There is nothing truly remarkable about the design on the shirt (pictured above). For all intents and purposes, it is otherwise run-of-the-mill. The partial quote emblazoned in capital letters on is a recognizable one from Return of the Jedi: “I AM A JEDI LIKE MY FATHER.” Within the words, a LEGO version of Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker from stands in a ready position with his green lightsaber ignited. Determination emblazoned on his face, this LEGO Luke is prepared to enter battle.
While I am conditioned by my life-long love of the franchise to notice Star Wars merchandise online and in-stores, I rarely linger on the products I find. On the one hand, I have more than enough Star Wars stuff, and on the other, many Star Wars products are pretty banal. Unless something really unique catches my eye, or I have a vested interest in a product, I typically “move along” rather quickly.
Yet, this t-shirt design, while not something I would buy for myself, never-the-less caught my attention. In fact, when I saw it, I found myself pondering what I was seeing. And the reason for this reaction was because in that moment I was looking at an image which fundamentally misrepresents Luke Skywalker when he states this quote in Return of the Jedi.
In my piece Luke Skywalker: A Farewell to Arms I dive into the moment Luke Skywalker delivers the quote, the moment he truly becomes a Jedi in Return of the Jedi. As Emperor Palpatine goads Luke to destroy and replace Darth Vader, the young man has a moment of clarity. The anger which propelled Luke to violence and saw him teetering on the precipice of the Dark Side is washed away by an awareness which comes to him before he delivers the killing blow. Recognizing how close to darkness he has come, he turns toward Palpatine, he throws his lightsaber away. It is only then, after this action, when he declares “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
The t-shirt design presents a far different accounting of this critical moment. While keeping part of the quote which signifies his elevation to Jedi Knight – I AM A JEDI LIKE MY FATHER – it instead couples Luke’s declaration with an image of Luke that does not fit the scene in Return of the Jedi. Notably, the design is actually closer to an image of Luke from earlier in the film when he is battling Jabba the Hutt’s gang on the sail barge. Were the quote left out of the design, and we were just given the image of a LEGO Luke that mirrors Luke’s sail barge stance, none of this would really matter. Never-the-less, the image of Luke within the quote serves as a reminder that Star Wars creators and fans alike are often willing and eager to undercut one of the most radically subversive moments in the Star Wars narrative.
Admittedly, this is hardly surprising. Star Wars in general and the Jedi in particular have, overtime, succumbed to the flashy excitement of lightsabers. It is how Jedi are understood, how they are defined, how they are recognized. A symptom, at least in part, of the choreographed lightsaber battles of the Prequel Trilogy that added more gravitas and intrigue through balletic acrobatics, the snap-hiss ignition and hypnotic twirling of blue and green blades has come to be the defining feature of the Jedi Order. The franchise consistently telegraphs that being a Jedi is having a lightsaber ignited and at the ready. It is hardly shocking, then, that a shirt design depicting Luke Skywalker, even a LEGO version, would show him with his green lightsaber at the ready and superimposed within his iconic statement declaring his status as a Jedi.
But while this may not be surprising or shocking, it is nonetheless disappointing because it forces me to wonder if some of the most profound lessons in Star Wars are being lost. Star Wars has rightly been described as a form of modern-day myth, and as such, myth always has something to say, something to teach. In Return of the Jedi, the Jedi “return” precisely because Luke recognizes his capacity to fall into darkness and stops himself from doing so. Turning off his lightsaber and tossing it aside is not just a rejection of that darkness, it is a rejection of violence more broadly. Luke heroically displays that we, too, can reject violence through similar actions in our own lives.
Of course, to some fans, the act of disarming himself may seem foolish as he turns and faces down a powerful Sith Lord. Wishing he would have fought the Emperor and/or deriding Luke for being defenseless misses the point, though. Luke chooses the path of non-violence, willing to face his adversary, the Emperor, without his lightsaber because Luke recognizes and offers a lessons that is exceedingly important, one that the Star Wars franchise seems to have forgotten over time: the “elegant weapon of a Jedi Knight,” the lightsaber, is irrelevant to being a Jedi. It is NOT what makes him a Jedi; it is not what makes anyone a Jedi. Rather, Luke can declare “I am a Jedi” because he possesses something far greater than a saber of light. He possesses the Light Side of the Force. Choosing to face his enemy with only the Force as his ally offers the clearest sign that the Jedi have returned. But don’t just take my word for it, take the Emperor’s. He is the one who has the final say on the matter in the moment, and I will likewise give him the final word here.
