Darth Sidious

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.

Haikuesday: The Great Jedi Purge

A Fallen Order.
The Jedi succumb to the
Revenge of the Sith.

There were four who fell.
Victims of Darth Sidious.
And more would follow.

The first Jedi death:
The Zabrak Agen Kolar.
Stabbed through the belly.

Next was Master Tiin.
The Iktochi was to slow,
and the red-blade struck.

Master Kit Fisto
parried the Sith Lord’s attacks
but then he went down.

Windu held his own.
He almost finished his foe.
But he was betrayed.

Dark Lords of the Sith.
Order 66 is sent.
The Great Purge begins.

Turning on Jedi.
“Good soldiers follow orders.”
Massacres ensue.

Planet: Mygeeto.
Master Mundi is gunned down
by once loyal troops.

Aayla Secura,
surrounded by her soldiers
and shot in the back.

In his starfighter,
Plo Koon meets his demise when
Jag opens fire.

The planet Zeffo.
Master Chiata dies first,
her Padawan next.

On Saleucami,
Stass Allie’s body is thrown
from a speeder bike.

“Run,” Billaba tells
her padawan, Caleb Dume.
She does not survive.

On a Venator,
Jaro Tapal’s sacrifice.
Cal Kestis will live.

Bound for Rodia.
Huulik dies in his starship.
His wounds were to great.

Vader with his clones.
Operation: Nightfall strikes
the Jedi Temple.

“Do what must be done.”
Darth Vader leads the way by
slaughtering younglings.

Master Cin Drallig
The Jedi Battlemaster.
No match for Vader.

Malreaux and Bene
fight alongside Cin Drallig.
They go down as well.

As she meditates,
a Dark figure approaches
and butchers Shaak Ti.

Attempting to flee,
Zett Jukasa kills troopers.
But then he is hit.

“…too many of them!”
“What are we going to do?”
Bandeam’s final words.

The Great Jedi Purge
Thousands are executed
in a single day.

Jedi Survivors.
Hiding in the galaxy.
Many will be found.

The Moon Al’doleem.
Vader discards Infil’a
in a drowned city.

Chief Librarian.
A prize for Darth Sidious.
Vader takes Nu’s life.

Agents of the Sith:
Inquisitors, once Jedi,
hunt their former kin.

An execution.
The Grand Inquisitor kills
Master Unduli.

Tracked to Anoat,
Mususiel is slain by
Imperial troops.

The planet Mataou.
Zubain Ankonori takes
his last breath of life.

An Inquisitor
tracks Khandra and Nuhj to the
world of Burnin Konn.

Advising Lee-Char.
Padawan Ferren Barr’s life
ends on Mon Cala.

Victim of Vader.
Eeth Koth suffers a Dark death.
His newborn, kidnapped.

Former Padawan.
Caleb Dume – Kanan Jarrus.
Consumed by fire.

Aboard the Death Star,
Kenobi confronts Vader
and then transcends death. 


Check out these other Haikuesday 2.0 posts:

Imperial Atrocities

Luke Skywalker (ANH)

Luke Skywalker (ESB)

Luke Skywalker (ROTJ)

Dark Lords of the Sith

Star Wars Planets

Star Wars Aliens

The Trials of Nute Gunray

It is, for all intents and purposes, a statement in Attack of the Clones that is meant to inform and nothing more. Speaking with Senator Padmé Amidala (the former Queen of Naboo) and Jedi Padawan Anakin Skywalker, Governor Sio Bibble of Naboo expresses his annoyance that “…after four trials in the Supreme Court, Nute Gunray is still the Viceroy of the Trade Federation.” As a viewer, we know why the Neimodian Viceroy was put on trial: for blockading and invading the planet Naboo. Yet, ten years following the Naboo Crisis depicted in The Phantom Menace, Bibble’s remark gives us a brief and to the point reason for Gunray’s freedom.

While the quote ensures that we have information about Nute Gunray as Attack of the Clones continues – a helpful bit of insight given that Gunray re-emerges later in the film as part of the Separatist cause – I often find myself wondering why, when Bibble references the four trials, that the Viceroy was able to avoid punishment for his crimes. In fact, this curiosity was was amplified recently when I read E.K. Johnston’s Queen’s Shadow, a novel which explores Padmé Amidala’s transition from Queen of Naboo to Senator. In the book, the trials are mentioned but details about the proceedings are scarce. Just as Attack of the Clones leaves us wondering what transpired during the court proceedings, Queen’s Shadow does the same, forcing us to fill in the blanks ourselves.

