Luke Skywalker

Faith in Something Greater

Speeding down the Death Star trench in his X-Wing Starfighter, pursued by the villain Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker does something unexpected: he turns off his Starfighter’s targeting computer. Rebel leaders question Luke’s decision, asking him if something is wrong, but the young man responds simply and directly. “I’m alright,” he states, no further information provided. Nor could he provide explanation if he wanted, as time is of the essence and the reasoning for his decision, quite frankly, defies reason.

Only moments before turning off the computer, the tension in A New Hope’s climactic battle was amplified by conditions outside of Luke’s control. Leading his compatriots – Wedge Antilles and Biggs Darklighter – “full throttle” into the Death Star trench, the farm boy-turned-Rebel pilot soon finds himself alone. Taking a critical hit to his fighter, Antilles is ordered by Luke to pull out of the trench while Darklighter, a childhood friend whom Luke only just reconnected with, is killed. Already filled with anxiety that the audience and Rebel leaders alike could hear in his voice, Skywalker is now faced with the responsibility of destroying the planet killing Death Star entirely by himself.

Anticipation continuing to mount, the distance to his target seeming to close at an incredibly slow pace, Luke suddenly hears the voice of his recently deceased mentor Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi. Speaking from “the beyond,” the old Jedi Master tells the young pilot to “Use the Force.” Confused, Skywalker continues to look through his targeting computer apparatus only to be implored by Kenobi to “let go” and to “trust me.” Finally understanding, he switches off his computer.

TargetingComputer
Luke Skywalker looks through his targeting computer.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

That Luke responds to Kenobi by turning off the computer is unexpected because one would anticipate that defeating the technological monstrosity that is the Death Star should require some form of technological assistance. After all, in order for the Rebel pilots to destroy the Empire’s “ultimate power in the universe” they must travel down a trench and fire their proton torpedoes with precision into an exhaust port that is only two meters wide. In turn, as the climactic battle unfolds, the audience is periodically allowed to witness the targeting system on the Death Star AND the targeting systems on the Rebel fighters, a cinematic maneuver which works to heighten tension. The entire battle is, in a very real sense, a race against time to see which side can be the first to use their technology to target and destroy their enemy, something we are constantly reminded of through A New Hope’s final act.

On this point, it’s worth remembering that Red Leader, commander of the Alliance X-Wing force, and presumably the best X-Wing pilot in the battle, does fire a torpedo shot at the Death Star’s weak spot using his targeting computer. In keeping with the film’s narrative, these torpedoes miss the mark so that Luke could lead his own deadly trench run. And yet, Red Leader’s miss is important for another salient reason: it shows that even relying on available technology does not guarantee success, and if Luke is to be heroic,he will also need to rely on a great deal of luck. Or, something far greater than luck.

Rather than depending upon on his artificially constructed computer to show him the target, or hoping he somehow gets lucky, Luke heeds Kenobi’s words to use the Force, the immanent and mystical energy field that pervades the galaxy. After only a moment of hesitation, Skywalker takes a leap of faith, believing he will succeed by relying on that which, we know, he has only begun to explore. Only days before this moment Skywalker knew absolutely nothing about the Force, nor was he aware of his strong connection to it. Now, at this most critical of moments, when failure is not an option, where the fate of the Rebellion and galaxy rest son his shoulders, the young pilot defies all logic by allowing himself to succumb to the ebb and flow of this mysterious Force. In this unexpected moment, precisely because he gives himself over to something greater than himself – or technology, or reason, or luck – Luke Skywalker takes a giant step forward into a realm of possibility more profound and amazing than he, or even we, could have imagined. And in doing so he becomes the hero he was always destined to be. 

Haikuesday: The Truce at Bakura

Published: ’94.
The Adventure Continues.
New Saga Begins.


Endor victory!
While Rebels celebrate an
unknown foe appears.


Ancient drone dispatched.
Bakura under attack.
Empire in need.


Ambition of the
Ssi-ruuvi Imperium:
Entech and Conquer.


Aided by human
Dev Sibwarra, the Ssi-ruuk
entech detainees.


Head of Entechment,
Not a very large Ssi-ruu,
Master Firwirrung


Captured prisoners,
their life force drained into droids.
Ssi-ruuk Entechment.


How do Ssi-ruuk look?
Think dino-dragons with guns
and six feet tall…ish.


Manipulated,
Dev Sibwarra’s mind succumbs
to one called “Bluescale”


Bluescale’s Ssi-ruu name?
Sh’tk’ith…which I think is
just three syllables.


Ssi-ruuk Admiral
Ivpikkis leads his fleet in
Bakuran battle.


Led by Skywalker,
Rebels arrive as Ssi-ruuk
press attack on Imps.


Cruiser-Carrier,
Gunships and a lone Corvette.
The Rebel Task Force.


Tessa Manchisco,
Captain of Reb Carrier.
Spoiler: she dies.

