I learned a lot from this battle.

Wow. I originally intended to be done with this series by late June. But here it’s September and I’m just starting the final segment, which is going to run for at least 2 installments.

But enough with recrimination. On with the retrospective!

The duel doesn’t start with the first clash of lightsabers captured above, but several minutes earlier in the film, when Luke decides to abandon his training at a crucial stage to rescue his endangered friends. Thus was an earlier lesson I learned in the film reinforced: Don’t abandon your friends and comrades.

But there’s a tension in the lesson this time around, as Luke is defying the wishes and advice of both the greatest mentors of his young life. They fear that he will fail and only dash their hopes anew:

Yoda: “Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned; SAVE you it can!”

That line chilled me a bit. Yoda isn’t even guaranteeing that his training is enough to survive, much less defeat Vader. But Luke, for his part, doesn’t even entertain the possibility of failure. It seems that Yoda’s earlier instruction for him to “Try not; do or do not” has finally taken root in the worst way. Luke says two things in this scene that resonate much later in the film and much later in my life:

“You won’t.”

and

“I’ll return…I promise.”

The first line is in response to the ghostly Obi-Wan’s voiced fear of losing Luke to the dark side the way he lost Vader, his previous apprentice. The second line is a similar vow given to Yoda regarding his unfinished training.

These exchanges remind me of an episode near the end of Jesus of Nazareth’s earthy life. Two of his disciples, James and John, conspire with their mother to jockey for right- and left-hand-man status with Jesus when He comes into His Kingdom. Jesus asks them if they’re able to pay the same price in suffering that He’s about to endure. In their blindly ambitious naivety, both say they can and will.

Like Luke, the “sons of thunder” had no clue what they’d just vowed to do.

The LIFE LESSON of this scene, then is this: don’t make vows you really don’t know if you can keep.

There’s one more element at the very end of the scene that underscores the danger that Luke faces. As Obi-Wan and Yoda stand in the glow of Luke’s departing X-Wing, they have this exchange:

Obi-Wan: That boy is our last hope.

Yoda: No…there is another.

Wait…what? You mean Luke might not walk away from this?

At age nine, I barely registered this bit of foreshadowing, but it really is a subtly masterful storytelling device and a bit of insurance on the filmmakers’ part if their lead actor is lost somehow.

Finally, after much Imperial maneuvering, Luke finds himself facing the dark Lord Darth Vader at last, who has his own chilling words with which to open the encounter:

“The Force is with you, young Skywalker…but you are not a Jedi yet.”

Suddenly, the weight of all leading up to this moment hit my nine-year-old consciousness:

Yoda’s warning that Luke’s training might save him.

Obi-Wan’s warning that he can’t help Luke this time.

Yoda’s revelation that Luke isn’t the only hope.

Vader’s demonstrated unilateral authority in the movie so far.

And, most of all, the Rule of Expectations. My earlier assurance that Luke was destined to win (based on a fellow kid’s spoiler) was dashed in the scene at the cave midway through the film.

I’ve never been as on-the-edge-of-my-seat in any movie experience before or since. Thus the first LIFE LESSON of my Empire Strikes Back summer was reinforced: expectations have a way of coloring and affecting everything we do or experience. But my (and Luke’s) naive expectation of Luke’s victory is, with this scene and the others represented above, put into serious doubt. Consequently, a corollary lesson emerges: the reality still trumps the expectation. Don’t get ahead of yourself, kid!

Next time, we’ll look at what we can learn from the actual fight.

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"Full of wisdom for a Muppet am I."

