Saturday, March 25, 2017


If you've ever wondered what the STAR WARS universe would be like if it got translated into a teeny genre romance novel along the lines of the Divergent or Twilight series, then Lost Stars by Claudia Gray may just be the book for you. If you are not one of those people, then you may be in for a hard read on this one.

The basic premise is interesting enough: On the remote planet of Jellucan, two local children become friends on the eve of the planets induction into the Galactic Empire: Thane Kyrell, a member of the affluent Second Wave of the planet's settlers, and Ciena Ree, a simple girl from the valley. Thane is a boy and Ciena is a girl. It will be necessary for you to know this (but impossible for you not to) because this dynamic dominates every aspect of their friendship and their lives. People divided by their social classes on Jellucan do not typically get along, but Thane and Ciena instantly bond over their mutual love of flying. An inspirational encounter with Grand Moff Tarkin leaves them both anxious to attend the Imperial Academy and train to become pilots in the service of the Empire.

Though Thane is cynical and rebellious toward authority and Ciena is idealistc and strictly adheres to her family's code of honor, the two spend their childhoods together, studying and training in flight simulators until they are both accepted into the Academy. The book promises to span the early period of the rebellion all the way to the era that leads up to EPISODE VII, but most of the book's story centers on their experiences in the Academy. While Thane and Ciena compete for the top spot in their class and work to master their increasing hormonal feelings towards one another, the subtle differences in their ideologies begin to manifest. Ciena believes that the Empire brings order to the galaxy and can therefore do no wrong, while Thane is more realistically inclined to believe that all governments become corrupted and eventually fall.

Everything's great for both of them, hanging out with their friends at school and being utterly oblivious to the Empire's more sinister underpinnings. Until one day, one thing happens that makes them disagree and they don't talk for years for very little reason. During a standard assignment where the students are tasked with building a fully functioning laser cannon and demonstrating it in the classroom (seems the Imperial Academy has the same safety protocols as the Jedi Temple when it comes to what they will allow kids to do in the classroom), disaster strikes when Thane's cannon will not power up and his chance at finishing first in his class is jeopardized by what appears to be an overt act of sabotage. Ciena is immediately implicated, until her super-smart nerdy friend (every girl in this type of story should have one), uncovers the subterfuge and reveals evidence that Thane deliberately sabotaged his own laser in order to implicate Ciena - his top rival - and therefore discredit and disqualify her. Using typical Imperial logic, their instructors decide the fair thing is to punish them both. This leads them to work together, digging even deeper to discover that someone in the Academy's administration is to blame for the whole hoohah. Thane wants to pursue this and reveal the exact identity and intent of the saboteur, but Ciena believes that taking action against the Academy's administration - especially making accusations without any solid proof - will get them both expelled. This disagreement leads to a very heated argument that causes the two to stop speaking to each other.

Years later, at the space prom, Thane and Ciena learn that it is a common practice for the Academy to create rifts between friends, especially those from the same world, because the Empire discourages such attachments and requires unconditional devotion from its soldiers. This makes them friends again, and all is presumably good between them.

After graduation, Thane and Ciena begin to drift apart. Thane is stationed on the Death Star and Ciena is assigned to the Star Destroyer Devastator. Tensions rise when the Death Star destroys Alderaan, and this is the beginning of an irreparable rift between them. Thane deserts and becomes a rebel pilot while Ciena retains her belief that the Empire is the only hope for order in the galaxy. She rises through the ranks, vindicated in her loyalty by the rebels' destruction of the Death Star. Remember, the dark truth about that glorious victory for the rebels is that it resulted in over a million Imperial casualties. That makes for a pretty powerful propaganda tool for the families and friends they left behind.

Ciena tracks Thane down and tries to convince him to return. They argue and, failing to convince each other to come around to their way of thinking, they decide to have sex instead. This is a teen romance novel, so this was bound to happen. They go their separate ways and have separate adventures interwoven into the events of EPISODE V.

Ciena's loyalty is later challenged when her mother is wrongly accused of a crime by a corrupt Imperial official on her home world. No one is willing to defend her, but Thane actually comes to show his support. This doesn't help out at all since Thane is a deserter and a rebel, but it gives him and Ciena another chance to argue and have sex.

This goes on through the course of the events of EPISODE VI, following them in their respective positions in the Empire and the Rebellion. Ciena takes command of the Star Destroyer Inflictor. This eventually puts her in the Battle of Jakku. The Inflictor is brought down during the battle and Thane boards the ship in an effort to rescue Ciena.

As a point of trivia, this is the Star Destroyer wreck we see Rey pass by as she crosses the Starship Graveyard in EPISODE VII.

The story ends with Ciena as a prisoner of the New Republic. Thane tries to convince her to testify about what she knows, because there are still Imperial remnants building a power base in the Unknown Regions, but nobody seems to care about this any more than I do and the book comes to an end.

I don't want to say this book is terrible, because it is exactly what it says it is, but I had a hard time getting through this one. The premise was interesting, offering the opportunity to see the history of the Rebellion and the moments leading up to the Battle of Jakku, but these concepts are so peripheral to the pouting and bickering of the characters who take us through the narrative that it only amounts to name-dropping. The final battle could be anywhere, but it's on Jakku because it's a tie-in to EPISODE VII, and Ciena's Star Destroyer is the one we see in EPISODE VII for the same reason.

Like I said, this is what it is. It doesn't much feel like STAR WARS to me and the central story is tedious. I don't like any of the characters and I don't really relate to them, but I'm not the audience this book is courting. I'm apparently not in the majority on this either, since this book has been very well embraced while the Aftermath trilogy, which I find to be much more interesting and entertaining, has gotten a lot of negative feedback from fans. Oh well.

This is an interesting insight into Disney's STAR WARS, though. While they're opening moves have all been to introduce new characters and stories by inter-weaving them with legacy characters and events (almost exclusively from the original film trilogy), this approach has been very successful for them. They're opening up the STAR WARS universe, which means playing with new genres and reaching out to new audiences.  That guarantees that if you're a STAR WARS fan, no matter how die-hard you are, there are bound to be a few stories that you just aren't going to like. With the amount of content Disney is producing, I'd say there's room in the world for that.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

JOURNEY TO STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - Aftermath: Life Debt by Chuck Wendig

LIFE DEBT is the follow-up to the original AFTERMATH novel by Chuck Wendig, the second in the trilogy meant to fill the gaps between the Battle of Endor in EPISODE VI and the Battle of Jakku which sets the stage for EPISODE VII. Like its predecessor, it gets a little more hate from fans than it deserves. Also like its predecessor, it has three significant structure problems: First, the central story is more convoluted than is necessary for the pursuit of its stated premise. Second, it is punctuated with unrelated exposition that offers overall back story but is not necessary for the book's central story. Third, and the one that irks me the most in this book, the premise lines up a story that will apparently focus on legacy characters, but the story immediately sidelines the legacy characters and the original premise to focus on new characters who are preoccupied with having completely different adventures and goals.

As established in their pointless cameo in the first AFTERMATH, Han and Chewie set out to recruit a bunch of smugglers to liberate Kashyyyk from Imperial control. A pretty solid setup for a book, considering that Kashyyyk has gotten little to no love from the core canon. Han and Chewie going rogue after the New Republic turns its back on the Wookiee home world sounds like an awesome setup for a book.

Unfortunately, even though this appeared to be exactly what Chuck Wendig was getting at when he teased the story in the first novel, this turns out not to be the story of this book at all. Despite the fact that even the name of this novel references (and officially canonizes) the Life Debt that Han Solo and Chewbacca owe each other, we learn at the very beginning of the book that this will end up having very little to do with the story to follow.