If, then, we put our minds to work filling in those blanks, we can certainly imagine, and even assume, that it was Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious), working behind the scenes, who manipulated the trials to ensure Gunray’s liberty. After all, it was Sidious who held influence over Gunray, convincing the Neimodian to attack Naboo and assuring the Viceroy, when questioned about the invasion’s legality, that he would “make it legal.” Never-the-less, even working under the assumption that Gunray received aid from his Sith benefactor, I cannot help but desire a story – probably in novel form, but I would even take a short-story  – which would highlight how the trials unfolded and the way(s) Palpatine manipulated the outcome of each proceeding to make the invasion “legal.” Additionally, such a story would have the added benefit of exploring the relationship between Palpatine and Gunray prior to The Phantom Menace, offering insight into why the Sith Lord chose the Viceroy and his Trade Federation as a tool in his galactic scheme.

Gunray and Sidious
Nute Gunray speaks to Darth Sidious.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

In turn, we can add another layer to Palpatine’s machinations by including Count Dooku. Becoming Sidious’ new apprentice following Darth Maul’s “death” in The Phantom Menace, Dooku (aka Darth Tyranus) acknowledges in Attack of the Clones that Nute Gunray came to him for help following the Naboo Crisis. Thus, we can assume that Dooku, working in tandem with his Sith Master, participated in the defense of Gunray as the four trials unfolded, offering support both openly and behind-the-scenes. But what Dooku’s support looked like is, again, another reason that the trials of Nute Gunray are worthy of narrative exploration.

At this juncture, I will readily admit that I am probably one of the few Star Wars fans who would be interested in a story of any type about Nute Gunray in general, and his trials specifically. Gunray is not a “sexy” Star Wars character, and is otherwise a pretty straight-forward villain. Never-the-less, as I have noted, I believe there is value in a story about Gunray’s trials, offering perspective and background on his relationship with Palpatine and Dooku, respectively. More importantly, what such a story could offer is insight into an element of Star Wars that is rarely explored with any real depth: the legal  and judicial system of the Old Republic.

While legal and judicial elements are mentioned at times throughout Star Wars stories (such as in Attack of the Clones and Queen’s Shadow) these and related elements are rarely developed with any meaningful depth. As a result, while fans have some basic understanding about laws, courts, judges, etc. in Star Wars, this information tends to be shallow and underdeveloped. For example, we know there was a Supreme Court thanks to Bibble’s comment about Gunray’s trials, but how many justices sit on the Supreme Court, and how they are nominated/confirmed, remains a mystery. In turn, while we know there were four trials in total, we do not know what charges were brought against Gunray, a point worthy of exploration that could shed light on whether the Republic had laws governing double jeopardy.

These are but a few thoughts which come to mind when I personally think about the legal and judicial system of the Old Republic. And, again, I believe a story about Gunray’s trials could shed light on a wide-range of topics regarding that system. Even more critically, though, shedding light on the ins-and-outs of the Republic’s legal system is necessary in further understanding why the Galactic Republic ultimately collapsed. While we know Palpatine ascended to the mantle of Supreme Chancellor, and was subsequently given emergency powers by the Senate at the outbreak of the Clone War – powers which gave him far-reaching control over the Republic and its bureaucracy – what we also know is that Palpatine was able to gain control over the courts. It is Jedi Master Mace Windu who tells us as much when, speaking to Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, he exclaims that Palpatine “…has control over the Senate and the courts!”

Star Wars has, for the most part, done a good job of showing how Palpatine controlled the Senate as Supreme Chancellor, using his authority and powers to erode the institution. Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars animated series, countless books/comics, and more have tackled this topic from multiple angles, showcasing Palpatine’s tyrannical takeover of the Republic’s governing body. However, what Star Wars has not done very well is show exactly how he came to control the courts, using the authority and powers of his Chancellorship to dominate the legal/judicial system of the Republic. This is precisely where a story about Nute Gunray’s trials before the Supreme Court become a necessity. Such a tale would lay out critical details not only about the Republic’s legal system (i.e. – the number of justices on the Supreme Court) but would also show how, as he methodically took control over the levers of power in the legislative branch, Palpatine used the trials of Nute Gunray as a stepping stone towards his insidious transformation of the judicial branch to fit his evil agenda.

Haikuesday: Dark Lords of the Sith

Hundred-Year Darkness:
Jedi exiles become
Jen’ari, Dark Lords

The Left-Handed God:
Dark Jedi Ajunta Pall
First Lord of the Sith

Greatest of his Age
A fierce Sith-human hybrid
Lord Marka Ragnos

Great Hyperspace War:
Naga Sadow’s Empire
invades Republic.

