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3. Intelligence Squared: The Force vs The Death Star
“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” – Han Solo
A central debate throughout Star Wars is about the superiority of conventional weapons relative to the Force. While Han’s line is great, the best scene to encapsulate the debate actually happens earlier…
Some Imperial generals and senators are gathered in a conference room. A commander expresses concern about the Rebels capabilities, but Admiral Motti rebutts by pointing out that they do not have the power to bring down the Death Star. Grand Moff Tarkin enters with Darth Vader, and Vader says the Death Star’s plans, which have been stolen by the Rebels, will be recovered. Motti continues to voice his arrogance, calling the Death Star the ultimate power in the universe, provoking Vader into pointing out that the Death Star is still insignificant to the power of the Force. Motti scoffs at Vader, and mocks his devotion to the Force, causing one of the most memorable moments in all of Star Wars: Vader choking Motti from across the room.
We learn so much from this scene; while Vader is terrifying and powerful, he still endures insolence from his underlings, suggesting a lack of maturity or ultimate control. It shows us the disdain Imperial nobility has towards the Force and “ancient” ways of the Jedi (and therefore inevitably Vader and his “iron fist” method of rule), but also how much respect Vader still has for it, thus illustrating its importance. It’s also the first instance of Force Choke, a power Vader will continue to use throughout the films (even the prequels), and one that effortlessly underlines the difference in power between those who use the force and those who do not. Vader displays the power of the Force to the skeptical admiral, and proves that Motti is wrong, proving Han to be wrong in the process. Conventional weaponry is nothing compared to the Force, which can raise X-Wings, project the wielder’s likeness across the galaxy, and raise the dead (though that’s not a story the Jedi will tell you).
2. Luke’s Trench Run
If the climax of a film isn’t profound, it’s a waste of screentime. The entire sequence of Rogue Squadron attacking the Death Star is easily one of the coolest ever committed to film, but it’s also personal.
We’re in the cockpits with these pilots so we see their reactions as the sequence progresses. After many of Luke’s fellow X-Wing pilots are neutralized, Luke tells Biggs and Wedge they’re making their attack run. Wedge is concerned about whether or not the computer can hit the target (Red Leader had just missed the target), but Luke is confident. The X-Wings fly full throttle through the trench when Vader and his TIE fighters arrive. They hit Wedge who peels off formation, and then kill Biggs. Luke, focused on his targeting computer, hears Obi-Wan telling him to ‘let go and use the Force’. He does, and the tension builds as Rebels question Luke’s decision. Vader closes in on Luke, but suddenly his wingman is taken out by the Falcon! Vader’s fighter is damaged, and his other wingman also meets an early end. Luke is clear to take the shot, and he does without the assistance of his targeting computer. The shot is perfect, and the Death Star blows up.
This scene is the culmination of everything in the film. Luke fully embraces using the Force for the first time, Han realizes there are things worth fighting for besides money, and the destruction of the Death Star is the biggest victory the Rebels achieved to that point, showing that the Empire is vulnerable and ending the “Force vs Weapons” debate with the triumph of the Force over the ultimate battle station in the universe.
Obi-Wan’s communication with Luke from beyond the grave is a trope that will pop up time and again in Star Wars. We also see a change in Luke when it comes to enduring loss (Biggs was a friend from Tatooine) compared to his outburst of emotion after Obi-Wan’s death.
Because of this scene, Luke becomes a leader in the Rebellion and an icon known across the galaxy (according to The Force Awakens). This doesn’t even take into account the incredible technical artistry behind creating the scene. This is cinema and all that it can offer, from visual spectacle to narrative conclusion, beat-by-beat tension to pondering deeper questions about our own morality and beliefs.
1. Obi-Wan’s Dwelling
After Luke is rescued by Obi-Wan from Tusken Raiders, Obi-Wan takes him to his dwelling. This scene establishes galactic history and the relationship between papa Skywalker and the old hermit Ben. We learn that Obi-Wan and Luke’s father were Jedi Knights that fought in the Clone Wars, that Luke’s father was an amazing pilot and an idealist. All of this talk reminds Obi-Wan that he has Luke’s inheritance, a lightsaber. Lightsabers, Obi-Wan says, are elegant weapons from a more civilized era. Obi-Wan goes on to tell Luke about his pupil Darth Vader, a Jedi who betrayed the Jedi and hunted them down, including Luke’s dad. Obi-Wan also explains the Force to be an energy field created by all living beings that binds all life together. Finally Obi-Wan plays the entirety of Leia’s message, and tells Luke that they must head off on some damned-fool idealistic crusade. Luke is reluctant, but agrees to at least get Obi-Wan to a place from which he can acquire transport.
This scene is dense with backstory. Left to their own imaginations, fans theorized that Obi-Wan (OB1 isn’t a name, it’s a serial number) was a clone of the original Ben Kenobi used to fight in the Clone Wars (why would you clone Jango Fett instead of Jedi, idiots). Obi-Wan tells of the Galactic Republic, briefly touches on the Great Jedi Purge, and shows Obi-Wan’s disdain for blasters and other clumsy weapons. Lucas would go on to flesh out the worst possible version of this story, replete with acrobatic Jedi duels to show just how refined and elegant they were. This scene establishes aspects of Anakin like his piloting skill, his arrogant idealistic nature, his lightsaber, and his close friendship with Obi-Wan. This scene is also the catalyst for the film’s plot; without the full Leia message being relayed to Obi-Wan, nothing would ever be accomplished and R2D2 would roam the wastes until the droid’s capture or malfunction. There is perhaps no scene more profound or vital within all of Star Wars than this one, and it’s a joy to watch even with the shadow of the prequels looming over it.