Right away it is revealed that their effort to form a smugglers' alliance to liberate Kashyyyk failed almost immediately. Not only are there no smugglers on board with the mission when we find Han at the open of the story, but apparently in between books he's managed to get Chewie captured along the way too. If this weren't bad enough, in the establishing scene that informs us of this, Han is attacked during a communication with Leia and contact between them is lost. At this point it becomes clear that the main focus of the book will not be for Han and Chewie to save Kashyyyk, but for somebody else to come around and save Han and Chewie. This is the second of these books to begin with a known character appearing to play a vital role, then immediately being captured so that the new characters can be brought in to rescue him. With one movie and two novels being all we have to tell us the STAR WARS story that takes place after EPISODE VI, all Disney seems to be capable of doing is luring us into the story using one of the legacy characters as the MacGuffin, then pulling a bait-and-switch by swapping that expectation out with the introduction of new characters. While I think this was appropriate in EPISODE VII, it's become a tedious device in the AFTERMATH novels.

This is the AFTERMATH version of the FORCE AWAKENS movie poster

The true heroes of the book, it comes as no surprise, are Norra Wexley and her howling commandos, the intrepid team who came together in the previous book, continuing their exploits as agents of the New Republic. As the story shifts its focus to them, they are on a mission to capture an Imperial deserter.

Grand Admiral Rae Sloan returns as the main antagonist. The Imperial Future Council has been swept away and she now rules the Empire under Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax. At the end of the first book his description reminded me so much of Grand Admiral Thrawn from Timothy Zahn's novels that I thought the mysterious Fleet Admiral was going to turn out to be Thrawn. No such luck. Rax is fulfilling much the same role, except instead of reuniting the factions, Rax wants to purge the unworthy elements of the Empire to sharpen it into something better. 

In Rax's plans we see the evolution of the old Empire into something completely new. He orders Sloane to extract Commandant Brendol Hux of the Arkanis Academy, who is currently trapped under a New Republic siege. Rax wants Hux to serve in his own version of the Imperial Future Council, a Shadow Cabinet he's creating to secretly rule the Empire, composed of members "of the first and highest order". Hux has an illegitimate son whom Rax is also interested in liberating, but he has no interest in Hux's wife or the boy's birth mother. "The Empire needs children," he observes darkly, foreshadowing the First Order's power base of kidnapped and brainwashed children. For now they simply reinstate a breeding incentive program to encourage Imperial offices to have children of their own.

"Ripping a child away from his mother just so you can brainwash him into becoming a pawn in your intergalactic war? That's just terri-- I mean, well, never mind. Carry on."

Some LEGENDS canon finds its way into the official new canon in this book. Han and Leia are married, just as Timothy Zahn established in HEIR TO THE EMPIRE. Also mirroring the events of that book, Han has resigned his military commission and is no longer affiliated with the New Republic. Leia is pregnant in this book, but thankfully the Empire is not fixated on kidnapping her and stealing her Jedi baby, which was the preferred pastime of a number of villains who were introduced in the old LEGENDS canon (including Thrawn).

We learn a little about the new characters as well. Temmin Wexley gets his nickname "Snap" from Wedge Antilles, because he has a habit of snapping his fingers. Wedge is also a mentor to Snap, and is instrumental in recruiting him to become a pilot for the Republic. But because Wedge is just tragically unlucky in love no matter what version of canon you read, he also has a thing for Snap's mom, Norra.

The story goes about as you'd expect from this point. Norra's team consists of Temmin and Mr. Bones, along with Jas Emari and Sinjir Rath Velus. Joining them is New Republic Special Forces officer Jom Barell. Jom doesn't add much to the group dynamic. He mostly says dumb-grunt stuff and goes goo-goo for Jas.

Despite their lack of demonstrated ability, the team manages to find Han and help him find the prison where Chewbacca is being held. They get more than they bargain for when they discover that Temmin's father, Brentin Wexley, who was captured by the Empire years before, is among the prisoners they have just liberated. Which basically tanks Wedge's romantic chances with Norra.

"Thanks for nothin', Chuck."

After a mish-mash of unimportant character conflicts and bickering about the strategic importance of Wookiees, Norra finally resigns her commission in order to help Han rescue Kashyyyk, an objective that's apparently still on the back-burner even though they've spent most of the book doing other stuff. The team manages to attack the Imperial infrastructure keeping the planet subdued, releasing all the Wookiees from the control collars that have kept them compliant. A Wookiee rebellion ensues and the planet is more or less saved. It takes an infuriatingly small amount of story time to accomplish this.

You'd almost think folks didn't want to hear stories about the Wookiee planet.

Back on Chandrila, the current capital of the New Republic, Mon Mothma plans peace talks with Admiral Sloane by inviting her to the Liberation Day celebration. Liberation Day is a holiday commemorating the fall of the Empire and the return of the Republic. Despite how amazingly tactful and diplomatic that strategy is, everything goes sideways almost immediately.

Unbeknownst to Sloane, all the escapees recovered by Norra's team (except Chewbacca, for some reason) have mind-control implants. As they are being honored in the Liberation Day celebration, they show their thanks by taking out blasters and shooting everybody in sight. Our heroes do their best to contain the threat, but in the ensuing chaos, Sloane and Norra's husband escape.

The story ends with Sloane and Brentin Wexley forming an uncomfortable alliance with the shared purpose of discovering the full extent of Gallius Rax's plans and putting an end to him before he can bring them to fruition.

Like its predecessor, this book is fun and worth reading. There are a lot of little bits of information here and there that make it worthwhile if you're on an Easter Egg Hunt for clues as to what we may see in EPISODE VIII. It comes off a little weak on plot and story, mostly because you're sold a different book going in than the one this turns out to be. You probably shouldn't have Han and Chewie fly off to free Kashyyyk, then name the book LIFE DEBT and put a big picture of the Millennium Falcon on the cover if the book you want to write doesn't essentially have anything to do with any of those things.

Taking a snippet of the story that revolves around secondary characters and marketing it like that's the whole story can be misleading to the audience.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017


The falling action from the climax of EPISODE VII is primarily concerned with setting up the sequel: Rey and Chewbacca return to the Resistance base with Finn, who is severely injured. While Chewie gets Finn to the med center, Leia and Rey have a moment to mourn the loss of Han Solo.

A lot of people balked at this scene because one would think Leia might hug Chewie instead of somebody who hardly knows any of them. This goes back to Chewie getting cheated out a medal in EPISODE IV, an injustice that still sits sour with some folks even though the new canon’s done its best to remedy it. But the bottom line is, Chewie doesn’t need a hug any more than he needs a medal. This scene is really showing Leia’s acceptance of Rey and the emotional connection this shared loss has created between them. It may also be happening because Rey is a kid who just got mixed up in this mess and may need a little consolation, while Chewie is a 200 year old man who is a veteran of two galactic wars, so he should be capable of seeing to his own feelings by now.

"Or maybe people just think that because I project such a gruff exterior... Or maybe it's the fact that no one has bothered to learn my language enough to ever ask me how I feel about anything..."

Speaking to Peter Sciretta in an interview for, JJ Abrams said that his intent was to have Chewbacca preoccupied with rushing Finn to the doctor. He conceded that it would worked better not to show Chewbacca at all, because reminding the audience that he was there inadvertently showcased that Chewie could have gotten a hug, but didn't.

R2-D2’s deus ex machina circuit kicks in at this point and he revives from his robot coma to reveal that he does, in fact, possess the missing piece of BB-8’s map. At this point BB-8 is probably a little annoyed that he specifically asked if this might be the case and Threepio basically blew him off, but they’re all so excited to move the underlying storyline forward that nobody cares or questions that this is all happening for no apparent reason.

In a 2015 article on, JJ Abrams admitted that R2's sudden awakening was timed for its emotional contribution to the story. Within the framework of the story, however, he explained that BB-8's attempt to question R2 about the map was what triggered his return from Sleep Mode. Judging from the amount of time it took R2 to exit Sleep Mode in story time, I'm guessing he must have a Windows Operating System.

Leaving Finn in what appears to be a full-on human coma, Rey takes R2-D2, the Millennium Falcon, and what is supposedly the super-secret all-important key to finding Luke Skywalker and saving the galaxy, then flies away with Chewbacca. This again feels like a lot less resistance than, say, the Resistance should be offering, considering that nobody there knows anything about her except for the fact that she has stolen the Millennium Falcon once already.