On a Deep Core World
Darth Andeddu rules as an
Immortal God-King.

Sadow’s apprentice:
Fallen Jedi, Freedon Nadd.
Onderon entombed.

“I was the greatest
Dark Lord of the Sith,” he states.
“I am Exar Kun.”

Haiku Addendum:
Exar Kun is a badass!
You should check him out.

Reviled, Dreaded.
A Jedi leaves, Sith returns.
He is Darth Revan.

A Sith Apprentice.
Darth Malak betrays Revan
and becomes Master.

Malak’s Shadow Hand:
Darth Bandon, former Jedi.
Vanquished by Revan.

Sith Triumvirate:
Darth Traya suffers betrayal
by Hunger and Pain

The Lord of Hunger.
Draining the Force of all Life.
Dark Lord Nihilus.

Sion, Lord of Pain.
Body fractured and rotting.
And yet, immortal.

“For three hundred years,
we prepared, we grew stronger.”
Malgus leads the charge.

Immortality:
Darth Scabrous’s dream results
in the walking dead.

“The Last Survivor”
Darth Bane, the architect of
the Sith Rule of Two.

A child named “Rain”
sent to war by the Jedi
becomes Darth Zannah.

Iktotchi Huntress
Gifted in divination
The Dark Lord Cognus

Three-eyed mutant Sith
Apprenticed to Darth Cognus –
Darth Millennial

Haiku Addendum:
Darth Millennial enjoys
avocado toast.

Starship Designer
but really, he’s Tenebrous
Dark Lord of the Sith

Darth Plagueis the Wise
Murdered by his apprentice
while he was asleep.

The first Emperor,
a galactic Empire.
Dark Lord Sidious

Devilish Sith Lord
Double-bladed lightsaber.
The Zabrak named Maul.

Elegant Evil.
Former Jedi: Count Dooku.
Dark Lord Tyrannus

Once known as “Anni”
He spirals to the Dark Side
and becomes Vader.

A Son of Solo.
Jacen Solo, Darth Caedus.
Killed by his sister.

Born A’Sharad Hett
Founder of a new Sith Cult:
Darth Krayt’s Rule of One

Anointed by Krayt.
Body covered by tattoos.
Twi’lek Darth Talon.

What about Kylo?
Well, this is awkward because
he is not a Sith.

Haiku Addendum:
Kylo Ren verses Caedus?
Darth Caedus would win.


Check out these other Haikuesday Posts!

Imperial Atrocities

Luke Skywalker (ANH)

Luke Skywalker (ESB)

Luke Skywalker (ROTJ)

Talkerverse: Vader Kills Maul

I have always held the opinion that Darth Maul should have survived his confrontation with Obi-Wan in The Phantom Menace, and that his story-arc should have reached its finale in Episode III. Disregarding entirely that Darth Maul DOES survive, that he was resurrected from the dead in The Clone Wars animated series and has since made appearances in a number of post-Prequel stories, my belief that Maul should have been a menacing presence in every Prequel film is built upon a rather simple premise. In short, Anakin/Darth Vader should have been the one to kill Darth Maul.

Allow me to paint you a picture with my imagination brush. Darth Maul is still alive and in Revenge of the Sith, and takes full-command of the Separatist cause after the death of Count Dooku and General Grievous. Safeguarding the leaders of the Confederacy on Mustafar, a small Jedi fighter arrives on the volcanic world and Maul goes out to meet this foe. The Sith Lord instantly recognizes the individual: it is the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. We know the truth – Anakin Skywalker is no more, the man before Maul is the newly minted Sith named Vader and he has been ordered by Darth Sidious, his new Master, to kill the Separatist leaders as well as Maul. It is a test for Vader: kill your rival and take his place, or perish. Vader is up for the challenge.

Darth Maul leaps into action, his double-bladed saber viciously slashing and hacking at Vader. Deflecting the violent blows with his blue lightsaber, Vader is at first caught off-guard by the rage-filled attack. Gathering himself, anger swelling within him, the new Sith Lord goes on the offensive. Now Darth Maul staggers backwards. He has fought and killed Jedi before – Padawans, Knights, and Masters – but Maul has grown complacent throughout the Clone War. He has been such a menacing presence to Jedi that he has left his flank unguarded against a Dark Side for. Darth Sidious knew this, could see that Darth Maul was in need of a true challenger. If he survives this fight, if he kills Vader, then Maul will be a newly sharpened weapon which Sidious can use.

