Emperor Palpatine

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. 

Imperial Profile: Moff Ssaria

Making her only canonical appearance in the first issue of the Lando comic series, Moff Ssaria, Imperial Governor of the Castell sector, is nothing more than a minor character who helps (re)establish Lando Calrissian as the scoundrel we know him to be. When the issue begins, Calrissian is standing in Ssaria’s bedroom admiring a valuable piece of art. Intent on stealing the item from Ssaria, Calrissian instead uses his infamous smooth-talking flattery, admitting his intentions to the Moff and then talking his way out of being shot when she pulls a blaster on him. Showing his remorse, acknowledging that things got “complicated” with her and that he couldn’t just take the item and leave her, Calrissian appeals to Ssaria’s humanity to save his skin and, more importantly, convince her to give him the priceless art.

And the gamble pays off. Only a few short pages later, we find Lando explaining his actions to his close confidant Lobot, the art in hand to help payoff their debts. Pressed by Lobot about the risks he took to retrieve the art, that he could have taken it from Ssaria and left, Calrissian acknowledges the reason for his drawn-out relationship with the Moff: because of her reputation as the “Fiend of Castell.”

It is actually during his earlier exchange with Ssaria, as she lies half-naked in bed, when Calrissian uses the term “Fiend of Castell.” As he notes, it is a term “they” – the population she governs – use to describe her. He also states that she is called “The Burning Moff” and mentions that she is “brutal in your [her] response to even the slightest challenge to the Empire’s authority.” Given Ssaria’s penchant for swift, violent reprisal, it is little wonder Calrissian played a long-con, intent on securing the work of art by appealing to her humanity – stating that he knows the “real her” – to ensure that he would not have the so-called “Burning Moff” hunting him down. 

ssaria
Lando and Ssaria discuss her reputation as the “Fiend of Castell.”
Photo Credit – Star Wars: Lando, Part I

Fortunately, while we the reader are introduced to her reputation by Lando, we are also privy to a small inkling of the way Ssaria views herself. Or, more specifically, the way she views her authoritative position within the Imperial hierarchy. In response to what “they” say about her, Ssaria states that she is but “an extension of the Emperor’s will. My actions here simply execute his directives.”Indeed, as the Imperial Governor of the Castell sector, Moff Ssaria carries out the wishes and desires of the Emperor whom she serves, her orders and commands a reflection of the greater cause of Empire. In this regard, Ssaria is no different than Grand Moff Tarkin, Grand Admiral Thrawn, or Darth Vader, executing Imperial justice on behalf of the Emperor to whom they have sworn allegiance.

Continuing the theme of service to the Empire, Ssaria re-frames her violent reputation in a fascinating way, stating that “the Emperor is the mind. I am his tool. Is a tool responsible if it is used to kill someone?” With this play on words, Ssaria jettisons any moral culpability in the death of innocents, placing all the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Emperor. In turn, her “mind-tool” metaphor also implies that the population she governs – and by extension the entire population of the Empire – is to be shaped and molded by the Emperor’s tools in order to fully manifest his vision of Empire. Or, to be more blunt, in the cause of Empire there are never innocents, and the death (or enslavement, or oppression) of the people in the name of Empire is always justified. In this sense, the question Ssaria asks about her moral culpability is not only irrelevant but meaningless, the only morality that matters is the morality of the Emperor. 

This being the case, it is little surprise that Ssaria states that the answer to the question “doesn’t matter.” The question was always rhetorical. “I care little for my reputation in the streets,” the Moff pointedly admits, hardly a surprise or even a necessary statement. Obviously she doesn’t care about her reputation in the streets. Moff Ssaria doesn’t serve the people, and she certainly doesn’t answer to them. 

Imperial Profile: Admiral Tenant

“Nils Tenant is very competent.” – Moff Tarkin to Emperor Palpatine (from the novel Tarkin)

Admittedly, it is a bit odd that I decided to write a post about Rear Admiral Nils Tenant. On the one hand, with the recent revelation that my all-time favorite Star Wars character,  Grand Admiral Thrawn, will be making his glorious return to the universe, one would think I would be doing a post on him instead. It is certainly true that I am beyond excited to encounter Thrawn in a new novel and Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, but at the moment, I am just not prepared to post anything about him.

On the other hand, doing a post on Tenant is odd because he is a rather minor Star Wars character. Actually, saying he is a minor character is being generous. The fact is, Nils Tenant has received only two canonical appearances in the Star Wars universe. His first comes in The Clone Wars episode “Overlords,” appearing rather briefly in the newsreel which serves as a prelude to the show. While he goes unnamed in the show, the episode guide for “Overlords” on StarWars.com at least puts a rank/name to his face, identifying him as Admiral Tenant.