“I am a Jedi, like my father before me,” Luke declares, standing with poise after tossing aside his lightsaber. And to this, the Emperor responds with a contemptuous affirmation: “So be it, Jedi.”
Seeking a refuge for healing and peaceful contemplation, Jedi Knight Nomi Sunrider returns to the planet Ambria and the dwelling of Master Thon, her former Jedi Master. Traveling with Sunrider is her beloved 4-year-old daughter Vima and fellow Jedi Knight Sylvar who, like Nomi, seeks the peace and wisdom which Master Thon can offer. The joyful reunion with Master Thon is brief, however, disrupted by the sudden ambush of reptilian creatures swelling with the Dark Side of the Force and controlled by Sith assassins. Commanded to destroy Master Thon and his company, the Sith-controlled creatures surround the Jedi and launch their assault.
Found in the fourth issue of Tales of the Jedi: The Sith War, a Dark Horse Comics series published in the 1990s which details stories of the Jedi living thousands of years prior to A New Hope, the vicious attack by these dark side creatures was emblazoned in my mind as a ten-year-old Star Wars fan, the deadly battle masterfully captured in a single image. The muscular reptiles tower above the Jedi , mouths baring sharp teeth and yellow eyes manifesting the evil driving them. In the background, Oss Willum – a Jedi being mind-controlled by a nefarious Sith spirit – commands the attack from high ground while his accomplice Crado, an acolyte of Sith Lord Exar Kun, stands closer to the fray. At the edge of the battle the Jedi Sylvar slashes at a creature with her yellow lightsaber while closer to the center Master Thon grabs one of the reptiles by the neck, pushing it away with his own muscular arm.
It is Nomi Sunrider who truly stands out, though; she is the reason this image is so unforgettable. Resolve and grit etched on her face as she braces for an attack, Sunrider holds her right arm in front of her, lightsaber in a guard position, the blue blade extending across her body horizontally. In her left arm Nomi clutches her daughter Vima, the child clinging to her mother in fear of the reptilian attackers.
Today, the power on display in this image, what it conveys about Nomi Sunrider, is apparent to me in a way I could not fully appreciate as a young Star Wars fan. Back then, I was enamored by the battle itself, the action being my focus above and beyond any subtle metaphors a picture meant to convey. Yet, this image of Sunrider stuck with me, it captured my imagination in a way other moments in Star Wars comic books did not. Why that is I cannot say. The simple fact is that the image never left my memory, and as a result, I have always had a fondness for Nomi Sunrider. For that I am incredibly grateful because when my interest in Star Wars shifted away from the “Wars” as I got older, when I began to experience the deeper layers of characters and events, my understanding and appreciation for Nomi Sunrider fundamentally shifted.
Sunrider’s story in Tales of the Jedi is rich and complex, with moments of incredible joy and devastating heartache. Through it all one thing remains a constant: her love for Vima. As a young Star Wars fan I could not fully appreciate the power in this image, or Sunrider’s story more fully, because at that time I could only see Nomi Sunrider as a Jedi Knight. I was obsessed with the Jedi, trapped in the belief, like Luke Skywalker, that the Jedi were great because they were warriors. In a sense, the glow of Sunrider’s lightsaber in the image blinded me to the deeper and far more important meaning being conveyed. I could not see back then as I do now that that the brave determination embedded on Nomi Sunrider’s face and reflected in her defensive stance is not that of a Jedi alone. No, it is more significantly that of a mother protecting her frightened young child.
Nomi Sunrider is the very best of the Jedi Order in Tales of the Jedi, a living symbol of Light Side of the Force which the Order serves. But her devotion to the Light Side cannot and must never be disconnected from her devotion to her daughter. Nomi Sunrider’s fearless love for the Light Side of the Force is fundamentally grounded in her motherhood, in the unconditional love she has for Vima. And that is exactly what is reflected in this singular image.
Fiction’s Fearless Females is in it’s third year! Yay! The series runs for the month of March and along with myself feature posts by Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Mike of My Comic Relief, and Green Onion of Green Onion Revival Project. Be sure to follow each of these blogs and to check out all of the Fearless Females in the series. Just follow these links:
Upside-down again. This time Luke crashes after a vision of friends.
