Shrines, Temples, and Tombs – A Look at Existing Beyond Death in Star Wars

“I am here because you are here.” – Qui-Gon Jinn, “Overlords”

The release in March 2014 of The Clone Wars’ “Lost Missions” was seen at the time as a generous gift to the loyal but disappointed fans of the powerful and popular Star Wars serial. Abandoned story arcs would be resolved, secrets uncoiled, and, best of all, it would all be streaming on Netflix.

Almost a year later, it’s become clear that the “Lost Missions” were not just a gift to fans, but also a necessary statement at a critical time for the Star Wars universe; the prequel mysteries of the clones, Order 66, and the fate of Master Sifo-Dyas were solved. More importantly, the triumphant Yoda arc explored deeply the mythos of the Force and the secret of how some Jedi are able to maintain their identity after death.

Of course, this had been explained in Episode III, albeit briefly and in the midst of explosive events with vast galactic consequences. Star Wars is at its most enchanting when it is mysterious and magical, and I wasn’t the only fan who left the film disappointed when one of the saga’s most enduring mysteries was explained away by an off-hand comment in the conference room of the Tantive IV.

When Revenge of the Sith was released, the “Force ghost” puzzle had perplexed fans for a generation. We had seen our favorite Jedi disappear and return as ghosts to guide Luke in his training and the old Expanded Universe continued the party; the Jedi from Dark Horse’s extensive Tales from the Jedi disappeared, as did their New Jedi Order counterparts. No explanation – spiritual or scientific – was ever offered for why and how the Jedi continued to exist beyond their deaths, but it never had to be. It was another mysterious trait of the Force, and it felt magical. It was Star Wars.

After over thirty years of films, books, comics, and now television programs, the most influential piece of the puzzle remains The Empire Strikes Back. Empire established that Obi-Wan Kenobi existed beyond death and was able to interact with other Jedi. Empire also established Dagobah’s famous dark side cave; a place as the focal point for Dark Side energy. This example created a trend for both Legends and official canon, a trend that could have important consequences for the fate of the galaxy and characters in the sequel trilogy.

With Empire as the precedent, The Clone Wars did the legwork. Fans spent the years and months leading up to Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith speculating about the seemingly inevitable return of Qui-Gon Jinn, but it was The Clone Wars that explained the story – and significance – of his existence beyond death. Perhaps guided by his strong connection to the Living Force, Qui-Gon anchored himself to Anakin Skywalker at his death. His continued existence through the Force became known when he called out to Skywalker as he murdered the Tusken Raiders on Tatooine responsible for his mother’s death. On Mortis, Jinn used the planet’s ability to amplify the Force to appear to his former apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin, as they navigated the metaphysical family dispute of the Father, Son, and Daughter. While inquiring about Anakin’s training, Obi-Wan asked his former master, “How are you here?” Qui-Gon’s answer was, “I am here because you are here.”

Qui-Gon’s most important relationship after his death was with Yoda. Qui-Gon guided Yoda to Dagobah and the cave, where the old Jedi Master began his own journey to understanding and unlocking the secret to existing beyond death. Yoda’s journey brings him to Moraband, a bastion of Sith power and energy where he is confronted with by the legendary Darth Bane – but a residual Bane – powerful, but trapped by the limits of Sith magic to an ancient tomb. Yoda recognizes this immediately.

Yoda’s experience on Moraband embodies the example of The Empire Strikes Back; a Jedi attaches himself to other Jedi, whereas the Sith are bound to places of dark energy and, often, their own deaths. Of course, Yoda is not the only Jedi we see do this; Obi-Wan Kenobi famously sacrifices himself to ensure Luke’s escape, only to return from beyond death and guide Luke in his path to become a Jedi.

The Sith of Legends lore find themselves, in death, trapped to their temples, shrines, and tombs. Exar Kun resides for millennia in the temples of Yavin IV, only to be awakened and empowered by Luke Skywalker’s first batch of Jedi students. Kun himself was seduced in the tomb of the long dead Sith Lord Freedon Nadd and granted more power in another Sith tomb, that of Marko Ragnos. The infamous Valley of the Jedi on Ruusan – where Lord Hoth detonated Kaan’s thought bomb and destroyed his Brotherhood of Darkness – was created by powerful dark energy and the deaths of thousands of Jedi and Sith warriors alike. And while Luke Skywalker ruminated on the potential evil in the old Imperial Palace in Heir to the Empire, it was the spot over Endor where Palpatine died his first death that consumed his sister with dark energy.

What explains the difference in the way the Jedi and Sith manifest after death? The key may be to understand the interaction between the Living and Cosmic Force. Qui-Gon Jinn learned that a sentient being became one with the Force after passing through the Living Force into the Cosmic Force and that a properly trained Jedi could exist beyond death, retaining his identity, consciousness, and ability to interact with the brethren he left behind.

Yet for the Jedi Order, “There is no death, only the Force.” The Jedi of the waning days of the Republic were invested in the concept of the Cosmic Force and the idea that all beings have a destiny to fulfill. This belief seeped into the practice of the Order and the training of its future, and this preoccupation – along with their failure to see the machinations of the Sith – was a major factor in the eventual destruction of the Jedi Order. Only Qui-Gon’s discovery allowed the surviving Jedi a method for passing on their knowledge and tradition. Not inside a temple or a shrine, but instead to the next generation of Jedi, Luke Skywalker.

The secrets of Qui-Gon’s discovery cannot have been unknown to the Sith. Palpatine uses the tale of his master, Darth Plagueis, and his quest for immortality, to seduce Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. In fact, Skywalker may have been more inclined to believe Palpatine, as he had encountered the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn on Mortis – a notion that both Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Jedi Council dismissed at the time. The Palpatine of James Luceno’s Tarkin seems less interested in the governing of the Empire and instead spends his time continuing the work of his master, hoping to unlock the mystery of immortality by experimenting with Sith magic in a long-forgotten Sith shrine deep beneath the Jedi Temple.

The modern Sith and their preoccupation with immortality suggest that the Sith understood the ingredients to existing beyond death but lacked the right recipe. Several of the dark side locations mentioned in this article exist on worlds teeming with life, and where there is life, there is the Living Force.

If the Sith understood the connection between the Living Force and existing beyond – or defeating – death, perhaps the shrines and caves scattered across the galaxy were their attempt to harness the power of the Living Force to connect them to the realm beyond. With the wrong recipe, it is possible that the connection between the shrines, the Sith, and the Living Force were corrupted by the Dark Side – leaving scars on the Cosmic Force, scars like the dark side cave on Dagobah.

Some fans believe that the prominence of the Sith Shrine in Tarkin and the Lothal Jedi Temple from Rebels point to a renewed significance for the relics and forgotten temples and tombs of the ancient Sith and Jedi in the new post-Return of the Jedi galaxy. While we know very little about the upcoming films and stories, the nature of the Force and the Force itself promise to play a big role in the events rattling the galaxy. Those events – and the origins and motivations of our new heroes and villains – remain a mystery. But a little mystery is all right. After all, it is Star Wars.