Mos Eisley Cantina

The Audacity of Solo

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these qualities are reinforced, Solo’s words and actions proving that his instinct for self-preservation can only be superseded by the desire for a little extra money.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

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

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

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

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

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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 Cantina Incident

This is not the post you are expecting it to be. Read on and see what I mean…

It’s a Star Wars question so common that I rarely think about it: since Obi-Wan uses his lightsaber to cut off Ponda Baba’s arm in the Mos Eisley Cantina, why does the arm bleed? A fair question to be sure – technically, there shouldn’t be any blood because the wound should be cauterized when the blade goes through the arm. When others are dismembered by lightsabers, like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back or Zam Wesell in Attack of the Clones, their wounds are cauterized, there is no blood. But Ponda Baba is the exception, his wound is a bloody mess and I haven’t the slightest clue how to explain it. Perhaps Ponda Baba’s race, the Aqualish, are incapable of being burned and only bleed when wounded? Or maybe Obi-Wan cut the arm at just the right angle to open an artery but not cauterize it? Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.

But I’m not really interested in solving the dilemma about the bleeding arm (though I think my “Aqualish always bleed” approach makes sense). Instead, I’d rather take this moment, since I have your attention, to pose a much different question about this particular incident in the Mos Eisley Cantina…

Why does Kenobi dismember Ponda Baba and kill Baba’s partner, Dr. Evazan?

This is a question I have wrestled with for some time, with the starting point to answering it always being the most obvious explanation: Kenobi is simply acting in self-defense.

Baba and Evazan
Ponda Baba argues with Luke while Dr. Evazan (background) looks on.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Initially, Luke is the one who is threatened by Evazan and Baba, and when Kenobi intervenes to calm the situation, the two nefarious individuals become rather violent. Kenobi ignites his lightsaber and, rather quickly, puts an end to the scuffle. The deed finished, the bloody arm lying on the ground and the groans of pain being heard, Kenobi stands resolute with his blade upright. And, just as quickly as the incident began, the scene moves along and we are introduced to Chewbacca and Han Solo.

Now, first and foremost, I certainly think Obi-Wan is allowed to defend himself and Luke. But the issue I’m raising in the question is not whether Kenobi can act or should in self-defense, but how he acts in self-defense.

To me, the issue of the bleeding arm is a distraction from the real issue inherent in the incident – the fact that one of the last remaining Jedi, a Jedi Master no less, chooses to kill one individual and maim another. When Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba become enraged and attack Old Ben, why is Kenobi’s immediate reaction also a violent one? Surely a Jedi Master could disarm these two in a less confrontational manner, doing so without the need to call upon the Force in an obvious,  attention grabbing way. Kenobi needn’t, for example, use the Force to throw the two across the room. Rather, using his finely tuned Force skills, Obi-Wan could have easily incapacitated the two, making them trip over their own two feet if he wanted.

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Kenobi holds his lightsaber after the brief fight with Evazan and Baba.

Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

But, that isn’t what happens. Instead, we are left with the absurd reality that Kenobi uses deadly force, inflicting pain and death without the slightest bit of remorse. And this is where things get tricky. Suggesting, for example, that Kenobi’s actions are of the Light Side of the Force would entirely undercut the fact that the Light Side does not lend itself to the destruction of life. At. All. So no, I absolutely do not think Kenobi is guided by the Light when he strikes down Evazan and wounds Baba.

Does this mean, then, that Kenobi was being guided by the Dark Side? Well, if he does the deed out of anger and malice, then sure, we could say he is using the Dark Side. However, we have no idea what Kenobi is thinking in the moment, so it’s hard and a bit unfair to suggest he is dropping into the Dark Side without knowing his thoughts. Then again, dishing out pain and death are specialties of Dark Siders…

So where in the name of Malachor do we go from here? Honestly, I haven’t the slightest idea. The fact that Kenobi kills Evazan and maims Baba opens the door to a cacophony of thoughts and questions, the Light Side/Dark Side being just the tip of the iceberg. Thinking about the incident for some time, and now putting the thoughts into a post, I am pulled in numerous directions with no clear-cut end in site. Part of me wants to absolve Kenobi because he is one of my favorite characters, another wants to chastise him for not acting the way a Jedi Master should act, and yet another wants to throw papers into the air in frustration (maybe I will).

In lieu of all of my hair going gray thinking about this, I want YOU to chime in. Let’s keep the conversation going in the comments and, as a team, think about Kenobi killing Evazan and maiming Baba. I’m curious to hear what others have to say about Kenobi’s actions during this short but violent incident in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

Crossing the Threshold

The scene in A New Hope when Luke enters the Mos Eisley Cantina is,  in many respects, one of the most important scenes in the film.  In fact, I would even put it close to the top of the list (perhaps AT the top). You see,  Luke’s entrance into the Mos Eisley Cantina quite literally represents the crossing of a threshold, the moment he, as the hero of the movie, enters an entirely new, foreign realm and truly leaves his past life behind him. One of the stages in what mythologist Joseph Campbell dubbed the Hero’s Journey, “Crossing the Threshold” is the moment where the burgeoning hero puts his/her past life behind them. Life will truly never be the same again for the individual in question, and they must now begin the process of adapting to this new, unexplored territory.

