Luke n’ Carbonite

Recently, regular blog commenter and occasional influencer Tom (who really deserves a proxy vote at any meeting of the Convocation) asked the question, “Why does Luke need to be frozen in Carbonite?”

The stock answer is, so the lil’ scamp won’t cause problems on his way to the Emperor. You have to imagine that a Force-talented individual, who happens to be either the Son of the Chosen One or the Chosen One himself, depending on how you read the prophecy, and who doesn’t want to be delivered to the Emperor might cause some serious headaches.

But alas! I thought about it for a minute and there are more intriguing motivations. Taking hints from the text, there are  other possibilities at play, which I think can add real layers to the film. None of these stand alone as “reasons” but rather what my old acting teachers would have called “objectives in service of the super-objective.”

The Super-Objective

The Super-Objective for Vader, of course, is to fulfill his “Destiny” and become the Chosen One, the ruler of the galaxy, the final arbiter and executor of the Force’s will in the galaxy. Sure, his interpretation of it while he’s the Man in the Suit is skewed toward a darker interpretation of the prophecy, but were he to take his place as the true Lord of the Sith, he’d fulfill it “from a certain point of view.”

  1. It’s part of Vader’s mandatory Sith power play against the Emperor;
  2. It’s insurance against the Emperor betraying Vader (ties into #1);
  3. It prevents easy rescue attempts (obvious);
  4. Vader can exert some sort of mental influence on Luke while frozen in carbonite (I’ll get to where I got that whacky idea later);
  5. Vader could hide Luke and claim he was dead (ties into #1).

Tying Them Together

Luke, trapped in the carbonite, is no longer able to use the Force as he’s in a state of suspended animation. This keeps him unable to thwart Vader’s plans to (ostensibly) deliver him to the Emperor. All well and good, but why not just knock his punk ass out and put him in some of those awesome energy binders that incapacitated Obi-Wan in Episode II?

There’s likely another motivation Vader has. Yes, he says in front of a bunch of people that he’s taking Luke to the Emperor. But there is such a thing as subtext. I know that for me, if there’s no possibility of another reading of the text, there’s no need to come back to the book/film/show. And I like to think I return primarily to entertainment that offers something additional when I revisit.

Additional Points

Vader had other motivations. Going back to some of the thoughts I’ve postulated before, and of which I’ll likely post a further examination at the implicit behest of The Clone, Vader was ready for his “big moment” on the Death Star before a couple of torpedoes thwarted his ambitions.

It’s not like he no longer wanted what he wanted by the time Episode V rolls around. If anything, he wants it more.

So, he’s figured out he has a son. He’s smart enough to know that he’s got an even better shot at dicing up Old Man Palpatine with his son by his side. After all, Luke is the direct offspring of The Chosen One (or, again, possibly The Chosen One himself). The kid’s got power and skills.

He’s also smart enough to know Palpatine would love nothing more than to toss his crispy behind out and start fresh with an undamaged Skywalker. Return of the Jedi proves that point as Sidious is ready to toss Vader onto the trash heap when Luke drops him like a punk.

About Carbonite

We know that carbon-freeze is used to put things in suspended animation. Cloud City’s facilities are geared for industrial output, leading to the concerns that the “crude” facility would kill Luke. So they test on Han and then get everything set to drop Luke into the pit. We know Luke will live, and be unable to escape.

However, as was established in the novelizations and various adaptations based on the original script, Luke would still have been aware of things. Han characterizes his time in carbonite as a personal hell in a scene cut from the final film, the infamous “sandstorm scene” on Tatooine (and I believe the dialogue was in at least one official adaptation):

“No, I’m thinking a lot about it. That carbon freeze was the closest thing to dead there is. And it wasn’t just sleepin’. It was a big wide awake nothing!”

Luke, in stasis, can’t be found. He can be spirited away and hidden, where Vader can train him and turn him to the ways of the Sith. Think of it: Vader can have a telepathic “conversation” with Luke while he’s in a sort of living Hell. What better offer could Vader make, when Luke is ready to break, than to offer him release from this prison if only he would turn?

That’s where I came up with Number 4 in the list above. It’s an interesting possibility, at the very least, and far more thematically consistent with the the series than some of the horse-poop other “fans” put out there.

Hidden from Sidious

At a bare minimum, Vader can hide Luke in the literal sense. If Luke is in stasis, his “signal” in the Force becomes subdued. He’s harder to detect. For goodness’ sake, the Emperor and Vader didn’t even sense his coming when he was out and living free on Tatooine, while Vader was in orbit (this ties into another topic I’ll be touching on soon enough).

Conclusion & Conjecture

So upon this closer look, given that there are other ways for Vader to deliver Luke to the Emperor, freezing Luke in Carbonite is actually a step from Vader to put the balance of his relationship with Sidious back in his favor.

He failed to parlay the Death Star into a final advantage, but figures Luke gives him an insurmountable one. His plans for Luke in Empire therefore take on a greatly layered quality in this examination.

Is it authoritative? Not at all. It’s a guy on the Internet playing “English Major” with a story point in a film.

But you have to admit that it’s a more interesting way to look at it. More interesting than face value, that’s for sure.

3 thoughts on “Luke n’ Carbonite

  1. Thanks for your insight. I think this is an example of the richness that is there in the movie that is really tempting to gloss over. Is this an instance where you just have to suspend your disbelief for the sake of letting the action sink in? Or does it point to something more nefarious? For that matter, even if it points to something more nefarious, maybe you still need to suspend your disbelief.

    This discussion definitely goes in the realm of pure speculation, but there is enough depth in the themes and characters to go there. As much of a badass as Vader is in this movie, to take for granted that he is a humble supplicant to the Emperor doesn’t add up. In fact, the humility he shows in the Emperor’s presence may well be the need to control his thoughts, feelings, and emotions as not to tip his hand as to his plans for Skywalker and his ambition.


  2. Everything you said is certainly a possibility. But I highly doubt good old George really thought of it in terms of anything but a way to get Han frozen. I mean, the emperor is one quick hyperspace jump away, no real need for freezing, especially considering Vader is relying on the sample size of ONE (that being Solo) to determine that the carbon freezing is safe… Lucas, so stupid….


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