'Search your feelings' isn't just a Star Wars catchphrase. The franchise may have been increasingly driven by eye-popping technology (and even for its time, the very first film that came out was driven by eye-popping technology). But all those battles in space would mean nothing if they weren't anchored by the feelings in these films, the emotional beats between men and women, or even machines. I searched my feelings for a list of favourite such moments, one per episode. Here goes.
Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.
When we first met Luke Skywalker, in A New Hope, he was a frustrated kid. He whined about his home. ("Well, if there's a bright center to the universe, you're on the planet that it's farthest from.") He whined about his uncle, who won't let him join "the academy" like his friends. And we get to the first major emotional undercurrent of the saga. At the dinner table, Luke tells his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru that the droid he's been trying to clean up might have been stolen. "He says he belongs to someone called Obi-Wan Kenobi."
That sets off alarm bells. Aunt Beru gives Uncle Owen a look we won't fully understand till the end of Revenge of the Sith, when the infant Luke is handed over — by Obi-Wan Kenobi — to the young Owen and Beru. Watching A New Hope after this installment is to watch it with new eyes, to understand why Uncle Owen isn't just a grumpy disciplinarian but a very worried man. After Luke leaves the table in a whiny fit, Aunt Beru tells her husband, "Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him." He replies, "That's what I'm afraid of."
What a mess. Chewie, you think you can repair him?
The Empire Strikes Back is filled with "feelings". There's "I love you!" / "I know". There's "I am your father… Search your feelings. You know it to be true," followed by Luke's anguished "Nooooooooo!" There's Lando Calrissian's betrayal. There's Lando Calrissian's regret after this betrayal. There's the stunning moment when Luke enters an underground cave and finds "Darth Vader" there and strikes him down, only to find that under that black helmet is his own face. It's one of the greatest instances of pure visual storytelling in the series. Luke fears he may turn to the dark side, that he may become evil. Also, the image sets us up for the big revelation at the end, when we see why it's not inconceivable that Luke resembles Darth Vader.
But I'm going with Chewbacca's anguish on Cloud City, when he finds a smashed-up C-3PO in a junk pile. The poor protocol droid is the first to realise they've walked into a trap, and it's "killed" and left to be incinerated. When Chewbacca finds the droid and fights for its dismembered remains with the creatures working in the area, his scream-roars are a reminder that the non-humans in this saga have… "feelings", too. In fact, the very first "emotional bond" we see in this series, in A New Hope, is the old-married-couple vibe between R2-D2 and C-3PO.
You were right about me. Tell your sister you were right.
Hayden Christensen is so terrible as Anakin Skywalker in the prequels that it's hard to get past his stiffness and stay invested in one of the series' most definitive character arcs. But after some recalibration — namely, seeing the films enough times to make my peace with this performance and look past it — I have come to appreciate the writing behind this monumentally mythic character. Even his "you never let me do anything" whininess with his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is similar to Luke's whining with Uncle Owen in A New Hope. Like father, like son.
So it's the father-son scene in Return of the Jedi that resonates the most. The machine has been unmasked at the end. Darth Vader is now just a man in a metal suit. He's Anakin Skywalker again, the husband who wanted nothing more than to love his wife and protect their children — that's why he turned to the dark side. Watching Return of the Jedi after Revenge of the Sith, you see he finally has what he always wanted. His children are safe. He's seen one of them with his own eyes. He realises that despite the Emperor's manipulations, he's still a good man. He sought the (future) Emperor's help for the sake of his family. Now, he's disposed of the Emperor to save his family. The character arc snaps shut in a perfect circle.
There was no father… I can't explain what happened.
In the original trilogy, the question of Luke Skywalker's parentage plays a huge part. In the sequel trilogy, we keep asking: Who's Rey? Given how strongly she feels the Force, surely she's not the daughter of "filthy junk traders who sold [her] off for drinking money." Now, why does that sound familiar? Because we met one of these junk dealers in the very first film of the prequel trilogy, or — chronologically speaking — the very first film of the franchise: The Phantom Menace. It's a creature named Watto, and it has enslaved nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker and his mother. But who's the father? Ah, that's where we enter the realm of mythology.
When Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn asks Anakin's mother this question, she replies, with the confusion that must have haunted her all these years, "There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can't explain what happened." It's a divine birth, an immaculate conception. In the third film of the prequel trilogy, Palpatine tells the story of his mentor, a Sith lord so powerful he could "use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life." Sadly, George Lucas, by this time, was a shadow of his former self. Still, this bit of drama is powerfully resonant, possibly because two superb actors (Liam Neeson, Pernilla August) showed what they could do despite the director.
I've been tracking a bounty hunter named Jango Fett…
The Phantom Menace is the Star Wars movie I like the least. The Attack of the Clones was a little better: perhaps it helped that there was just so much going on. Anakin re-encounters his future wife and finds his mother, and (in a development that proves everything in this saga finds an echo) loses his hand: many years later, his son, Luke, will lose a hand. But the most absorbing portions belong to Obi-Wan Kenobi, as he lands on a breathtakingly realised ocean planet named Kamino, where a stormtrooper army is being manufactured, unit by cloned unit. The genetic template comes from Jango Fett, father of…
Yes, Boba Fett — the bounty hunter we all hated in The Empire Strikes Back, because he was after Han Solo. But here, he is just a little boy — and we get another of this saga's strange father/son angles. Boba is technically not Jango's "son". In addition to the money Jango was paid for serving as the template for the army, he demanded "an unaltered clone" for himself: namely, Boba. All of this is a prelude to one of my favourite dramatic scenes in the film, which is really just a visual. Jango is decapitated in a battle. Boba picks up the now-iconic helmet face and mourns the loss. I love how this minor character has an arc that echoes that of Anakin: a miraculous "birth", and his destiny being sealed by the death of his only parent.
