With all the hype regarding the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I’ve been feeling nostalgic and realized *aghast* that it had probably been over a year since I watched The Return of the Jedi. I’m an Empire Strikes Back kinda gal, but we really don’t need to get into that debate right now. So I got my hands on a copy of the movie and sat down to enjoy my evening.
Not long into the movie, I remembered something my younger self always thought, that this movie was the worst, because in it Luke fully and completely turns to the Dark Side. I know there are a bazillion fan theories about Luke’s character and the Kylo Ren figure, but I’ve tried to stay away from most. I want to go in with my own ideas and excitement... and my own theory based off my younger self’s convictions. We have not seen Luke yet because he is Sith, the last remaining Sith looking for an apprentice to stand beside him. After my recent Return of the Jedi rewatching, I’m fully on board with this and I’ll lay out some interesting points as to why.
First, let’s back up a bit and start with Yoda and his sage advice to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.
“…Anger… fear… aggression. The dark side of the force are they… If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…”
So let us remember for the rest of this article that anger, fear, and aggression are the negative emotions that, once grasped, lead you down the path of the dark side. This is important, as is Yoda explaining how to tell the difference between the good and bad.
“You will know. When you are calm, at peace. Passive. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack.”
We will return to these, but keep them in mind.
Next, let us go to the dead, black tree cave on Dagobah. You know the cave, the one where Luke confronts Vader and sees his own face in the helmet. Many people chalk this up to foreshadowing that Vader is Luke’s father, but I always took it another way. It was showing Luke a mirror of what resided in him: the darkness. Before entering the cave Luke asks Yoda, “What’s in there?” Yoda responds with, “Only what you take with you.” Luke already has the potential for darkness and being a part of him it was brought into the cave and reflected back. Also, he grasped onto fear (bad emotion, that fear) and struck out at Vader to reveal his own face. Foreshadowing daddy Vader or foreshadowing dark Luke? I prefer the latter.
Fast forward to Luke deciding to run out on his training and go save Leia and Han. Again Yoda reminds Luke of his failure in the cave, an initial warning that he is not done with training. When that doesn’t work Yoda gives him the ultimate, prophetic, and final warning:
“Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.”
Luke disregards this and falls for his main weakness: the loyalty he has to his friends. Luke leaves without completing his training, despite being warned that if he did this and faced Vader he would become an agent of evil. Has Yoda ever been wrong? In my eyes this is the beginning of Luke’s downward spiral.
Onward to The Return of the Jedi. First, an interesting fact I dug up from an LA Times article back in 2010 called "Did Star Wars Become A Toy Story?" It’s interesting, read it, but one part in particular stuck with me for this topic. Kurtz was dismissed from the project because Lucas and Kurtz could not agree on an ending for Return of The Jedi.
“We had an outline and George changed everything in it,” Kurtz said. “Instead of bittersweet and poignant he wanted a euphoric ending with everybody happy.”
Later the article states:
“The discussed ending of the film that Kurtz favored presented the rebel forces in tatters, Leia grappling with her new duties as queen and Luke walking off alone “like Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns,” as Kurtz put it.”
Lucas changed the ending to the happy dancing Ewoks to drive toy sales. I guess that's understandable looking at the franchise today.
In 2005, Hamill pitched the idea of Luke’s progression to the dark side to Lucas during an episode of Dinner For Five. Guess who was also on that episode... J.J. Abrams! Maybe the wheels started turning then. Up until Lucas’ changed ending, it seems that everyone, writers and actors included, saw the natural progression of events leading to Luke’s downfall. What would be more bittersweet and poignant than that? Trying to do good, but instead following a destructive path. Remember Anakin believing he was doing good confronting and destroying the order? What’s different with Luke believing he was doing good trying to rescue his friends?
Now, let's move on to character development and change. Anyone else feel uncomfortable at Luke’s serious, sinister black robes in Return of the Jedi? He’s no longer the same Luke, he seems arrogant, hotheaded, and easily emotional. Talking to Jabba he says, “Nevertheless, I'm taking Captain Solo and his friends. You can either profit by this or be destroyed. It's your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate my power.” Defiantly arrogant. He’s taunting, warning, not at peace or passive at all.
Jumping to the fight scenes, the most damning evidence of this theory, at least in my eyes, is during Luke’s time with the Emperor. “Take your weapon. Strike me down with all of your hatred and your journey towards the dark side will be complete.” Luke does just this! He grabs his lightsaber and strikes, he accepts his hatred and uses it! He is only stopped by Vader’s saber.
After gaining his composure it’s time to deal with Vader. Luke seems to be holding onto his composure until Vader brings up Leia being his sister. This immediately sends Luke into a frenzy of fear, anger, and aggression, which he uses to fuel an attack. Not very Jedi like. Luke confronts and defeats his father only after giving into his fear and hatred. “Your hate has made you powerful,” declares the Emperor.
Most people see what happens next as Luke coming back to the good side, but is that possible once you've crossed over into the dark? Is he looking at his hand and his father’s as a warning of what he could become or as a symbol of the power he now holds? Is his proclamation that he will never turn to the dark side a bit too arrogant sounding? I always thought at this point Luke and the Emperor both realize Luke’s powers, tainted by fear and aggression, are -- or could become -- as strong or stronger than the Emperor's. At this point the Emperor ends his taunts, regarding Luke with fear now. He no longer has a chance to create an apprentice, he has just created a rival instead.
With the Emperor and Vader both dead, the Sith are seemingly defeated, but I don’t think this is true. I believe the Sith live on in Luke and he will be looking for an apprentice to avenge his father’s death. Does Kylo Ren fit the bill? We'll have to wait until Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 17th to find out.
Until then, why don’t you bring down your Star Wars movie posters (or any poster!) and have them framed by Buffalo Big Print’s professional Star Wars loving staff so you can treasure it forever!