Thinking About Star Wars
Luke Skywalker drags a defeated, injured, and helpless Darth Vader in an attempt to escape a collapsing burning Death Star. Luke succumbs to the weight of the crippled Sith lord and the two come face to face. Vader, arguably the most powerful Sith we know, is too weak to remove his helmet to look upon his desperate son. Luke provides the courtesy and both are eye to eye. Having a moment to face his son as Anakin once again, he pleads for Luke to leave him. Luke quickly denies the request by stating, “ I’m going to save you”, which in turn the iconic saber-wielding villain replies, “You already have”. I recall the immediate tension in my throat, and the pause in my breath when watching how three films of a boy’s search for relevance and identity concluded. Two lines of dialogue, and every concept of this space saga had been realized and became meaningful. While laser swords, force powers, and space battles are fun on their own, imbedding a complex yet relatable drama in between is nothing short of absolute creative genius.
For us, Star Wars has always been a staple in science fiction as a genre but, more so, as a pillar in storytelling as entertainment. George Lucas realized and executed a universe at a time when productions were not made to this scale. Whether you were of age to sit in a theater for theatrical releases of the original trilogy or not, makes no difference on the impact the story makes even by today’s standards. While the Star Wars films have evolved over the years, similar themes have remained throughout their growth. The strongest mechanic Star Wars has utilized time and time again is intense character story arcs, and how they change over time. Almost every character has endured a significant change when reaching a point or end to their arc. The most obvious example is how we watched Anakin Skywalker evolve into the notorious Sith in black we all know today. In turn, Darth Vader himself experiences an extreme arc twist just before the end that makes the finale to the original trilogy a powerful act.
In regards to characters, Star Wars showcases a complex and diverse range of characters that hit every tone of emotion. The brave, the dreadful, the love-struck, the comedic all together interacting with one another, and even conflicting within a single character. It might be comical to think that R2-D2 ever suffered inner conflict, although, despite its physical stature the witty astrodroid always paused between doing what was right and what was necessary. Whether burning fellow droids alive or braving the barren wastes of Tatooine to complete a mission, R2 was on point but made difficult choices. While volumes can be written about this seemingly side character, Star Wars remained relentless in forcing many characters to endure impossible life-changing (or ending) odds.
In Episode I, we’re introduced to a calmer more stable galaxy than the later episodes set for us. Obi – Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Gin, and the Jedi council are in control, settling minor disputes in logistics and what not. Obi-Wan, a young apprentice in training, is under the teachings of wise, yet defiant, Qui-Gon. Obi-Wan is a curious Jedi challenging Yoda’s emphasis on being mindful of his surroundings, and arguing his apprenticeship in front of a strict council. Immediately, the level of influence Qui-Gon has over young Obi-Wan is apparent, and something that Obi-Wan grows and lives with until he himself becomes an old and tired Jedi. This depth in chemistry makes Qui-Gon’s demise at the hands of the dual-saber wielding Sith, Darth Maul, a turning point for young Obi where he is forced to solidify himself as a true Jedi Knight. These characters, and their arcs, are one example of how Star Wars competently uses tragedy to progress a character’s growth while ending others.
By the end of the 99’ trilogy, The galaxy is in Civil War, Qui-Gon and the council are gone, and Obi-Wan is a tormented Jedi Master. Unable to absolve himself of his part in the creation of Darth Vader, Obi-Wan is obligated to face his failed apprentice. What transpires is, arguably, the most tragic yet exciting confrontation in Star Wars history. The relationship between Master and Apprentice is an important connection between Jedi that Star Wars carefully builds. Although, in the case of Obi-Wan and Anakin, it’s the catalyst for the ultimate rivalry. On Mustaphar, Obi-Wan and Anakin are face to face for that last time before undergoing their respective transformations, one being more physical than the other. Between fierceful saber lunges and parrys, the once kindred Jedi Knights exchange dialogue that manifests their own inner battles. In hatred, Anakin argues for the fallacies in the Jedi code that brought him to such an extreme depth, while Obi-Wan holds to the code with as much conviction as he holds his saber. Tired yet composed, the two take a moment to look upon one another. Surrounded by fire and destruction, they declare themselves and accept who they have become. Grief stricken and defeated, Obi-Wan accepts his place in these events and confesses, “ I have failed you Anakin, I have failed you”. In turn, the fallen Jedi, Anakin makes his final statement before cementing his new identity, “ This is the end for you, my Master”. It is important to note that Anakin does acknowledge who the man is before him, but only to emphasize the severity that his turn from light has become. Regardless of the result of the physical altercation, by the end the two characters are unidentifiable form when we first met them. Once again, Star Wars completes a pair of character arcs in such dramatic fashion (until we see them again).