"Bye now. I'll be taking your robot, your spaceship, and your super-secret map to find that guy I never met, or whatever..."

I joke, but I actually like the simplicity of the STAR WARS ethic. They know that Finn was a stormtrooper, but instead of condemning his prior actions Leia lauds him for having the courage to defect. They extend the same inherent trust to Rey. If you’re with the good guys, you are a good guy, because your prior sins should not define you more than your current actions. This is the very heart of the redemptive ideal. So whatever how-do’s and what-next’s took place prior to this moment, apparently they were sufficient for the Resistance to accept Rey enough that they entrust her with fulfilling their original stated purpose.

Just to squash another potential Wookiee beef, I can see that some folks may take umbrage with the fact that Rey apparently took over the captaincy of the Falcon, when Chewbacca should have inherited that honor. Alan Dean Foster's novelization sheds some light on this also. According to the novel, it was at Chewbacca’s insistence that Rey took the Captain’s seat. He didn’t want to be Captain any more than he wanted a medal, because Wookiees are pretty chill when it comes to matters of prestige.

"Why bother with the hassle of being in charge? I get paid the same and no one puts a bounty on me when things go wrong. Nobody bothered to freeze ol' Chewbacca and ship him back to Jabba the Hutt after we dropped that spice shipment. Ever think about that?"

Needless to say, there is a lot going on at the end of this movie that we just don’t see. Rey finds Luke’s exact location down to the exact spot on the exact island he's standing on, using nothing more than a map of half the galaxy. It's safe to assume there's more to the process than we’ve been shown on screen.

One important item to recall is Kylo’s attempted interrogation of Rey, in which he saw her vision of an ocean and a remote island that sounds a lot like the one she flies right up to in the final scene of the film. From this it looks an awful lot like Rey has been drawn to this place by the Force since way before the map or the Resistance ever entered her life. This being the case, it’s possible that once the map led them to the planet, the Force helped to guide Rey to the island itself.

The question is: Does Rey know what she’s going to find when she ascends the stone steps to the peak of that island? For the sake of narrative flow, she and Chewbacca could have scoured half the system and most of that planet before finding the right island, but it wouldn't have been necessary to show us that. Just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean they didn’t do it. But it’s just as possible that they knew they would find Luke there because he wanted them to. R2's convenient resurrection could have occurred because Luke originally left R2 behind to fulfill that specific purpose. This doesn't fully track with Abrams' explanation of R2's awakening, but he's not going to reveal anything that the movies haven't yet revealed.

It doesn't make much sense for Luke to have left R2 behind with that information, if he didn't want to be found. From Rey's vision at Maz's castle, we're led to believe that R2 was with Luke through his tragic attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order, so that would mean Luke deliberately dropped him off before heading out in search of the first Jedi Temple. And that doesn't make sense either, since R2 presumably has the map to find the place Luke is looking for too.

And why is the map so perfectly split into two pieces? R2's scans were taken from the Imperial archive before someone purged the record, but that suggests that R2 originally had the entire map. The fact that a portion of it was specifically removed and entrusted with an old friend on Jakku is a convenient plot device out-of-story, but in the story it implies pretty strongly that Luke wanted to be found by the right people under the right set of circumstances. R2's sudden revival with exactly the right information they need to find the exact spot where Luke is standing makes more sense if it is happening because that particular set of circumstances has come to pass.

So if there is a specific trigger that wakes R2 up, what is it? The lightsaber? Maz Kanata made a big deal out of the saber like it was Harry Potter's wand choosing its wizard. Could Maz have had the lightsaber for the same reason Lor San Tekka conveniently had the missing piece of the map? And could there actually be something in the saber itself that signaled R2 to wake up?

I doubt that, because the lightsaber is with Finn the first time he comes to the Resistance base, and R2 has no reaction to that. For the same reason (unless Abrams' delayed response explanation is true), it doesn't look like the return of the missing piece of the map compels R2 to act.

So if we choose to remain dubious about R2 taking 3 days to reboot and believe instead that his awakening is triggered by a much more immediate event, what's different when R2 finally wakes up?

A lot has happened that could be a factor. The death of Han Solo might have been reason enough for Luke to return, but unless he's actually in contact with R2, then he wouldn't be able to signal R2 to wake up for that reason. The heightened threat of the First Order might also be enough to get Luke back in the fight, but you'd think if that were the case he'd have gotten back on the job after learning about the destruction of the Hosnian system. It's a fair bet that Luke is not in direct communication with R2. As you know from the premise of just about every STAR WARS movie, it's not so easy to send data across that universe in real time. The whole reason they have to sneak the map around on a jump drive is because a fully rendered 3D  hologram of the galaxy would be a pretty sizable data file to send over WiFi. Even for simpler communications, the other reason people are always having to fly a million miles to tell somebody something they could have told them over the phone is security. Even an encrypted message can be detected and potentially tracked to its source or its destination. If R2 were in constant communication with somebody on a remote planet, one would hope the war room of Resistance tech experts ten feet from R2 would have noticed.

The only specific event that has occurred (other than it just being the end of the movie) is Rey's arrival at the Resistance base. When Chewie comes back with Rey, suddenly it is significant that BB-8 has the missing piece of the map and R2 comes alive to set everything perfectly in motion for Rey to find Luke.  As we see when they reach the mysterious planet, R2 is actually accompanying Rey and Chewbacca. This makes sense because we know it's a movie, but in the story Rey has no connection to the Resistance or Luke. She wouldn't be their first pick to send on this mission that they believe is crucial to their plight and she has no special interest in finding Luke herself. So why does she go? There's more to the story than we're being told here, and because it takes us exactly where we want to go, we don't stop to question why it's really happening.

For all we know, once R2 came back online and shared the rest of the map with them, they were actually able to make contact with Luke and arrange a rendezvous. That’s just as likely as searching the last place they heard he’d gone and finding him standing there like he’d been waiting for them all those years.

Full disclosure: Abrams is a bit of a loose constructionist when it comes to finding good story reasons for making things happen. He's much more interested in doing the scenes he wants to do than in providing proper justifications for them within the story. He's not above bending the laws of the fictional universe to get things where he wants them to be, which is why characters in his movies always seem to be running from one scene to the next just to give us the sense that something really exciting is going on. It's why Scotty could just beam Kirk halfway across the galaxy in the first Star Trek movie to get him back into the story (and why future Spock was in an ice cave on the same planet just to deliver Kirk the necessary exposition),

"Good point, Poindexter, now let me ask you this: Do you want a trailer shot that fans will get behind, or do you want an honorary doctorate in Astrophysics?"

It's also why everyone in EPISODE VII immediately recognizes BB-8 everywhere they seem to take him, and why they see the destruction of the Hosnian system from millions of miles away like the First Order is blowing up the moon. In his eagerness to get the story moving, JJ Abrams often makes the world it's happening in seem incredibly small, so it's completely possible that R2 wakes up because it's the end of the movie and Rey goes to find Luke because she's the hero of the story. But assuming that everything in the movie has a story reason for happening, it looks to me like R2 wakes up because Rey is there and he takes her straight to Luke.

Rey makes the ascent to the top of the hill by herself as well, suggesting that it is understood that she is the one meant to find and initially make contact with Luke. If there's a valid story reason for this, then there's a connection between Rey and Luke that we have not yet been been told.

"Wow, you worked that out all by yourself? Guess we'll just have to make a couple more movies to fill the story gap that nobody noticed but you. Nice catch on that one, Shamus."

Rey finds Luke at the peak, his cloaked back turned toward her. Luke is standing next to what appears to be a grave, but it’s not shown prominently enough to be sure. When he turns to face her, he pulls back his hood. This reveals not just his face, but also the same robotic hand seen in Rey’s vision. Rey offers him the lightsaber.

