Life Lessons from The Empire Strikes Back [part 12]: Dark revelation

2010/11/29

It’s been way, wayyyyyy too long since the last update to this long, lonnnnnng-running series. Time to wrap it up, already.

(I actually found I had three — three — false starts to this final chapter in my drafts folder. *shaking my head*)

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It has also come to my attention, as I’m writing this, that Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, has passed away today at the the age of 87 [EDIT: it was Saturday, Nov. 27]. My condolences to his family and friends. I pray he is now in the arms of Our Lord  Jesus Christ. Needless to say, he will be remembered and beloved by generations of Americans for his contribution to the Star Wars saga. And I can think of no better tribute than to actually finish this retrospective on his most famous work.

Irvin Kershner, 1932-2010

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OK, so my nine-year-old mind has already been utterly blown by the incomprehensible sight of Luke getting literally disarmed mere moments ago. Now my hero can only cringe and crawl away from the embodiment of evil:

This image has stuck with me; Luke can only pathetically inch away from Darth Vader over the yawning abyss beneath.

So Vader’s attempting to tempt Luke to know the POWAH of the dark side of the Force, and Luke’s having none of it. He’s good. Vader’s bad. He’s the golden-haired, blue-eyed hero, Vader’s the villain in black. For goodness’ sake, Luke is an actual whole human being (well, up until a minute ago). Vader’s humanity, this tantalizing glimpse notwithstanding, is definitely in question.

That is, until the matter of Luke’s father comes up in the conversation.

Vader: …Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him.
Vader: No. I am your father.

Huh?

WHAT?

No, he had to be lying. This is a bad guy. THE bad guy. He’s spent the last two hours choking underlings for even minor failings, welching on deals, torturing and freezing Luke’s friends and even maiming Luke. It’s just…

…Not.

Possible.

But Luke’s anguished denial is, like mine was, more based on emotion than on fact. And while Vader’s certainly given us reason to distrust him, even at age nine I had to consider this news could be true.

(This coincides with a fascinating quote in the 1997 book Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays from director Kershner: “…Now, I was talking to kids, and I discovered that children below the age of nine say, ‘No, no, he’s not his father, he’s lying.’ They can’t accept it. About [age] ten on, they accept it.”

My only brother is 2.5 younger than I am, and his experience supports this hypothesis; he totally disbelieved while I accepted it while wanting to disbelieve it.)

When the very embodiment of evil shares a kinship with the golden heroic ideal, a powerful LIFE LESSON emerges: Nothing’s ever absolutely black & white in this world…except the truth!

Here, then, Luke’s earlier vows to never join Vader or be lost to the Emperor are put to the test. He’d made those vows A) without knowing the truth and B) assuming that he couldn’t possibly lose. Now he has two excellent reasons to renounce those vows: his thought-long-dead father is alive and he will certainly die if he doesn’t join him.

That Luke chooses certain death by stepping out into the bottomless abyss is a powerful reinforcement to a LIFE LESSON learned way back in Part 5: Shun evil. NO MATTER WHAT.

This shot of Luke falling toward the camera is the one that stuck with me...showing that the seemingly bottomless pit apparently had no TOP, either.

And just when it seems nothing could get worse, it does. Luke ends up stuck on the underside of Cloud City, barely suspended over the truly bottomless drop of the gaseous planet. The scene of the maimed Luke reduced to begging the spirit of Ben Kenobi to help him remains the very picture of hopelessness.

(It also struck me as incredibly useless. What could Ben DO? …Even if he HADN’T warned Luke he couldn’t help him if the young Jedi faced Vader? An unfortunate lesson I almost gained here was: If you disobey your mentors, don’t come crying to them for help when you fail. But the truer LIFE LESSON was: If one person or method doesn’t help, try another. Sometimes it’s the unlikeliest one that saves you.

And so, Luke is rescued, by the very ones he came to the city to rescue. (Two earlier Lessons on not forsaking friends and never giving up are reinforced here.)

After so many dark events, a bit of fun returns to the proceedings as the Falcon’s hyperdrive fails again. I wondered if we might be in store for another extended chase scene like earlier in the film.

It becomes plain, though, that the end is near, as Vader begins to telepathically speak to Luke, father to son:

…and it’s their mutual references to each other as father and son, along with Luke’s openly wondering why Ben Kenobi had lied to him, that sealed the question for me whether Vader was telling the truth.

(For the moment, anyhow. It was going to be a lonnng three years before the question would be fully settled in Return of the Jedi.)

The whole film had taken my naive expectation that the Good Guys Always Win and flipped it upside down, crashed it, exploded it, frozen it and cut off its sword-arm for good measure. So when the Falcon finally makes it into hyperspace and safety…

…the LIFE LESSON that I took from it is this: Even if you’re losing just about as badly as you CAN lose, just one clean escape to fight another day is as good as a win.

On the flipside, Darth Vader, who’s been summarily and capriciously executing subordinates for their failure to capture the Falcon under much more difficult circumstances for two hours of film time, suddenly fails to execute ANYONE for letting the tiny ship escape for good literally right under the flagship’s nose.

I could speculate a half-dozen solid reasons why. But for the purposes of this series, it merely served as a mild reinforcement to the LIFE LESSON learned from Darth Vader’s dark revelation: Nothing is absolutely good or bad…and that apparently includes Darth Vader, too.

That does it for the Life Lessons. But I have just a couple more thoughts and impressions from the very end of the film.

Lando = NOT scruffy-looking. But I totally noticed how he was dressed like Han Solo and wondered if Han was truly being written out of the series. At this point, ANYTHING seemed possible after the events of this film.

And Luke gets a new hand.

OK. Space health care is pretty good. (You'll note that it's private and NOT public, as the Rebel Alliance isn't an official government.) 🙂

I also really, REALLY didn’t want the movie to be over. John Williams’ wonderful love theme (which reminded me so much of the Gone With The Wind theme that I conflated the two for years after) truly reflected the yearning emotion that the heroes have for their lost, frozen friend and, in this viewer, the yearning for this incredible film to not be over.

But, of course, I knew it was.

Thus I’ve finally almost completed my look back at my all-time favorite movie. I want to compile all the Life Lessons learned into one summary as a bookend…and perhaps I’ll get to that by Christmas. Thank you for reading and for your patience.

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2 Responses to “Life Lessons from The Empire Strikes Back [part 12]: Dark revelation”

  1. Kris G Says:

    In my mind, Vader didn’t kill Piett for only one reason. He was preoccupied with matters much bigger than his own petty anger. And he lived for that anger. You could argue that even in the prequels he was never so even keeled as at that one moment. That, to me, is the moment we should have really all seen it. Luke Skywalker mattered to this man. How could he not be Luke’s father?

  2. Khari Says:

    I agree, Kris (though, as you did, I only saw it in hindsight as an adult). Vader, a classic static character on the surface, is suddenly revealed to be a dynamic character after all.

    Arguably, this change occurs the very moment he tells Luke of his parentage. Prior to that moment, the boy is merely a potential threat, a prize for the Emperor, a dumb resistance fighter who doesn’t know when he’s good and beaten and should just accept the dark side already. And he is merely the most powerful being in the galaxy short of the Emperor himself; a Lord of the Sith doing his Emperor’s bidding.

    After the revelation, immediately, all those things above are now colored in the hues of “father” and “son.” The boy’s a threat…to the Emperor. A prize…for himself. A beaten rebel for whom the dark side is the only way to survive — and Vader WANTS the boy to survive, it turns out.

    He’s a father in his own mind for the first time since…well, ever.


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