Decision to make: go and help his friends or to finish his training.
Haiku Addendum: because he is impatient, Luke decides to leave.
Haiku Addendum: internalizing lessons is not Luke’s strong point.
Onto Cloud City! Luke waltzes into a trap. The truth awaits him.
“The Force is with you.” The Carbon Freezing Chamber. Luke confronts Vader.
Red and Blue Collide Skywalker holds his own but it won’t be enough.
Launched out a window. Pushed back onto a platform. An abyss below.
A deadly blade stroke. Maimed by Vader’s blood red blade. “There is no escape.”
“I’ll never join you!” And now the truth is revealed… “I am your Father.”
“That’s impossible!” “…we can rule the galaxy as father and son…”
Calm comes over Luke. A decision has been made. He lets go…and falls.
Upside-down again Luke has nowhere else to go. One option remains.
Calling to Leia, Luke reaches out with the Force. His sister responds.
Haiku Addendum: in the next film, they will learn that they are siblings.
Haiku Addendum: …but pay attention and you can figure it out. 😉
Haiku Addendum: Seriously, “Empire” gives you the info.
Luke gets a new hand! And Lando wears Han’s clothing. Did Hobbie survive?
Meanwhile, on Hoth… the one-armed Wampa adjusts to a one-armed life.
Luke maims the Wampa. And Vader maims Skywalker. Quite interesting…
This post is Part 2 of 3 in a special three-week version of Haikuesday exploring Luke Skywalker in the Original Star Wars Trilogy. Be on the lookout next Tuesday for for the final installement with haiku about Luke in Return of the Jedi!
Han Solo Returns! “Let’s blow this thing and go home.” Torpedoes away.
The Death Star destroyed. Luke and his friends celebrate. The Force is with him.
Good news! This post is Part 1 of 3 of a special three-week version of Haikuesday exploring Luke Skywalker in the Original Star Wars Trilogy. Be on the lookout next Tuesday for haiku about Luke in The Empire Strikes Back!
There is a line in Star Wars: A New Hope which often gets lost in the greater scope of the film, a quote which points to the toughness of the movie’s lone female protagonist, Princess Leia. It comes when Darth Vader, the movie’s villain, speaks to Grand Moff Tarkin, the secondary villain in the film. Pacing back and forth as if annoyed, Vader admits that, “Her [Leia’s] resistance to the mind probe is considerable. It will be some time before we can extract any information from her.” Prior to this admission, we saw Vader enter Princess Leia’s prison cell with an interrogation droid floating behind him, a needle protruding from the droid and Leia’s face giving off subtle apprehension. Now, Vader states that it was for not, that the Princess has resisted this “mind probe” and that breaking her will take more time.
I have always loved this line; it has always resonated with me because it points directly to the fearless resolve which resides in the heart of Princess Leia. Even before Vader utters these words, we know that Leia is a force to be reckoned with, a whirlwind of confidence capable of holding her own. After all, it is Leia who was leading the mission to Tatooine to find Jedi General Obi-Wan Kenobi at the film’s outset. When the ship fell under attack, Leia created a new plan to secure Kenobi’s help EVEN AS IMPERIAL SOLDIERS STORMED THE VESSLE! Dispatching the droid R2-D2 to Tatooine’s surface, Leia awaited her inevitable capture, and even shoots/kills an Imperial stormtrooper before she is apprehended.
Leia confronts Darth Vader after her ship is attacked and she is captured.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
Captured by the Empire’s white-armored soldiers, Princess Leia is escorted before Darth Vader, the nefarious and imposing villain we were JUST formally introduced to as he lifted a man by the neck and crushed his windpipe. The black-clad Vader towers above the petite, white dressed Princess, an obvious visual meant to represent the power of the evil Empire towering over the small, fledgling Rebellion. But Leia is far from intimidated. Oh no, not only does she stand tall next to this masked monster, she speaks first AND is the one who chastises him with palpable disdain!!!
In just a few frames, Leia presents herself as competent and fearless, especially under pressure. Rather than quivering and backing down, she boldy stands her ground against imposing odds. It is no wonder then that later, when Darth Vader assaults Leia, probing her mind for the “location of the Rebel base”, her resistance is “considerable.” Princess Leia is the embodiment of fearless resolve, the very heart and soul of the small Rebellion against an Empire which spans a galaxy. There was never a chance the mind probe would work, it was always going to be an act of futility on the part of Vader.
