Archive for the ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ Category

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The Light and the Darkness

October 14, 2009

“What’s in there?” Luke asks before entering the cave.

Yoda, sitting on a tree root, looks down and and plays with his cane as he offers his wisdom: “Only what you take with you.”

Inside the cave, Luke has a troubling vision — one that foreshadows the terrible truth he is about to discover…

A vision; an omen; a foreshadowing of things to come...

A vision; an omen; a foreshadowing of things to come...

The surprise twist at the end of The Empire Strikes Back is infamous for its sheer audacity. Here we have Luke Skywalker, the young man who destroyed the Death Star and helped bring the galaxy that much closer to freedom, and Darth Vader, a heartless cyborg who has fully embraced the Dark Side of the Force, and yet… they’re father and son?

“That’s not true! That’s impossible!”

But indeed it is true. And it’s so shocking because it cuts to the heart of that which we would rather ignore: the darkness — the Dark Side of the Force — is not some external foe that can be battled with blasters and lightsabers; it is an internal potentiality that we all carry with us.

The Ego is the conscious light in the darkness of the psyche’s depths: it is who we are, from a very limited, temporal perspective. The Shadow, on the other hand, is those aspects of ourself that cannot be seen by the Ego: our personal blind spot.

But the Shadow is more than just quirks and foibles. To quote Carl Jung, it has a “demonic dynamism” — the evil that lurks in the hearts of ordinary men. It’s exactly because these aspects hide in the darkness that they are twisted and distorted, appearing as caricatures and grotesqueries; had they been brought into the light, they would breathe and grow as trees in the open air.

In an earlier post I made the point that the characters in Star Wars are not meant to be interpreted as individuals but rather as aspects of the human psyche. Again, I must emphasise this point, especially in regards to the Ego and Shadow: Luke and Anakin Skywalker both represent the Ego; Darth Vader represents the Shadow.

More specifically, both Anakin and Luke symbolise the dominant psychological function; using John Beebe’s framework, Vader symbolises the Opposing Personality: “a figure that opposes, critizes and seduces the ego”. The entire climactic duel of The Empire Strikes Back places Vader very plainly in this role.

Darth Vader as Beebe's "Opposing Personality"

Darth Vader as Beebe's "Opposing Personality"

And so now we’re ready to look at the real message behind the line that stunned Star Wars fans the world over:

“No. I am your father.”

The shock is not so much that Vader is Luke’s father; the shock is that, just as the good man who was Luke’s father turned to evil, so too could Luke — as could any of us.

The vision in the cave, of Vader’s mask cracked open with Luke’s face staring out from underneath, has dual (yet synonymous) meanings: on the one hand, it foreshadows the twist, that Vader is Luke’s father; on the other hand, it equates Luke with Vader. They are both sides of the same coin.

And so this is a problem we all must face up to eventually. Will we refuse to accept that we aren’t so different from our enemies after all, or will we integrate our Shadow, pulling it up into consciousness and realising the Self? This is no easy task.

Good and Evil, Ego and Shadow: the light and the darkness. Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader: an archetypal duality.

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