Haiku Addendum:
Her death is pretty ho-hum,
plot blip at book’s end.


Class of Carrier:
Quasar-Fire bulk cruiser.
Its name: the Flurry.

Star Wars Trivia:
Quasar-Fire first appears
in this Star Wars book!

Did you know that a
Quasar-Fire is stolen
in Star Wars Rebels?

Here is another
haiku in which I say the
name Quasar-Fire.

I promise I won’t
say Quasar-Fire again.
Oh crap, I just did.


Ssi-ruuvi flagship,
Shriwirr, a huge egg-shaped ship.
Was a ’90s toy.


Ssi-ruuk in Retreat!
Empire and Alliance
win the day…for now.


Commander Thanas,
Imperial Officer.
Defects at book’s end.


Wilek Nereus
Imperial Governor
Bakura System


Gaeri Captison.
A Bakuran Senator.
Luke will crush on her.

Haiku Addendum:
Gaeri, short for Gaeriel.
Such a lovely name.


Defense Minister
Blaine Harris is also in
Force Heretic II.


A fancy dinner.
Leia and Wilek sign the
truce at Bakura.


Never tell Han odds.
Also, don’t think he will trust
any Imp allies.


On needed shore leave,
Mon Cala mistaken for
Ssi-ruuk invaders.


“Who are you,” she asks.
“I am your father, Leia.”
“Leave” is her reply.


Skywalker obsessed,
Firwirrung and Bluescale hatch
a Luke-nabbing plan.


Rebs and Empire,
Enemies work as allies.
But Nereus plots.

A Ssi-Ruuk offer:
Turn over Skywalker and
they leave Bakura.

Two birds with one stone.
Nereus accepts but lays
a Ssi-ruuvi trap.

Ingested by Luke,
Olabrian Trichoid will
hatch in his stomach.

Haiku Addendum:
the larvae hatch and nibble
towards their host’s heart.


So what of the droids?
They attempt to translate the 
Ssi-ruuvi language.


Imminent Attack!
Ssi-ruuvi forces strike while
a team hunts for Luke.


Leia arrested!
Nereus continues his
devious scheming.


Haiku Addendum:
He had cause for her arrest.
She was scheming too.


Bakuran revolt.
With Prime Minister detained,
the citizens rise.


Remember that time
C-3PO cosplayed in
stormtrooper armor?


Remember that time
Chewie shot C-3PO?
I think you know why.


Han to the rescue!
The bold General embarks
on a solo plan.


Skywalker captured!
With Sibwarra’s help, Ssi-ruuk
seize their Jedi prize.


Clever deception.
“Unconscious” Luke taken to
Ssi-ruuvi flagship.


Bakuran Assault!
Ssi-ruuk attack Imps and Rebs!
Wedge into battle!


Springing to action,
Luke fights back with help from Dev.
Two more dead Ssi-ruuk.


“Ssi-ruuk can’t use stairs,”
Sibwarra tells Skywalker.
To the power lifts!


The Flurry destroyed!
An Imperial betrayal.
The truce is broken.

In case you forgot
the Flurry is a Quasar-
Fire carrier.


Cough, Cough, Cough, Cough, Cough
The larvae chew on Luke’s lungs.
Cough, Cough, Cough, Cough, Cough

Haiku Addendum:
I won’t tell you if Luke dies.
No spoilers here.


Ssi-ruuvi retreat.
Imperial surrender.
Bakura is free!


I have to be frank:
I prefer this tale over
Shattered Empire.

Haiku Addendum:
I read it in the fourth-grade.
Impressionable.


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)

Darth Vader (April 2017)

The Battle of Scarif (May 2017)

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. 

hansoloanewhope2
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. 

The First Droids

When this month’s Star Wars ComLINKS topic – Favorite Droid – was announced over at Anakin and His Angel, my mind initially went blank…for days. As I thought about the topic, about what droid in Star Wars is my favorite, I just couldn’t come up with an answer. I really wanted to contribute to the topic, to give my two cents on which droid I love the most, but the harder I thought about it, the more difficult it actually became to settle on one.

This difficulty really boiled down to a rather basic dilemma. Basically, I have never given the topic of “favorite droid” much thought before writing this piece. While droids are an indelible part of the Star Wars universe, my personal enjoyment of droids has rarely gone deeper than surface level appreciation. This isn’t to suggest I never engage in any thoughtful contemplation of droids and their role(s) in the canon of Star Wars stories. Nor am I suggesting that I don’t have any especially fond appreciation for individual droids. As a matter of fact, I really love Chopper’s attitude, the absurdity of WAC-47, the adorableness of BB-8, would be thrilled to have my own battalion of battle droids, and am particularly fond of HK-47 and his penchant to”burn holes through meatbags…”  Rather, all I am saying is that I don’t get as excited about droids as other fans of the franchise (check out The Astromech Journal to see what I mean), and because that’s the case, no one droid really stands out above any other.

