Darth Vader

The Imperial March

When the new Star Wars ComLINKS topic for October 2017 – Favorite Musical Score –  was announced over at Anakin and His Angel I knew I had to jump in and participate. For a while now, I have been thinking about writing a bit more about the music that accompanies Star Wars, the iconic compositions of John Williams that give the original trilogy gravitas and have also influenced other Star Wars composers. It is safe to say – and really a no-brainer – that without the music of Williams, Star Wars would be much different. But I will leave a larger conversation of the music of Star Wars to another person, or at least save it for another occasion. For now, with the ComLINKS topic in mind, I am excited to share my thoughts/feelings on Favorite Musical Score in Star Wars. And, of course, it’s “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme).”

The word “theme” is appropriate here because, let’s face it, I consistently return to The Empire Strikes Back to discuss my favorite aspects of Star Wars. It should really come as no surprise, then, that my favorite score would also come from my favorite Star Wars film. Naturally I love Star Wars across the board, but my deep affection for The Empire Strikes Back – embedded within me as a child – is the true grounding of my Star Wars adoration. That being the case, the issue at hand is not that my favorite musical score comes from The Empire Strikes Back, but rather, why is this particular score from the film’s soundtrack my favorite and not another?

To be entirely blunt, “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” is my favorite score because it is established as the de facto anthem of the Galactic Empire. As a child, I was fascinated by the Empire, having a “Casterfoian” (google “Casterfo”) interest in the baddies of the Star Wars universe. While I knew the Empire was evil, and I celebrated the destruction of the Death Star in A New Hope with the Rebels, The Empire Strikes Back introduced me to a different way of viewing/experiencing the Empire. No longer were they simply the bad guys with a massive moon-sized space station but, instead, they were the bad guys who had Probe Droids, Super Star Destroyers, Imperial Walkers, Snowtroopers, TIE Bombers, and more. Even though they took a big hit in A New Hope, these baddies were anything but knocked out, and still had the means to level a crushing blow to the Rebel Alliance on the planet Hoth. And, to top it off, the Empire now had distinct piece of music – doubling as the theme for the villainous Darth Vader – to capture their harsh, galactic reach.

To this day, the raw power of “The Imperial March” continues to captivate and hold me not only because it originates in The Empire Strikes Back, but because I have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. As a child, I was unaware that the piece was influenced by Chopin’s “Funeral March” and Gustav Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War.” And yet, today, I am equally captivated by these pieces, all thanks to my childhood enjoyment of the Empire/Vader’s powerful anthem. Plus, this is also the case with a number of others scores from Star Wars, my enjoyment of these leading me to a more profound appreciation of other classical pieces.

At the same time, while “The Imperial March” is laced with childhood meaning and has led me to its musical influences, it also continues to be a piece that, quite frankly, captures me and takes hold each time I hear it. The repetition of the strings in the opening riff, crisp and dark (thanks to it being in a minor key), captures my attention until the brass presents the iconic melody in the fifth bar, gripping me with its clear-cut strength and power. Having washed over me like a wave in a storm, there is no escape. The moment I hear the opening to “The Imperial March,” and the iconic brass melody which serves as a leitmotif for Empire and Vader has begun, I must continue to listen. It would be wrong to turn around, to stop the March from moving forward. And so, no matter the situation, I will always let “The Imperial March” continue…

…which is, in a very real sense, the point of the piece. “The Imperial March” is aptly named because it perfectly encompasses the forward progress of the Galactic Empire, a progression which is difficult to stop. The Empire, wounded as it was at Yavin IV, continues its march of terror, death, and destruction. And, of course, Darth Vader spearheads the Imperial march across the galaxy, hunting down those who wish to stop the Empire. But it cannot be stopped, it will not be stopped, and it is futile to even try.


This post is part of the Star Wars ComLINKS series. Check out more Star Wars ComLINKS over at Anakin and His Angelswcomlinksbanner1

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)

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

The Audacity of Solo

I’ve been thinking a lot about Han Solo lately. No, not the Han Solo movie that is being made, but the man we first meet in A New Hope. From his first appearance in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Han Solo is established as a cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, self-involved, loner whose only priority in life is himself. After all, from a purely symbolical angle, there is a reason his last name is “Solo” and it is hardly coincidental that a bounty hunter named “Greedo” confronts the Captain. Time and again throughout A New Hope, these qualities are reinforced, Solo’s words and actions proving that his instinct for self-preservation can only be superseded by the desire for a little extra money. As we know, the only reason Solo agrees to help free Princess Leia from the clutches of the Empire is because she is rich. 

I could, of course, go on and list every moment Captain Solo acts self-involved and greedy in A New Hope but I really don’t need to. You’ve all watched the film enough to know that, at his core, Han Solo embodies all of these qualities. But what makes these qualities stand out even more is the backdrop of A New Hope, the overarching story about a small band of Rebels struggling to free the galaxy from tyranny and oppression. From the very start of the movie, we know what these Rebels are up against: a massive, technologically powerful Empire that will stop at nothing to maintain complete control over the galaxy. The juxtaposition between Rebellion and Empire is clear and obvious as A New Hope unfolds, and is made all the more poignant when we see the size of the Empire’s Death Star battle station and its planet destroying capability. 

