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The Pull to the Light: Redemption and Salvation in Star Wars

vaderunmasked

The first six Star Wars episodes tell, in part, the story of the fall and redemption of Darth Vader. This is a common interpretation, supported by George Lucas’s own statements. But is Darth Vader truly redeemed, and what do we mean by that? What actually happens to him at the end of Return of the Jedi? This question is crucial to understanding the thematic core of Star Wars, and we must attempt to answer it if we are to speculate on the future of our newest villain: Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo.

Darth Vader

Before we explore this, we have to ask what is meant by “redemption.” Like many questions dealing with the English language, the answer is more complicated than it first appears. The first definition given by dictionary.com is:

1.

an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.

This definition relies on the idea that a person atones for, or “redeems”, a mistake they have made. Is this what Vader does? This is a value judgement, so we may all come to a different conclusion, but on the whole, I would have to argue that he does not. Read More

The Quick and Easy Path: Politics and the Force

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Politics have been part of Star Wars since the opening pages of Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of A New Hope told the story of how the Old Republic became the Empire not through a military coup, but because it rotted from within due to corruption. With the publication of Claudia Gray’s political drama Bloodline, and the revelation that its central conflict arose from suggestions by Episode VIII director Rian Johnson, politics are once again at the forefront of the Star Wars universe. But does the saga have a core political philosophy, or make a political statement? If it does, how does it relate to the overall philosophy of Star Wars? And can we use it to predict where the franchise might take us next?

Harmony and corruption in the old Republic

The Phantom Menace is the clearest statement of George Lucas’s political outlook, and we can use it as a starting point to follow this thread through the rest of his six-episode saga. On a narrative level, TPM is the story of Padmé Amidala, told mainly through the eyes of Qui-Gon Jinn: the core conflict against the Trade Federation is Padmé’s, and it is her choices – first to leave Naboo and appeal to the Senate, then to return and unite her people with the Gungans – that drive the story and give it shape. It is unlike any other film in the saga – not the mythic hero’s journey of a Jedi-to-be, but the story of a young woman’s political coming-of-age.

Padmé leaves Naboo because she believes in the ability of the Senate to save her people from the Federation. Arriving on Tatooine, however, Padmé is shocked to discover that there is still slavery in the galaxy, and that there are places where the laws of the Republic simply do not exist. Even Republic money is worthless out here, and the entire planet is controlled by gangsters. The implication is clear: the Republic doesn’t care about what happens on the galactic frontier. When we reach Coruscant, we discover that the Trade Federation, a corporation driven by profit, has its own seat in the Senate, giving it a voice in galactic affairs that is equal to any Republic system, and stronger than worlds such as Tatooine. Taking advantage of legalism and bureaucracy, the Federation is able to stall the Senate’s actions. Read More

Paths to the Dark Side: The Future and the Past

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Throughout his Star Wars films, George Lucas keeps returning to the idea that dwelling on the possibilities of the future is dangerous, and that instead one should try to live in the present moment. In The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan approach this idea from the opposite direction, which may give us some clues as to where Rey’s journey, in particular, might be going in Episodes VIII and IX.

The original trilogy

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda is at first reluctant to train Luke Skywalker, because “all his life has he looked away – to the future, to the horizon. Never, his mind on where he was! What he was doing!” Later in the film, while meditating, Luke sees a vision of the future: his friends Han and Leia in terrible danger. Yoda instructs him not to act on these images, and warns that “always in motion is the future”, but Luke defies him. The results are disastrous. Luke is unable to help his friends, who ultimately rescue themselves, and instead finds himself in a confrontation with Darth Vader that he isn’t ready for. The friends he goes to save end up having to save him.

In Return of the Jedi, it is Emperor Palpatine who fails due to his preoccupation with the future, this time fatally so. He confidently asserts that “everything is proceeding as I have foreseen”, constructing his plans around his own foresight. He even says, of Luke, “his compassion for you [Vader] will be his undoing,” and that it is Luke’s “destiny” to join the dark side. But Palpatine misses the truth that is right in front of him – the conflict in Vader. Luke sees this clearly, and in the end, it is Vader’s compassion for Luke that proves to be Palpatine’s undoing. Read More