An Alternative Form of Persuasion
It is Grand Moff Tarkin who chooses a new tactic to extract the information they seek following the failure of the mind-probe. Rather than probing her mind, Tarkin gives Leia a choice: give up the location of the Rebel base OR watch as her home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the Death Star superweapon. It is a brilliant move on Tarkin’s part, one that catches Leia off-guard. Pleading with him, the Princess turns into a supplicant as she tells the Grand Moff her planet is “peaceful” and has “no weapons.” Tarkin, of course, does not care and, presenting the question again, demands to know where the Rebel base is located. It is now that Leia gives in: “Dantooine. They’re on Dantooine.”
Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin square-off.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
That Leia gives in to Tarkin is shocking, but all the more painful as Leia must continue to stand and watch as Alderaan is destroyed. This is an unsurprising move on Tarkin’s part, an obvious example being made to the whole galaxy (and the Princess) that no one, not even “peaceful” worlds, are safe from Imperial military might. Now, the fearless young woman who stood her ground at the film’s opening, who chastised Vader and resisted his mind probe must steel herself as she watches her home world and her family perish in a ball of fire.
And yet, what we do not realize in this moment is that Leia has tricked Tarkin. Presented with the choice of Alderaan being destroyed OR the Rebellion being destroyed, the quick-thinking Princess chose a different route: an open-ended lie. We do not discover this right away, not until an Imperial officer informs Tarkin that scout ships discovered a deserted Rebel base on Dantooine. Furious, but more importantly humiliated, the Grand Moff orders the immediate execution of the Princess.
That Leia lies about the location of the Rebel base is brilliant, a narrative misdirect that leads Tarkin and the audience alike to THINK this strong-willed woman has caved under pressure. It is easy to forget this, as later we DO discover the real location of the Rebel base. But in this instance, we are led to believe Leia has given it up, that Dantooine is, in fact, the location. Instead, what we discover a few scenes later is that Princess Leia was in control the entire time, and while her plea to the Grand Moff that “Alderaan is peaceful” is certainly genuine, it, too, was also part of her quick thinking plan to save both Alderaan AND the Rebellion.
Awaiting Tarkin’s Fury
Knowing she has lied to Grand Moff, we can surmise that after being returned to her cell that the Princess sat and waited for Tarkin’s fury. Surely, too, she sat there in mourning, the loss of her world and family weighing heavily on her heart. One could hardly criticize the fearless female if she did break down and cry, although it is hardly necessary to know whether she did. The imagination is enough in this case.
Regardless, when we next see Leia she is reclining on the hard bench in her detention cell. Luke Skywalker, wearing stormtrooper armor, barges in to the rescue and, without missing a beat, the reclined Princess – certainly suspecting Tarkin’s fury has arrived – directs a shot of insulting sarcasm at the soldier: “Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” While Vader’s comment about her resistance to the mind-probe directly points to Leia’s strong-willed personality, this shot of sarcasm – coupled with the sarcasm she throws at Tarkin earlier (see video clip) – highlights her constant disposition towards her Imperial foes. Basically, Leia is always ready to level an attack against the Empire, even if that attack is in the form of words alone.
But she is also more than happy to criticize her own allies, in this case her rescuers: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Cornered by Imperial soldiers in the detention center, the Princess chastises the films heroic men, noting that it “Looks like you managed to cut off our only escape route.” What makes this all the better is that the quick-thinking Princess – who, we should remember, was not anticipating a rescue – immediately comes up with a plan and puts it into action. Taking the blaster from Skywalker, Leia blasts open the wall across from her and demands that everyone jump into the garbage chute. Before objections can be raised, Leia is already on her way into the depths of a Death Star trash compactor.
To be perfectly honest, this has always been my favorite “Leia Moment” in A New Hope. On one hand, her action makes the film’s heroes – Luke and Han – look incredibly foolish for not actually thinking about HOW they should go about completing their rescue mission. On the other hand, and more importantly, this moment demonstrates a clear reversal in fortune for the Princess. When the film begins, and her ship falls under attack, the protocol droid C-3PO tells R2-D2, “There will be no escape for the Princess this time.” True in that moment, C-3PO is ultimately proven wrong as Leia not only escapes, but does so by taking control of her own rescue when she and her allies are quite literally backed into a corner.
