Lights Will Guide You Home
Last Wednesday was Star Wars (insert “May the fourth be with you” pun here) day. And something on that day reminded me of the trailer Cinemax made a few years back to promote their airing of all six movies in high definition. The promo (embedded below) is a compilation of clips from all of the movies, edited to the Coldplay song, ‘Fix You’.
It’s a little cheesy and heavy-handed I guess. But I really like it, mostly for the fact that the song, paired with the movies, highlights for me what is one of the best elements of the Star Wars story. Because really, at its heart, beneath all the galactic conflict, space battles, and fancy lightsaber duels, Star Wars (at least the original trilogy) is a story about redemption: specifically, in the end, Luke Skywalker’s personal quest to save and redeem his father.
Sure, the original films have their share of black and white, uncomplicated, good vs. evil fighting. But, throughout, there is a nuanced undercurrent of reaching for a higher path, seeking peace and nonviolence, “alternatives to fighting”, etc. Those themes find their full fruition in the final act of the final film, Return of the Jedi, when Luke chooses to face his father, Darth Vader / Anakin, and the Emperor.
That moment has to be one of my favorites from all of the films. Luke faces Vader with the belief that there is still goodness within him. Both the Emperor and Vader attempt to lure Luke into anger and aggression. But by ultimately refusing to fight, Luke simultaneously breaks the central cycle of violence and manages to redeem his father. The latter result was something that no one but Luke, not even those who taught him, believed to be possible.
It probably sounds cheesy and nerdy to go on about the significance of such a scene from such a movie. But, really, watch the clip of the full sequence (also embedded below). It’s incredibly satisfying to me in a unique and rare way. It’s unlike what you get with a lot of action movies which try to make the viewer feel an almost visceral – perhaps even vengeful – need to see the unquestionably evil, and presumed irredeemable enemy meet his / her demise in the end.
We might say, of course, that Star Wars does give us a dose of that with the death of the evil Emperor, who, we are meant to conclude, is clearly too far gone for anything less. And that certainly gives us some nuance and gradations to mull over with regard to evil, justified uses of force / acts of defense, etc. It’s made even more complicated, however, with the suggestion that Luke doing what it would take for him to personally try to destroy the Emperor could lead to his own undoing.
At any rate, the real satisfaction comes not from seeing the Emperor finally meet his end, but rather from seeing Anakin’s redemption and Luke’s bold hope for that redemption vindicated – expressed by the relief and peace in his father’s last words:
You already have [saved me] Luke. You were right. You were right about me.
Tell your sister, you were right.