling who is speaking is unaware that Skywalker is no more, and the person standing before him is a Sith Lord. But WE are aware, and with this knowledge we’re trapped inside the room with those children, unable to escape from the reality of what Anakin-turned-Vader does to the younglings. Again, we don’t see him do the deed, thus we don’t know precisely how Vader goes about killing each child. Perhaps he cuts them all down with his blade or uses a Force choke on a few of them. Luckily, we are sparred from having to watch the dark deed but part of me wishes we had been forced to watch, if only to cement in our minds how twisted Anakin had become and how ruthless Darth Vader really is.

The Gamorrean Affair: Luke Uses the Dark Side

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 Gamorrean attempts to free himself from Luke's stranglehold. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

A Gamorrean attempts to free himself from Luke’s stranglehold.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

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).

Vader uses the Force to choke Admiral Motti. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Vader uses the Force to choke Admiral Motti.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

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

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

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.

Looking at his right hand, Luke realizes just how far along the path of the Dark Side he has journeyed. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Looking at his right hand, Luke realizes just how far along the path of the Dark Side he has journeyed.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

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:

The Nature of Hero

The Seduction of the Dark Side

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?