Where is Padmé? Is she safe? Is she all right?
Revenge of the Sith is hardly perfect, but it's the best in the prequel trilogy because it could practically be a standalone movie describing Anakin Skywalker's transformation to Darth Vader. We'd already seen, in Attack of the Clones, how terrible his anger could be. After his mother dies in his arms in a reverse Pietà pose (it was an immaculate conception, after all), he unleashes his rage on the Tusken Raiders who abducted and imprisoned her. Later, he reflects on what he did. "I killed them all… the women and the children too!" After burying his mother, he says, "I wasn't strong enough to save you, Mom… But I promise I won't fail again."
In Revenge of the Sith, he's determined to "save" his wife, and his love for her — coupled with the guilt over his mother — makes him cross over to the dark side. He becomes Palpatine's apprentice. He murders Jedi younglings. He fights his mentor and father figure. He falls into lava and is Resurrected as Darth Vader. And after all these horrors, what are the first words out of that metal helmet, when Palpatine says, "Lord Vader. Can you hear me?" He says, "Yes, Master. Where is Padmé? Is she safe? Is she all right?" When Palpatine lies that Vader has killed her, he reacts the same way Luke will when he reveals he's his father: "Nooooooooo!"
This time, the audience went: "Nooooooooo!" But after the initial shock, during the first viewing of The Force Awakens, the event seems inevitable. This is, after all, a series in which parents and children are destined to be apart. But the reason the emotion is so overwhelming this time around, is (1) yes, we are talking about one of the most beloved characters in the franchise, and (2) this is the first time a son actively, intentionally kills his father. Flash back to Return of the Jedi, and you'll see Darth Vader slump after finishing off the Emperor, as though he'd expended every ounce of his life Force on saving his son. Luke fought Vader, but Vader died from his own exertions.
In The Force Awakens, we get echoes of that father/son conflict. When the Emperor was attacking Luke in Return of the Jedi, we saw Darth Vader's indecision: to help his Master and continue on his chosen path, or save his son? Kylo Ren is similarly conflicted. (At one point, Han tells Leia, "There's too much Vader in him.") And when his father asks him to come home, he says it's too late. His eyes are filled with tears. "I'm being torn apart. I want to be free of this pain. I know what I have to do but I don't know if I have the strength to do it. Will you help me?" Han says, "Yes. Anything." And the lightsaber plunges in. In the end, the lovable rogue of the series becomes its most loving father.
My nephew with that mighty Skywalker blood.
The Last Jedi, one of the stronger films in the series, has many powerful moments. Luke's death, for one — facing the twin suns the way he did as a young man in A New Hope, that iconic theme playing over him. Or even the strange connection between Kylo Ren and Rey, some kind of cosmic Skype call they are powerless to control. But let's look at one of the tenderest of relationships in the series, one we sense more than see. We don't get the actual scenes, but it's easy to imagine Han and Leia handing over their young son to Luke, for training: "Ben. My nephew with that mighty Skywalker blood. And in my hubris, I thought I could train him, I could pass on my strengths."
But soon he realises that he was no match for the darkness rising inside his nephew. He tells Rey, "I went to confront him. And he turned on me… He must have thought I was dead. When I came to, the temple was burning. He had vanished with a handful of my students. And slaughtered the rest." But he leaves out one small detail, which will be revealed later: that he sensed what Ben would become and, for a brief moment, considered killing the boy in his sleep. That's when Ben turned, destroyed the Jedi temple, et cetera. The cycle of good and evil never stops in this family. The good Anakin becomes the bad Vader who births the good Luke who (inadvertently) creates the bad Kylo Ren…
I'm Rey… Rey Skywalker.
The last installment of the Skywalker cycle has a ton of emotional moments for those who have followed the series (and continue to make an annual ritual of watching all the films, marvelling at the highs, sighing and rolling their eyes at the what-could-have-beens). There's the terrific grandfather/granddaughter battle. Palpatine says, "I am all the Sith!" Rey replies, "And I am all the Jedi!" I don't know if the West has a term for it, but in India, we call it grade-A masala. Then there's Kylo Ren's reconciliation with his dead father, who echoes what he said to Leia in The Empire Strikes Back, when she said she loved him. Here, Kylo Ren says, "Dad…" Before he can say, "I'm sorry I killed you," Han replies… "I know!"
But let's end with the ending. Rey flies to Tatooine. She flies past a sandcrawler used by the planet's native creatures, the Jawas that brought C-3PO and R2-D2 to Luke in A New Hope. She reaches Luke's home, now uninhabited, covered with sand. She looks around with a "So this is where it all began" look. (In this film, she's in white, just like Luke.) She buries Luke's and Leia's lightsabers. The Skywalker saga has been laid to rest. An old woman who's passing by says, "There's been no one for so long. Who are you?" "I'm Rey," says Rey Palpatine. The woman asks, "Rey who?" Rey thinks about it and decides she'd prefer a much cooler surname. She says: "Rey Skywalker." And like Luke, she turns to stare at a binary sunset.