Nevertheless, there is a caveat: R2-D2 and C-3PO occupy their own, special status in my personal “droidom.” While I could have chosen them as my favorite droids, for me these two transcend the confines of mere favoritism. Artoo and Threepio will always and forever occupy the pinnacle of my fascination with Star Wars droids, a pinnacle that no other droid can ever hope to reach. And the reason for this is obvious; Artoo and Threepio were the first droids we ever met in the franchise, setting the bar high for all other droids  (especially those with independent personalities like BB-8 and Chopper). But there is more to this fascination and love. Brought to life in A New Hope by Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and the late Kenny Baker (R2-D2), these two droid companions are also the very first characters we meet in all of Star Wars, a fact that often feels overshadowed by the endless cacophony of Star Wars stories. For the greater part of A New Hope‘s opening act, Artoo and Threepio drive the film forward, they are the main characters and are, at times, the only “beings” present on screen. Taking us on a journey that begins in space and descends to a desolate, wind and sand-swept planet, the two droids – who add a bit of humor through their bickering –  will only pass off the “main character torch” when they arrive at a lone homestead where a young man named Luke lives with his Aunt and Uncle. And, well, from there you know the rest.

r2-and-3po-desert
R2-D2 and C-3PO stranded on a desolate world.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The first droids we ever meet in Star Wars, the first characters we ever meet in Star Wars. And yet, what truly stands out about Artoo and Threepio, what cemented these two in my heart and mind as a young Star Wars fan, is that until we finally meet Luke Skywalker these two droids are the hope represented in the film’s title. Again, with the cacophony of Star Wars stories in circulation, this is easy to overlook  but necessary to remember. For the better part of A New Hope‘s first act, R2-D2 and C-3PO are the “only hope” for a galaxy terrorized by a galactic empire. While it is obvious that the young Skywalker is the hero of the film, the “new hope” for the galaxy, so too are all those who willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, work for the common goal of destroying the Empire’s Death Star. In this way, A New Hope is not a film solely about one young man who will become a hero, but is a collection of individuals – humans, aliens, and yes, even droids – who through their actions radiate a message of hope not only to the galaxy, but more importantly, to you and I. 


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

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The Hundred-Year Darkness

In Marvel comics Star Wars 009, Luke Skywalker finds himself in dire straits on Nar Shaddaa when he is captured by a towering and oddly muscular Hutt named Grakkus. Knocked unconscious, Luke will wake in the home of Grakkus the Hutt and quickly discovers that this Hutt is a collector of Jedi lore and artifacts. Considering that Luke’s journey to Nar Shaddaa was part of a quest to discover anything/everything about the Jedi Order, it could easily be argued that his capture by Grakkus was the will of the Force. This possibility becomes even more likely when Grakkus commands Luke to use the Force to open a Jedi holocron, giving the young Skywalker until the count of five to do so.

Now, for those who are unaware, a holocron is a small polyhedron that a Jedi (or Sith) uses to store and pass on important information. Activated by a Force-user, once opened a holocron projects a holographic image of the individual who originally recorded it, and this hologram will then provide lessons on the information contained within. When Luke is ordered by Grakkus to open a holocron, Luke’s response comes as little surprise, at least to the reader. He states, “I’ve never even seen one of those things.” Of course, the massive Hutt is unswayed, not caring what Luke has to say. Since Luke admitted his father was a Jedi, carries a lightsaber, and is seeking passage to the  location of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, Grakkus is convinced Luke can open the holocron…

…and the Hutt isn’t wrong.

Having counted to five, Grakkus orders his guards to kill Luke, and it is in this very moment that Luke is able to call upon the Force and open not only the holocron that Grakkus holds, but every holocron in the room. Suddenly, Luke and his captor are surrounded by the holographic images of long-dead Jedi, each of them beginning their teachings.

Hundred Year Darkness (2)
Holographic images of past Jedi present the information stored within their respective holocrons.

Photo Credit: MARVEL Comics – Star Wars #009

Needless to say, but there is a lot that could be said about this moment in Star Wars 009, especially in regards to Luke and his burgeoning potential with the Force. The thing is, I’m not really interested in digging into every angle or every thought the scene conjures in my mind, in part because this piece would quickly become a dissertation.  Instead, what I really want to share is my “holy shit” reaction to one of the statements made by the image of an unknown Jedi projected by a holocron. That long-dead Jedi states the following:

Once we were brothers in the Force. But from the Hundred-Year Darkness were born the Sith.

When I read that line, I immediately stopped reading the comic because I just couldn’t contain my excitement. There are moments when I am experiencing the Star Wars universe (or another universe I love) when I am overcome with joy and have to let it burst out of me. When that happens, I just go with the flow, and in this case, I stopped reading and called a friend to tell him what I had come across in Star Wars 009.

Why did I react this way? Simple: the Hundred-Year Darkness comes straight out of the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU).

