Thursday, March 9, 2017


Continuing our examination of Force Ghosts and the STAR WARS science behind them, we must skip ahead to the end of the CLONE WARS series, which culminates in Qui-Gon Jinn's first official return from the dead.

Qui-Gon appeared in the Mortis storyline in Season 3, but it was left ambiguous as to whether or not the spirit that visited Obi-Wan and Anakin on Mortis was actually the revenant spirit of Obi-Wan's former master. Qui-Gon's next appearance at the end of the CLONE WARS series, which appears to take place at the end of the Clone Wars themselves, is not at all ambiguous. In fact, the parallels between Yoda's spirit quest in this story and Luke's spirit quest in EPISODE V are not very ambiguously drawn either.

Saying that, here's an important question I'll come back to later on: ARE FORCE GHOSTS ACTUALLY REAL? No matter what the context, they only ever seem to be visible or recognizable to a specific person. Note how this plays out for Yoda in the CLONE WARS episode, "Voices"...

 The story begins with Yoda being tormented by strange dreams and visions he doesn't understand, specifically in hearing the voice of Qui-Gon Jinn. Wanting to make sure he isn't crazy or that there isn't some dire crisis of mystical importance he should be addressing, he goes to the Jedi Council and they all meditate to see if anyone other than Yoda has the same experience.

This ultimately fails and no one - not even Yoda - hears the voices during their meditation.

In typical fashion, the Jedi instantly reject the possibility that this is a spiritual visitation and instead decide that it's somehow a Sith plot to compromise Yoda or that Yoda is actually crazy. At no time is it ever conceivable that the Living Force - the benevolent center of their entire religion - could actually be trying to communicate with Yoda, but it's totally plausible that some malevolent Dark Side energy could be speaking to him. Kind of makes you wonder where their faith truly lies.

The Jedi believe that the dead lose all semblance of individuality and lose themselves to the Cosmic Force upon dying, a convenient sublimation of their philosophical insistence on abandoning all attachments and passions in life. Ki Adi Mundi, the eggplant-headed Don Quixote of the group, whose main purpose in the story is to constantly make snap judgments and false assumptions, declares this outright and utterly dismisses the possibility that there are any things in Heaven and Earth that are not dreamt of in his personal philosophy.

"There hasn't been a Sith Lord in a thousand years! ... Which kind of makes me wonder
why we need a full-time Jedi Master Council and an ever-growing army of conscripted
child acolytes... Seriously, what the hell have we all been doing this whole time
if there hasn't been a Sith for a thousand years?"

Since they tried exactly one spiritual approach to the problem and that didn't work, the Jedi begin to subject Yoda to an Exorcist-style medical procedure to shock the crazy out of him. They stick Yoda in a tube of water (which in STAR WARS is the prescribed remedy for just about everything, it seems), intending for the deprivation-induced near-death experience to put Yoda into a trance-like state.

"You sure you're a real doctor?"

One could argue that this is also a spiritual approach, but it feels more like they're using technology to compensate for their spiritual failings. And it isn't even a useful test, because wasn't the point to see if someone other than Yoda could also hear the voices? Why didn't they all climb into sensory deprivation tubes? And what would it prove if Yoda heard the voices again? Wasn't he already hearing them?

"Well, gentlemen, looks like our work here is done."

Even more frustrating for Yoda, the ritual is actually successful, but rather than letting the rest of the Jedi in on the plot, Yoda is cautioned not to tell anyone else about his mission. This is a critically important detail that speaks to what I was hinting at earlier. Whether it's here, or on Mortis, or even Hoth or Dagobah, any time one of these Force Ghosts show up it's a totally private affair. I think that's important and I will definitely be coming back around to exploring why it happens.

In Yoda's near-death hallucination, Qui-Gon Jinn summons him to come to Dagobah, where he will learn the truth of it all. Qui-Gon wisely admonishes Yoda to come alone, which completely tracks when you consider the other Jedi are all treating Yoda like Joan of Arc.

"Beginning to think not 1000% on my side are you, I am..."