The battle of blades comes to a momentary pause, Maul and Vader alike unable to land a killing stroke. Starring each other down, it is Maul who  speaks first:

“I sense the darkness within you, Jedi. Tell me, has my Master chosen you to test me?”

“I am no Jedi…” Vader responds with scorn “…and he is my Master now.”

Amused and laughing, Maul replies with obvious derision: “You are naïve, young Jedi, if you believe you will replace me.”

Turning his back to Vader, Maul pauses to looks out at the hellish landscape before he speaks again. 

“Do you remember what I did to your first Master? To that fool Qui-Gon Jinn?”

Anger obviously swelling within Vader, rage contorting his face, Maul confidently continues his mocking tone:

“I should have slaughtered him sooner…on Tatooine. I should have slaughtered him…and his Padawan…and you, Ani. And then…”

Reigniting his blue blade, the rage within Vader ready to spill out, Maul speaks one last time:

“….and then I should have slaughtered Amidala.”

Both hands on the hilt of his saber, Vader launches into a vicious assault and Maul greets it head-on. The clash is unlike the choreographed acrobatics of their fight from moments before. There is no twisting of bodies or twirling of sabers. Now, their battle is purely driven by a desire to destroy the other, their blades being used not as elegant weapons but as bludgeons. Hacking and chopping, deflecting and countering, the two raged-infested Sith give no ground, take no footsteps backward. They are locked in a stalemate, unwilling to give an inch, frozen in a battle of wills against the backdrop of a volcanic, smoked-filled landscape.

Frozen, that is, until Vader finally lands a blow, slicing downward across Maul’s face and chest. Staggering backwards, scars glowing from the heat of Vader’s saber, the demonic-looking Zabrak attemps to recover but Vader moves in. Sidestepping and moving past Maul’s desperate strike, Vader reverses the direction of his saber and drives it upwards into Maul’s back, the tip coming out of the Dark Lord’s chest. Lingering for a moment, Vader yanks the blade from his foe, allowing Maul – agony and the recognition of death on his face – to sink to his knees. Turning as his blade is extinguished, Vader kneels behind Darth Maul, leans in, and softly speaks:

“You have been replaced.”

Rising, Darth Vader walks around the dying Sith Lord and, we can assume, towards the facility beyond, on his way to kill the Separatist leaders within. But the camera lingers on Maul – the landscape of Mustafar behind him – and we watch as the Sith Lord slumps forward and dies.

Killing the Devil, Replacing the Devil

There is obvious religious symbolism in Star Wars and perhaps one of the most obvious forms of symbolism is in the form of Mustafar. Essentially, Mustafar is meant to symbolize Hell. When Vader travels to the volcanic world in Revenge of the Sith, he is descending to Hell, a descent which visually captures his internal descent into darkness. While his conversion to the Sith Order took place in the ecumenopolis of Coruscant, he is baptized in this Mustafarian Hell, transformed by eternal fire and subsequently reborn in his iconic suit of armor. And yet, I have always felt one element was missing on Mustafar: the Devil.

Lava on Mustafar
Mustafar = Hell
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

There is obvious religious symbolism in Star Wars and perhaps one of the OTHER obvious forms of symbolism is Darth Maul. Darth Maul looks the way he does – horned head, red and black face, intense yellow-eyes, black robe – because he is a visual representation of evil. He looks like the Devil because he IS the Devil. And, as such, I have always believed Vader should have descended into Hell with the distinct intention of killing the Devil. While his massacre of the Separatist leaders is violent and shows that he is continuing down his dark path, the added layer of Vader killing the Devil in the Devil’s own lair would have added incredible weight to Anakin Skywalker’s descent into Darkness. 

But this added weight is not solely based on Vader’s killing a character serving as an archetype and personification of evil. Killing the Devil is certainly profound in and of itself but Vader would have also been replacing the Devil, becoming the new archetype and personification of evil. It would not have been out of goodness of heart, or a willingness to safeguard the galaxy, that he traveled into Hell to vanquish the Devil. No, he would have killed the Devil precisely because he wanted to become the Devil. Only by descending into the darkness could he make his ascension, earning his title, position, and power as Dark Lord (of the Sith) by violently ripping it away from his adversary.

That is, after all, the nature of the Sith and the Dark Side of the Force.

Epilogue

Darth Sidious steps out of the shuttle, surveying the Mustafarian landscape. He can sense Darth Vader, feel the pain and agony bleeding off of the badly injured Sith. As he moves down towards the end of the large landing platform, he passes the Jedi Starfighter which Vader had taken tot he world, and the body of Maul comes into view beyond it. Sidious walks up to the body, pauses, and looks down. Reaching out with his right hand, he uses the Force to call the double-bladed saber to him. Now in his hand, he crushes it, the broken pieces falling onto the broken body of Maul. Opening his hand and a red crystal sits on his palm. Laughing to himself, Sidious closes his fist and moves on to find his new Apprentice. 