This downward spiral of a narrative sets a bleak tone for the saga, yet complements the later installments in a powerful way. In episodes 4, 5, and 6, our heroes are ravaged versions of their former selves, while others have become vibrant rebels opposing the forces of evil. The Galaxy is ruled by a totalitarian Empire led by an evil Emperor, while a hopeful movement of rebels opposes them at every turn. In this tumultuous period, an ensemble of heroes rise and cement their influence on the classic space saga. Beginning with the galactic trinity consisting of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker, these unlikely allies band together to bring down the galaxies’ most evil villains and defy impossible odds. Despite their valiant endeavours, their journey did not come without great cost.
We first meet Han in a cantina where he relaxingly rubs shoulders with the “scum and villainy” of Mos Eisley. Dodging bounty hunters and space gangsters is Han’s form of normalcy. Business as usual, Han does not hesitate when an unlikely strange old hermit and foolish young boy must be smuggled off planet with no questions asked. In fact, Han’s only concern is the trickery required to avoid “Imperial entanglements”. It isn’t long before the group is caught up in exactly that, and a daring rescue ensues. Successful, the group is overjoyed when a newly freed princess joins this band of hopefuls – all except for Han. Aggressively, Han reminds the princess why he is dedicated to completing this mission and it has little to do with a galactic rebellion. Han is a pirate only looking out for himself and is purely motivated by financial gain. It is also learned that Han is a capable fighter on ground and in flight. Han’s company quickly realize how important he is to the group and are at constant odds with him when addressing galactic needs. Through the comradery that builds with enough space battles, close getaways, and hard-fought victories, Han succumbs and his narrow view becomes widened. In a twist of events, Episode four’s final act shows our greedy space pirate as he soars into battle saving his friends and making the destruction of the Death Star possible. For a character whose view of the rebellion was foolish and an attack on the dreaded Death Star as “suicide”, this is a pivitol moment in his arc that changes him until the end. Han’s legacy is one of selflessness and personal sacrifice, despite the fact that his beginnings are anything but. Of all the moments that Han Solo displayed courage in the face of danger and demise – one stands above all.
On the snowy planet Hoth, a ragged outpost of rebels are hiding from Imperial search parties. Luke Skywalker is injured and stranded in the frozen wasteland facing certain death. Han Solo is gravely concerned for his dear friend, and quickly volunteers to search for him before the temperature drops too low and the outpost is locked down. Without regard for personal safety, Han mounts an unfortunately famous Taun-Taun and braves the deep cold praying he isn’t too late. Before leaving for this treacherous errand, Han is warned not to stay out in the cold for too long for the base will have to be locked down and he will “freeze to death”. Han’s response before riding off, “Then I’ll see you in Hell”. Han’s passion for his friends becomes the driving force that makes him the man we all know today. It is passion that drives him to fall in love, and sadly, it is passion that ultimately causes his death. Despite Han’s tragedy, he could have never been saved from himself and would have always placed himself in the path of death for the sake of those he loved. Deadset and stubborn, Han really only had the patience to endure one other person – Leia. The bold Princess of Alderaan was a critical element in the shaping of Han Solo and the balance to Han’s personal imperfections. While she left her mark on our pirate turned hero, Princess Leia’s signature in Star Wars is one of leadership, dignity in conflict, and preservation in the face of annihilation.