Luke’s face is haggard and weathered beyond his years. He’s gray-bearded and looks generally defeated in his countenance. His robot hand also hints at past trauma. When he first received the hand at the end of EPISODE V, the medical droid gave it a prick in the palm to verify that it could feel pain (presumably because it could send and receive impulses the same as an organic hand). The fact that it is now stripped of all synthflesh means something pretty terrible (and painful) happened to Luke to make it that way.

The possible gravestone and Luke’s expression when he sees his old lightsaber make me think of an alternate history that could, if mined from the LEGENDS canon, add an even more tragic dimension to the tired and sorrowful look he offers Rey. The look is justified anyway, considering this weapon is the bane of the Skywalker family even if you only consider what we have seen of it in the films. If you take into account the lightsaber’s significance in the old Expanded Universe, it is a revenant of an even more terrible time.

I’ve already mentioned the fact that Luke’s wife in the LEGENDS canon was Mara Jade, a former Imperial operative that Luke helped to instruct in the Force and eventually married. By a bizarre set of circumstances involving an evil clone of Luke that had been generated using his lost hand and was equipped with the lightsaber he lost with that hand, Mara ended up taking possession of the weapon as her own. Eventually Mara was killed at the hands of Han and Leia’s son, Jacen Solo, who had been turned to the Dark Side of the Force.

Remind you of anyone?

None of that story is part of the current canon, but if Rey turns out to be Luke’s daughter, then someone was probably her mother (but you never know for sure in the STAR WARS universe). The fact that Maz had the lightsaber means somebody recovered it, so the maybe-grave could belong to Rey’s maybe-mom, who maybe was a Jedi that at one time maybe had hold of that lightsaber and maybe died and lost it. So that may be another reason that Luke is not too pleased at having it shoved in his face.


Here’s another question: Is Luke even there?

In REBELS, Yoda can commune remotely with the Jedi who enter the temple on Lothal while he remains hidden on Dagobah. Even in EPISODE V, he says he’s been watching Luke for a long time (one assumes remotely, since he has no way to leave Dagobah and it would be kind of creepy if he's been physically stalking a young boy). Yoda also seems to believe that staying out of galactic events is actually better than fighting the Empire or the Sith. Even after his death, Yoda remains behind as a Force Ghost. Assuming he isn’t just hanging on so he can give an attaboy to Luke at an Ewok party, is it possible that Yoda is using his connection to the Force to have a positive pacific influence on the galaxy?

Luke appears to have come to a similar conclusion, leaving the Resistance on its own at a critical stage of their conflict with the First Order. Could his self-imposed exile be a means of communing with the Living Force and remotely projecting its positive effect on the rest of the galaxy? If so, Rey’s awakening might be less of an ambiguous mystic ripple in the Force and more of a direct connection to Luke.

But the film ends at this critical moment, so we won’t know the answers to any of these questions until we see EPISODE VIII.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


In the final sequence of EPISODE VII, we see Rey’s true awakening. If we view the escape from the Starkiller Base as a more direct portrayal of her escape from the belly of the beast, then this sequence represents her passing through the World Womb and crossing the more significant threshold to become a true mythical hero.

After witnessing Han’s murder at the hands of Kylo Ren, Chewbacca manages to get in a hit from his bowcaster that helps to weaken him (which in no small way contributes to all of their survival). Chewie is pinned down by stormtrooper fire and detonates the charges they’ve planted throughout the compound. This prompts Rey and Finn to flee without first re-grouping with him.

Outside, they face Kylo Ren, who has also managed to escape the destruction of the compound. Kylo is visibly dissatisfied with the result of his confrontation with Han Solo, which he had hoped would eliminate the emotional conflict within him and clarify his purpose. Kylo allows his rage to control him. Instead of resolving his inner conflict, the experience appears to have left him even more lost and confused than he was before. Kylo is still interested in Rey, but when she attacks he slams her into a tree with enough power to leave her unconscious (and, from Finn’s perspective, possibly dead). 

Finn’s journey runs parallel to Rey’s in this film much like Han’s journey ran parallel to Luke’s in EPISODE IV. Facing Kylo Ren is Finn’s opportunity to stand before the threshold guardian and have his own merit tested. Just as Han ran interference on Darth Vader to give Luke enough time to take his one in a million shot against the Death Star, Finn keeps Kylo Ren busy long enough for Rey to get back in the fight. 

Finn acquits himself well enough, considering he has no Jedi training or demonstrated Force-wielding ability, but to some degree Kylo is toying with him. He could just as easily toss Finn into a tree, but he is confident that Finn is not a threat in the way that Rey would have been. This choice betrays Ren's feelings toward the two of them. While he clearly is unconcerned with Finn as a threat, he preemptively shut Rey down before she could confront him. His fear of her has allowed much of his anger to be directed at her as well, but this may not be the only reason. We don't actually know anything about Rey and Ren's relationship at this point. There may very well be even clearer reasons for his fear and anger toward her that have not yet been revealed in the story.

Kylo’s anger is only directed at Finn at all when Finn manages to get in a couple cuts during the duel. As soon as this happens, Kylo dispatches Finn with relative ease. The only reason he doesn’t kill Finn in the fight is the fact that Rey wakes up and intercedes.

Despite the fact that Ren wins without a whole lot of effort, some fans have complained that a janitor should not have any ability to fight a Sith Lord in a lightsaber duel.

"Say that to my face, fanboys."

 To this, I have three points of rebuttal:

1 – Finn is not a janitor. He is a well-trained First Order Stormtrooper. Part of that training involved working in various locations of the base and performing various functions, even menial ones. There is no Special Sanitation Unit of the First Order Stormtrooper Corps. As I have stated before, Finn was trained to use melee weapons and, while that training did not include lightsabers, holding a lightsaber doesn’t require special Jedi magic. Anyone can potentially do it, but just as it is with piloting a spaceship, Jedi have preternatural intuitions and reflexes that give them the potential to do it better.

2 – Kylo Ren is not a Sith Lord. He is trained and has a lot of natural Force ability, but we don’t even know if Snoke is a Sith Lord. I strongly suspect he’s not, but if he were Kylo would at best be his apprentice. According to the prequels, the Sith philosophy only allows for the existence of a single master and a single apprentice at a time. I don’t know why I think this, but I think Snoke is somehow something older than the orders of the Jedi and the Sith. It would be interesting if the name of the First Order refers to the fact that it predates them as well.

3 – Finn doesn’t do so great in the fight. Kylo is badly wounded and underestimates Finn, which allows him to get some good shots in, but the second Finn reveals himself to be even a minimal threat, Kylo makes short work of him.

Kylo’s control of the Force is uncertain where Rey is concerned. Throughout the film he has managed to score successes with impulsive attacks like when he made her go to sleep on Takodana and when he shoved her into the tree, but his footing is much less sure when they are involved in more prolonged engagements. When he tried to read her mind in the interrogation room, she was shockingly able to read his as well. When he calls out to the lightsaber that once belonged to Luke and Anakin Skywalker, it is drawn instead to Rey. The ensuing duel proves him to be just as uncertain in his abilities. Despite Rey’s total lack of training (with lightsabers and the Force), she holds her own against him.

There are several other factors at work that influence Kylo’s capability during the fight. He is physically weakened by the injuries he sustained at the hands of Finn and Chewbacca. He is also shaken by his murder of his own father, which did not purge him of all tendencies towards goodness or guilt as he’d hoped. He is also quite obviously torn by his feelings for Rey. Just as when he appealed to Han for his help on the catwalk, he is being sincere when he appeals to Rey to join him. 

"I've got a spot open in my band. Do you like Industrial music? We mostly do NIN covers, but I'm working on some original stuff. We haven't actually played any gigs yet. Just think about it and let me know. No pressure."

This scene may cosmetically mirror the duel on Bespin when Vader made the same appeal to Luke (possibly reinforced by the fact that the Bespin duel was a part of Rey’s Force vision), but one important difference is that this is not in any way related to the father quest/atonement that is integral to every major Jedi duel we have seen in the other films. We have seen Jedi battles where this dynamic was not in play, such as Qui-Gon's duel with Darth Maul in EPISODE I and Anakin’s final duel with Dooku in EPIDOE III, but in both cases the fight had no emotional element and no critical connection to the larger story. The fight with Maul was the opening act of the new trilogy, existing entirely so that there would be a lightsaber fight in a movie that otherwise did not require one. Anakin’s defeat of Dooku happened in the first act of EPISODE III, unceremoniously disposing of what appeared to be an important villain just so we could see the strengthening of Palpatine’s influence over Anakin.