Later, after Darth Vader has recovered, and is entombed in his suit, Sidious will hand him the crystal and give him a single order: “Construct a new lightsaber.”

Luke Skywalker: A Farewell to Arms

He hears the command the Emperor, the Sith named Sidious. The Dark Lord tells Luke Skywalker to “fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side.” Young Skywalker, having battled Darth Vader, his father, had finally bested his foe. His “hatred made [him] powerful” and he had unleashed a dark-filled fury against his father, swinging and hacking with his self-crafted green lightsaber until a blow was finally dealt. Vader’s right hand severed, the father of Luke Skywalker lays prostrate, weaponless, and entirely at the mercy of his son.

Luke hears the Emperor’s command, he listens, but his disposition changes. Something within him stirs, a recognition we can see on his face. He is aware that he is on a precipice of falling into a never-ending chasm of darkness (it is little wonder the battle ended with Vader and Luke above an actual chasm, a clear metaphor if ever there was one). In this instance, looking down at the mechanical stump where he severed his father’s hand – and looking at his own mechanical hand, a result of an injury Vader exacted on him a year before – Luke makes his choice.

Turning towards the Emperor, Luke Skywalker will confidently declare to Darth Sidious that “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” But his words are only a part of this pronouncement, the exclamation point actually coming before he speaks when he willingly disarms himself, tossing away his lightsaber, the “elegant” weapon of a Jedi Knight. This is Luke’s active commitment to the Jedi, a practical statement of faith declaring his dedication to “peace and justice,” to “knowledge and defense, never attack.” It is the zenith of Luke’s story in the Original Trilogy, his narrative trajectory taking him from farm-boy on the desolate world of Tatooine in A New Hope to this decisive moment in Return of the Jedi as he stands in the Emperor’s throne room. 

Skywalker’s intentional disarmament is, in a sense, his Arthurian moment, or rather his reverse-Arthurian moment. While the legendary King Arthur inherited Britain’s throne by pulling a sword from a stone, Luke inherits the title of Jedi Knight not by grasping and brandishing his weapon but doing the exact opposite, ridding himself of it. With this simple but profound action Luke Skywalker fundamentally changes what it means to be a member of the Jedi Order and elevates heroism to an even greater level, a level which requires traversing a path of nonviolence, compassion, and mercy (even for one’s enemies). 

As a child I may not have been able to fully appreciate what Luke does in Return of the Jedi but today I am profoundly moved by Skywalker’s heroic choice. It is a stark reminder to me – and perhaps to you as well – that a farewell to arms is necessary in the pursuit of peace. Even when faced with our enemies and the possibility of death we must set aside our weapons of war with a willingness to sacrifice our lives out of love and not hatred. In this way, I interpret Luke’s act through the lens of Matthew 26:52 where Jesus tells a companion to “Put your sword back in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (NIV). Living by the sword, even a lightsaber, is no longer appropriate for a Jedi Knight; now, the only option is to walk the path of peace and justice fortified and armed with the Light Side of the Force. 

The Death of Padmé Amidala

A friend recently shared an article with me which speculates on why Padmé Amidala dies at the end of Revenge of the Sith. In this article, author Joseph Tavano goes to great lengths to argue that Padmé did not die from a “broken heart.” Instead, Tavano presents the thesis that the reason for Padmé’s death is that Darth Sidious was quite literally ripping the Living Force from her. For the sake of brevity, and because I do not want to take it upon myself to rehash the entire article, I suggest you read the piece for yourself to have a fuller appreciation for Mr. Tavano idea. You can find the article here: Padmé Didn’t Die of a Broken Heart. And, in case you want to re-watch the scene in which Padmé dies, here it is:

When my friend – Michael Miller from the blog My Comic Relief – shared the article with me, it was actually the second (or third, or fourth) time I had been presented with this particular answer to Padmé’s curious death at the end of Revenge of the Sith. In fact, I had already read this particular article before and had also engaged in similar conversations about this possibility in the past with other friends. Still, even though I had already read the piece and reflected on this possibility, since Michael was sharing the article with me, I thought I would re-read it and give him my thoughts. And, because I love talking Star Wars (I am the Imperial Talker after all), I figured I would share these same thoughts with y’all.