Secretly adopted into royalty and raised in opulence, Princess Leia chose a life in galactic politics and, from a young age, chose to fight against injustices and opposers of democracy. Taking her job to an extreme, Leia chose to actively join the open rebellion and risk her life to defy the feared Galactic Empire. When we first meet Leia, she is staring evil in the face fearlessly declaring her diplomatic position. Chin high and composed, Leia is branded a traitor and taken into Imperial custody. Upon being rescued from her captors, Leia has all guards up and has a short outlook beyond her cause and current mission. She is not impressed with Luke’s courage, in fact, she insults the man as he is rescuing her. Despite Han Solo’s valiant efforts, Leia never approves and argues his every intention. Leia’s urgency to reach Obi-Wan is purely for the sake of her mission, and poor Chewbacca only needs to unintentionally disrupt her path to be referred to as a “carpet”. Closed-off and constantly on the defensive, Leia’s affections don’t come easy and connecting with others isn’t something she values. Still, It is not difficult to realize the reason our Princess is so combative and emotionally numb.
Being raised by Galactic royalty, and all the expectations and attention that come with it, could not have been easy when that family isn’t yours to begin with. Given Leia’s attitude towards others, it appears that she is always proving something and at a constant struggle to keep up an act. Leia has little time for empathy or compassion when she is held to the stature that her adopted family owns. Having no information about her real parents, Leia was forced to generate her own identity and labor for a meaningful place in the galaxy. As a leader of a rebellion, Princess Leia was an unwavered force that inspired those around her, and a formidable opponent to those who challenged her. After some time, those closest to her discovered a more complex Leia. In the eyes of her friends, she was not just a princess, diplomat, and rebel fighter. Leia showed a more vulnerable and accessible side when she began to trust those around her, and even grow to admire. Through the influence of her company, this introvert began to make connections in ways she wasn’t aware of.
In Empire, Han Solo informs command he must leave the cause to settle a little squabble involving a price for his life. When informing Leia of this technicality, our princess is her traditional self, uninterested and unbothered. Han will not oblige her facade and takes his leave, with Leia right behind him. They exchange memorable dialogue where Leia argues for the good of the cause, and the importance of Han’s participation. Familiar with Leia’s expertise in evasion, Han firmly demands an honest explanation about her personal feelings regarding his departure. Leia is incapable of allowing herself from fear of feeling disarmed and exposed in the presence of this “scuffy-looking nerf herder”. Unfiltered and bold, Han never disappoints and proposes that what Leia was really worried about was him leaving without a good-bye kiss! As comical as Han’s behavior appears, it is necessary in order to break down the frozen barriers that our princess has built around herself- and it works. Leia’s child-like crush on Han makes her defensive and uncomfortable with herself. We watch as she begins to behave erratically from a number of tantrums and outbursts, to sharing the saga’s most awkward kiss all for the purpose of disturbing Han. A once focused determined political figure and rebel leader, turned flustered and weakened,in a sense, due to the most powerful force in the universe – love.
Leia watched as her home planet of Alderaan was destroyed, and everything she held dear vanish in an instant. Leia endured and showed immense ability in self-preservation despite the devastation. While her journey is a story of personal strength and self-reliance, it accumulates into a realization of harmony, and finding common ground in the unlikeliest of places or people. Leia realizes all this in the family that formed during the chaos of her adventure. Ironically, Leia also discovers actual family among her in, none other, than Luke Skywalker.
Upon meeting our aspiring Jedi we learned several things; a planet with two suns is habitable, moisture farming is very boring, and Jawas are backsliding junk dealers. Under the harsh conditions of the planet Tatooine, a young farm hand looks to the skies in hopes of traversing the galaxy as a pilot for the rebellion. Luke, lost and naive, wonders what lies beyond his mundane existence and is naturally drawn to the unusual or perilous. It isn’t long before a dedicated droid and a tired old hermit reunite to reveal that Luke’s life is anything but mundane. The trio unite and embark on a journey that will change Luke Skywalker forever.
Early in this reflection, we discuss the importance and weight of the relationship Star Wars creates between a master and apprentice. Obi-Wan Kenobi returns after the fall of democracy and the purge of the Jedi in the galaxy. Still, defeated and in mourning, Obi-Wan takes on Skywalker as his apprentice and vows to train him to become a Jedi. Agreeing with the continuity of episodes 1 through 6, it is bizarre for Obi-Wan to take on a new apprentice after failing Anikin as tragically as he did. Whatever Obi-Wan’s reasons were, Luke was not left with much choice after what little he had on Tatooine was savagely taken from him. Unlike Obi-Wan and many before him, Luke did not have the support of a council consisting of various masters aiding him through his training. Instead of grand temples and great halls, Luke endured a makeshift regiment instructed by an aged and exiled master aboard a smuggling vessel. With no support from the Millenium Falcon’s captain, Han Solo discouraged Luke’s efforts claiming that Jedi practices are part of “hoaky religion”. In a time period where Jedi were all but extinct, and any teachings of the art were concealed or forgotten, Han’s take on the issue was not inaccurate.