"This is only slightly better than what Jackson did to me in RETURN OF THE KING."

One could argue that the Kylo/Rey duel at the end of this movie is just as superfluous as the duel at the end of EPISODE I and is shoehorned into the movie for the same reason. I don’t think that argument holds, because this fight isn’t just the product of superior plot construction, it also has a defined and relatable emotional tie-in to the story we have been watching. Maul comes out of nowhere in EPISODE I, has no real connection with the plot at large or the characters, and his hatred of the Jedi (whom he has never met) is only established in an expositional line delivered in a throwaway scene that doesn't actually explain anything. He never even has any dialogue with the Jedi. There is no connection between them. He is simply an obstacle that must be overcome, but even in that regard he’s irrelevant because once Obi-Wan defeats him, Obi-Wan has no further contribution to the resolution of the film. 

Even the eternal rivalry between the Jedi and the Sith is a poor motivation for either side, since it’s stated in the movie that there hasn’t been a Sith Lord for over a thousand years. You can’t argue that there have been ronin Sith running around for that entire time because the movie also states that they always come in pairs. Even if Yoda is wrong about this, the fact that he believes it indicates that he hasn’t ever seen a Sith without a master. He is the oldest and wisest of the Jedi and he's almost 900 years old. If the Sith haven't been around for a thousand years, that means no living Jedi has ever seen one. So even the abstract struggle between the Jedi and the Sith is archaic and certainly shouldn’t be cause for personal enmity on either side. It’s a little unsettling that they are all bent on each other’s destruction over events that are, to them, merely a matter of history.

That is not the case at all in the climax of EPISODE VII. Kylo and Rey have are at odds not because of outward circumstances, but because the events of the story have actively put them against one another. Kylo is, by the end of the film, more interested in Rey than he was in what he was doing when the film began. 

Rey’s interest in Kylo is solely based on her personal experiences with him. She has no interest in becoming a Jedi or for that matter joining the Resistance. Like Luke in the original trilogy, all of Rey’s actions are based on moral choices she makes regarding each individual situation. She rescued BB-8 from the Teedo because she didn’t think it was right for the Teedo to capture him. She agreed to get BB-8 to the Resistance because she felt it was the right thing to do. Even as she faces Kylo in a duel, she is fueled by her anger over the murder of Han Solo, but she stepped in to protect Finn. This, I believe, is the reason the lightsaber came so readily to her hand.

"Eat my moral superiority, Emo!"

Kylo also represents a mythological threshold guardian for Rey on a physical and spiritual level. He physically bars her from escaping Starkiller Base with Finn. Spiritually, it is only through this confrontation that Rey accepts her true connection to the Force. She swore never to touch the lightsaber again, but when it was necessary to defend her friend, she willed the saber to her hand so effortlessly that she didn’t realize she’d done it. This action signifies her total acceptance of that destiny and the responsibilities it implies. This is further confirmed near the end of the duel, when Rey finally closes her eyes and trusts the Force. This gives her the strength to defeat Kylo, but it looks like she's still being driven in part by her anger, so she still has some growing to do.

Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the film sheds some light on this moment. Rey actually hears a voice (presumably that of Snoke) urging her to kill Kylo, but she resists. If this was Snoke tempting her to kill Kylo and take his place, then we can at least infer from this that she is not so guided by her anger that she is compelled to obey.

The ferocity of their battle is evidenced in the damage it wreaks on the planet around them. This is probably attributable to the fact that the Resistance fighters are literally blowing the planet apart, but the destruction corresponds with the intensity of the duel. In a visual homage to the legendary duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, the ground splits open between Rey and Kylo, separating them with a chasm that leads down into a river of molten magma. This gives them both the opportunity to break away from each and escape before the planet explodes.

The chasm also visually depicts how Ren and Rey represent separate halves of the Yin Yang

Having recovered the Millennium Falcon, Chewie picks up Rey and Finn. In an equivalent stroke of serendipity, Hux is commanded to swoop in and recover Kylo Ren as well. They all fly away and the planet explodes, because at this point in the film something needs to explode, I guess.

Thus ends the first duel between Rey and Kylo Ren. It's safe to assume it won't be their last, but with so many unanswered questions remaining about their relationship and the future of the Force in general, it's impossible to predict what will happen next. Always in motion is the future.


This is the fourth (and final) article in a series analyzing the relationship between the Jedi and the mysterious spiritual consciousness of the Living Force. Why do Jedi sometimes return from the dead and why do they sometimes simply disappear upon death, leaving no physical remains behind? And what is the deeper spiritual and metaphysical meaning we can draw from these occurrences?

The first article in this series went over the Mortis storyline from Season 3 of the CLONE WARS series while the second article covered Yoda's trial in the final story of Season 6. The third part of our series focused on the role of Qui-Gon Jinn from his initial mistakes in EPISODE I all the way through to his possible redemption at the end of EPISODE III.

I left off with the suggestion that Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi's apparent transcendence beyond the physical world was a matter of self-actualization. Unlike Qui-Gon and Anakin, who had last-minute acts of redemption that ostensibly allowed (or compelled) them to return as Force Ghosts, Obi-Wan and Yoda chose to accept the death of their physical forms with the intent of living on as a benevolent influence on Luke Skywalker. This selfless sense of purpose makes them akin to the bodhisattva, who also believe in complete transcendence beyond mortal existence and embrace the philosophy of rejecting paradise in favor of helping the living to find salvation.

As I often do, I look to Joseph Campbell for clarification on the mythological significance of these story concepts. In his chapter on “The Ultimate Boon” in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Campbell references the story of Ko Hung. Ko Hung was an alchemist philosopher who devised physical concoctions intended to grant him immortality. Eventually Ko Hung disappeared from the mortal world, leaving only his empty clothes behind him. I think George Lucas literally got the idea of disappearing into another state of being from this story.

Too bad Joseph Campbell didn't have any suggestions on how to make this thing disappear.

This relates back to the same principle in my article on how Campbell's concept of the Father Quest is portrayed in the Skywalker saga. Acceptance of one's fate is part of the path to enlightenment. In the Father Quest, it is specifically realized through the ability to face the father and accept his role. In a broader sense, as we see in Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, it is more metaphysically represented in one's readiness to meet his maker. The parable of Phaethon, warns us that when the gods grant a boon to the unworthy, the unworthy choose unwisely or recklessly as to what the boon should be. Kylo Ren's disastrous attempt to succeed his father by killing him at the end of EPISODE VII is an expression of the Phaethon principle. In contrast, we see the opposite of this symbolized in how Yoda and Obi-Wan choose to meet their fates in the original trilogy. 

Let's broaden the discussion to include some of the other prominent Force-wielders we see in the film saga: 

Compare the bodhisattva concept to the way Emperor Palpatine approaches his mortality. Like the archetypal dragon figure of mythology, Palpatine wants to amass as much wealth and power as he can for himself, hording it even if he has no use for it. That power is not life-sustaining and seems to actually rob Palpatine of his vitality. Like the dragon who sleeps atop his worthless riches until he's practically docile, Palpatine lives a life of dismal seclusion, hiding in the shadows and slowly rotting away. The non-canonical DARK EMPIRE comic series offered the explanation that he used the power of the Dark Side to keep himself from dying, transferring himself from one clone body to another as the dark energies eventually took their toll on him. 

This isn't exactly canon either, but in DARK EMPIRE the cloning process leaves you about as anatomically correct as a Ken doll. Just one more reason to resist the (purely platonic) seduction of the Dark Side.