In turn, James Luceno incorporated Tenant into his novel Tarkin. Given the first name Nils and the Imperial rank of Rear Admiral, Tenant’s story is slightly expanded in the book. Most notably, we discover that Rear Admiral Tenant and Moff Wilhuff Tarkin – the novels main protagonist – have a fond relationship dating back to their time in the Sullust Sector Spacefarers Academy. Crossing paths early in the novel when Tarkin travels to Coruscant, the two men have a short but cordial conversation as two friends. While I won’t spoil the dialogue for those who have not read Luceno’s book, I will note that the most revealing moment in the conversation comes when Tenant asks his friend to “put in a word for me” with the Emperor (whom Tarkin is heading to meet when the two cross paths).

TarkinCover
The cover of the novel Tarkin.
Photo Credit – Del Rey

Now, on the surface of things, this scene could just be interpreted as one officer trying to use his personal connections to gain more status. In fact, Tarkin even recognizes that this is precisely what Tenant is doing, thinking to himself that “he could understand wanting to be in the Emperor’s good graces…” However, Tarkin does not chastise Tenant for the request. While the Governor is slighty caught-off guard by it, he never-the-less validates his friend by clasping Tenant on the shoulder and stating “If the occasion arises, Nils.” In turn, Tenant smiles and states that Tarkin is “a good man.” And that, right there, is the point of the entire conversation – the exchange helps to establish Wilhuff Tarkin, a man we know will order the destruction of Alderaan thirteen years later, as a man who is also viewed by some as a decent individual. In other words, Rear Admiral Tenant’s brief appearance aids in the humanization of Moff Tarkin!!!

But that is the most I will say about Tarkin and his fascinating character development in the novel that bears his name. I encourage you all to read Tarkin if you haven’t – it is, in fact, my favorite novel in the Star Wars canon to date – but otherwise I wish to turn back to Nils Tenant. Of course, there is little more to say about him other than filling in small details from the novel. After serving in the Clone Wars as the commander of a Venator-class Star Destroyer (his ship is also in  “Overlords”), we learn that he was assigned to “pacification” once the Empire was formed. Unfortunately, what this means is never clarified in Tarkin, although I presume it refers to the pacification of worlds/species/groups rebelling against Imperial rule. Furthermore, we also learn through his conversation with the Governor that Admiral Tenant had returned to Coruscant for a meeting of the Joint Chiefs, a body made up of the top brass in the Empire’s Army and Navy. As if a moment of foreshadowing, at novels end, the narrator tells us that Rear Admiral Tenant has also become a member of the Joint Chiefs, a promotion perhaps resulting from Tarkin’s conversation with the Emperor. 

Beyond these basics, though, Nils Tenant receives no more major character development in the novel Tarkin. None-the-less, his brief conversation with Governor Tarkin was enough to capture my attention and write this post on him, and because of this I also hope that Rear Admiral Tenant makes some more appearances at various points throughout the canon. Personally, I have always had an intense fascination with the Imperial officers corps, a fascination responsible for posts on other officers in the past – Wullf Yularen and Maximilian Veers – and posts to come. While Nils Tenant and other peripheral characters do not necessarily drive the stories in the Star Wars canon, their presence/existence never-the-less deepens our understanding of the Empire and it’s powerful military. Plus, those officers who are major characters, such as Wilhuff Tarkin and Rae Sloane, benefit from a strong supporting cast which interacts with them, even if that interaction is a short conversation in a bustling hallway.

As for Nils Tenant, I don’t anticipate he will ever become a major actor in the Star Wars saga, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him again especially since James Luceno is the author of the upcoming novel Star Wars: Catalyst, a novel serving as a prelude to the film Rogue One. I just have a small feeling that we’ll encounter Rear Admiral Nils Tenant when the book is released. But hey, even if we don’t, I still think he’ll pop up again somewhere in the canon. 

The Nature of a Hero

Guest Talker: Michael J. Miller

When I was a child, Return Of The Jedi was always my favorite Star Wars film.  Yes, I know The Empire Strikes Back is the most artistic and philosophical of the films.  I get it.  I do.  But the little kid version of me didn’t care about that.  I liked Return Of The Jedi for two major reasons.  First, there was a conclusion.  I wanted an ending and Return of the Jedi gave that to me. It was a good one, too. The heroes won!  Yay!