Undeterred, Luke heeded Obi-Wan’s teachings and remained on course to becoming a Jedi Knight. In Luke’s arch, some significant aspects set him apart from characters analyzed before. The path to becoming a Jedi has always been depicted as one of extreme sacrifice and strict discipline. Jedi are not allowed attachments or emotional engagement; they are trained from a very young age to avoid distraction and live by the Jedi Code. With the Jedi being hunted to extinction, Luke was not allowed a traditional Jedi training and was at the whim of defeated masters. It is arguable that Luke and Obi-Wan’s journey was built on deception and, for selfish reasons, Obi-Wan did not allow Luke significant truths regarding his past. Still Obi-Wan instilled Luke essential guidance and knowledge of the force, even the dangers of the dark side.
Among the challenges Luke endures on his path, deciding between the code and the lives of his friends proved to be overwhelming. Obi-Wan appears, after death, to plead with Luke to follow the code and complete his training. Luke defies Obi-Wan’s desperate demands and rushes to the aid of those he cares for most. It has been established that Jedi are not allowed emotional attachments, and are discouraged from forming relationships outside of the code. Again, Luke begins to deviate and morph into something unique apart from his companions, but also from any Jedi we have come to know. While Anakin’s turn from the light stemmed from self-serving reasons, Luke treds off the path for a much more noble purpose. Even still, after the stern warnings of Obi-Wan and Master Yoda, Luke leaves and goes one to complete one the most unique character arcs in Star Wars.
Battling the allurements of the Dark Side, piecing together a shattered history, and finding an identity in a broken order, Luke Skywalker defeats many foes, rescues those he loves, and defies an empire. Still, Luke’s faith and strength is not put to the ultimate test until he is faced with the most powerful forces in Star Wars history – Darth Vader and the Emperor. Willingly, Luke is taken to face the evil emperor in hopes of saving the person whom he learns is his father, Darth Vader. Luke is warned that his intentions are foolish and his only option is to turn to the Dark Side and join the evil empire. The emperor fans the flames of Luke’s rage when shown the absolute demise of the rebellion and of everyone he cares about. Unbecoming of Jedi, Luke strikes the Emperor with fatal intent only to be thwarted by Vader and a melee between father and son ensues. The fight between light and dark had never been so volatile within a single character before Luke. Before Empire, characters were traditionally stable in regards to morality. After abandoning his masters, force choking Gamorrean guards, and saber-lunging at an unarmed evil Emperor , Luke’s place in this cosmic pendulum was difficult to determine.
Luke succumbs to his darkness as he hacks and slashes at his languished and defeated father in a possessed frenzy. The emperor is overjoyed with his victory as he awaits Lukes’ killing strike to his weakened father. Wide-eyed and breathing like a hulk, Luke is able to see himself and tips the balance within him once again. Luke refuses and declares, “ I am a Jedi, like my father before me”. While the Emperor is enjoying running volts through our indecisive hero, the erratic nature of light and dark occurs again in the unlikeliest of characters. Darth Vader finds his feet again and watches as his son in being tortured to death. In admiration of Luke’s resolve and overwhelmed with the shrieks of his dying son, the Jedi Anakin Skywalker returns.
Whether lifting an unaware evil senior and throwing him down a reactor is honorable or not, Vader’s acts brought an end to a dark era and saved his son’s life. We began this analysis shortly after these events and a series of 6 films comes to a close. The array of characters discussed here make-up the bulk of what makes Star Wars an icon, and a continued cultural phenomenon. As of this writing, The Force Awakens, Rogue One, The Last Jedi and Solo have all been released. Whether these films have kept the quality of their predecessors is in the eye of the beholder. It is our stance that the spirit of Star Wars has remained with interesting characters and engaging story arcs. The Rise of Skywalker is next to be released, and we have hopeful expectations that the Star Wars’ handlers will incorporate and embellish the mechanics that have made Star Wars a timeless masterpiece.
Well, we’re done thinking about Star Wars. For now.