As I told Miller, I really have no problem with this particular theory regarding Padmé’s death. In fact, I find it entirely plausible and perhaps likely. The thought that Darth Sidious – a powerful Sith Lord with arcane abilities that go beyond reason – could, from a galactic distance, siphon the Force from a living being is a tantalizing thought. After all, in The Clone Wars episode “The Lost One” Sidious is able to Force choke his apprentice, Darth Tyrannus, although they are separated by many light-years. In turn, when one also throws into the conversation the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise- the Dark Lord of the Sith who we know was Sidious’ Master – and Plagueis’ ability to manipulate the Force to keep individuals from dying, the possibility that Sidious did the same with thing with Vader, at Padmé’s expense, grows stronger. It is true, of course, that Sidious tells Anakin Skywalker (after the young Jedi pledges allegiance to the Sith Lord) that “to cheat death is a power only one [Plagueis] has achieved.” However, it is also perfectly reasonable that this is yet another moment in which Sidious manipulates Anakin, withholding the truth that Sidious, having learned from his own Master, already knows how to keep individuals alive. In this vein, while on the surface Sidious purports to be ignorant of the ability, this would merely serve as misdirection, pointing blame for Padmé’s death away from Sidious and placing it squarely on Anakin/Vader’s shoulders. Sidious does, after all, tell the newly minted Sith Lord that “in your [Vader’s] anger, you killed her,” yet another possible example of Sidious toying with the mind of the already tormented man.

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Sidious looks at Vader after telling the new Sith Lord that Vader’s anger killed Padmé.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

I would suggest, though, that alternative possibilities exist regarding Padme’s death, possibilities that stray from Mr. Tavano’s piece. For example, while Tavano adamantly opposes the notion that Padmé died from a broken heart, I actually have no personal qualms with it. Broken heart syndrome is a real medical issue, and while it is often not fatal, it can in some instances lead to complications which might result in death. This is not to suggest that Padmé actually died from broken heart syndrome, merely that it is a possibility I am not opposed to entertaining.

Further, I have also wondered whether Padmé died as a result of her connection with Anakin through the Force, a connection built upon the love the two shared. This is not to suggest Anakin-turned-Vader willingly or knowingly killed Padmé, but instead that as Anakin was on the cusp of death, the Living Force in Padmé flowed away from her to her beloved. While Padmé may not be a “Force-user” in the way Anakin is, she is never-the-less intrinsically connected to the mystical energy field; she is, as Yoda would say, a “luminous being.” And so, I cannot help but wonder if the reason Padmé lost the will to live, as the medical droid explains in the scene, was because in her final moments she was quite literally willing Anakin to live, intentionally passing the Living Force within her to him. In this way, it was Padmé – and not some outside presence like Sidious – who chose to sacrifice herself to sustain Anakin. Like I said, it’s an idea that I have considered, and perhaps it’ll be one I develop as a post down the road. 

In the end, when it comes to Padmé’s death, I am perfectly fine with no official or objective explanation ever being given. While I am sure there is some very clear “Star Warsie” reason for her dying, I find it personally unnecessary to know with any certainty why she died. Honestly, I think it is better this way. Leaving her death unresolved opens the door for the imagination to fill in the gaps, allowing individuals like Tavano – and you and I – to come up ideas and theories about why Padmé died. That being said, leave a comment and tell me what idea(s) and theories you have about Padmé’s curious death in Revenge of the Sith


Check out these other posts about Padmé Amidala:

The Funeral of Padmé Amidala

Star Wars: Padmé

Cheating Death: The Dark

When Darth Maul’s return was first flirted in Season 3 of The Clone Wars animated series, I was pretty skeptical. At the time, I thought it was a ridiculous stunt to bring back to life a character who had been sliced in half, his bifurcated body having fallen into an abyss in The Phantom Menace. Yet, the way Maul’s return was handled grew on me, and over time I not only accepted that he was still alive – something I could not argue since  he was literally on screen  – but that the way he was brought back was handled with care. While I certainly have my grievances with some of the story-arcs in Star Wars, Darth Maul’s return eventually became, and still is, one of my favorites.

As I said in a recent post where I discussed Maul’s return – The Power to Cheat Death – the fact that the young Dark Lord of the Sith survived his injuries opened the door to rethinking a number of aspects of the Star Wars universe. In keeping with this stream of thought, for this post I wanted to think about how Maul survived, the way he was able to sustain his life even though he had been horribly injured. 

Long before Darth Maul even arrived in person in The Clone Wars, questions began floating about how he could have survived his horrific injury. Thankfully, this was a question that was answered rather early on in Maul’s story-arc. In the Season Four episode “Revenge” – literally the episode that follows his re-discovery – Maul explains that while his body was broken, his hatred kept his spirit intact. Submerged in darkness, Maul became a self-described “rabid animal,” surviving on the junk world Lotho Minor until many years later his brother, Savage Opress, discovered him.

