Friday, June 22, 2018

Return of the Jedi: The Closer

It's important to know that Episode 1 and 6 share the same plot. The subverter trilogy and the opening trilogy must sync up in order for the subversion to be complete. The sequel trilogy, while necessary, doesn't have to subvert the first trilogy in entirety because it's been already done by the subverter trilogy. And, as has been pointed out by men far smarter than I, RoTJ subverts TPM. Like in TPM two Force users face a Darkside user. What does this tell us about Vader? Luke is right about him. But... they're coming from the right. Luke's wrong about what he thinks is going to go down and so is Vader. Only the Emperor seems to have a clue about what's going on. He holds all the cards and he knows it and so does the camera. Luke can't hold up under pressure and so he attacks the Emperor. Yes, he's making a mistake here. But... can we really blame him?

And this is where the Ewoks and Han come in, both of which were saved or recruited by Leia and Luke. There's no way Palpatine could have seen this coming. While he learned from Padme's compassion he never thought of the Ewoks as worthy of thought and I doubt he knows that Han Solo even exists. But it's Han who blows up the shield generator and it's the Ewoks who made it possible. All the chickens have come to roost and Palpatine, who thinks he saw all this coming in the Force, is proven to be completely wrong. While Palpatine may be a genius and stupidly powerful in the Force his ability to see into the future is completely discounted here. Palpatine is no Qui-Gon.

This lightsaber fight is my favorite in the saga. Luke completely surprises Vader. Gone is the foolish young man who Vader has to pull his swings with. In his place is someone who can let the Force flow through him in a way that Vader hasn't done in years. Luke is every bit of what his father was before the dip in the lava. He has a power so raw and overpowering that even Vader can't match it, getting kicked down the stairs headlong because Luke's genuinely better than Vader. And Vader knows it. He doesn't rush at Luke after that kick, but stalks back up, trying to intimidate Luke with raw, overflowing  hatred and darkness.

Instead of being intimidated Luke intentionally drops his guard, calling the bluff, and Vader is faced with a choice: to kill his son or to let him live. And, whether he likes it or not, Vader winds up doing something he never thought he'd do: let Luke live. The man who butchered children spares his child. Luke catches that second and rubs it in Vader's face, trying to get him to wake up to what he is. Vader, unable to believe what he just did, denies it and lashes out, angry at Luke for getting through. Palpatine mistakes that anger for killing intent and chuckles. But Vader's emotional armor is permanently cracked and it surprised him. And hopefully we all get to the point where our Shadows get surprised as well, where we are surprised by our own goodness and, even if we resent it, we realize there's more to us than we ourselves can see. And this can piss us off. How dare someone see us better than we see ourselves! How dare they! And sometimes, instead of giving in, we get even angrier, desperate to get our power and control back. So we push and push and push at those who see us better than we see ourselves, trying to get them to back off.

Sometimes we push them too hard, though.

That moment of Luke screaming is my favorite moment of all Star Wars, hands down. All the pain and horror of the Skywalker Saga (so far) just EXPLODES onto the screen. Luke lets fly and Vader finds himself hopelessly outmatched. For all of you who think that Vader was holding back, I present the fight between Obi-Wan and Grievous:

 Notice anything? Grievous is ridiculously stronger than Kenobi. His fists literally make imprints upon metal with a punch. And Kenobi cannot, for the life of him, exchange blows with Grievous, not straight up. Ben, not once, is able to overcome Grievous through brute force, defeating him by his trademark "find the weak spot and blow it up" approach.

There is no moment in ROTJ's fight where that is the case. Not. One. Single. Frickin'. Moment. Luke drives Vader to the ground, he wears out a cyborg. No one previous to this point has ever overpowered Anakin, nevermind driven him back. Once Anakin got going there was no stopping him. Luke is, by all counts in the Skywalker Saga, the strongest saber combatant, blow for blow. 

The Emperor sees every bit of this. And he offers Luke a job.

I'm not going to lie, this picture is here because it's the fulfillment of Luke looking at his face in Vader's helmet. He looks down, and sees that he's becoming Vader. Luke's actions, while damaging to Vader, has made him like Vader. This is an analogical truth to Luke. It's not that he literally stole Vader's hand, but he did steal Vader's hand.

Analogically it makes sense and you KNOW IT!
This is the secret of Star Wars, right here. Throw away your weapon when going against yourself, it won't work. And, what's more, what you do to  others you do to yourself. Luke, looking down at his own hand, finally sees what his wanderings for a year, on his own, have done. Others did not fail him, only Luke can fail Luke. And so he tosses the lightsaber aside, proclaiming the ultimate the truth: he has become everything his father ever wanted to be. He's fulfilled his father's dream: he's freed the slaves, fought for the downtrodden, and realized a level of compassion that no one in the entirety of the Jedi Order had done in probably over a thousand years. It's such a momentous occasion that the base on the moon blows up right after his declaration. As we'd covered in TPM, the smushing of these scenes means that one does indeed cause the other.

Many people are convinced that Anakin is the Chosen One. That's complete and total hogwash, because to bring balance to the Force is to find balance within yourself. And that's not something that Anakin ever managed on his own. So far in the series Luke is the only one to have done it, without help. Regardless of where he goes later Luke was, is, and always will be the Chosen One. The entirety of the series hangs its hat on him. Right here, at the end of RoTJ, Luke becomes the gold standard for what a person should be, Jedi or not. It's no small wonder Vader defends his son at this point, even if it means his death.

One of the things that Star Wars emphasizes is that people in epic events do not understand what it is that they're doing. They do things that happen to be huge and don't understand the personal and sociological implications of said actions. And that becomes the clearest here, with Luke and Vader. Luke doesn't understand that there's a lot more to life than, well, being alive. How you live is incredibly important and Luke, who is 23 at the time, has no real idea of just how true that is. But Anakin finally understands and he passes on in peace. And for the first time in the whole trilogy Luke, the man who never shed a tear over those that he lost, finally cries.

It all ends the same way that TPM did: in fire, tears, and celebration. But this time the Empire is finished, Palpatine is dead, and there will be peace.


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