At this point you might think "oh great - Dagobah. Does everything have to be a throwback to the movies?" But in this case I think it's on point. Yoda's all over the prequels and he seems to just casually go to Dagobah at the end of EPISODE III, so it doesn't feel very mysterious or important in the context of the larger story. In the original trilogy, however, Yoda and Dagobah were shrouded in mysticism. Near death on Hoth, Luke gets his first glimpse of Obi-Wan Kenobi's spirit. Remember that up until then, Obi-Wan could only come to Luke in the form of a distant voice (as he did during the climactic scene of EPISODE IV), but as Luke lay dying on Hoth, Obi-Wan was able to fully appear to him, advising him to make his way to the secret planet Dagobah and find Yoda.

The word 'dagoba' actually refers to a sacred shrine. It was never meant to be just another planet. Like the surprise existence of a living Jedi Master, the planet itself is an interesting enigma that does not fully belong in the land of the living. Luke's journey in EPISODE V is purely spiritual. A ghost directs him to a planet that even his astrogation droid doesn't know how to find, and on the planet there is a wise old master who has somehow magically managed to not be tracked down and destroyed during the slaughter of the Jedi or in the decades that followed it. Only Luke finds the mysterious planet and meets the mysterious master. When he returns to this friends he says nothing about it, even when he breaks away in EPISODE VI to return to Dagobah just in time to witness Yoda's death. His communion with Obi-Wan's spirit only happens on Dagobah, other than the brief glimpse he gets on Hoth, which is interrupted at exactly the moment Han Solo shows up. The only other time Luke sees Force Ghosts is during the celebration on Endor, where he sees the spirits of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and even his father, but it seems pretty clear that Luke is the only one who can see them.

So are Dagobah and Yoda even completely real in the original trilogy? In the context of that story, Luke's training on Dagobah is a purely mystical device, left mostly ambiguous as to its standing in the physical universe. In the context of the larger story, it's obvious that Yoda is real and Dagobah is a physical place, but there is still a supernatural quality in terms of who is chosen not just to become an agent of the Living Force, but also who is worthy of being visited by these spirits. This extends to Dagobah itself, which remains an invitation-only part of the STAR WARS universe throughout both the central canon and the new expanded canon.

In parallel to Luke's spirit quest in EPISODE V, Yoda takes off on his own and goes to Dagobah. Interestingly, he runs off with Artoo as his navigator, leading one to wonder if Luke found the mystery planet so easily because, despite his protestation, his astrogation droid actually knew exactly where Dagobah was. I never really thought of it before, but Artoo's close relationship to Anakin in the CLONE WARS and his direct interactions with Yoda in this story basically make it clear that the droid's tug of war with the Jedi Master in EPISODE V was a pantomime theater put on strictly for Luke's benefit. Unlike C-3PO, R2-D2's memory was not flushed when he was handed over to Bail Organa at the end of EPISODE III. From a mythological perspective, this cements Artoo's role as a herald, knowingly acting as an agent of a higher power to help Luke realize his purpose as a mythic hero.

This further clarifies Artoo's actions in EPISODE IV. The original narrative proposed that Artoo's insistence on seeking out Obi-Wan Kenobi was based solely on the mission given to him by Princess Leia: To find the Clone Wars general and appeal to him to get the Death Star plans to the Rebellion. While this may have been his primary function, he might well have known who Luke Skywalker was and used this opportunity to lead him to Obi-Wan. It's plausible that, while Artoo knew Obi-Wan and Yoda, he wasn't aware of what became of Padme's children, but this seems unlikely since he was so directly involved in the events of the CLONE WARS and EPISODE III. If Artoo was complicit in taking Luke to Dagobah and even in on the gag enough to help Yoda play out his annoying troll-doll drama, then it is at least implied that Artoo is in on the whole plan to hide Luke from the Empire and only  activate him at the appropriate time.

Following Yoda's adventure: Qui-Gon Jinn tells Yoda that Dagobah is one of the purest places in the galaxy. Living beings generate the Living Force which in turn powers the well-spring that is the Cosmic Force. And somehow, Qui-Gon implies in this explanation, Dagobah is a powerful conduit for funneling this energy in much the same way Qui-Gon's spirit told Obi-Wan that Mortis was a powerful conduit for channeling the power of the Force.