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Solo, speaking with Luke Skywalker, loads his reward while the Rebels prepare for battle.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

When the narrative-arc of A New Hope finally leads the audience to the Rebel’s hidden base – which the Empire has been  searching for – setting up the battle that will determine the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo wants nothing to do with the Rebels or the mammoth task that awaits. But this is hardly a surprise, he had only ever been in it for the money. In fact, it is fitting that while the Rebels scramble around a hanger, preparing to fight for their survival and for the fate of the galaxy, Han Solo is standing in plain sight with the money he was promised. Approaching Solo, Luke Skywalker implores the smuggler to join the Rebel cause, to lend his skills as a pilot to the fight that is about to begin. Solo’s reply fits his character perfectly:”What good is a reward if you ain’t around to use it? Besides, attacking that battle station is not my idea of courage. It’s more like, suicide.” In a sense, this single line encapsulates the greed and self-preservation of Han Solo, his need to take care of himself. Implored by the hero of the story to join the Rebels, Han Solo flatly rebukes Skywalker, proof that he values himself and his money more than the lives of others, even those he would call friends. 

So, the climactic engagement begins, the Rebel allies fighting against all odds to destroy the Empire’s planet-busting battle station. As one would expect, the Rebels fail time and again to destroy the station, leading to the final “attack run” led by the young Skywalker. A wing-man killed, another abandoning the attack due to damage on his fighter, and his droid partner destroyed, Skywalker finds himself alone as he speeds down a Death Star trench to deliver his payload of torpedoes. Just as Skywalker is about to be destroyed by the villain, Darth Vader, a shot rings out that destroys one of Vader’s own wing-men, a shot fired by Han Solo who comes flying in from above. Solo’s sudden presence disorients Vader’s other wing-man, the pilot slamming into his leader and causing the Dark Lord of the Sith to careen off into space. The path cleared by Solo, the young Skywalker fires the heroic shot that, only moments later, causes the battle station to explode. 

hansoloanewhope3
Han Solo comes to the rescue, guns a blazin’ as he excitedly announces his arrival.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

I have often thought about the fact that Solo – cocksure, braggadocious, greedy, selfish – arrives at just the right moment to help Skywalker defeat the Empire. Narratively it makes perfect sense, just the right amount of tension building until, out of nowhere, the suave smuggler – whom we thought had given up on the Rebels – swoops in to assist the film’s young hero. But what we don’t get in the story is the reason for Han Solo’s change of heart, his internal thoughts about why he puts himself at great risk – something so counter to his life philosophy – to help Luke and the Rebels. Then again, I think it better that Solo’s change of heart not be over-explained. In a way, it is far more powerful to imagine what Han might have been thinking, for each audience member to fill in the gaps for her/himself. 

But what we should not lose sight of in our personal speculating is the reality that in choosing to help Luke and the Rebels, Han Solo acted selflessly. Putting aside his penchant for self-preservation and ignoring the reward he was given, Solo had the audacity to give his life to a cause greater than himself. In doing so, Han Solo became a hero. 

And so, as I think about Han Solo, I cannot help but consider the lesson we can learn from his act of selflessness. After all, as a form of modern-day myth, it is not enough for Star Wars to just entertain us. Rather, as myth, it is necessary for Star Wars to show us how we must live as part of a community and world, as part of something greater than ourselves. And what Han Solo teaches us is exceedingly necessary, especially in our consumer-driven and selfie-obsessed culture. Just as Han has a change of heart – putting his riches and life aside for the sake of others – so too must we do the same in our daily lives when the opportunities arise. We can, each one of us, be a hero, going beyond ourselves to assist our local communities, our nations, and our world. It is not enough to just sit back and enjoy the spoils of life and only look out for ourselves. No, like Han we are called to use our individual skills and join the cause of destroying the “Death Stars” of our time: homelessness, poverty, hunger, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, warfare, genocide, nuclear proliferation, and more. 

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.

darth_maul_3
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.”

tale-of-darth-plagueis
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

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).

Imperial Profile: General Veers

“Com-Scan has detected an energy field protecting an area of the sixth planet of the Hoth system. The field is strong enough to deflect any bombardment.” – General Veers

While he only appears in a handful of scenes in The Empire Strikes Back (ESB), General Maximilian Veers has always been one of those peripheral Star Wars characters who absolutely fascinates me. In fairness, I have a Star Warsie fascination with all of the characters in the franchise, but there are some who really stand out and captivate me, and Veers is definitely one of them. 

