SpecFaith Movie Missions: The Empire Strikes Back

I’m a “Star Wars” newbie and I still find Luke’s loss to Darth Vader one of the most gripping film scenes I’ve ever seen.
on Dec 17, 2015 · 2 comments

Luke Skywalker confronts Darth Vader in the climax of "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back."

Explore SpecFaith Movie Missions for Star Wars and Return of the Jedi.

Last night with my wife I re-viewed Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.1 This was only my fourth time seeing it — yes, in my lifetime — which gives me a slight advantage.

Whereas some if not most of Star Wars fans may occasionally wonder if they overvalue the original films based partly on nostalgia, as a newcomer to the saga I might help confirm something for you.

No, your fandom is not based primarily on nostalgia. Yes, the original trilogy really is that awesome.

And yes, Empire in particular is an absolute masterpiece. Once Luke Skywalker experiences his first real battle with Darth Vader, the film gets even better, with stellar and rightly iconic cinematography as well as top storytelling.

This time I particularly noticed Luke’s response when he learns the shocking truth from Darth Vader. I think familiarity and repeat viewings may have dulled the startling nature of how this is shown. Internet memes and parodies also make the scene into a perennial joke, perhaps based partly on Luke’s bizarre facial contortions.

But isn’t that what makes this moment all the more shocking? Luke has just lost this huge battle, lost his hand, lost all his young Jedi dignity and bravado, lost any illusions about Darth Vader being pure evil, and heard the shocking news.2 And if the film were made today, even a great actor might struggle to show all this crashing in at once. I’m not knocking today’s actors, only saying that the scene would be shot and directed differently. Luke’s grief and despair and horror would be much more stylized.

Mark Hamill seems to have chosen differently. For his fantastic performance he seems to realize that Luke could not have stylized or restrained responses.3 He should have a complete breakdown of emotion leading to utter misery and despair. His grimacing face should scrunch into unsightly creases while his mouth twists open in a scream. (If this were done in anime there would be a little bubble coming out his nose, and it would not be funny at all.)

For this fourth viewing, and as a Star Wars newbie who first saw the original trilogy in 2008, I still find this one of the most gripping film scenes I’ve ever seen.

Now for the exploration questions for all of The Empire Strikes Back.

Imperial walkers attack the Rebel base in "The Empire Strikes Back"

  1. If you can recall when you first saw the sequel to Star Wars, what was it like?
  2. Three years later. Much has changed since the last Star Wars Does that leave you wondering what we missed? How does what we don’t see strengthen the story?
  3. Ghost guidance. Obi-Wan Kenobi, previously only a voice (possibly a memory) from the first Star Wars, now upgrades to visual appearances and new directives. If this were to happen in the real world, we would say he was a “ghost” or worse. In Scripture we find warnings against seeking special knowledge through fortunes or from the dead (as in Deut. 18, where God says He speaks only through His priests and His final Prophet, Christ). Knowing this, how should we view guidance from ghosts in this faraway galaxy?
  4. Learning and wartime. Star Wars shows its first ground conflict as Imperial Walkers and troops storm the Hoth rebel base. X-wings fly, soldiers shoot, explosions explode. With war in the news even more recently, due to the potential Syria conflict, how do you react to onscreen wars? What are risks in seeing them? Can they be helpful?
  5. Down to Dagobah. Following ghost-Kenobi’s instructions, Luke arrives on the swamp planet and meets Yoda, and here The Force philosophy occupies much of the story. Any more thoughts on this impersonal, mystical “magic” in the Star Wars world? Good/bad?
  6. "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter."

    “Purveyors of space-Gnosticism we are, yes, yes, hrm-hrm!”

    “Size matters not.” Yoda goes on to say, “Judge me by my size, do you?” Specifically in the perspective of the story, why is it important that Yoda isn’t a strong huge warrior?

  7. “Crude matter.” Yoda says, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.” Thoughts?
  8. Enter the Emperor. Darth Vader, a prime villain (along with Grand Moff Tarkin) in Star Wars, is seen here answering to another evil, apparently a greater. How may this change how we see Darth Vader, who in Star Wars seemed more like a simple, total-evil villain?
  9. “What know you of ready?” Yoda goes on to say, “Adventure, heh, excitement, heh — a Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.” Why does he warn against this attitude?
  10. “Beware of the dark side.” Bad character qualities make up the dark side, Yoda says. He also says it’s not stronger than (presumably) the “light side,” but that it is “quicker, easier, more seductive.” Why is Luke curious about the dark side? What do we see later?
  11. “I know.” Han Solo famously gives this reply after Leia says, “I love you.” What does this show about his character? What do you think of Han’s actions and changes in this story?
  12. “No, I am your father.” After Luke’s training and recklessness, why is this so shocking?

Explore SpecFaith Movie Missions for Star Wars and Return of the Jedi.

  1. I wrote these discussion questions in 2013 as part of a series of film viewings and discussions at my church.
  2. Yes, something in me wants to preserve the spoiler, even now.
  3. Indeed, Luke’s continuing reaction after being rescued is more restrained.
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of Lorehaven.com and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Great exploration questions!

    I’ve never been a fan of the “ghost”-voice of Obi Wan, even as a kid it was my least favorite part of the movies.

    I’m a bigger fan of some of Yoda’s statements about size and attitude, and the fact that we are spiritual beings. I think we often forget that we are all immortals . . . whether our outcome is  darkness and gnashing of teeth or a heavenly home with Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and these movies can definitely be a good way of discussing that, even if that wasn’t the intent of Lucas.

    I love your thoughts on the nostalgia part, because I have often wondered if I can’t see these movies clearly because I saw them first as a child. My nine-year-old cousin and I were devastated and dismayed to find out that Vader was Luke’s father – now I see it as a classic Greek tragedy twist. I didn’t like Luke’s portrayed reaction as a kid, but I got it at the same time because I felt the same gut-wrenching disgust at the idea. Sometimes, I think that’s why it’s in so many joking memes – it was seriously disturbing as a kid to find out that the ultimate villain was the hero’s father – that Vader had truly chosen to be what he was. Luke was only saved from the same fate by his sacrifice, and by his friends . . . both good themes for any Christian audience to discuss.



    • I love your thoughts on the nostalgia part, because I have often wondered if I can’t see these movies clearly because I saw them first as a child.

      Interestingly enough, I’m actually a pro fan compared with a friend of mine who only recently saw the films — like this week. And he tweeted about it.

      The amazing Luke/Darth Vader emotional moments also stuck out to him:

      But that scene in Return between Luke and Darth was incredible – best in the series. Very moving. Found myself stunned by the turn of events


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