“Into the garbage chute, flyboy!” – Princess Leia
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
But there is an additional element of control which Leia brings to her escape: her decision to travel directly to the Rebel Base on Yavin 4. Why, if Leia knew the Millennium Falcon was being tracked, would she willingly lead the Empire to the Rebel Base, the location she resisted sharing with Vader and Tarkin? For some time, I felt this was a curious move on her part, a clear flaw in her thinking. Yet, the deeper I have considered it, the more I have realized that it is the safest choice given the stakes. With Alderaan destroyed and Obi-Wan Kenobi dead, Princess Leia is left with the only choice that makes any sense: getting the Death Star schematics stored in R2-D2 to the Rebel High Command as quickly as possible. A detour to another world, or a stop to acquire a new ship, runs the risk of Imperial capture, while traveling directly to the Rebellion ensures that the Death Star information (not to mention her own life) is protected. Besides, the sooner the schematics are delivered, the sooner the Rebellion can craft a plan of attack to destroy the planet-killing superweapon.
A Beacon of Hope
Once Leia and company arrive at the Rebel Base on Yavin 4 her role in the film becomes primarily observational. While Luke Skywalker will jump into an X-Wing to participate in the impending engagement, and Han Solo will get a reward and leave before the fight begins, Leia will stand in the Rebel Command Center watching the battle unfold on display screens. Admittedly, it is a bit odd that with the Death Star approaching and preparing to destroy the Rebel Base, Leia (along with others) choose to stand-around watching rather than evacuating. On some level, this sorta gives away what we know the inevitable outcome of the battle will be: the Rebels will win and the Death Star will be destroyed.
On another level, though, that Leia remains in the Command Center puts the final stamp of bravery on her fearless nature. With the Death Star approaching and preparing to destroy Yavin 4, it is conceivable that the Princess was asked (perhaps even ordered!) to evacuate before the battle begins, her safety and importance to the Rebellion being tantamount. Instead, by remaining, Princess Leia reveals once more that she is the very heart of the Rebel cause, a beacon of hope for the Rebel soldiers fighting the Imperial war machine. She may not be in an X-Wing or Y-Wing fighting the battle, nor giving orders as a General, but Leia’s stoic presence in the face of imminent death testifies not only to her personal resolve, but also the resolve of the Rebel Alliance.
Given her status and importance to the Rebellion, it is unsurprising that Princess Leia is the one to bestow medallions upon Luke Skywalker and Han Solo following the Battle of Yavin. With the Death Star destroyed, the two men (accompanied by Chewbacca) will march down the center of a great hall, flanked on both sides by the entire assembly of Rebels on Yavin 4. Arriving at the bottom of a staircase, the trio ascend the steps until they are standing before, albeit slightly below, the magnificently dressed Leia. This is the only point in the film in which Leia has changed clothing, and she is now without the iconic hair “buns.” Wearing a gown, with her hair in a braided updo and jewlery drapping her neck, Leia now, officially and formally, looks like a Princess. Never-the-less, while she is resplendent in her royal attire, we also know that there is far more to her than meets the eye, and that what makes Princess Leia truly regal is her considerable fearlessness and capacity for hope in the face of overwhelming odds.
Gif Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
I’ve joined forces with some other exciting bloggers and YouTubers – Nancy and Kathleen of Graphic Novelty2, Rob of My Side of the Laundry Room, Kiri of Star Wars Anonymous, Kalie of Just Dread-full, Mike of My Comic Relief and Green Onion of The Green Onion Blog – for a little salute to “Fiction’s Fearless Females.” Starting on International Women’s Day and going forward over the next couple months, a different contributor will offer their take on a favorite female who harbors a fearless spirit. Click on the links below to read about the other women being profiled.
I recently came across a quote from Frank Oz – the man who brought Yoda to life – where he gave his very direct opinion regarding Star Wars fans who disliked The Last Jedi. Speaking at a SXSW event, Oz states that,
“I love the movie [The Last Jedi]…All the people who don’t like this ‘Jedi’ thing is just horse crap. It’s about expectations. The movie didn’t fill their expectations. But as filmmakers, we’re not here to fulfill people’s expectations.”