Qui-Gon leads Yoda to the Dark Side cave where Luke will have his own Force vision in EPISODE V. This is a very important point to note in the mythology. When we see Yoda instructing Luke on Dagobah, we're led to believe that this is some form of classical Jedi training (albeit a crash-course version of it). Later on, when we watch the prequels, we see that the traditional Jedi teachings were nothing at all like that. Raising children from a ridiculously young age in what seems more like a Hogwart's type of environment bore little resemblance to the sublime and introspective experience that Luke was subjected to on Dagobah. So what was the deal? As we watch Yoda go through a similar trial in CLONE WARS, the answer is revealed: Yoda's instruction of Luke in EPISODE V had nothing to do with the traditional Jedi teaching we see in the prequels. It was, in fact, almost the opposite of that style of training. So why the big difference? Because Yoda had received a more enlightened form of Jedi wisdom from the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn. Rather than contaminate Luke with the more conventional teachings of the Jedi, Yoda chooses to instruct him in this new method. Luke was never intended to be another in the long line of Jedi who had come before him. Like Yoda, and later on, Obi-Wan, Luke was instructed in the enlightened ways that Qui-Gon had brought to them as an agent of the Living Force.

Just as Anakin was shown the future in the Well of the Dark Side on Mortis, Yoda now sees the terrible events that will occur as a result of the Clone Wars. He sees their betrayal from within, the rise of the Empire, and the horrors of the Jedi Purge. Qui-Gon warns Yoda that every day the wars continue, the Dark Side is growing stronger. He tells Yoda that he has been chosen, just as Qui-Gon himself was chosen, to learn how to manifest his consciousness and commune with the living even beyond his own death. He directs Yoda to seek out a planet that is one of the sources of all life in the universe (and specifically, the midichlorians, the magical mitochondria that provide all living things their physical connection to the Cosmic Force). This becomes the next phase of Yoda's spiritual trial.

Again we see Yoda's trial running in parallel to Luke Skywalker's. Having been called to Dagobah by the ghost of an old Jedi, he entered the cave and received dire visions of what was to come. There he spoke with the fully manifested apparition of that spirit, taking that knowledge with him to face even more perilous trials on a faraway planet.

One major difference is that  Yoda goes to that planet at Qui-Gon Jinn's instruction while Luke's rush to Bespin went against everything Yoda had taught him. Seeing what happens to Yoda in the "Destiny" episode of CLONE WARS, we are given a glimpse of what Yoda had in mind for Luke's continued training and why it was so important to him that Luke not go to Bespin and face Darth Vader before the training was complete.

Yoda's trial takes an even more abstract aspect as he is greeted by a group of female spirits, each of whom represents a positive or negative emotion. They are differentiated only by the Greek Theater masks they wear, which portray the expression of their assigned emotional state. They direct Yoda to a more advanced version of the cave trial, in which he will be confronted with the future he saw on Dagobah and, more importantly, he will be forced to face his own dark side.

Like all Jedi, Yoda believes he has already identified and subdued his darker self. He believes he already knows himself, and does not require another trial for the purpose of self-discovery. But the Force Priestesses insist it must be done, so into the cave he goes.

Inside the cave, Yoda encounters the dark side of himself as promised by the spirits. At first he rejects it outright, clinging to his original assumption that he has already overcome and effectively purged this negative aspect of his nature. Eventually he comes to realize that Qui-Gon was right; the war has strengthened the Dark Side, even the Dark Side of Yoda. Accepting this, Yoda admits that his own darkness is very much a part of him.

"Part of you I am," Yoda's dark half says smugly. "Part of all that lives."

"Ate after midnight, I did."

Yoda reemerges from the second trial, apparently triumphant in having accepted his dark side and taking the necessary steps to contain it.

In another interesting nod to the Jedi method of transcending to the realm of the dead without leaving a physical body behind, we see this enacted through the spirits on the mysterious planet. When his trial is over, Yoda asks the spirit to remove her mask. When she does so, she reveals only light underneath, then she disappears, leaving only her empty robes behind. This calls back to the death of the Father in the Mortis storyline of CLONE WARS Season 3, but also calls forward to Obi-Wan's death in EPISODE IV. Here we begin to see that this is not the traditional way in which a Jedi passes, but it appears to be a staple for those in touch with a more primordial version of the Living Force.