Mentioned by name for the first time in the Dark Horse comic Tales of the Jedi: Dark Lords of the Sith 3: Descent to the Dark Side (published in 1994), the Hundred-Year Darkness was an ancient, century long conflict between Dark Jedi who were experimenting with forbidden alchemy and the Jedi Order which recognized the danger these Dark Jedi possessed. For the sake of brevity, I will spare you all the minute details about the conflict, but in the end, the Dark Jedi lost the war and their survivors – including their leader Ajunta Pall – were exiled from Republic space. In the unexplored regions of the galaxies Outer Rim, these exiles came across a world named Korriban which was inhabited by a primitive civilization known as the Sith. Worshiped as gods, the Dark Jedi were given the title Jen’ari (Dark Lord), becoming the very first Dark Lords of the Sith. 

With just one line in Star Wars 009, a momentous event from the EU – an event which leads directly to the formation of the Sith and serves as the preamble to ALL of the Jedi/Sith conflicts – was preserved in the Disney Canon. But how much of it was maintained beyond it’s name and the basic facts we learn from the unknown Jedi? Well, that is the mystery, one I have wrestled with since Luke unlocked the holocron. 

In reality, there is no easy way to answer the question, particularly since the mysterious Jedi utters few words about the Hundred-Year Darkness. The first piece of his statement – “Once we were brothers in the Force” – points to a time long before the Hundred-Year Darkness, a time when the Jedi Order was whole. What really makes this line stand out though is that it mirrors a line spoken by the spirit of Sith Lord Marka Ragnos in Tales of the Jedi: The Golden Age of the Sith 2: Funeral for a Dark Lord. Ragnos states “Once we were mighty Jedi of the Republic, brothers in the Force…,” and goes on to describe the formation of the Sith Order. The fact that the two short statements almost perfectly match is, of course, not a coincidence. With the Hundred-Year Darkness first appearing in Tales of the JediStar Wars 009 author Jason Aaron was clearly giving the Dark Horse series a small nod by quoting Marka Ragnos. Admittedly, this raises another interesting question: since the Hundred-Year Darkness has been maintained, does this also mean Ragnos – who lived nearly two millenia after the Hundred-Year Darkness – also exists in the Disney Canon? 

MarkaRagnos
The specter of Sith Lord Marka Ragnos speaks to his listeners about the formation of the Sith Order.

Photo Credit: Dark Horse Comics – Tales of the Jedi: The Golden Age of the Sith 2: Funeral for a Dark Lord

Personally, I hope he does. Then again, I also hope Ajunta Pall, whom I mentioned previously, is also  maintained in the canon. In large part this is because Ajunta Pall, unlike Marka Ragnos, is an actual participant in the Hundred-Year Darkness and ends up as the very first Dark Lord of the Sith. In my mind, it makes sense not only to preserve the conflict in name, but also specific aspects like characters, battles, and locations. I say this knowing full well that if/when the Hundred-Year Darkness is retold, it will not be exactly the same. This is no more apparent than by the simple fact that the Dark Jedi in the Disney Canon will find their way to the Sith homeworld of Moraband and not Korriban. The planet itself is exactly the same, but the name change ensures that the story cannot perfectly match. 

Then again, it doesn’t HAVE to perfectly match. While I would personally love for not just Ajunta Pall but all the Dark  Jedi to be returned in the new canon, chances are that just won’t happen. And frankly, that’s okay. In just two sentences in Star Wars 009, the mysterious Jedi establishes the most important facts about the Hundred-Year Darkness, points I have already mentioned. Otherwise, in the Disney Canon, how the Hundred-Year Darkness unfolds is really open ended. For example, whereas the Hundred-Year Darkness ends in the Expanded Universe with the Battle of Corbos (depicted in the featured image), perhaps the final showdown between the two Jedi factions will take place on another world in the new  version of the conflict. Honestly, either way is perfectly fine by me; two versions of the Hundred-Year Darkness simply means two versions to enjoy, learn about, and analyze. 

Still, it’s certainly possible that the Hundred-Year Darkness never receives a new treatment, at least beyond small references here and there. At the moment, Star Wars storytelling is focused primarily on the period surrounding and following the Original Trilogy, and the galaxy’s ancient history might remain relatively vacant of new stories for years to come. However, the seeds of that ancient history have been planted in small and subtle ways – such as the reference to the Hundred-Year Darkness in Star Wars 009 – and I really hope those seeds end up blossoming into full-fledged stories down the road.

But until those seeds do blossom, and even after they do, you’ll find me continuing to explore and enjoy the ancient history in the Expanded Universe. 

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.

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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: @AndrewinBelfast

So, What’s Luke Been Up To?

