Monday, April 16, 2012

Question for the Week of Apr 16 - 22: Luke's Lightsaber

What was Luke thinking at the end of Return of the Jedi

Luke is in a life/death struggle with the Emperor and Darth Vader. It looks like his only choice is to kill Darth, but he embraces "positivity," I guess, by not killing his dad and supporting redemption.

So why toss away his sword, too? He does the right thing, then tells the big baddie to shove it... After which Luke gets smacked around - helplessly - where having a weapon was obviously useful. Why does not killing Darth mean standing defenseless, with no cover?

I'm no fighter, kid... but if you drop your guard, they hit you.

When Luke failed in that cave in tESB, he should've learned that The Force is not about walking up to someone you hate, starting a fight, then killing them. But the lesson wasn't "don't even defend yourself." The whole rebellion's at stake!

That's a practical critique, tho, and not the most interesting question. Try this: what did Luke think would happen when he said "no" and tossed the saber?
Luke: I will never join you!
Emperor: ... Luke, you have spared Lord Vader! Your nobility has touched my heart, and I will step down as Emperor and let you and your formerly-pitiful friends go. The Republic shall be restored. Shalom! (Emperor exits stage right, then surrenders to Leia, who finds Luke a nice androgynous girlfriend)
Really, did Luke think the monster-faced old guy would... stop attacking? Or just give up and shut down the Death Star? Or... turn to the light side, too?

There are bigger logical screwups in popular movies and famous scenes, sure. Though I've rarely seen it, the mere mention of RotJ makes me think, "the hell was that scene about? Did he think the Emperor wouldn't fight? Did Luke win because of... 'determination?' If so, does 'begging for your life' count as a strategy?"


  1. Great question!

    The short answer is, because the story needs Luke to reject the dark side at that point. Other than just saying "I reject the dark side!" the best way to show him rejecting violence, anger, and hate is for him to sheathe his weapon, since there's no easy visual way to distinguish between a guy who has his sword out with the intent of just blocking things and a guy who's just biding his time until he can decapitate him some Emperor.

    In the larger view, Luke's whole endgame makes no friggin' sense. He senses Vader's presence, so he leaves his friends. That's reasonable--doesn't want to endanger them and their mission. Then he surrenders to the nearest stormtrooper so they can disarm him and take him to Vader. OK, makes a little sense. I mean, gotta confront Vader, right? Then, when he confronts Vader, his whole play is to tell him "I sense there is still good in you." Vader says, "Uh, no," and there goes the only semblance of a plan Luke seems to have had. If the Emperor's plan for turning him to the dark side didn't rely on him committing patricide, Luke never even would've gotten his saber back!

    So yeah, not terribly solid thinking overall.

    The weird thing is, the prequels kind of hit on a retcon that would make Luke sheathing his lightsaber somewhat sensical. It's the laziest device in the history of literature: the prophecy. The prophecy of the Chosen One is pretty hazily sketched out, but it's pretty clear that Vader is destined to be the one who beats the Emperor. Now, if Luke had known that Vader was the only one who could take the Emperor down--and he didn't--switching off his saber to willingly get his ass kicked is reasonable. Kinda.

    The larger problem in all of this is the poorly-conceived concept of the Jedi Knights as armed soldier-pacifists. But that's a blog post of its own.

  2. This got SO much crazier for me when I rewatched the clip I embedded. I thought he sheathed it too, because "not a moron" after all. Nope, HE THROWS IT AWAY. Like, "who the hell needs this thing?! I'm in the middle of a fight over here!"

    Yes, there are many odd things about being a sociopathic force for justice and good. I hope I never have enough time to really deconstruct it, tho...

  3. Seriously, though, what do you expect from a guy who got to be a Jedi Master through social promotion?

    Also, if the light side of the force is all about defense, shouldn't Jedi be walking around with big-ass shields, like Captain America, instead of slicing weapons?

  4. Absolutely agreed! Even as a kid, I wondered why Han Solo got promoted to general even though all he did was get frozen and come back. No wonder the Rebellion was failing!

    Agreed on the second point, too, but Yoda says that the force is for knowledge and defense, never to attack. You'd have to ask the lil green jedi why they don't have shields, or if they're really expected to use swords as shields, too...


Chime in!