While his description of survival is brief, what Maul explains in “Revenge” is an intrinsic and fascinating aspect of the Dark Side of the Force.  Bathed in his hatred – hatred towards Kenobi, the Jedi, his old Master, etc. – Maul found himself consumed by the Dark Side in a way he had never prepared to encounter. In this regard, Maul’s survival was purely accidental. While he should have died due to his injuries, the Dark Side of the Force sustained his spirit – the Living Force within him – because Maul instinctively, although inadvertently, tapped into an intense and visceral level of hatred welling within his being. But the consequences of this deep level of hate and Dark Side submersion are clear: in cheating death, Maul lost all sense of his individuality, of “humanity,” becoming a wild animal.

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Darth Maul, physically and mentally broken, living as a rabid animal on Lotho Minor. Notice that he is quite literally a beast, his mechanical “body” resembling that of an arachnid.

Photo Credit: The Clone Wars Season 4, Episode 21 – “Brothers”

With this in mind, it is worth recalling one of the most iconic and profound quotes about the Dark Side in Star Wars, a quote found in Revenge of the Sith. Speaking to Anakin Skywalker, Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) describes the Dark Side of the Force “as a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.” Darth Maul’s survival is a perfect example of one of the most unnatural abilities swirling within the Dark Side, the ability to cheat death. There is nothing natural about Maul’s survival, about the ability for one to physically cheat death. After all, as Yoda also states in Revenge of the Sith, “death is a natural part of life.” That all life must die is normal, a consequence of the gift of life. To cheat death is unnatural, a subversion of the gift.

Yet, as Maul proves through his hate-filled survival, the ability to subvert, to undermine, the gift of life is inherent within the Dark Side of Force. And since it is life which creates the Force – as Yoda also eloquently states, this time in The Empire Strikes Back – and it is also true that death is a natural part of life, how are we to make sense of this dark ability to cheat physical death?

Regarding this question, I would suggest two things. First, just because life creates the Force does not mean life necessarily dictates or creates the powers/abilities inherent within the Cosmic Force. In turn, this leads to my second point: that the Dark Side and Light Side of the Force are rich with powers/abilities that go far beyond the rationale understanding and capabilities of the Sith, Jedi, and other religious orders devoted to the mystical energy field. When Maul says that his path was”darker than I ever dreamed it could be,” this is precisely what he is pointing towards – the fact that there is a level of Dark Side potential he never could have rationalized or imagined, a level he only could only experienced by tapping into a well-spring of raw, unadulterated hatred. And, as we know, ill-prepared to reach this exceptional level of Darkness, Maul lost all sense of individuality, becoming more animal than “man.”

On this last point, another question arises: could one tap into and sustain the same level of hatred as Maul, preserving their corporeal existence through the Dark Side, while also maintaining their sanity and identity? To this I would answer yes, but to do so would require years of intense and methodical training. Just as one must first learn to swim before diving into the deep end of a pool, so too must a Sith, Knight of Ren, or other type of Dark acolyte learn to wade into the darkness if they are to cheat death, prolonging bodily existence and mental stability. While it is necessary to give into and cultivate the hatred that will take one deeper into the dark abyss and unlock the incredible powers inherent within, it is equally necessary that one exercise intense control over this hatred lest it completely strip them of rational thought.

Furthermore, in answering this question, I would also go one step farther and suggest that Darth Sidious was already treading the dark path towards cheating death. In the novel Tarkin, Sidious hints at coaxing the “final secrets” from the dark side and considers that “success would grant them [he and Darth Vader] the power to harness the full powers of the dark side, and allow them to rule for ten thousand years.” While he does not explicitly state the intention to cheat death, the sentiment is nevertheless implied in his wish to rule for ten thousand years. As Sith believe there is nothingness after death – a philosophical point raised in The Clone Wars episode “Sacrifice” – the only way Sidious could rule indefinitely is if he was to preserve his Life Force in his body, utilizing the Dark Side to forgo death and extinction.

And since Sidious was training to do just that, steadily submerging himself deeper into the darkness in order to unlock the unnatural powers it contained, I cannot help but wonder if he – like Darth Maul before him – was able to survive his “death” in Return of the Jedi. A thought worth pondering, but one I will leave for another day.

