Overanalyzing our favorite movies is a cherished hobby amongst nerds. We’ll of course pick apart the stuff we hate, and that’s probably understandable to the average person… but less comprehensible is the tendency to dig into the flaws of that which we love, even to the point of questioning that love (as shown by Justin’s piece on the Indiana Jones movies last week).
This particular trip (and I do use that word with extreme prejudice) is not about flaws, per se, but it is a bizarre recent observation on a beloved movie that I can’t shake from my head. That wacky Justin guy is also indirectly responsible here; I was having a brief discussion with him on a statement of his that his favorite characters in movies are often the ones in the background, the ones that “don’t do anything”. That was interesting enough to me that it became the subject of my blog for Zombie Ranch this week, but one of the examples he gave was Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back.
I didn’t argue with him about that at the time, but… Yoda? Really? He’s not a background character! He teaches Luke the Force! He guides Luke to face his fears. He raised a whole frickin’ X-Wing out of a swamp just to prove a point! How can you possibly classify Yoda as a character who doesn’t do anything?
Except then my mind made the jump that, not only is that technically true — but that within the context of Empire, the case could be made that Yoda never existed. In fact, that the entire detour to Dagobah could have been nothing more than a hallucination, drug-induced or otherwise, born out of Luke’s addled head.
Let’s leave aside for the moment that in the Star Wars universe, there seems to be a fine line between “force-sensitive” and “schizophrenic“. All right, actually, let’s not leave that aside. Schizophrenia often sets in on a person in late adolescence/early adulthood, and stressful episodes can be the trigger. Stress like, oh, perhaps losing both of your surrogate parents and the other old guy you glommed onto in lieu of them within the span of a few days. Then you’re zooming down a Death Star trench with all your buddies dying around you and the fate of the whole rebellion hanging on your shoulders, and the voices in your head begin.
But they go away again after that (at least, so far as we know). Luke seems to be okay: happy, smiling, surrounded and supported by friends. And then, the Wampa happens, and young Mr. Skywalker ends up in the snowy wastes, half-dead from blood loss and exposure, as a glowing Ben Kenobi appears to tell him “You will go to the Dagobah System” to learn the ways of the Force from Yoda.
My wife’s (diagnosed schizophrenic) mother once claimed that Satan appeared and had a conversation with her while she was eating Cheerios, but fortunately she didn’t take any of that talk to heart. Luke, on the other hand…
INTERIOR: Luke’s X-Wing – Cockpit
- Luke, looking thoughtful, suddenly makes a decision. He flips several switches. The stars shift as he takes his fighter into a steep turn. The X-wing banks sharply and flies away in a new direction.
The monitor screen on Luke’s control panel prints out a question from the concerned Artoo.
- LUKE: (into comlink) There’s nothing wrong, Artoo. I’m just setting a new course.
- Artoo beeps once again.
- LUKE: (into comlink) We’re not going to regroup with the others.
- Artoo begins a protest, whistling an unbelieving, “What?!”
Luke reads Artoo’s exclamation on his control panel.
- LUKE: (into comlink) We’re going to the Dagobah system.
- Luke checks his readouts and makes a few adjustments. He rides along with only the soft hum of the instruments to break the silence. Finally, Artoo chirps up.
- LUKE: (into comlink) Yes, Artoo?
- Artoo utters a soft, carefully phrased steam of whistles.
- LUKE: (into comlink, chuckling) That’s all right. I’d like to keep it on manual control for a while.
- The little droid lets out a defeated whimper. Luke smiles, and continues on his course.
One other friend I discussed the theory with this week wondered if everything after the Wampa is hallucinatory, but I don’t want to go that far because it means the AT-ATs are imaginary, and AT-ATs are awesome. Also, what we’re looking for here is minimal witnesses and evidence to interfere in the theory. Besides Artoo and Luke, no one else in the cast ever meets Yoda, and from the moment Luke leaves Hoth his only companion is that single droid — a droid gently suggesting that maybe Luke ought to give up the X-Wing keys after he starts talking crazy.
In between this point and Luke landing in Cloud City, we have a lot of stuff go on that’s really sort of impossible to prove — unless perhaps Artoo was recording it, but he’s not talking. Admittedly, Artoo is like a tin can Man In Black who seems to operate on a “need-to-know” basis even with someone like Threepio who can understand him, but what makes more sense? That Luke just passed out twitching and mumbling in the cockpit for awhile as Artoo inwardly sighed and followed the trail of the Falcon to Cloud City (you know that little bastard would have been capable of it), or that he crash landed on a mostly uncharted swamp planet, met a wise muppet and his dead former teacher who guided him on a spirit journey, and at the end took off again with a fully functional ship (that had, quite recently, fallen over and sunk into the swamp) to land in Cloud City. Wearing a completely clean set of clothes.
Luke helps Artoo to his feet and begins wiping the mud and roots from his round metal body. Artoo responds with feeble, soggy beeps.
LUKE: If you’re saying coming here was a bad idea, I’m beginning to agree with you. Oh, Artoo, what are we doing here? It’s like… something out of a dream, or, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just going crazy.
But hey, Dagobah’s a pretty mundane place, right? It’s not like it’s some weird, mist-shrouded landscape of ghosts and strange, half-glimpsed creatures, where some odd little spirit guide is instructing you on the proper path for your soul and the only landmarks seem to be things like a GIANT, INEXPLICABLY EVIL TREE where Darth Vader is lurking and waiting for you but when you kill him Darth Vader’s helmet blows apart and he HAS YOUR FACE.
Also, did you know the phrase “having a monkey on your back” is a euphemism for drug addiction? I don’t know why I suddenly brought that up…
Of course, later on the ghost of Obi-Wan joins in on the fun. Going back to the schizophrenia angle again, Wikipedia (what? It’s the source of all reputable science for lazy bloggers) provides us with this quote on the list of symptoms for diagnosis:
“…they include delusions of being controlled by an external force; the belief that thoughts are being inserted into or withdrawn from one’s conscious mind; the belief that one’s thoughts are being broadcast to other people; and hearing hallucinatory voices that comment on one’s thoughts or actions or that have a conversation with other hallucinated voices…”
Yeah, so… yeah… Yoda and Obi-Wan interacting doesn’t really help Luke’s case. You know what would’ve helped his case? An X-Wing still bearing traces of swamp muck or a computerized flight log of where it’s been since it left Hoth. So all we have to do is…
Oh right. After Cloud City, we never see that X-Wing again. Luke never makes it back to his ship, he has to be evacuated on the Falcon. All that potential evidence to prove Luke went through anything but a nasty mental episode is gone. He could have gone to Dagobah. But just as easily, “gone to Dagobah” could be the Star Wars equivalent of some dude lying delirious in the desert for a few days while trying to get the peyote out of his system. To be fair, certain tribes of American Indians called that a vision quest, and by and large it seems to have been a positive, maturing experience for Luke — especially considering the fact that in the end, he pulls himself out of it because of the notion that his friends are in pain, and need him. Fuck that little monkey Yoda telling him he needs to stay and “complete his training”, Luke makes the choice to get back to reality and responsibility.
For all my dissecting of the sequence, whether it’s real or just a hallucination, that’s the part that truly matters.
P.S. Remember this is all in context of Empire, or at most the original trilogy. First person to bring up the prequels gets a pop in the mouth (now there’s something I truly wish had turned out to be just mad hallucinations).