Star Wars Episodes IV–VI

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Main Ideas

Symbols

Main Ideas Symbols

Luke’s Cybernetic Hand

At the very end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke’s right hand, sliced off by Darth Vader during their duel on Bespin, is replaced by a cybernetic prosthesis that looks, on the surface, just like a real hand. Symbolically, however, Luke’s mechanical hand moves him one step closer to being like his father, a full-fledged hybrid of man and machine. Early in Return of the Jedi, we are reminded of Luke’s hand when it is damaged during the fight on Jabba’s barge. Rather than having the hand repaired, Luke simply pulls a black glove over it, and from then on, the glove serves as a reminder of Luke’s connection to his father. At the climax of Jedi, Luke beats Vader to the ground and slices off Vader’s own right hand in a flurry of blows. Vader cries out in pain, but only wires and circuitry dangle from the wound. Luke looks in horror at his own right hand and back to his father, making the connection once again and realizing that he too has the capacity within him to turn to the dark side. With his father’s example before him, however, Luke abstains from revenge, becoming a true Jedi Knight.

Lightsabers

The lightsaber is, as Ben teaches Luke, the traditional weapon of the Jedi. In contrast to a blaster, Ben tells Luke, the lightsaber is elegant and precise, an eminently “civilized” weapon. By passing Luke’s father’s lightsaber on to Luke, Ben is beginning Luke’s initiation and symbolically placing him in his father’s footsteps. When we add in the fact that the final stage of a Jedi’s apprenticeship is the creation of his own lightsaber, the symbolism of the gift becomes even clearer. In order to attain full maturity, Luke will have to release his father’s lightsaber and take up his own—symbolically moving from a position of dependence on the father to a position of independence. Of course, Luke doesn’t relinquish his father’s lightsaber willingly, as it is literally severed from him by Vader, who is, of course, the very father Luke wishes to replace.

A Freudian interpretation would read the lightsabers in this scene as phallic symbols and Luke’s amputation as a symbolic castration by his father, but one needn’t go quite so far to see the symbolism. Once again, Luke’s two father figures are placed in opposition, with Ben as the giving father and Vader as the domineering, taking father. Ultimately, Luke does create his own lightsaber to replace the lost one, and this is a major step on his path to becoming a Jedi and his own man. Note that another example of the expressive use of color involves the lightsabers: Jedi lightsabers are cool blue, whereas Vader’s Sith blade is angry red. Luke’s own blade is green, perhaps in allegiance to the green-skinned Yoda who trained him.

The Death Star

The exact symbolic meaning of the Death Star is ambiguous, though it is certainly a symbol of evil. On one hand, the Death Star is a virtually blasphemous instance of the worship of technology over nature. The station is the size of a moon, an artificial world with enough firepower to obliterate a real planet with one shot. When its commander makes the mistake of calling the station “the ultimate power in the universe” in Darth Vader’s presence, however, Vader swiftly corrects him, first by reminding him that his “technological terror” is nothing compared to the Force, and then by force-choking the man into submission. On the other hand, Vader himself is something of a “technological terror,” and the Emperor, the ultimate voice of the dark side of the Force, seems quite fond of his new Death Star, so the opposition is not complete. In the end, the Death Star represents the innate fragility of even the most potent technology. Just as the Ewoks are unexpectedly able to defeat the Emperor’s legion, so are the Death Stars destroyed by unsuspected forces technology could never prepare for.