How could I, or anyone else, NOT consider what Frank Oz has to say on this point? He is a gifted filmmaker with a perspective and understanding of storytelling which I can only dream of reaching. For a number of days I allowed Oz’s point to marinate in my mind, bouncing around my brain as I reflected on my own expectations for Star Wars, not to mention the expectations of the entire community of Star Wars fans. Of course, I am in no position to speak for the entire Star Wars “fandom.” It is so massive, so diverse, and so damn opinionated that it would be folly to even try to provide any “grand unified theory” to sum-up Star Wars fans. In fact, the ONLY thing that can be said is that Star Wars fans are “unified” around Star Wars, but what Star Wars means for each fan is subjective. It is personal. And because of this, I think Frank Oz is absolutely correct: some fans certainly disliked The Last Jedi because the film did not meet the very personal and deeply held expectations they may have had going into Episode VIII.
The thing is, while I agree with Oz, I only do so up to a point. Beyond that, I fundamentally disagree with him. Why? Well, just as I cannot provide a “grand unified theory” of Star Wars fans, Frank Oz is in no position to provide a definitive answer for why people did not like The Last Jedi. It is a generalization to do so, a fallacy stating that a part (those fans who did not have expectations met by The Last Jedi) actually represents the whole (every fan who did not like The Last Jedi). Logic just doesn’t work that way, and it is important to recognize that a great deal of nuance exists within the Star Wars community precisely because individuals have those deeply personal ties to the decades spanning franchise. And this applies to fans who truly loved The Last Jedi and those who absolutely despise the film, as well as all those who fall somewhere in the middle (which is where I happen to land). My point is: some Star Wars fans didn’t like The Last Jedi because it didn’t meet their expectations, plain and simple, while other fans had a more nuanced reaction and didn’t like it for a trove of entirely different reasons.
But beyond this pretty obvious fact, that some fans didn’t like it because of high expectations, the more I thought about what Frank Oz said, the more I was bothered by the implication: that Star Wars fans should have no expectations for the stories which they love. Realistically, how can one NOT have expectations when they go into a Star Wars film (or any film for that matter)? How does one fully set-aside their expectations and experience a story entirely devoid of expectation? Frankly, I do not believe it possible, unless perhaps one ejects every single Star Wars thought from the mind. But going into a Star Wars movie with a “tabula rasa”, a blank slate, is just not possible, at least for me. Maybe someone out there can show me how to do it, how to just sit down with popcorn, Junior Mints and an oversized cup of Diet Coke and watch Star Wars for what it is – just another movie. Me, I cannot set aside my thoughts, and feelings, and ideas about Star Wars because the franchise has seeped into my bones. I live Star Wars, I breathe Star Wars, it infects me like a damn virus. For me, Star Wars is NOT “just another movie,” it is a way of life. And as a result, I am guilty of the sin of expectation, I demand greatness from Star Wars and yes, sometimes, I even expect it to acquiesce to my expectations.
There were a lot of things about The Last Jedi I didn’t like, and some things I absolutely did like, and I lay a number of these out in my post “Reflections on The Last Jedi.” But I also know, and can easily admit, that I had expectations for The Last Jedi which were not met. I am not ashamed to say it and why should I hide it? For example, I wrote a post titled “The (Mis)Use of Captain Phasma“ where I blasted writer/director Rian Johnson for not utilizing the First Order villain more effectively in the movie. I absolutely expected her to be a greater factor, especially after a novel and a comic series preceding the release of The Last Jedi built her up as a total badass. How could I not expect more?
Many Star Wars fans, myself included, expected Luke to NOT try to kill his nephew given that he threw his lightsaber away at the end of Return of the Jedi. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
So yeah, I had expectations for The Last Jedi. But you know what, I also had expectations for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Solo. I had expectations for The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. I had expectations for The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels, and Star Wars: Resistance. And, going forward, I have expectations for Episode IX, The Mandalorian, Galaxy’s Edge, and every other Star Wars movie, novel, comic, video game, etc. But I am under no illusion that all of my expectations will be met. Are Star Wars filmmakers and storytellers supposed to meet every expectation of “the fans”? Certainly not. They can’t do it. At best, they can only hope to meet one very basic, very simple expectation: that the fan will be entertained. That is, after all, what the entire Star Wars franchise is, a massive form of entertainment. Right? We all expect to be entertained, to be transported to the galaxy far, far away so that through the experience we will find some form enjoyment.