Guest Talker: Michael J. Miller

In the months leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, one of the most prominent questions on everyone’s mind was – Where is Luke Skywalker? He wasn’t in any of the trailers. He was shockingly absent from the poster. We only heard his voice, narrating a slightly altered version of what he tells Leia about his family and the Force in Return Of The Jedi. Speculation was rampant. And there were even those (apparently the ones who’d never watched Star Wars or totally missed the point of the whole narrative) who were insistent that Luke had fallen to the Dark Side and perhaps was even Kylo Ren. Now, all those questions have been cleared up. But the most important question for me still remains. And I hope I get an answer worthy of the mythic hero of Star Wars.

The answer to this question is important because, to put it simply, Luke is important.  Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars. Yes, it’s Anakin’s story but Luke is the force (no pun intended) of redemption that allows Vader to do what must be done. If Anakin is the savior, Luke is the redeemer. And both of them are necessary to bring balance to the Force. So we know where Luke was at the end of Return Of The Jedi – happily celebrating a major victory with his family and friends, while the redeemed Force ghost of his father looks on with Obi-Wan and Yoda. And we know where Luke is at the end of The Force Awakens – doing his mystic hermit thing on a not-so-easily-accessed lake front property in utter isolation. Even R2 was left behind. His hand hasn’t been cared for (presumably), leaving the synthiflesh to rot away and expose the metallic hand underneath.

LukeGif
Celebration taking place behind him, Luke looks off towards the Force ghosts of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and his father.

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

The question I need answered (the question I am so, so scared won’t be answered with the clarity and detail it absolutely needs) is what has Luke been doing in the thirty years since the Battle of Endor??  One of the major faults I have found with the Disney Canon is that (with few exceptions) it gives us no real worthwhile details. It’s all painted in broad strokes. We are left struggling to fill in almost as many gaps during those thirty years as we had before The Force Awakens was released. Disney seems to perpetually tell stories set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, stories (more often than not in my opinion) having little to no significant impact on the saga, while ignoring the gaping holes in the timeline Star Wars fans want to know about.

The major exception to this rule would be Claudia Gray’s beautiful and brilliant new novel, Star Wars: Bloodline. This was the first novel I’ve encountered since Disney took over that gave me the thrill I almost always found with the old EU. It gave a detailed look at the Star Wars galaxy. It expanded on what was in the films in a way that made logical sense.  And the expansions were helpful and felt necessary. Also, she gave us both a picture of Leia that was organic and dynamic as well as new characters who were exciting and seemed to naturally fit in the Star Wars universe. Ransolm Casterfo is the first new character I’ve found in the Disney Canon who seemed as complex and integral to the Star Wars universe as characters like Pellaeon, Natasi Daala, and Talon Karde did the first time I met them.

The novel also left us with some MAJOR question marks in regard to Luke Skywalker. (If you haven’t read Bloodline yet, this paragraph and the next contains minor spoilers about moments Luke is mentioned in passing in the novel but doesn’t address anything that’s central to the plot of the book.) You see, Bloodline is set six years before The Force Awakens. Granted, we only get glimpses of what Luke’s been up to since Return Of The Jedi. But it doesn’t seem like he’s been doing much. He and Ben Solo are bouncing around the galaxy doing…something. 

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The cover of Star Wars: Bloodline.
Photo Credit – Del Rey

A discussion in the Senate sees Lady Carise Sindian remark, “Princess Leia spoke of her brother, the famous Luke Skywalker, who has been little seen in the public sphere for many years now.”  Then Tai-Lin Garr replies, “Since the Rebellion, Skywalker has lived a private life.  He has asked no more of the New Republic than any of its other citizens, nor have we just cause to ask any more of him than the substantial service he has already given.”  So the last of the Jedi decided to…retire?  He’s road tripping with his nephew?  Whaaaat??     

Judging from the little information the new Disney Canon has provided us, Luke is apparently completely disconnected from the New Republic and almost entirely cutoff from his family.  We can infer then IN THE PRECEEDING TWENTY-FOUR  YEARS he didn’t rebuild the Jedi Order.  So, I ask again, what was he doing?

The final conversation Luke has with Yoda before his death on Dagobah makes this even more confusing.  As Yoda lays down for the last time he tells Luke, “Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall.  That is the way of things, the way of the Force.”  His final words to Luke are, “Luke…when gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be.  Luke…the Force runs strong in your family.  Pass on what you have learned. Luke…there is…another…Skywalker.”  The literal final instruction Yoda – the Jedi Master that Kenobi told Luke to find to complete his training – gave Luke was to pass on what he had learned And the Disney Canon wants us to accept that Luke’s response was, “Nah.”  I don’t buy it.  It doesn’t make any sense.

Luke wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He spends much of the Original Trilogy trying to become a Jedi Knight like his father.  In A New Hope, Obi-Wan taught Luke, “The Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy before the dark times, before the Empire.”  So he knows that the Jedi were an order who protected people during the Old Republic before Vader and the Emperor wiped them out.  He finds Yoda, completes his training, is instructed to pass on what he’d learned, and THEN DOES NOTHING FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS. 