So what exactly is the reason for my interest in the character that Julian Glover brought to life in ESB? Well, much of it boils down to the scene in which Veers informs Lord Vader that the fleet has moved out of lightspeed. Standing before Darth Vader, General Veers exudes the poise and self-confidence one would expect from an Imperial officer.  There is no hesitation in his voice as he provides Vader with a situational report, his articulation crisp as he describes the “energy field protecting an area of the sixth planet of the Hoth system.” While he is caught off-guard by Vader’s criticism of Admiral Ozzel, there is no sense of fear as he explains Ozzel’s decision to “surprise” the Rebels. When Veers is ordered to prepare his men for a surface attack, he acknowledges Lord Vader as any commander would his/her superior. In short, what this exchange says about General Veers is clear: he is a clear cut example of military professionalism.  And this professionalism is on display as he leads his elite Blizzard Force into battle of the icy planet.

As I noted in a previous post – Imperial Walkers on the North Ridge – General Veers opts to march his forces across an open tundra in a frontal assault, doing so without any aerial or artillery bombardment of the entrenched Rebel enemy. While this tactical decision may very well defy the logic of warfare, I’ve never felt that Veers actions in the battle are brash or ill-conceived. Rather, I imagine General Veers meticulously planning the battle beforehand, choosing his strategy with care and the input of his commanders. In turn, leading from the front in his Imperial Walker – Blizzard One – he can react much more quickly to the ways in which the battle might change. True, leading from the front is also a great way to get yourself killed, and we see his Walker hit by enemy fire during the fight. Yet, in the scenes where we actually see him throughout the Battle of Hoth, his commanding presence is apparent, a stern determination plastered on his face. This is a man, a General, who knows precisely what he is doing and will see things through to the very end. 

General Veers
General Veers commands the ground assault against the Rebel base.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Seeing things through is precisely what General Veers does, storming across the enemy positions and finally destroying the generator that powers the shield protecting the Rebel base. Of course, the moment Veers destroyed the  power generator is also the final moment we see him in The Empire Strikes Back and the Star Wars canon. Naturally, given my fascination, I am left wondering what became of General Veers in the wake of the battle. Surely reports of the Empire’s masterful victory over the Rebellion would quickly spread across the galaxy, ensuring that Rebel sympathizers would be disheartened and Imperial loyalists emboldened. I can imagine the general being lauded for his brilliant, tactical victory and valiant “lead from the front” style of command. Granted, this may not have been the first time General Veers received sweeping, public notoriety for his actions, but a victory like the one on Hoth would most definitely elevate his name among the Imperial populace and position within the ranks of the Empire. 

Still, I highly doubt General Veers would allow the public spotlight  to go to his head. No, the man we meet in The Empire Strikes Back does not lend himself to personal aggrandizing and building his public image. Certainly other Imperial officers and officials were the type to do just that, reveling in their accomplishments and pining for the favor of the Emperor and his Ruling Council. But Veers just feels different, and I can’t believe he would be anything but a soldier who is committed to his position and duty, not his personal gain. 

While it is interesting to ponder the sort of notoriety General Veers received after his victory on the icy plains of Hoth, my larger question remains: what happened to him after his brief appearance in The Empire Strikes Back? Well, if the novelization of the movie is to believed, any honors he may have received for his actions were posthumous since he died during the battle when a Rebel pilot crashed into the command module of his Imperial Walker. But, since the novelization doesn’t count as canon we can toss his “death” out the window.

Veers in Dark Empire II
Captain Veers contacts his superiors prior to the Battle of Balmorra.
Photo Credit – Dark Empire II, Issue #1 (“Operation Shadow Hand”)

In a bit of twist, that “death” was also thrown out in the Expanded Universe (EU). Veers makes a handful of appearances in the EU, ultimately being demoted to the rank of Captain and meeting his demise during the Battle of Balmorra (found in the Dark Empire II series). However, in the new canon his post-Hoth story has yet to unfold. Then again, we also know next to nothing about the General in his pre-Battle of Hoth days. Veers does make a small appearance in the Star Wars: Commander mobile game, and we also know from a handful of other sources that he is from the planet Denon, is a husband and father, and had some early military successes on the planets Zaloriis and Culroon III. I should note, though, that these last three points about Veers were originally established in the EU and carried over to the new canon.

Other than these few details about him, the pre- and post-Hoth story about General Veers is just waiting to be told, and I really hope there is a plan to tell it. In fairness, I would be equally pleased if other Imperial officers had their stories expanded, but I am entirely biased in my wish to know more about General Veers. Left to me, Veers would receive a full-fledged novel that, at the very least, would dig into his early military career serving in the Clone Wars, his rise through Imperial ranks, and explain what happened to him not only after Hoth, but once the Empire fell. Plus, a book dedicated to Veers could be similar in many ways to the novel Tarkin, providing not only deep insight into the General’s motivations, but also a more thorough understanding of the inner-workings of the Imperial military. 

But since it isn’t up to me, the best I can do for now is remain hopeful that Maximilian Veers will make some further appearances in the Star Wars canon. Until that happens, I will just continue enjoying his handful of scenes in The Empire Strikes Back

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