Jabba the Hutt

Luke Blows Up Jabba’s Sail Barge

“Get the gun! Point it at the deck!”

In my last post, The Gamorrean Affair, I examined the scene in Return of the Jedi where Luke enters Jabba’s Palace and uses a Force Choke on a couple of Gamorrean Guards. What I argued in that piece was that Luke unequivocally uses the Dark Side when he chokes the Guards, an act that symbolically and literally ties him to his father, Darth Vader. You can go check out the entire post HERE and see everything I had to say about the incident.

While I had plans to move onto a non-Luke topic after writing that piece, I haven’t been able to get Luke and his interactions with Jabba out of my head.  But out of all of the comments and actions in those scenes, there was one moment in particular that really kept bugging me  – at the end of the battle over the Great Pit of Carkoon, Luke blows up Jabba’s Sail Barge.

Why has this been bothering me? Welllllll, because Luke makes the unilateral decision to kill everyone who is left on Jabba’s Sail Barge EVEN THOUGH some of those individuals pose zero threat to him and his friends. Now, this isn’t to say that no one left on the Sail Barge was a threat. In fact, we know that there were many loyal (or, at least, well-paid) followers of Jabba who were willing to fight on the Hutt’s behalf. But there were clearly individuals on the Sail Barge who were non-combatants like Saelt-Marae (aka Yak Face), and Max Rebo and his band. Did Rebo deserve to die just because he was playing music for Jabba ? Or Saelt-Marae just because he was willing to watch the execution of Luke, Han, and Chewie? I mean, we may not like their association with Jabba, but that is not reason for them to be killed.

Max-Rebo-Gif
Max Rebo on the Sail Barge
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

But the fact that they are killed leads me to ask a pretty straight-forward question: What possible justification did Luke have for blowing up the Sail Barge and killing everyone who was left on it?

As it stands, what we have on our hands is a really weird ethical and moral dilemma that involves Luke killing a lot of beings which effectively makes him guilty of multiple cases of manslaughter (or rather man/alienslaughter). And, along those lines, there is really no way of exonerating Luke for this crime. Then again, why would he should be exonerated? Is the hero of the story free to act however he wishes, killing indiscriminately just so his friends are safe?

“But Mr. Imperial Talker, Luke was fighting the bad guys!”

Why yes, I suppose he was, but when he kicks the trigger of the deck cannon, he is not under attack or being threatened. And besides,there were also innocent lives present on the vessel.

Saelt-Marae1
Saelt-Marae
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

“Right, there were innocent lives, but Luke wasn’t traveling on the Sail Barge, Mr. Imperial Talker, so he had no way of knowing about Max Rebo, or Saelt-Marae, or any other non-combatants who were present.”

A fair point, Luke wasn’t traveling on the Barge and would have no way of knowing about those non-combatants. But I must ask – should we defend Luke’s actions by defending his ignorance? I would suggest that being unaware of all the present beings means that he should be even MORE cautious with his actions. Because Luke doesn’t know who else is on the Sail Barge is precisely why he should not have made the decision to blow up the craft. For all he knows, Jabba’s young son could have been on the vessel.

“Yes, well, Luke was just caught up in the battle. When he orders Leia to ‘point it [the gun] at the deck’ the viewer is as caught up in the moment as Luke, immersed in the battle raging over the Great Pit of Carkoon. We are right there with Luke as he grabs a rope, takes hold of Leia, kicks the trigger, and swings to safety. Luke is just being heroic! We can’t fault him for being caught up in the moment, for just going with the flow of the fight to save his friends even if innocent beings die…right?”

Wrong. While we can applaud the fact that Luke rescues his friends, fighting to save them does not give him carte blanche to act however he wishes during the battle. His actions must be proportional and acceptable within the context of the fight. Plus, as a burgeoning Jedi, we should expect and anticipate Luke to be extra cautious with his decisions and actions. He should be aware not only of the possibility for innocent lives to be harmed, but must be cognizant of his own mental state, his emotions, his body, and his connection with the Force.

Luke on the Sail Barge
Luke battles on the Sail Barge
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

However, awareness is not enough — Luke must also be in control of himself. And for him to have that control, he must rely on his connection with the Light Side of the Force. Luke must allow the Light to wash over him, calming his mind, his feelings, his body. If and when he must fight, he must do so within a state that ensures he will maintain a calm and peaceful disposition. Mindful of himself, Luke must act in a way that ensures innocent lives are protected and any enemies are dealt with using appropriate and reasonable means.

But in the battle over the Great Pit of Carkoon, if Luke was so swept up in the fight, then he was not truly in control of his actions, he was not calm nor at peace. Ultimately, what this means is that he was not being guided by the Light Side of the Force.

“Perhaps he was aware and in control of his thoughts/actions and knew what he was doing during the battle. If so, was he being guided by the Light Side of the Force?”

No, and for a very simple reason – if one’s actions are truly guided by the Light Side, those actions will not lead to the death of innocent beings. Nor will those actions include the indiscriminate killing of one’s enemies just because one has the means to do so. This is precisely what sets the Jedi apart from the Sith, the Light apart from the Dark.

“So does this mean Luke was being guided by the Dark Side when he blows up Jabba’s Sail Barge?”

What I would suggest is that when Luke goes to rescue Han and the others from Jabba the Hutt, he has clearly not internalized the teachings he received from Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. He might fancy himself a Jedi, but blowing up the Sail Barge is unnecessary and taking the lives of countless beings is a clear indication that he is not guided by the Light and is NOT a Jedi.

As for being guided by the Dark Side, well, I will let you decide that one for yourself. Leave a comment and let me know what ya think.

The Seduction of the Dark Side

Guest Talker: Michael J. Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke—“Is the Dark Side stronger?”

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

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

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

Luke—“Tell me why I can’t…”

Yoda—“No, no! There is no ‘why.’”

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

Luke—“What’s in there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Check out these other Guest Talker posts by Michael Miller:

The Nature of Hero

A Man in Debt to a Hutt

So, What’s Luke Been Up To?

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.