Why??  Again, it makes no sense and a legitimate answer must be given. 

This story must be told and it must be told with a depth and intimacy to rival Claudia Gray’s depiction of Leia in Bloodline. A few lines of exposition (and maybe a few flashbacks) in Episode VIII aren’t going to cut it for me. Luke Skywalker is too important a character for that! We need to understand why he turns his back on everything he was, everything he did, and everything he was instructed to do.

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The cover of Jedi Search, first book in The Jedi Academy Trilogy. 
Photo Credit – Del Rey

As I watched Yoda’s death scene in Return Of The Jedi a few more times, I wondered if perhaps Disney wanted us to buy that Yoda told Luke to pass on what he learned to his family alone. You could make the argument, from the phrasing, that Luke could have interpreted it that way. But we know this isn’t the case. In The Force Awakens, Han tells Rey and Finn that Luke was bringing up a new group of Jedi when Kylo Ren cut the order apart and Luke took off.  We know that there can’t be that many Skywalkers around.  So, in the six years between Bloodline and The Force Awakens, he was (finally!) training new Jedi.  But the question remains, why did he wait?  What was he doing??

In the Expanded Universe, Luke spent much of his time after the Battle of Endor learning everything he could about the Jedi to rebuild the Order. By seven years after Endor (in Kevin J. Anderson’s “The Jedi Academy Trilogy”) Luke was taking his first tentative steps in recruiting new Jedi and training them on Yavin 4.  Yes there were problems.  There were ups and downs. But Luke was passing on what he had learned and trying to restore the Jedi to the galaxy. Why isn’t he doing that in the Disney Canon?  Why isn’t he advising the New Republic in any role?  What could possibly be going on that’s more important than all of this?

All Luke Skywalker, last of the Jedi, does post Return Of The Jedi in the Disney Canon is…fight for shrubbery??  In the (weirdly lackluster) conclusion to Shattered Empire, our first new canon look at life post-Endor, we see Luke Skywalker and Lieutenant Shara Bey infiltrate the highly secure Imperial base on Vetine…to save two trees. They’re important I guess?  Luke says of the trees, “These are all that remain of the tree that grew in the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant.  The Force is with them.” And they are clearly important enough for Luke to risk his and Shara’s lives by invading this facility three months after the Battle of Endor. But they’re also important enough for Luke to just randomly and spontaneously give one away to Shara so she could plant it in her family garden??  What?  So Luke redeems his father, fights for a shrub (a shrub we never hear about again), and then does absolutely nothing

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Luke, stands before the remains of the Tree that grew in the Jedi Temple.
Photo Credit – MARVEL Comics; Star Wars: Shattered Empire, Part IV

We’re supposed to believe that the man who destroyed the first Death Star, who became the last Jedi Knight, who learned from Yoda, who redeemed Anakin Skywalker so balance could be restored to the Force just walked away?  He did nothing. For over twenty years. He was just sitting around…waiting?  Why?  WHY? 

The cynic in me believes it’s because Lawrence Kasdan remains pissy that Lucas didn’t use the darker ending he wanted for Return Of The Jedi.  As is well documented, Kasdan wanted Han Solo dead and Luke, so broken by his ordeal, to fade into the mist like Shane at the end of the famous Western of the same name.  Lucas didn’t go that route (in part, I’d argue because he understands the purpose of myth and what lesson Star Wars was supposed to be teaching us) and Kasdan has been open about his displeasure with it.  Well now The Force Awakens rolls around and look what happens!  With Kasdan helping with the writing duties Han Solo dies (admittedly, in a powerful moment that I feel served the character and the story well) and Luke Skywalker has disappeared only to be found out in the wilderness alone, not unlike a wounded gunslinger haunted by what he’s had to do (something that doesn’t fit his character or the tone of the end of Return Of The Jedi at all).

Cynicism aside, this is still a MAJOR question that needs an appropriate answer.  There’s no logical reason Luke Skywalker hasn’t been active in the galaxy since the Battle of Endor.  And every instance he’s shown up in the Disney Canon has only served to make his absence and apparent apathy more confusing. So, when the time comes, I hope we get a story that honors who Luke Skywalker is. The relevant question for Episode VIII is no longer Where is Luke Skywalker? but rather What has Luke Skywalker been doing for THIRTY YEARS that is more important than rebuilding the Jedi?  The answer, whenever Disney decides to give it to us, better be damn good.  Luke Skywalker as a mythic hero, and we as Star Wars fans, deserve nothing less. 


