Arguably, the best film of the Original Star Wars trilogy (if not the entire Saga) is The Empire Strikes Back. Where A New Hope was a fun adventure, the sequel took things to a new level by upping the threat level, and providing engaging drama between characters. While there’s a lot to love about this film, and many memorable scenes, I’m here to talk about the film’s best scene and how it encompasses all the central themes for no only Empire Strikes Back, but the entire Star Wars saga.
I know, I know...it’s been awhile since I’ve added to my series on films’ best scenes. So in order to get back into it, I’ve picked one of my all time favorite films; The Empire Strikes Back. Forget that it’s part of Star Wars, and it’s still a phenomenal film with a story that can resonate with just about anyone. It’s just a damn good film. As such, you’d think it’d be hard for me to pick out only one scene, but honestly it wasn’t. By far the best scene in the film is when Yoda lifts the X-Wing from the swamp, putting Luke in his place.
For me, this scene encapsulates the central theme of, not only ESB, but the entire Star Wars Saga. Star Wars is the epitome of the archetypal journey, and is a shining example of this brand of storytelling. One of the primary themes that run throughout every film is overcoming the odds, or rooting for the underdog. The Original Trilogy focuses on the plight of a small group of Rebels desperately fighting a war against a massive, galaxy spanning Empire. The idea that hard work, and strength of will can overcome overwhelming odds is a central part of the Star Wars mythos.
So here you have one of the most diminutive characters (a person whose small, hobbling on a cane, and appears frail enough to be knocked over by a strong wind) able to accomplish, with ease, an incredible feat that even the film’s hero couldn’t. It’s a powerful visual and hammers home the idea of overcoming obstacles theme.
More so than this imagery, the dialog between Luke and Yoda before and after are what makes this scene so memorable. Outside of “May the Force be with you” one of the most quoted lines from Star Wars is “Do or do not, there is no try”, which is spoken by Yoda before he puts Luke to shame with his Force skills.
Many have contended that the statement makes no sense, or at worse, is a negative comment about the effort a person puts into something they want. I’ve never felt that was the case. Rather, I feel the statement is a remark about how important a person’s mindset is to accomplishing a task. Having a positive mindset is the key to getting to your goals, and having doubts will do nothing but hold you back. Rather than going into a task thinking, “I’m going to try”, instead think “I’m going to achieve this goal” and then do everything in your power to make it happen.
This is a very profound idea and Luke’s failure in doing so, makes it all the more impactful when you think about it. Again, this goes back to the central theme presented in Star Wars about the ability for people to accomplish impossible (seemingly) tasks, despite the odds against them. The Rebels have to stop the Empire, because it’s the right thing to do, and what’s best for everyone. Letting evil people remain in control is worth fighting against. If they’d merely ‘tried’ to overthrow the Empire, without any end-goal in mind, they would have failed. Because they believed in themselves and that they could win, the Rebels ended up claiming victory.
Let’s talk about the other side of that conversation now as well. After Yoda picks up the X-Wing, Luke goes to him and says, “I don’t believe it.” To which Yoda frankly replies, “That is why you fail.” Whoa. Talk about heavy stuff here. Did we just hear someone tell us that the main character failed at something?
These days it isn’t a common thing to witness our heroes stumble in movies or even books. All too often they are the be all and end all hero, who can overcome any obstacle with ease. Honestly, this is why some films have problems, the sense of tension is lacking because we know the outcome. So hearing Yoda proclaim that Luke has failed in his training is a huge deal. Now we look upon Luke as a flawed character, we can see that he’s not perfect and very capable of making mistakes. If he can fail here, then he can fail elsewhere as well.
It shows that despite his ability to wield a mysterious power, and the fact that he saved the day in the previous film, Luke is still human, and capable of messing up. It’s a powerful statement, and one that makes the audience question his ability to save the galaxy as we once thought. It’s this idea that keeps you engaged in his personal journey, rather than just the overall plot. It’s also a great bit of foreshadowing for his upcoming failures in Cloud City towards the end of the film. To make the journey harder and implement a greater amount of tension, it’s important to see Luke failing, and it’s not something audiences are accustomed to witnessing.
When Luke ultimately saves the day at the end of the trilogy it’s more impactful to audiences because we’ve seen him struggle and fail. We’ve seen him be forced to overcome his own limitations and lack of faith in order to accomplish what should have been impossible (the redemption of his Father and overthrowing the Emperor). Again, this is the epitome of the theme presented throughout the entire Star Wars saga.
While it might be easy to disregard this scene as nothing more than a cool “oh wow” moment, that would be folly. This moment in Empire Strikes Back might be the most important for all of Star Wars, not just this particular movie.
You’ve heard my ramblings, now it’s your turn. What do you think of this scene and it’s importance?