I’m not sure if there is any support of this in the current canon, but there is certainly tangible evidence to the contrary:

In EPISODE III, when Mace Windu deflects Palpatine’s Force lightning back at him, the necrotic effect is both instantaneous and significant, leaving Palpatine scarred for the rest of his life. It does not have this effect when Palpatine uses the same attack on Mace Windu. Mace is hurt, but is much more bothered by the fact that his hands just got cut off. And the lightning doesn't kill him either. In the end Mace meets his end from being thrown out the window. 

Even when Palpatine hits Luke with the lightning in EPISODE VI, Luke is injured by it, but not scarred. It looks like Palpatine is much more likely to scar himself with the lightning rather than anyone else. Could this be because using this Dark Side power leaves him weaker and more vulnerable to its effects? And has he become significantly weaker by EPISODE VI, also due to his manipulation of the Force to violate the natural order of the world?

"You call that Force Lightning? A wampa slap's got more force than that!"

In contrast to the enlightened state of being Yoda is training Luke to attain, Palpatine's obsession with amassing power in the physical world leaves him devoid of vitality. Even with the wealth of preternatural ability he's gained from the Dark Side, he's still a hunched, dried-up husk of a man by the time he confronts Luke Skywalker.

In The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell points out the futility of seeking immortality as a means of physically prolonging life on the mortal plane. The goal is to transcend the flesh and the mortal world, because the quest for eternity is a quest for enlightenment. Yoda cites this very sentiment in EPISODE V when he tells Luke that we are actually luminous beings, not bound by the crude matter of the flesh. Besides the fact that he is directly referencing Qui-Gon Jinn's teachings, he is also literally likening mankind to the bodhisattva, whose name basically means "luminous being".

I believe we are seeing this interpretation of Buddhist philosophy being expressed through Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Through their willingness to let go of their physical bodies and become one with the Force, they are achieving a higher state of being. Their further willingness to return to the mortal world with the wisdom they have gained from the Living Force likens them even more to the traditional bodhisattva role, since their duty is now to reject (at least temporarily) their final reward in order to continue their service to mankind.

But wouldn’t that make them the savior hero figures of the story? 


"HA! Suck it, Yoda!"

For the moment, that role is fulfilled solely by Luke Skywalker. While he does not literally die and return from the grave (so far as we know), Luke lays down his life in his final confrontation with Vader and Palpatine in EPISODE VI, standing at the precipice of that other plane, then returning to mankind to share the knowledge and wisdom he has gained from that experience. Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi have actually crossed over into that other plane, but their advice is no different than what they told Luke when they were alive. They have not fully let go of the bias that comes from their chosen ideology. They instruct Luke that the proper path to becoming a Jedi is to face Vader and defeat him rather than attempting to redeem him. Only Luke gains the insight necessary to see past that prejudice, to let go of the dispassionate dogma of the Jedi and embrace the larger truth that it is through compassion that we pave the road to ultimate salvation.

"You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me... BEFORE he became a child-murdering, daughter-torturing, planet-destroying monster... Except for all that, we're practically the same person."

Luke achieves a truly ascendant aspect as an enlightened hero for two very important reasons: First, when he faces Vader in EPISODE VI, he puts himself at his father’s mercy with a full understanding of the circumstances. He takes sole responsibility for his actions and their consequences. He has matured into his own man and is finally able to face his father as the man he has become. Secondly, Luke is not seeking to destroy his father. Despite the urging both of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke rejects the idea that destroying Vader is the only way to end the reign of the Sith. In fact, Luke is not at all interested in the Sith. It is only when Vader tempts Luke with the corruption of Leia that he is drawn into battle, but ultimately Luke decides that laying down arms is the only way to honor who he is and what he believes. At this point he is not just rejecting the influence of the Dark Side, but also of what he has been taught is the will of the Light. He has rejected all influences in favor of his own self-actualized state of being, and he is willing to die in defense of this new ideal. So his enlightenment comes not from choosing the path of the Jedi or the Sith, but in rejecting both.

This brings us back again to the concept of the Gray Jedi. As we explored in previous articles, Yoda is not instructing Luke in the traditional Jedi style. The more spiritual leanings of his instruction are influenced by Qui-Gon Jinn's teachings, which were brought back from the spirit world by way of the Living Force. Yoda and Obi-Wan both have some residual prejudices when it comes to the moral potentialities of Darth Vader, but otherwise they are trying to instruct Luke in a manner that will make him unlike any Jedi that has come before.

A lot of eyebrows were inappropriately raised when the title of EPISODE VIII was announced to be THE LAST JEDI. Because we live in a world where everyone wants to be a Hollywood Insider with unique insight into the process of making movies, even the most innocuous details of highly anticipated films become the subject of wildly speculative think pieces that are mostly just nothing stories offered up as click bait for avid fans. Besides the fact that Yoda tells Luke in EPISODE VI that he will be the last of the Jedi after Yoda's death, and despite even more obvious references during the open crawl of EPISODE VII and by Snoke's own words, which specifically call Luke the Last Jedi, this was still somehow fodder for fan theories as to what the title might actually mean.

Taking into account that Yoda and Obi-Wan are instilling Luke with a brand new philosophy, one that rejects the Jedi's single-minded opposition to the Sith and embraces a more compassionate world view, Luke can either be considered the first of a New Order of Jedi (as he was called in Timothy Zahn's HEIR TO THE EMPIRE) or the last Jedi to have any connection at all to the more traditional Jedi and their teachings. Given that Yoda's instruction of Luke instills him with more of a pacifistic interpretation of the Jedi philosophy and the fact that Luke's later efforts to build a new order clearly end in disaster, it's a good bet that the Luke Skywalker Rey finds living as a hermit on a secret planet will have no interest in training her to be a Jedi. If he has become more of a Gray Jedi in his exile (hinted at by the gray robes he's wearing when Rey finds him), then even if he does teach her how to connect with and commune with the Force, it's likely that instruction will have nothing to do with the traditional Jedi teachings. He may be teaching her to become something entirely new, effectively and officially making Luke Skywalker the Last Jedi.

"Everybody got that?"

Luke's predilection toward rejecting the Jedi way for a new, more compassionate approach is hinted at even in the original trilogy. Luke's reckless regard for his friends over matters of galactic importance puts him at odds with his mentors almost immediately. In EPISODE V, when the Force shows Luke a vision of his friends in danger, Yoda and Obi-Wan insist that Luke would honor their plight more by completing his Jedi training, even if the consequences for Han and Leia were torture and death. They are sincerely convinced that the only hope for the future is for Luke to become a Jedi. Luke rejects this, choosing instead to go to his friends’ aid. This leads Luke to the turning point of his hero’s journey, his initial confrontation with his father. 

Unlike Anakin in EPISODE III or Kylo Ren in EPISODE VII, Luke doesn’t confront Vader as a father figure and therefore the confrontation is not an end unto itself. The peril of his friends is a trap set by Vader to draw him into that situation. Even though this early attempt at an atonement with the father meets with catastrophic failure, it is less because Luke is unworthy and more because he is ill-prepared. He is not motivated by revenge. He only goes to Bespin (and finds himself in Vader’s trap) because of his love for his friends. It’s also important to note that if he had not made this choice, he would not have learned the truth and would not have been able to face his father in EPISODE VI as a fully self-actualized person. If he had trusted solely in the influence of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, he would have failed exactly as they did.

As opposed to every other character caught up in this toxic cycle of failed father quests, Luke is motivated by compassion at every stage in his hero’s journey. Obi-Wan tries to bait him in EPISODE IV with the deception that he should follow in his father’s footsteps, but Luke is unwilling to abandon his family. Even when Luke does agree to help Obi-Wan, his primary motivation is not to become a Jedi, but to save Princess Leia. Luke’s first independent moral act in the saga occurs in the Death Star, when they learn in Obi-Wan’s absence that Princess Leia will be executed. With no other influences to guide him, Luke decides she must be saved and even manages to convince Han Solo to help.