Luke stands before Jabba. Notice how similar he looks to Palpatine (black robe, hood pulled over his head). Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Luke stands before Jabba. Notice how similar he looks to Palpatine (black robe, hood pulled over his head).
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Second, I loved that we finally got to see Luke Skywalker in Jedi mode!  In A New Hope we see Luke awkwardly begin to use his lightsaber.  In The Empire Strikes Back we see Yoda put Luke through an odd Jedi workout, the deep and profound spiritual and philosophical significance of which I was far too young to understand.  But in Return Of The Jedi, we see Luke in full-on Jedi superhero mode as he rescues Han Solo from the clutches of that vile gangster Jabba the Hutt.

I still vividly remember the excitement I felt as I watched Luke bring Jabba’s organization down in a blaze.  Here was our hero!  The Jedi had returned!  I loved it.  It was quite the shock then when, years later, I first realized that Luke was far from a Jedi superhero in that scene.  In fact, everything he does as he rescues Han from Jabba is in and of the Dark Side.  That was a tough pill to swallow…

As the film begins, R2 plays a message where Luke introduces himself to Jabba the Hutt as a Jedi Knight.  When Luke appears at Jabba’s Palace, though, he is clearly sliding into the Dark Side.  Physically, he looks just like Vader or the Emperor!  He is dressed all in black and wrapped in a black cloak, face shrouded.  Echoing his father’s actions, he even uses the Force to strangle a few of the Gamorrean guards as he enters the palace.

Luke pulls a gun on Jabba Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Luke pulls a gun on Jabba
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Luke tells Jabba, “I warn you not to underestimate my powers.”  Like his father he is focused on his own abilities, cocky, and arrogant.  Yoda told Luke a Jedi uses the Force for “knowledge and defense, never attack.”  Yet when Jabba refuses to negotiate with Luke, the first thing he tries to do is shoot the Hutt!  Luke also threatens Jabba’s life twice.  First he tells Jabba, “This’ll be the last mistake you ever make.”  And second he demands, “Free us or die.”  These sorts of ultimatums and threats are not the Jedi way.  From threats to violence to arrogance to vengeance, nothing he does at Jabba’s Palace is of the Light Side.

And yet, the hero emerges,  the Jedi do return.  But they came back in a way that young me couldn’t fully understand.  Luke – and by extension the Jedi – wasn’t the sort of superhero I expected.  What Luke learns, what Luke does, is more heroic and far more important than anything that filled the pages of the superhero comics I was reading or the cartoons I was watching.

When Luke surrenders himself to Vader on Endor we see the man he was at Jabba’s Palace is no more.  Instead of threatening Vader when he doesn’t agree with him, Luke offers his life.  Luke has faith his father can be redeemed.  As opposed to the further corruption of a battle tinged with the Dark Side of the Force, Luke is willing to die for what he believes in.  Luke is calm, at peace.

While in the Emperor’s Throne Room aboard the second Death Star, Luke falls in and out of combat with his father, trying to resist the pull of the Dark Side.  Yet, it is only after he severs Vader’s hand that he realizes the truth of the power of his choices and who he can become.

The Emperor—“Good. The hate has made you powerful.  Now fulfill your destiny and take your father’s place at my side.”

[Luke switches off his lightsaber.]

Luke—“Never.”

[He throws his lightsaber away.]

Luke—“I’ll never turn to the Dark Side.  You’ve failed your highness.  I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”

Luke throws away his lightsaber. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Luke throws away his lightsaber.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

It is in that moment, with the most powerful line of the film (in my opinion, at least) that the Jedi truly return in Luke.  He is ready to die for his belief in the Light Side of the Force and for his belief in his father.  Luke is ready to give himself over to something larger than himself; he is ready to be selfless.  In that moment of nonviolent resistance and self-sacrifice Luke redeems Anakin.  What happened on Mustafar is reversed.  Vader is destroyed.  Anakin—moved by the love he has for his son who is calling out to him for help—destroys the Emperor, saves Luke, and brings balance to the Force.

Now as an adult, Return Of The Jedi is still my favorite Star Wars film but for all new reasons.  To me, nothing is more powerful than that moment – where the Jedi return and Anakin is redeemed.  It’s brilliant and exciting film-making.  Yet its importance comes from how the power of that moment extends beyond the film.  Luke not only redeems his father but offers a daring challenge to anyone watching the film.  This – love, nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and faith – is the true nature of the Light Side of the Force.  This, according to Star Wars, is the true nature of a hero.  The question then rests with us as viewers, are we brave enough to follow Luke on that path?


About the Guest Talker:

Michael J. Miller is a Theology teacher at Mercyhurst Preparatory School in Erie, PA.  He has a BA in Religious Studies from Mercyhurst University and an MA in Pastoral Studies from Gannon University.  He is proud of the many Star Wars t-shirts in his closet and always keeps two lightsabers in his desk just in case a wayward Sith ever wanders by.  He never tires of talking obsessively about all things Star Wars.