Transitioning from the jubilance and victory of A New Hope to the gritty desperation in The Empire Strikes back was a difficult experience for me. The only way I knew how to rationalize the bad guys “winning” was to hate the movie. When Darth Vader revealed himself to be Luke’s father, I thought it was a sick joke. It wasn’t until The Return of the Jedi that I accepted it as truth. While it’s my favorite Star Wars movie now, I couldn’t accept it at the time. I realize now how important that movie was in my development and understanding of the world.
Empire starts to hit home during the Battle of Hoth. The Rebels flee from the AT-ATs, and you know that this battle will cripple them, maybe permanently. It’s war. And in real wars, defeats happen all the time. What happened in A New Hope was one victory, albeit a big one. The end of a wars comes after a long, drawn-out struggle, full of sacrifice and blood.
When Han and Leia are being chased by the Imperials, it didn’t occur to me that they would actually get caught. When they were caught, they surely wouldn’t suffer. I was wrong both times. Not only did were they captured and hurt, but they were also betrayed in an inglorious fashion. The fact that Lando betrayed them to save his city didn’t matter; he did the unacceptable. It wasn’t until I was 14, reading the New Jedi Order, that I accepted Lando as part of the Skywalker-Solo entourage.
Luke is the real hero in all of this. In spite of the warnings he received, he left Dagobah to save his friends. His pure heart differentiates him from his father, and he remains uncontrolled by his fears. Although his intentions were sincere and his effort was strong, he didn’t succeed in defeating Vader. Time and time again in this movie, the heroes fight, but they never accomplish their goals.
The killer for me is the big Revelation, which I didn’t even believe at first. I’m still amazed at how powerful the scene where Luke accepts the possibility of death and defeat is. It’s the kind of giving up that is graceful, that happens when all hope is lost, and there is no choice but to let go.
Now, when I watch the movies, I can see the hopefulness in Luke and Leia at the end, but I couldn’t when I was a kid because I was so overwhelmed by the perpetual tragedy in the movie. Defeat, betrayal, torture, disillusionment…
Just because you want all the right things doesn’t mean the situation will work out. The heroes seem to know this, though, and instead of cutting losses and working with what they have, they persevere. Leia’s heartbreak doesn’t hold her back. Luke’s injury and traumatizing discovery doesn’t paralyze him. They wait, they plan, they rebuild, and they try again.
As hard as this movie is on a 6 year old, it’s important. The characters have flaws, but their strength makes them worthy of hero status. A New Hope is glamorous and exciting. This one shows life for it is, with all its defeats and tragedies. And it shows that the human spirit endures.
Like the Doctor says, “Oh, might have spent a million years evolving into clouds of gas… and another million as downloads, but you always revert to the same basic shape: the fundamental human. End of the universe and here you are. Indomitable! That’s the word! Indomitable! Ha!”