Check out these other Guest Talker posts by Michael Miller:

The Nature of Hero

The Seduction of the Dark Side

A Man in Debt to a Hutt

     

Imperial Walkers on the North Ridge

With the one year anniversary of The Imperial Talker coming up, I thought it’d be appropriate to do a post on Imperial Walkers (I think you know why). What follows are some general thoughts and impressions on the use of the Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back


Echo Station 3-T-8. We have spotted Imperial walkers.” – Rebel soldier

A few minutes before the Imperial Walkers make their first appearance in The Empire Strikes Back, we watch as Rebel infantry prepare for the oncoming ground assault. The musical score that plays hints at the tension these soldiers are feeling as they make their preparations and scan the distant horizon for Imperial forces. But all that can be seen in the distance are cloudy billows of snow, made, we can presume, by Imperial ships landing forces on the glacial Moorsh Moraine.

When the enemy is spotted minutes later, shortly after the first transport safely evacuates Echo Base, the tension is cut for viewer and soldier alike. Now, as we look off at the horizon, small black objects can be seen, and a strange mechanical sound, albeit faint, can be heard. In a flash, the infantry prepare their weapons, taking aim while one soldier, a sergeant, places electrobinoculars up to his eyes. Transported into his eye’s, we now get our first glimpse of an Imperial Walker…or rather, of a Walker’s massive foot slamming down to the ground.

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The foot of an Imperial Walker slams to the ground.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

I have always loved this shot, the fact that the first time we see the All-Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) – the technical name for the Imperial Walker – we only see a solitary foot. To me, this shot of an Imperial Walker’s foot is one of the most brilliant shots in all of Star Wars. The image serves as a momentary metaphor, a visual statement informing us of what the Empire plans to do to the Rebels on Hoth: crush them. 

Having zoomed in too closely, the Rebel soldier begins to zoom out and pan up, giving us a full profile of the towering war machine the foot belongs too. In turn, as he continues to zoom out, two more Imperial Walkers come into view. Just from looking at them, one can easily tell that these massive, mechanical beasts are perfectly Imperial, each one serving as a visual reminder of the power the Empire possesses, even after the loss of the Death Star.

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The Rebel soldier zooms out and a number of Imperial Walkers come into view.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Added to this visual reminder of the Empire’s power, though, is also the fact that these slow, cumbersome war machines are marching across an open and barren tundra. In short, General Veers, the commander of the Imperial ground assault, has opted for a frontal assault against a well-fortified position, a position that has received no aerial or artillery bombardment. Logic would suggest that the Imperial force will be cut to shreds, and yet, that is far from what happens…

As the battle opens, it quickly becomes apparent the AT-AT is formidable beyond compare. As Rebel soldiers fire weapons of all types at the advancing machines, nothing happens. Luke Skywalker himself, leading a squadron of T-47 Airspeeders in the battle, exclaims the obvious early in the battle: the armor on the Walkers is too strong for blasters. Some other tactic must be used to slow the advance of these mechanical beasts.

Well, another tactic does work when the Airspeeder flown by Wedge Antilles and  his gunner Wes Janson, trip a Walker with a tow cable. However, it is also the ONLY time this particular tactic will work. Surely, other Airspeeder pilots and gunners followed suit and attempted to destroy the Walkers with tow cables, but it is clear that none were successful. And so, the Walkers continue their march towards the Rebel position, and in the process even knock Skywalker out of the fight when his Airspeeder is hit and crashes. It certainly is telling that the hero of the Rebellion, the pilot who destroyed the Death Star, is shot down during the Battle of Hoth, a clear indication that even he cannot defeat the Empire alone.

What his crash also signifies, though, is the turning point in the Battle of Hoth. Even if his crash is not the tactical turning point, the collapse of Rebel defenses, in the film at least, begins after Luke is knocked out of the fight. We witness this collapse first-hand as the Rebel infantry, whom we earlier watched preparing for battle, now flee their trenches, shouts of “retreat” and “fall back” echoing down the line. In what I would consider to be one of the most iconic shots in all of Star Wars, we see the Imperial Walkers in the background towering over the panicked Rebel soldiers who are in the foreground (the picture is below). The image helps to give us a clear understanding of just how massive these Walkers are compared to the average human, another visual reminder of the size and power of the Empire, and a clear sign that the Rebellion is much smaller and far weaker than its enemy. In a sense, we already know this to be true, but it is fascinating, and chilling, to see it expressed so poignantly in this particular scene.

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An iconic Star Wars image: Imperial Walkers tower over the retreating Rebel infantry. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Interestingly, immediately following this iconic scene, Luke Skywalker reappears and uses some creative heroics to destroy another Imperial Walker. While his action is not enough to stem the tide of the Imperial assault, we can certainly assume that some of the retreating Rebels would have been emboldened by the sudden destruction of an AT-AT. Still, the deed is far too little, too late. Only after Luke’s small victory, General Veers, commanding the attack from his own Walker, will destroy the shield generator that protects the Rebel base, and the Battle of Hoth comes to an end.