Luke’s decision to go to Bespin is also based on a desire to save Leia (and by this time, Han as well). He doesn’t know who Vader is or that he will even be there. Luke’s decision to confront Vader in EPISODE VI is also motivated by his innate sense of love and compassion. He wants to distance himself from his friends to protect them from Vader and he wants to appeal to Vader’s long-subdued sense of good in order to allow his father's return from the Dark Side. In following this path, and being the first of the Jedi to do so, Luke has outgrown all physical attachments to the mortal world. More importantly, he has transcended the spiritual limitations of absolutist dogmas, and in so doing he becomes the transcendent savior figure of the story.

"Suck it, Yoda."

Based on the more enlightened influence of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda (and thanks indirectly to the posthumous contributions of Qui-Gon Jinn), Luke Skywalker becomes not just the Last of the Jedi, but something new entirely. In the original trilogy he becomes the ascendant hero who transcends the needs of the physical world and returns to save mankind. In the current trilogy, he is poised to represent the fully realized bodhisattva, whose teachings will help a whole new generation of Force-wielders find a path to enlightenment that is free of the shortcomings that ultimately proved to be the undoing of the original Jedi Order.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


I think we need to take some time to explore the concept of redemption and enlightenment in STAR WARS, but there appear to be varying degrees of both. Now that we take another look at the original trilogy, we see that all good Jedis do not just majestically disappear as they cross over from the crude mortal plain to the living energy of the Force. Sometimes they come back as benevolent spirits, but sometimes not-so-good Jedis can also come back as spirits. 

And sometimes they just pop up years later, in a Special Edition, for no real reason.

Obi-Wan disappeared just as Darth Vader’s killing stroke cut him down in EPISODE IV and Yoda peacefully dissolved as he transitioned into what he described as a period of “forever sleep” in EPISODE VI. This was not the case for Darth Vader. Assuming Luke wasn’t just burying the robot parts on Endor, Anakin’s transition to the realm of the dead did not involve the dissolution of his mortal remains. 

So, good Jedis disappear and bad Jedis don’t, right? Not necessarily. Good and bad don't solely determine if you'll be a Force Ghost, since the end of EPISODE VI shows us that not only is Obi-Wan Kenobi a Force Ghost, but he’s since been joined by the ghosts of Yoda and Anakin too.

Depending on what version of the movie you're watching.

Whether it's the youthful visage of the Anakin we know from the prequels, or the elderly version of Vader's alter ego who was unmasked at the end of the original trilogy, we're led to believe that Anakin's spirit standing alongside the spirits of Yoda and Obi-Wan symbolizes the return of the Jedi he once was, having redeemed himself in the final moments of his life.

So, all Jedis become Force Ghosts, but only the good ones disappear when they die, right? Or you can be a ghost if you redeem yourself, but only the purest Jedi leave no corpse behind.


No. Not that either.

In our previous examination of the Living Force and the concept of the Force Ghost, we observed that Qui-Gon Jinn dispels both of those assumptions in the prequel trilogy. In EPISODE I, his body is burned on a pyre just as Vader’s is in EPISODE VI. In EPISODE III, we also learn that Qui-Gon posthumously develops the ability to return from the spirit world, a skill that he presumably teaches Yoda and explicitly will teach Obi-Wan Kenobi while he’s sitting around on Tatooine between movies.

We’ve examined two story arcs in the CLONE WARS series that expand on this idea, stating outright that Qui-Gon had been sent back to enlighten Yoda in order to put an end to the travesty of the Clone Wars.

So, only Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, and Obi-Wan Kenobi can become Force Ghosts, right?


Qui-Gon was sent back to make things right and he instructed Yoda and Obi-Wan on how to do the same, but why does Anakin's spirit return - purged of the dark countenance of Darth Vader - to stand once more with his former masters while his body burns on Endor? Seems like this is just a visual device to show us that he has been redeemed, but since later canon has revisited the concept to explain that there is a physical and metaphysical reason that the Jedi can return as spirits, we should look into how that applies to mass murderers who have a last minute change of heart.

We can do this by comparing Anakin to his original mentor and kidnapper, Qui-Gon Jinn. Since Qui-Gon’s body in EPISODE I did not gracefully disappear and no one thought that was weird, and all the Jedi we see slaughtered throughout the prequel trilogy end the same way, we can assume that this is something new (or at least special) that specifically happens to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. 

We can also assume that dissolving upon death does not, by itself, indicate whether or not you’ll become a ghost. Both Qui-Gon Jinn and Anakin Skywalker return as spirits even though they had good old-fashioned Viking funerals. And their return as spirits ostensibly indicates very different aspects of their character, so even the purpose for this partial resurrection seems to be different for everyone that experiences it. The fact that they share this special state of being with Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi is further proof of that.

It is telling that Yoda and Obi-Wan were the only Jedi we know of who were instructed in the ways of returning from the Living Force while they were still alive. We also see that, each in their own way, they embrace their fates at the moment of death. Yoda straight-up announces that he’s about to die, then merrily tucks himself into his death-bed. Obi-Wan is not quite so lucky, but he makes a similar bold declaration about what he intends to do once he’s dead, then he holds up his lightsaber and lets Vader cut him down. In both cases they tell everybody they’re leaving, then disappear from the mortal plain like magic. Another argument that this is something out of the ordinary is the fact that even Darth Vader looked puzzled at what became of Obi-Wan’s body, indicating that he had never seen or heard of that sort of thing before. He even poked at the robe a little, like it might be within the realm of reason that his final blow had somehow reduced his master’s remains to the size of a shoe.

Never can be too sure, I guess.

Out-of-story circumstances played a part in this at the time it was filmed. Originally they were trying to pull off a more involved effect, like Kenobi’s body exploding or something, but that ended up looking as silly as it sounds and they deferred instead to a “less is more” approach (which is almost always the better way to go). Regardless of this, the event now exists in-story and has been repeated or not repeated enough to suggest that it happens in accordance with its own set of rules.

So what are the rules and what do they mean?

I think it comes down to the difference between nobility and self-actualization. Qui-Gon is noble, but his dispassionate world view betrays a lack of real human empathy. Despite the fact that Liam Neeson plays him with a wonderful sense of humanity, all of Qui-Gon’s actions prove him to be a single-minded zealot. He’s busy doing something else when he notices this slave boy who has a zillion midichlorian count, at which point he drops his galactically important mission to test just how strong in the Force the boy is. How does he do this? By pretending a pod race is the only way to secure the part they need to get off-planet. In truth there is no need for the pod race, since Qui-Gon has no qualms about using the Force to cheat, which he does when negotiating the terms of his wager with Watto. 

And while we’re on the subject, why doesn’t Watto suspect anything? 
He knows Qui-Gon is a Jedi and seems to have some understanding of their powers.

So Qui-Gon secures custody of the child by cheating Watto in a side bet and risking Anakin's life for no reason. He also comes up with a half-hearted rationale for leaving Anakin's mother behind. 

The idea that Qui-Gon Jinn has no means of rescuing Shmi Skywalker holds no water with me. Qui-Gon had absolutely no ethical qualms about cheating Watto to get what he wanted. Qui-Gon could find any number of ways to free Shmi and Anakin both, but in truth he doesn’t want her around. He wants to whisk Anakin away to get inducted and indoctrinated in the Jedi teachings, except...

Turns out the Jedi Council, while fully unconcerned with where Anakin came from and where he will go, have the good sense to be a little concerned when presented with the chosen one who could restore balance to the Force. When there are a thousand of you and no one has seen a single one of your enemies for a millennium, balancing the scales isn’t exactly in your best interest. 

"Hmm... Prophesied to balance the scales between Jedi and Sith, he is? Well, since thousands of Jedi
there are and exactly no Sith there are, then sounds like a pretty raw deal for the Jedi, that would be."

But Qui-Gon doesn’t care about what the Jedi Council thinks any more than he cares about Anakin’s slave mother or, for that matter, the task he was originally assigned to complete, which is saving the planet Naboo from the evil Trade Federation. I can't blame him for not being at all interested in this aspect of the story, but until he saw Anakin, the fate of Naboo and the safety of Amidala were his primary concerns.