For Yoda's final trial, he is directed to travel to Moraband, the ancient home planet of the Sith. There he faces temptation by the ghost of ancient Sith Lord Darth Bane. Again Yoda confronts a series of visions that challenge his belief in what he is accomplishing by participating in the Clone Wars. The most powerful of these is a deceptive vision in which the Clone Wars never occurred. Ahsoka is still in the Jedi Order, Qui-Gon Jinn is still alive because there is apparently also no conflict with the Sith, a point furthered by the presence of Yoda's old Padawan Dooku, who never succumbed to the Dark Side and never joined the Sith. Yoda rejects this vision as a lie even though it represents the world as he wishes it were.

While on Moraband, Yoda faces imminent danger from the physical world as well. He is discovered by Darth Sidious and Count Dooku, and Sidious decides to remotely manipulate Yoda's visions using Dark Side magic to break him. The result is an elaborate vision that  portends the terrible consequences of the war and the fall of the Jedi. This culminates in a scenario where Yoda and Anakin are fighting to capture and reveal the true identity of Darth Sidious, a battle that mirrors Yoda's final confrontation with the Emperor at the end of EPISODE III. The only difference is Anakin, whose presence is purely metaphorical. Anakin is injured in the battle and precariously prone on one of those catwalks the Jedi always seem to be fighting on. Yoda's last temptation is a promise from Sidious that sacrificing Anakin will spare the universe from the Empire's tyranny (and, like all good temptations, this is basically true). Rather than accept this, Yoda sacrifices his opportunity to defeat the Emperor and chooses to save Anakin anyway. The vision ends with Yoda and Sidious falling together to their deaths. Yoda tries to unmask Sidious as they fall, but finds only darkness under the dark lord's cowl.

In the end, though, Yoda's choice to save Anakin foils the real-life Sidious' plan to break his spirit and wins him the favor of the Force priestesses. Having passed all their tests, he has proven himself worthy to be trained in their ways. Qui-Gon will continue Yoda's training for the dark times ahead. The priestesses offer him one final prescient encouragement: The hope that there is another Skywalker.

Besides the fact that this calls forward to Yoda's final words in EPISODE VI, it is also true. While Anakin is destined to bring ruin both to the Jedi and the galaxy, all hope in the Skywalker line is not lost. There is another Skywalker with a role to play in the prophecy: Anakin's unborn son, Luke.

The episode ends after Yoda's return to the Jedi Temple, pulling away to feature the branches and limbs of the great tree growing in the courtyard.

One obvious reason to focus on the tree at the end is that the tree symbolizes the prosperity and vitality of the Force, both of which will be undermined when the Emperor later cuts down the tree. A more personal reason is that the branches and leaves of the tree symbolize the Skywalker family line, ending with the hope that - while the tree may be torn down - there is fruit of the tree that will provide the seed for its return.

This story is important not just in the ways it illuminates the importance of this new (and basically secret) Jedi philosophy, but also in our understanding of the significance of Luke's training on Dagobah.

This idea goes back to some of the original concepts of the Jedi, none of which are featured or contradicted in the canon. Originally, the Force of Others was discovered by the first Skywalker, who communed with it and learned how to control it. Understanding that it could be used for terrible purposes if it were to fall into the wrong hands, Skywalker chose only to teach it to his own children. For generations the mysteries of the Force were passed down from Skywalker to Skywalker, until eventually the teachings extended beyond the Skywalker family and led to the formation of the Sith Knights.

This methodology is antithetical to the Jedi Order we see in the prequel trilogy. The Jedi are desperate to spread their brand, gathering up acolytes with such enthusiasm that some cultures actually consider the Jedi Order to be a cult that steals children and brainwashes them. It's hard to argue against this when you see Qui-Gon swoop in and take Anakin away from his mother, insisting on instilling him with the Jedi teachings even against the wishes of the Jedi Council (who are usually down with training as many kids as they can get their hands on). Following this methodology in this way leads directly to the rise of Darth Vader and the fall of the Jedi, so much so that Qui-Gon's spirit must seek redemption by bringing an all-new understanding of the Force back to the realm of the living.