And that new, unexplored territory is precisely the galaxy that Luke will encounter once he leaves Tatooine. The Cantina, then, serves as a small microcosm of the galaxy-at-large, a cross-section of intriguing and frightening beings he may (and will) come across as he ventures forth. Very quickly, though, Luke discovers, and we along with him, that this realm, with all of its fascinating strangeness, is also incredibly dangerous. Only moments after his entrance into the Cantina, Luke is accosted by two individuals, Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba, who wish him harm because they “don’t like him.” In fact, Dr. Evazan will even level a death threat at the young Skywalker.

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Dr. Evazan threatens Luke while Ponda Baba looks on. 
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Nothing says “Welcome to the Real World” like your life being threatened.

Of course, we can feel bad for the poor kid receiving the threat, but this danger is also necessary for Luke, even if it seems sudden and extreme. More dangers await Luke in the future and, frankly, he has to start growing up at some point, leaving his boyish immaturity behind. Metamorphosis is necessary for the hero, and transformation will only happen as one encounters the realities of this new realm.

Yet, while it may be that Luke physically enters the Cantina and begins to encounter this new, unchartered territory, he is not the only one who crosses the threshold. We also cross it with him. Luke’s crossing is our crossing, the moment when we are also introduced to a number of the strange creatures and mysterious sounds of the Star Wars galaxy. Even though we have, up to that moment in the film, encountered some of the exciting wonders of the Star Wars, these moments were limited in scope. Now, as Luke enters the Cantina, that universe rapidly expands for him and us.

But what makes this all the more interesting is that writer/director George Lucas intentionally allows you and I to experience the sights and sounds BEFORE Luke. It is, in a sense, as if we descend into the Cantina ahead of the young Skywalker and then turn around to see his expression.

And what we experience, what Luke experiences a moment after us, is anything but subtle, overwhelming the ears and eyes.

Cantina Band
The Cantina Band (they are Bith).
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The iconic music of the Cantina band begins playing immediately as the scene begins, music that is nothing like the orchestral sounds we have heard up to this point in A New Hope. Plus, this music is diegetic, coming from the strange looking band in one corner of the establishment. What we are hearing is exactly what Luke  will hear, and  what the other patrons of the Cantina  hear.

And speaking of those patrons,  we are introduced to them as the band plays. In shot-after-shot, we get to meet these new, and quite literal, alien creatures. Having crossed the threshold into the Cantina with Luke, our old ways of describing reality, and Luke’s, are left behind, and we must now begin to formulate new terminology and definitions going forward. These beings push our limits of conceptual understanding, we simply have no words to adequately describe them.

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A pair of Duros sit in the Cantina.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Of course, today, we DO have names for the numerous alien species that inhabit are in the Cantina. Plus, many of those species  have appeared in a number of other parts of the Star Wars canon (and Expanded Universe). But knowing that there is a Duros, Bith, Devaronian, Ithorian, and Aqualish in the Cantina should not distract us from the original purpose of  the Cantina scene: as a physical representation of his crossing the threshold into the unknown, introducing both him and us to a handful of the strange, fascinating, and terrifying mysteries that the galaxy (and Star Wars universe) offers.

This is also precisely why I suggest newcomers to Star Wars begin with A New Hope. In doing so, they will not only cross the threshold of the Cantina with Luke, but will cross over into the Star Wars galaxy in the same way so many of us have also done.

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An Arcona in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Chewbacca and the Jedi

One of the last battles of the Clone Wars, the Separatist invasion of Kashyyk in Revenge of the Sith provides a glimpse of not just the Wookie homeworld, but Wookie warriors charging into battle alongside the Clones and Jedi. Of course, it also gave us a little nugget of insight into Chewbacca’s backstory, namely that he participated in the fight against the droids. Granted, Chewie’s cameo in Revenge of the Sith is fairly short and we never actually see him fight the battle droids. I was always a bit disappointed about that because, let’s be honest, it would have been pretty sweet to see our favorite Wookie blasting some battle droids.

Yoda, Chewbacca, and Tarfful say their good-byes.  Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Yoda, Chewbacca, and Tarfful say their good-byes.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Although we don’t get to see him kick some droid ass, Chewbacca’s cameo is hardly unimportant or without purpose. He and another Wookie, Tarfful, are present with Yoda when Clone Commander Gree and another Clone turn on the Jedi Master. When Gree and his counterpart walk up behind Yoda, leveling their weapons at the small Jedi, the Wookies witness Yoda leap up and decapitate the two Clones. In turn, Chewbacca and Tarfful usher Yoda away to safety, aware that the elder Jedi is in danger. And as Yoda is about to leave Kashyyyk, he thanks Tarfful and Chewbacca by name. With that, Yoda blasts off towards space as the two Wookies look on.