The loose leadership of the Jedi Council may also be a little to blame here. The entire leadership structure consists of a bunch of guys sitting in a room casually trying to reach a consensus about thing with no formalized system for decision-making. By the time Qui-Gon brings Amidala to Coruscant, they all seem to believe their role in her plight is finished. While they have no interest in Anakin except I guess to tell Qui-Gon to take him somewhere and get rid of him, they're really interested in the totally unrelated revelation that on the way to Coruscant, Qui-Gon was attacked by a Sith. They charge Qui-Gon with discovering the Sith's identity, but instead of sending him back to Tatooine to take back the slave boy he bought and investigate the Sith connection, they for some reason send everybody - including Anakin - to Naboo.

At this point Qui-Gon is so hell-bent on training Anakin that he has no qualms about  taking the boy to a war zone he only just barely escaped himself.  Even though they have no reason to believe they will encounter the Sith on Naboo, they immediately find him anyway for no reason.

You may argue that the reason they run into Maul is because he's stalking them, but ask yourself:
Why is he doing that? Why does he want revenge on the Jedi when they have no idea who he is?

The Jedi seem to have the focus and concentration of goldfish, because even though they are now back on Naboo to help Amidala, Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan immediately abandon this duty to go fight the Sith guy. Remember: Their mission is not to kill the Sith, but to discover his identity. Yoda reveals the importance of this at the end of EPISODE I when he says that whenever you encounter a Sith Lord, you always will find a Sith Master too. In light of this, they have much more to gain by capturing the Sith or tracing him back to his master than by fighting him. Neither of these strategies seem to be in play, because Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan never once even try to talk to Darth Maul. The second they see him they march off to find an impressive enough set piece for a duel, like they're all highlanders with a genetic obligation to kill each other.

What makes this even worse is that Qui-Gon leaves Anakin in the middle of a firefight to do this. He never once shows any legitimate concern for Anakin’s wishes or welfare. He just hides him in the cockpit of a spaceship and tells him not to touch anything. Is that a responsible way to handle an eight year old boy? So not only does he abandon him in a war zone, he manages to accidentally shoot the kid into outer space while trying to keep him out of harm’s way. 

I'm not just cataloging Qui-Gon's faults for fun here. His actions make him a central figure in the fall of the Republic itself. When you take into account everything he does and what it will ultimately mean, the title THE PHANTOM MENACE doesn't simply refer to the growing threat of Anakin Skywalker. It also perfectly describes Qui-Gon Jinn.

Qui-Gon's death at the hands of Darth Maul reminds me of a scene in Hamlet where Hamlet wants to kill Claudius, but at the time Claudius is praying. Hamlet believes if Claudius dies in prayer, he will go to Heaven, which wouldn't be a very satisfying vengeance for Hamlet. The purpose of this scene, besides demonstrating how straight-up hard-core Hamlet is, is to remind us that who we are in death is an indicator of who we were in life. I think we can see this philosophy play out in the fates of the Jedi. 

It's not just that Qui-Gon dies in violence, it's that he has no moral purpose in this action. He abandoned Anakin and Amidala to duel Darth Maul, and he doesn't even have a moral reason for fighting Maul. The Jedi, while pledged to stand against everything the Sith stand for, have never actually seen a Sith. Ever. They only know from their religious teachings that the Sith are bad and should be stopped. The only thing Qui-Gon knows about Maul is that Maul attacked him on Tatooine for no reason. But does he try to learn the reason? No. He makes no effort to communicate with Maul or understand his motives. 

Maul is actually a brainwashed pawn sent by Palpatine to be sacrificed so that the specter of a Sith Master would unsettle and distract the Jedi Council. Think about it: Darth Sidious already has a real apprentice in Count Dooku and he stands to gain nothing if Darth Maul is successful in killing Qui-Gon Jinn or Obi-Wan Kenobi. He's not sending Maul to protect Anakin or procure him, because he specifically sends Maul after the Jedi, not Anakin. Maul could have killed Watto at any time and taken Anakin if that were what Sidious wanted. So if that's not his motive, then simply killing Qui-Gon and his padawan would be pointless. Sidious fully intends for the Jedi to kill Maul without trying to question him, and that's exactly what they do. Which means that Qui-Gon's actions are specifically immoral in nature. Just like his motive for taking Anakin from Tatooine, Qui-Gon's motive for fighting Maul is solely based on abstract dogma.

This also recalls one of Yoda's teachings when instructing Luke on Dagobah. When Luke asks how you can tell the difference between the good side of the force and the Dark Side, Yoda describes feelings of being calm, passive, at peace. You see Qui-Gon exhibit some of this mindset during his duel with Maul. At one point some fully unnecessary-looking force fields separate Qui-Gon and Maul from each other. Maul rages against the obstruction, furiously attacking it with his lightsaber. Qui-Gon, on the other hand, assumes a meditative pose and patiently composes himself until the force field drops. Unfortunately, the only thing Qui-Gon does with this newfound sense of serenity is take it right back into the fight with Maul. The result is Qui-Gon being almost immediately struck down.

The significance here is that all of Qui-Gon' s acts leading up to his death insure the failure of his friends and the fall of the Jedi. By valuing blind dogma above basic morality, he sets in motion events that are ultimately catastrophic for the entire universe. With his dying words he even dooms Obi-Wan Kenobi, securing a death-bed promise from him that he will train the boy no matter what anybody says. 

Yet another example of the pitfalls of open-ended promises...


"You want ME to train him? I'm not even trained myself! Are there any rules at all in this outfit?"

So in a nutshell, this whole mess started because of Qui-Gon Jinn. So when Qui-Gon is actually sent back by the Living Force to fix his mess, it illustrates how being a Force Ghost isn’t an honor that graces only the greatest Jedis around, it’s actually a remedial program for Jedi screw-ups. Yoda and Obi-Wan bear some of the responsibility as well, not just as an extension of Qui-Gon’s initial mistake (which they for some reason carry out to fruition) but also for their role in the spectacularly questionable ethical quagmire of the Clone Wars themselves. 

I won't go into this too much because there isn't a whole lot of official canon to elaborate on it, but Qui-Gon's dilemma brings into focus the concept of the Gray Jedi. The Gray Jedi is an offshoot of the traditional doctrine, seemingly distinguished by their rejection of the (somewhat) formalized structure of the discipline being taught at the Jedi Temple. It reminds me of the opening quote in Alan Dean Foster's novelization of EPISODE VII, which offers this passage from the Journal of the Whills:

"First comes the day
Then comes the night.
After the darkness
Shines through the light.
The difference, they say, 
Is only made right
By the resolving of gray
Through refined Jedi sight.

Journal of the Whills, 7:477"

I referenced this passage in a previous article discussing the back story introduced in Chuck Wendig's first AFTERMATH novel.  I believe it foreshadows what we will see of Luke's philosophy in the new trilogy. I'm trying not to repeat myself too much here, because I covered this is my last article, which went into much greater detail about the trial of Yoda and what Qui-Gon's return meant in terms of Force Ghosts and the more spiritual philosophy of the Living Force. What we're really talking about here is not who returns as a ghost and why, but specifically why some Jedi disappear completely as they die while others don't.

Which brings me back to the argument for self-actualization. The two Jedi we see in the original trilogy who expire this way are Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. They aren’t sent back from the dead by the Living Force, they were instructed by Qui-Gon Jinn to become agents of its will. When death comes for them, they are prepared to move on and continue their mission after they have transcended their mortal existence. That makes them more enlightened than the likes of Qui-Gon and later Anakin, who must remain to redeem their past sins. While Obi-Wan and Yoda are not blameless in allowing their conflict with the Sith to become a Universe-altering war, they are still acting as willing agents in the process of making it right. 

That's the real difference. Their conscious decision to let go of the mortal world but remain in contact with it instead of moving on is a selfless sacrifice on a spiritual level. That makes them more like fully realized bodhisattva. They are choosing not to ascend to a greater state of being in order to bring  back knowledge from a higher plain of existence that will contribute to the salvation of all mankind.