Thoughts on the (One-Armed) Wampa

My Star Warsie preferences more often than not boil down to one thing: my childhood love of the franchise. This is why, for example, I am a die-hard fan of the infamous Grand Admiral Thrawn. Since I read The Thrawn Trilogy over and over as a kid, I naturally became obsessed with the strategically gifted Chiss. And, since I watched The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) far more than the other two Original Trilogy films, the characters, places, events, and creatures from ESB stuck with me. Which leads me to the wampa.

Something  I have always appreciated about The Empire Strikes Back is how the initial tension in the film is unexpected, coming from a natural cause – an indigenous creature. With little warning other than the agitation of Luke’s tauntaun,  a wampa – Hoth’s apex predator – suddenly appears, launching itself at Luke and his mount. The last time we saw Luke, at the end of A New Hope, he was receiving a medal for heroically destroying the Death Star, but within the first few minutes of The Empire Strikes Back, our hero is incapacitated and being dragged away by a massive snow beast. Absolutely brilliant!!!  The use of the wampa at the outset of ESB is a perfect reminder that the galaxy far, far away, while exotic and exciting, is also exceedingly dangerous. Not even our heroes can prepare for every eventuality and danger that may be lurking, and Luke was certainly unprepared for this ambush.

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The wampa attacks, knocking Luke off of his tauntaun.

Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

But the wampa deserves a lot of credit. Luke may have been caught unaware, but so was his tauntaun, which doesn’t see or smell the predator until it’s already too late. Sneaking up on Luke is one thing but the tauntaun is a different matter. Remember, the tauntaun is native to the ice planet, and are natural prey for wampas. Certainly these snowlizards have evolved defensive mechanisms such as their sense of smell to warn  them of danger, especially important since the wampa’s pristine, white coat camouflages it in the snow. The fact that the tauntaun is caught unaware is proof that the wampa is not to be trifled with, a clear testament to the keen hunting skills of these monstrous beasts. 

I can imagine the wampa stalking the tauntaun, and the strange “thing” on top of it, with incredible stealth, moving closer and closer to its prey. As it moves closer, the wampa observes the body language of the tauntaun and listens the sounds it’s making, gauging whether the snowlizard is aware of impending danger. Realizing that its prey has not caught wind of danger, the wampa sets itself up for a strike, attacking while the tauntaun and the “thing” idle on the open tundra. The ambush complete, the wampa drags the spoils of its victory through the snow, back to its cave.

The Wampa Cave

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The Wampa hears Luke and moves towards him.

Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

When we see Luke again, after being dragged away, he is hanging upside down inside the cave the wampa calls home. At the same time, off in the distance, we can also hear the wampa and the tauntaun, the former letting out a bloodcurdling howl while the latter cries out in terror and pain. But we don’t just hear the wampa, we also see it feasting, ripping into the limb of (I presume) Luke’s still living tauntaun. Disturbing but pretty cool, especially since we see blood and drool dripping down its pristine white fur. Plus, watching the wampa eat – which was not added until the Special Edition of ESB was released in the 90s – also provides perspective, allowing us to witness how massive and deadly this creature truly is. When the wampa becomes aware that its other captured prey is attempting to escape, and it begins moving to intervene, this new perspective on the wampas size should make us thankful that Luke has his father’s old lightsaber. Or let me say it like this: I’m not entirely sure a blaster would have helped Luke survive.

Yet, survive the encounter Luke does. Freeing himself in the nick of time, Luke is able to awkwardly wield the lightsaber and slice off the wampa’s right arm, causing it to let out a cry of pain and agony. Honestly, I have always felt a feeling of remorse for the wampa in that moment. Its capture of Luke was nothing personal, just survival, a matter of securing a meal. The wampa would hardly starve if it allowed Luke to escape, but why WOULD it let him escape? When it attacks Luke the second time, it certainly isn’t thinking this “thing” will fight back – does anything, other than another wampa, ever fight back? Of course not, but in this case its prey happens to do just that, and as a result the wampa suffers.

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The wampa cries out in pain after it is wounded.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

It’s easy to forget that as Luke flees the cave, scrambling his way into the windswept tundra of Hoth, the now one-armed wampa remains behind. At that point, the wampa simply falls out of our minds as the events of the film unfold. However, I can’t help but wonder what happened to it after Luke fled, and I bet I’m not the only one. To be fair, the Expanded Universe novel Darksaber, set many years after ESB, involves Luke heading back to Hoth where he re-encounters the wampa he maimed years before. I won’t go into all the details about this particular meeting, but will say that I never really cared for Darksaber. Still, you should check out the book if you’re curious about Luke’s (non-canonical) second run-in with the beast.

Of course, I do think it reasonable to believe the wampa survived its vicious wound. Chances are it would have needed to change its hunting techniques, but I think our one-armed friend could handle the task. Granted, if the wound did cause its eventual downfall, it would probably be due to a run in with another wampa or perhaps poachers. Still, until I find out otherwise, until some new and official story establishes the death of the one-armed wampa, I’m just gonna keep believing it’s still out there, roaming the cold, windswept plains of Hoth.


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

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