And, as a fan, the best I can do is manage my expectations. I have to willing and able to acknowledge that everything will not line up with how I want it to unfold. But managing expectations does not mean jettisoning expectations. Rather, it means having an open-mind and giving things a chance, even when – no, especiallywhen – things do not immediately line-up with those expectations.
Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda, stated that “…All the people who don’t like this ‘Jedi’ thing is just horse crap. It’s about expectations. The movie didn’t fill their expectations. But as filmmakers, we’re not here to fulfill people’s expectations.” He is right, some fans didn’t like The Last Jedi because it just didn’t meet their expectations; others had more nuanced reasons for their dislike of the movie. And he is correct, filmmakers are not here to fulfill everyone’s expectations; and fans, myself included, do have to manage expectations. However, I am not going to give up my expectations for Star Wars. I am going to continue to demand greatness from it, and yes that means holding the filmmakers and storytellers to a high standard and having expectations for the franchise. And the reason I am going to do this is simple:
Because a long time ago I was mesmerized as I watched a small space ship being chased by a large space ship over a desert planet. From that moment forward, my expectations for Star Wars started to blossom and I can’t change that. So instead, I will live in the sin of Star Wars expectation and, if Frank Oz or anyone else wants to be annoyed with me, I will wear that annoyance as a badge of honor.
What Luke Skywalker accomplishes in the climactic final Act of Star Wars: A New Hope is nothing short of miraculous. Tasked with the responsibility of destroying the Empire’s planet killing Death Star, to succeed and win the day Skywalker unexpectedly gives himself over to the mystical energy field known as the Force. Doing so at the behest of the recently “deceased” Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, young Luke puts his faith in something greater than his available technology (or luck, or logic and reason), allowing the sacred and mysterious energy to guide his actions. In doing so, Skywalker not only saves the galaxy by destroying the Death Star, but also takes a giant leap of faith into a realm of wondrous possibility. As Skywalker speeds back to the Rebel base after the battle station explodes, Kenobi speaks to the young pilot from “the beyond”, reminding Luke that “the Force will be with you, always.” Luke Skywalker, farmer-turned Rebel pilot-turned galactic hero, will always have the Force as his ally.
Yet, when we once again meet Luke in The Empire Strikes Back three years after his leap of faith and heroic deed, the young man has all but forgotten the Force is with him.
After putting his faith in the Force in A New Hope, one would anticipate that when we meet Skywalker again that he will have started to more fully develop his understanding of, and connection to, the Force. This, however, is not the case, and is actually hinted at early in The Empire Strikes Back as Luke hangs upside down in the Wampa’s lair (having been ambushed and knocked unconscious by Hoth’s apex predator). His lightsaber protruding from the snow a few feet away, Luke’s initial instinct is to desperately grab for his weapon, and only concentrates on using the Force to bring the weapon to him once he recognizes the blade is out of reach.
Luke hangs upside down in the Wampa’s lair. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Luke’s use of the Force in this instance reminds the audience of his connection to the energy field while likewise foreshadowing the lessons he will learn when he makes his way to Dagobah in the film’s second act. After all, in the Wampa’s lair we see for the very first time that one can move objects using the Force. Later in the film, this reality will be expanded, with Luke moving boulders and the ancient Jedi Master Yoda using the Force to move Luke’s X-Wing Starfighter.
The episode in the Wampa’s lair likewise foreshadows the doubt and disconnect Luke will display, with respect to the Force, when he travels to the Dagobah system to learn from Yoda. The Force is certainly with him, but at the outset of The Empire Strikes Back it is a curious afterthought, a seemingly forgotten aspect of his being. Even after bringing the lightsaber to him in the lair, the Force seems to fade away as panic sets in, Luke maiming the Wampa and anxiously fleeing the snowy cave.
At the end of A New Hope, Luke was the victorious hero who we last saw receiving a medal for destroying the dreaded Death Star. Now, only a short way into The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker stumbles out of the Wampa’s lair, his flight response fully in control. Unsurprisingly, Luke will succumb to the harsh elements on Hoth, collapsing into the snowy Tundra. Face down in the snow (see featured image above), his body surely experiencing the effects of hypothermia, it is here and now that Obi-Wan Kenobi curiously chooses to re-appear. Calling to the (freezing) young man, Kenobi appears in astral form and commands Luke to “go to the Dagobah system” where he will learn the ways of the Force from Yoda.