Luke's training on Dagobah in EPISODE V seems to pale in comparison to the exhausting, life-long instruction the Jedi of the prequel trilogy receive, but in the context of the story it makes much more sense. When you think about it, aside from some valuable history and advanced sword fighting, it can't be necessary for the Jedi Temple to train these kids their entire lives. So why do they do it? The answer to that question is implied in EPISODE II. When Anakin returns to Tatooine after being tormented by nightmares about his mother, he has no idea how to find her. He thinks she's still a slave, but then learns that she was freed, got married, and was kidnapped by Sand People. Basically, he has no idea what her life has been like since he left her as a boy.

The implications of this are horrifying: Either Anakin never had any inclination to  remain in contact with his mother (which is doubtful since he is haunted by guilt over leaving her) or the Jedi Order, in its strict prohibition of all emotional attachments, has actually forbidden Anakin from contacting his mother. That practice would explain why the Jedi insist on recruiting children and keeping them isolated from all other influences their entire lives. It's not about training, it's about indoctrination.

When we first saw Yoda train Luke, we figured this must be what Jedi training is like. Like Luke, the 1980 audience had no frame of reference. Then the prequels presented a completely different approach to the teachings. In that context you're led to wonder what exactly Yoda was doing with Luke in EPISODE VI. In the even larger context of the CLONE WARS series, the difference makes more sense: After the fall of the Jedi, Yoda understood that Qui-Gon's method represented a superior understanding of the Force. It required a much more exclusive selection process, since Yoda could have spent that twenty years on Dagobah organizing and re-building a whole new Jedi Order but clearly chose not to. It also emphasized spirituality over physical conflict. Yoda could also have spent the twenty years following EPISODE III actively aiding the Rebellion and fighting the Empire, but he clearly chose not to do this either. The Clone Wars era Yoda is rarely seen without a lightsaber in his hand and is at one point shown teaching a bunch of six year olds how to fight with lightsabers.

"No, seriously, totally necessary for your spiritual development, this training is."

In EPISODE V, Yoda has no lightsaber and we don't see him give Luke any instruction on how to use one. In fact, he specifically tells Luke that a Jedi uses his power only for knowledge and defense, never for attack. This is not the attitude of the Jedi in the prequels, all of whom have no problem commanding armies of clones to prevent a peaceful secession from the Republic while also resolving themselves to overthrow the democratic structure of the Republic if its leader is revealed to be a practitioner of the religion they have personally been taught from birth to hate even though they have admittedly never seen a living person practicing its philosophy. The pacifist Yoda is the result of the new teachings, which he is trying to spread to Luke. He is focusing on the fundamental spirituality of the Jedi's relationship with the Force, never once even mentioning the Sith by name.

And why was Luke's training so short? First, because fundamental spirituality isn't something that can be taught. It has to be meditated on and practiced by the student. Second, Yoda wasn't finished with Luke when Luke ran off to Bespin. It appears to be quite likely that Luke's trials would next lead him to the wellspring planet of the Force Priestesses and finally to Moraband, where Luke would respectively face his own demons, then be made to confront the horrors of the past and future. This wasn't possible, since Luke ran off to Bespin and didn't return to Yoda until he had faced similar trials in his own life. By then Yoda was dying and even though his spirit would live on as needed, there was nothing more he could do to prepare Luke. Luke's Bespin duel with Vader served as his second trial, where he was made to see the demon in himself. His final trial, in which he would have to confront evil itself, would take place when he faced Vader and the Emperor for the final time. There was nothing more Yoda could do to prepare Luke for that.

So we see the simplified trials of the new Jedi philosophy represented (as indicated in the titles of the episodes) as Voices, Destiny, and Sacrifice. In a simple sense this correspond to Joseph Campbell's three basic stages of the hero's journey:  Departure, Initiation, and the Return. Luke received his calling from Obi-Wan just as Yoda did from Qui-Gon. He faced the truth about his Destiny when initially confronting Vader on Bespin, just as Yoda was made to face his dark side in the first trial of the Force Priestesses. Finally, Luke was made to sacrifice himself to the Emperor in order to redeem his father. Yoda similarly sacrificed himself to save Anakin in his final trial on Moraband.

The concept of Force Ghosts and the Living Force goes way beyond the ability to transcend death. It is a brand new way of thinking in terms of what a Jedi is meant to become. As the galaxy transitions into a place where Luke Skywalker is the only formally trained practitioner of the Force, we see that this officially signifies the end of the old Jedi philosophy and the birth of the new.

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