As we continue exploring the Star Wars Saga (see the first post), let us return to my personal favorite of the films, The Empire Strikes Back… Luke has his vision of Han and Leia in danger, but Yoda tells him to stay on Dagobah to train. “If you go now”, he insists, “help them you could… but you would destroy all for which they fought and suffered.” Forfeit his friends for the greater good—how utterly sensible. Luke loves them, however; he willingly puts his life on the line, (spoiler alerts) loses a hand, and discovers that Vader is his father. And guess what, ladies and gentlemen…(with a drum roll, please, and a dash of John William’s incredible music) Yoda’s prophecy is wrong!
By the time Return of the Jedi rolls credits, the Empire is overthrown; everything Luke’s friends fought and suffered for comes up roses and Ewok campfires! In this case, love prevailed over cool, Jedi detachment. In fact, discovering his paternity is Luke’s key to ultimate triumph over the Emperor. Yoda, Ben Kenobi, and even Princess Leia believe Darth Vader is beyond saving. They insist he must be killed, but Luke refuses, reaching out instead with an appeal to love, and a family connection — all the things the Jedi path discards. Luke also employs anger when Darth threatens his sister, using righteous wrath the break the Dark Lord… but then throws his saber down and offers mercy. As we know, this tactic brings about the death of the Emperor, and Vader’s redemption… but more on that later.
In Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, we see foreshadowing of this philosophical dissidence in both Qui-Gon Jinn and the young Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is mentioned that Qui-Gon is a Jedi Master who refused to sit on the High Council (emphasis on the word “sit”) choosing instead to be interactive with the world, to help those in need. He has no desire to lounge in a Coruscant high-rise, separate and “enlightened”, and disagrees with the Council’s methodology. It is fascinating to me that Episode 1 introduces the eastern-influenced Jedi by way of a noble character who chafes at their order and sensibilities. If their way is flawed, if it isn’t the right path, then what is?
At the end of the film, when Darth Maul slays our Liam Neeson’s tall, somewhat roguish Jedi role model, Obi-Wan’s rage boils to the surface. These emotions clearly provide the extra strength that enables him to defeat his opponent. Yoda reprimands Obi-Wan for being headstrong… but surely the anguish and passion he felt over the loss of his mentor—the closest thing he had to a father—cannot be evil. They were natural expression of grief, and his resultant vigor fueled a righteous response. No one in the theatre audience felt particularly upset that Obi-Wan got emotional over his master’s demise… but this is technically not the “Jedi way”. Once again, we see that the spirit of the film refutes—or at least amends—Jedi teachings. There are truths and nobility to be found in their philosophies, but the actions of our heroes suggest that they are lacking essential elements.
George has stated repeatedly that there will be no “third” trilogy. The prequels will add to the original trilogy to form a complete story of six films, which Lucas says “tells the tale of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader)”. The films, it turns out, are really his story; not Luke, not Han, or even R2-D2… this is the story of one man’s rise, fall, and redemption. A redemption achieved through the work of the “son”… a chill went down my spine when I realized the implications therein. I watched the films under this pretense, then, and discovered a whole new world. Darth Vader is me… Anakin Skywalker is Adam… and this story is our story. Darth Vader’s story is mankind’s story.