And scene.

Now, before I go any further, let me just say that I really like Chewbacca showing up in Revenge of the Sith. In fact, it probably would have been really odd for there to be a plot involving Kashyyyk/Wookies and Chewbacca not being there. But Chewie making a cameo, while awesome in and of itself, is not the only reason I like that he is there. I like that his appearance, specifically his proximity and interactions with Yoda, create a new way of thinking about his encounter with Obi-Wan and Luke in A New Hope. Essentially, the question becomes: did he say anything to Obi-Wan and/or Luke about the Jedi Master he helped save 19 years before???

Chewbacca and Obi-Wan Kenobi chat at the Mos Eisley Cantina bar.  Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Chewbacca and Obi-Wan Kenobi chat at the Mos Eisley Cantina bar.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Well, to be honest, we can actually rule out Luke from the get go. When Force ghost Obi-Wan appears to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back and tells Skywalker to “go to the Dagobah system” to learn from Yoda, Luke clearly has no idea who Kenobi is talking about. I would argue that any conversation Chewbacca and Luke have about the Jedi in the new canon material that takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back should NOT include any information about Yoda. Essentially, I believe it is important to maintain Luke’s ignorance so as to safeguard the appearance and directive from Kenobi in “Empire.” And after the events of “Empire,” if Chewie and Luke want to sit down and talk about Yoda, or the Jedi Order, or whatever, then I say more power to them.

But the interaction(s) between Obi-Wan and Chewbacca in A New Hope, that is a different story. Recall that it’s a conversation between Kenobi and Chewie that initiates the meeting with Han Solo. I can’t imagine Kenobi came right out and told Chewbacca he was a Jedi when they first talk, but I can believe that Chewie, having interacted with Jedi in the past, would have picked up on the fact that this old guy was dressed like a Jedi. Certainly Chewbacca, at 180 years old, can recall how the Jedi used to dress.

But then, right after their initial conversation, two other really important things happen simultaneously. The first, the most obvious, is that Kenobi whips out a lightsaber. Hmmmm, this old guy is dressed like a Jedi and has a lightsaber, innnnnteresting. Plus, and this is the key, Luke, having been pushed to the floor by his assailants, calls out, “Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan!!!”

See, if we go back to Revenge of the Sith, right before the fighting on Kashyyyk commences, Master Yoda is speaking to the entire Jedi Council via hologram about the secret location of the Separatist General Grievous. In turn, the Council decides that Kenobi will lead the attack to capture Grievous. And, who just happens to be standing behind Yoda, intently watching and listening the entire time: CHEWBACCA!!! Here, go see for yourself: Battle of Kashyyyk.

Yoda attends a meeting of the Jedi Council while Chewbacca and Tarfful look on. Photo Credit - Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Yoda attends a meeting of the Jedi Council while Chewbacca and Tarfful look on.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Given all the signs (the robe, the lightsaber, the name), not to mention his own previous interactions with Yoda and other Jedi, does Chewie know he is speaking with a Jedi in the Mos Eisley Cantina? Honestly, it is a total toss-up. On the one hand, he very well might have no idea; however, it is also entirely possible that he does know. Heck, even if he doesn’t know it is Kenobi, but knows that he is interacting with a Jedi, that is perfectly fine.  But if he does know he is chatting with a Jedi, then the question is – does he pull the Jedi aside and say anything to him about his previous interactions with Jedi, particularly his safe-guarding of Yoda 19 years earlier?

Short of a story being written that either A) shows the two discussing Yoda/the Jedi Order and/or; B) that alludes to such a conversation taking place (say in Chewie’s inner dialogue in the new Chewbacca comic series), there is really just no way of knowing. And frankly, I am not sure that we even need to know. While on the one hand it is intriguing to imagine the two having a private conversation about the Jedi Order, it is also equally interesting to think that Obi-Wan chatted with Chewbacca and had no idea that he was speaking to a Wookie who (may) know who he is but who, 19 years earlier, helped safe-guard Yoda as the Jedi Master fled Kashyyyk. And, on the flip side, it’s equally intriguing to think that Chewbacca had a hunch about this Obi-Wan character but never said anything.

But perhaps what is even more profound is the fact that Chewbacca, on these two separate occasions, is in the right location to aid a Jedi. He is present when Yoda is in need of protection and, 19 years later, is also present when Obi-Wan is looking for passage to Alderaan. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, in an episode of The Clone Wars he also provides assistance to padawan Ahsoka Tano and a couple of Jedi younglings who had been captured by Trandoshan hunters. Not once, not twice, but at least three times Chewbacca is there to help the Jedi. Some (ahem, Han) might call it coincidence or just dumb luck, but I call it the will of the Force. On each occasion, Chewbacca is precisely where the Force wanted him to be, ready to assist a Jedi who was in need. Because of this, I really couldn’t care less if Chewie and Obi-Wan chat about their mutual connection(s). The only connection that really matters is the one they have in the Force. Everything else is just secondary.