The Power to Cheat Death

When we first watched The Phantom Menace and witnessed Darth Maul being sliced in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi, it was safe to assume that the young Dark Lord had been killed. Yet, as we discovered in The Clone Wars animated series, Maul miraculously survived his horrific bifurcation. Confiding in his training and anger, Maul drew upon the Dark Side of the Force to preserve what remained of him. Though his injuries took a physical and mental toll on him, he was able to cling to life and eventually found himself on the junk world of Lotho Minor. It was on the trash-filled planet where his brother, Savage Oppress, would re-discover Darth Maul. Taking the disheveled and mentally unstable Zabrak with him, Oppress returned Maul to Mother Talzin, a Dathomiri Witch who is, we discover much later, Maul’s mother. In turn, using her dark magic, Mother Talzin restored the one-time Dark Lord to his terrifying form, healing his mental anguish and providing him with new, mechanical legs.

Darth Maul’s return in The Clone Wars opened up a rich avenue of story-telling that has since extended into comic-book form (Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir), another animated series (Star Wars Rebels), and a new novel (Ahsoka). But his return also created intriguing ways of thinking about some of the lore and themes in Star Wars. For example, in a previous post from many moons ago – The Last Sith Lord – I speculated on the possibility that it is Maul, and not Vader or Sidious, who is the very last Dark Lord of the Sith (you can read that piece to see what I had to say). And in this post, I wanted to do something similar, this time considering how Maul’s re-emergence in The Clone Wars forces us to think more deeply about the concept of “cheating death,” a critical theme in Revenge of the Sith and the Prequel Trilogy.

For me, one of the most fascinating bits of lore added in Revenge of the Sith is the Tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise. Recounting the tale to Anakin Skywalker, Chancellor Palpatine (aka Darth Sidious) explains that,”Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise, he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” Of course, Palpatine also points out that Plagueis’ apprentice (surprise, it was Sidious!) killed the powerful Sith Lord in his sleep, noting the irony that “He could save others from death, but not himself.”

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Chancellor Palpatine recounts the Tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

With the Tale planted in Skywalker’s mind, it is little surprise that later in the film, when Anakin pledges himself to the teachings of Darth Sidious, he begs the Dark Lord of the Sith to help him save Padmé’s life. One will recall that young Skywalker was having premonitions about his wife’s impending death, visions of her suffering as she dies in child birth. And, in response to Anakin’s plea, Sidious remarks that “To cheat death is a power only one has achieved, but, if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.”

Now, it’s obvious that Sidious’ statement – “to cheat death is a power only one has achieved” –  is a reference to Darth Plagueis. However, it’s also true that Darth Maul was able to cheat death. Plagueis could keep others from dying, Maul was able to keep himself from dying. This being the case, it begs the question: is it possible to reinterpret Sidious’ statement to suggest he was talking about Darth Maul and not Darth Plagueis?

This question has rattled around in my brain for some time, although truthfully it is a difficult one to answer in the affirmative. Sidious’ intention when he says this line is pretty straight-forward: to manipulate Anakin into accepting Sidious as his new Master. Since Sidious seems interested in helping Anakin discover the power to cheat death – all for the sake of saving Padmé – it makes sense that young Skywalker would pledge himself to the Dark Lord. Along these lines, it is also worth remembering that after Anakin lost his mother in Attack of the Clones, he vehemently declares that he will become so powerful he will “learn how to stop people from dying.” Given Skywalker’s intense desire to keep his loved ones from death, it is no wonder that 1) Palpatine told Anakin the Tale of Darth Plagueis and; 2) that he offered to help the young man discover the secret to cheating death.

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Anakin pledges himself to Darth Sidious.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

None of this is to suggest, of course, that Darth Sidious and Anakin were ignorant that Darth Maul cheated death; both are well-aware the Sith survived his injuries and is still very much alive. But due to the context of this scene – embedded, as it is, in the Revenge of the Sith and the Prequel Trilogy – I find it unlikely that Sidious was referring to Darth Maul and not Darth Plagueis. Because Skywalker’s motivation is to save others from death – a power he was told Plagueis possessed – there is really no reason to imagine Darth Maul is at the forefront of his mind (or Sidious’) in the scene.

Nevertheless, I am still open to and intrigued by the possibility that Sidious was thinking of/referring to Darth Maul when he says “to cheat death is a power only one has achieved.” But I am not going to force the issue, in part because I have a lot of other things to say about cheating death and will be doing more posts on the topic. If, someday, a light turns on in my head and I figure out a way to make it work then I will be sure to share it with y’all. Otherwise, perhaps one of you will find a way to work it out in the meantime. 


More posts on the topic of cheating death:

Cheating Death: The Dark

Transcending Death: The Light