As I wrote last time around, there was a wealth of wisdom for the nine-year-old me from this segment of this, the greatest movie sequel ever made. And there’s hardly another scene that had as much impact, both immediate and delayed, than the one the following quote comes from.
Quote #5
“Always with you it cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?”
Luke has a fixed idea of reality and what’s possible, while Yoda urges the youth to expand his horizons. While this has a concrete application in the Star Wars universe — raising Luke’s many-tons-heavy X-Wing fighter out of the swamp —  it’s equally applicable in the real world.
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How often have we judged something too difficult or frightening or danagerous to attempt and thus made certain our failure by our inaction? How many of us fellas have decided not to talk to that beautiful woman because she couldn’t possibly be interested in us? Or not written that business plan we’re passionate about because we just know it’ll fail?
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The problem is our mentality, as Yoda next points out in Quote #6:
“NO different! Only different in your mind.
What makes that beautiful woman any different from the less-dazzling one you don’t have any trouble relating to? Only you and your attitude about her. She’s just another person, with her own hopes, fears and opinions. What makes your business idea any less workable than your current 9-to-5 job? Only you and your attitude toward it. If it’s built on a solid system, you can work it — if you really want to.
LIFE LESSON: “Unlearn” what you “know” to be your limits and be open to the possibility of growth and unexpected successes.
Quote #7
“Try not! Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.'”
This was — and still is — a highly challenging statement. I mean, isn’t trying one’s best all one can ever do? It seems that Luke is right in his bitter complaint to Yoda a few moments later: “You want the impossible.”
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Yoda’s powerful demonstration of lifting the huge X-Wing from the swamp with mere concentration does little to sway us from this conclusion. That’s a fantasy, where stuff like that is possible. In real life, all you can do is try, right?
Wrong.
That’s because we, like Luke, are misunderstanding Yoda. The Jedi Master is pressing for Luke’s DECISION and DETERMINATION to do his utmost. To simply “try” is to expect to fail.
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Yoda speaks in his absolutist manner because he’s not asking Luke to do anything that is not well within Luke’s power. Unfortunately, Luke doesn’t yet accept this truth and so can only commit to “try” to lift the X-Wing from the water with full expectation of his failure.
The rule of expectations is the first and possibly greatest lesson I learned from The Empire Strikes Back as a nine-year-old. Here, in this scene, that lesson was reinforced in a completely different context.
LESSON: To decide to “try” something is to give oneself greater permission to fail than to succeed.
Quote #8
“Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter!”
Not every lesson I learned from The Empire Strikes Back was entirely positive. For while this line pointed to the truth of humanity being fashioned in God’s image, with many of his divine attributes, it also suggests that (and here is the lesson I nearly took away from this) humanity itself is divine in and of itself…no God necessary.
This was reinforced by the bad, New Age-influenced theology of the church we were attending at the time. In fact, I distinctly recall the female preacher making reference to the film and saying, “The Force is God.”
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Which, of course, is nonsense. God is no energy field surrounding and created by life. He’s not an “it” to be controlled or manipulated. There is no “dark side” of him to fall prey to. He doesn’t control our actions or obey our commands. If anything, He is, as author Dick Staub coins in his excellent Stars Wars-themed devotional “Christian Wisdom from the Jedi Masters”, “The Lord of the Force.”
But I digress.
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When I recall such moments, I’m now so very glad I was a natural-born skeptic, only half-believing those half-true-whole-false sermons. God used that skepticism to protect me from buying into the counterfeit faith of my youth and to influence me to do the background check to firm up the genuine faith of my adulthood.
Today I’ve retained the real wisdom of that Yoda quote — wisdom that is absolutely true: We’re more than just our body.
Yoda has just floated Luke’s fighter from the swamp by closing his eyes and gesturing, and Luke is understandably awed and humbled by his master leading to Quote #9:
LUKE: “Master, I…I don’t believe it.”
YODA: “That…is why you fail.”
The LESSON here was clear: You must adjust your level of expectation! You’re capable of more than you think!
Again, this was a lesson that my then-church twisted to fit its own theology: that positive affirmations of our inner divinity was all that was needed to activate the Christ Consciousness within ourselves, like this one: “I am God; therefore if I name it, I can claim it and if I believe it, I can achieve it!
Sadly, while there’s some truth to this rhyme-y cliché, it was taken well out of context both by that liberal denomination and continues to be today in otherwise more orthodox and theologically sound corners.
Finally, before I depart Luke’s training on Dagobah, I’ve got to mention this  scene:

Dream duel with a dark lord. Luke chops Dream Vader's head off a few seconds later.

Apparently, this is what that kid was referencing when he “spoiled” the result of Luke and Vader’s duel for me. So when I recognized the scene, I realized there were unknown surprises in store for me in the roughly hour or so remaining in this seminal film. And thus the Rule of Expectations was now in full effect.
Next will be a look at Cloud City, the coolest locale in any Star Wars film, and the lessons it had to teach. Look for it!

It’s time.

2010/03/18

I’ve been sitting on this blog for a while now.

I’ve been wondering what tack I should take, since I hear that the most successful blogs tend to have a razor-sharp focus on a particular subject. But I don’t want to be stuck on a single subject.

The other issue is that I didn’t want to jump directly into some heavy subject right away. Yes, I want to write about Truth. Contrary to what our morally relativistic culture would have you believe, absolute truth does exist. And it behooves us as thinking beings to strive to know that absolute truth to the best extent that our finite minds can grasp it.

Yes, I want to write about Justice. Plainly put, some things are just right and some things are just wrong. The element that steers matters toward the “right” side of the scale is Justice. That’s what I’m about.

Yes, I want to write about the Way. Not the “American way,” but the Way referred to in the New Testament. And I wish to do so in a thoroughly non-religious fashion.

Finally, I want this blog to also have a fun side, as evidenced by its title’s evocation of the introduction to the old “Superman” TV Show (see 0:35-0:45):

I like comic books and superheroes. Always will. So I’ll frequently write about them as well.

I hope you’ll stick with me as I feel my way through this new venture.

——————————

Now. The reasons why I finally decided to quit waffling and just do this.

1) The graphic design programs I was working on just crashed. I needed something else to do for an hour or so while I burned off my frustration.

2) I keep hearing about new nonsense coming out of Washington D.C. surrounding this health care reform bill.

First: somehow, a nearly trillion-dollar new government program is supposed to reduce the federal deficit.

What?

The reason it can do this, apparently, is that the taxes and other revenue-building tactics begin years before any benefits start to pay out. Oh.

Second: I’m starting to notice that the health insurance industry is not very vocal in its opposition to this reform bill. That’s really got my alarm bells ringing. Some of my left-wing fellow Americans are noticing, as well.

Third: Meanwhile, my right-wing American neighbors across the nation are railing against something called a “deem-as-passed” procedure that could sort of pass a not-finalized, not-voted-on health reform bill. Is that even legal? ‘Cause it’s certainly not right.

I could go on, but I really don’t want to get any further into it.

3) I read some great comic books this week, including one starring my favorite superhero, Aquaman.

Back in grad school, I used to write a little comic book review column on Usenet forums called “This Ain’t A Library, Kid!” I’m wondering if I ought to start something like that again. For now, though, I think I’ll leave it at quoting my favorite line from a comic this week:

…..

…actually, it’s a tie.

“The sea covers 70% of the Earth’s surface…the land, only 30%. Why would I ever wish to settle for less?”Aquaman, replying to a devil’s offer to rule the surface world in The Brave and the Bold #32 (April 2010).

“Who can stop me? WHO?!”Gamora, “deadliest woman in the galaxy,” in combat against endless hordes in Guardians of the Galaxy #24 (April 2010).