Crashing into a Swamp
It is Luke’s journey to Dagobah that serves as the surest example of his mystical disconnect. Consider that as Luke flies his X-Wing into the planet’s atmosphere – the very same X-Wing he piloted to destroy the Death Star! – he relies entirely on the starfighter’s technology to guide him to the planet’s surface. “All the scopes are dead. I can’t see a thing…” he exclaims as he descends into the thick, dense atmosphere/fog covering the planet. The technology at his disposal fails him, and [a panicked] Luke does not call upon the Force to serve as his guide. It is no wonder he crashes into the swamp.
Luke stands on the nose of his X-Wing after crashing in the swamp on Dagobah. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
In turn, what makes this scenario all the more fascinating is that Dagobah is teeming with life, and as Yoda will explain to Luke, it is life which makes the Force grow. “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” the elderly Master will note once young Skywalker has started his rigorous Jedi training. Luke, we know from his actions in A New Hope, already has a special connection to the Force, an ability to destroy a planet killing superweapon thanks to faith alone. Never-the-less, piloting his X-Wing to Dagobah, Luke Skywalker is incapable of navigating his way to the surface of a planet glowing with the radiance of the Force.
In the three years between the end of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker has chosen to ignore, or has simply forgotten, his connection to the Force. Or, perhaps over time he began to doubt the mysterious energy field, placing more trust in technology than on the mystical source of his power. Indeed, Luke express such doubt to Yoda – “you ask the impossible”, the young man will exclaim when given a Force-specific task – and Yoda will note that it is Luke’s doubt, his inability to believe in the possibility of the impossible, which makes him fail.
Whatever the reason for Luke’s disconnect with the Force – be it doubt, forgetfulness, ignorance, or something else entirely – from a narrative perspective it is a profound way of highlighting that even after becoming a hero one can still face incredible challenges. Luke may have relied on the Force to destroy the Death Star, but he must also face great external/internal struggle to ascend beyond a singular act of heroism to become truly heroic. In fact, The Empire Strikes Back goes to great lengths to show Luke stumbling, being knocked down, and crashing time and time again as he embarks on this new path of ascendance, towards becoming a Jedi Knight. Consider the following:
Luke is knocked off his Tauntaun when the Wampa attacks.
He falls from the ceiling of the Wampa’s lair.
He stumbles over a snow drift as he escapes the lair, and later falls to the ground as he walks across Hoth’s desolate tundra.
His Snowspeeder crashes when it is struck by a laser blast.
After destroying an AT-AT using his lightsaber and a thermal detonator, he unhooks his harness and falls far to the ground below.
Piloting his X-Wing, he crashes into the swamp on Dagobah.
Exiting his X-Wing, he jumps into the swampy marsh and must crawl up the muddy embankment.
When he is doing his first handstand during his Jedi training, moving large rocks while Yoda sits on his feet, Luke becomes distracted and falls.
Later, doing another handstand, suspending a number of containers and his droid R2-D2 in the air, he again becomes distracted once again.
As he battles Darth Vader he is knocked into the carbon-freezing chamber; he is blasted out of a window; stumbles to the ground and barely escapes Vader’s next attack; and falls, by choice, into the great abyss at the center of Cloud City after learning he is Vader’s son (presumably choosing death rather than continuing to face his father).
After falling into the abyss on Cloud City, Luke ends up literally hanging below the city on a weather vane, grasping desperately with his one hand (the other had been cut off, along with his lightsaber, by his father) for the door above him. Even here, in this desperate situation, the literal and metaphorical lowest point in his life, Luke forgets his connection to the Force, instead trying to climb to safety with his single hand. Unsurprisingly, Luke once again slips and begins to fall, this time only being saved by his legs (which catch the weather vane). Just as he was hanging upside down in the Wampa’s lair at the beginning of the film, at the end of the film Luke is once again in a desperate situation hanging upside down.
Luke hangs upside down from a weathervane below Cloud City. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
In a sense, this is the most appropriate metaphor for the existential situation Luke Skywalker finds himself in throughout The Empire Strikes Back – his heroic journey has quite literally been turned upside down. Where he gave himself willingly to the Force in A New Hope, placing his faith in something greater, in The Empire Strikes Back he stumbles and falls as he attempts to rekindle, and grow, in his understanding of and relationship with the Force. Eager to learn about the sacred energy field in A New Hope, Luke’s forgetfulness and doubt are why he crashes and fails in The Empire Strikes Back.