Exploring Force Lightning, Part III: Questions of Lethality

The next step in our exploration of the power known as Force Lightning, a lightning storm summoned by Dark Side users and directed through their fingertips is to examine how demonstrably lethal it is. If this is your first stop on this grand journey, I invite you to read the first two posts in this series before reading further.

Beyond the Extension Cord

Since this series was born out of thoughts while handling an outdoor extension cord, and how its shielding was a flexible barrier between me and death, it’s only logical to explore the specific lethality of Force Lightning.

As we’ve established that Force Lightning is some form of mystical electrical energy, we can still tell clearly that it isn’t immediately deadly; Mace Windu gets jolted for quite some time before being blown out the window, Luke is in agony but recuperates fairly quickly, and Snoke (ugh) zaps Kylo Ren from a distance like anyone who figures out dragging their footy pajamas on shag carpet lets you shock someone.

Expanding to the animated stories (as anyone with sense should), Tyranus (Count Dooku) straight up tortures Savage Opress with Force Lightning, as does Sidious torture Maul on Mandalore.

The stunning thing that all these examples highlight is that we don’t really see Force Lightning kill anyone.

Say what?

And *I* call it motivation.

Maybe It Doesn’t Kill

Given the fact that we don’t see it actually kill someone onscreen, maybe there’s an argument that it doesn’t. Maybe Force Lightning is simply a tool by which to torture someone into submission.

After all, if we see all of these examples of its use but never a conclusive evidence of it being deadly, maybe it’s simply meant to break someone effectively enough to make them unable to resist the coup de grâce. Torturing someone until they’re unable to fight back certainly seems like a thing that Dark Side users would do.

If we go with story chronology, the first use of Force Lightning we see is Dooku’s simple blast of Anakin at the opening of the duel on Geonosis. That left Anakin weak enough that, if Obi-Wan hadn’t been there, Dooku would have been able to kill him. Anakin was in no shape to fight back. And that blast only lasted a moment.

If we go with release chronology, though, the first time we see Force Lightning used we also encounter an interesting line of dialogue that may speak to Force Lightning actually being deadly. When Luke is laying helpless before the Emperor, Sidious smiles and says, “Now, young Skywalker…you will die.”

A Certain Point of View

The line, as it stands, indicates that the Emperor was about to kill Luke outright with the power of Force Lightning. He smiles, the music starts its crescendo, and Luke wails as Sidious pours his malice into purple-white bolts of manic energy.

If not for Vader’s intervention, Luke presumably would have been fried like chicken.

But this is Star Wars. There is a lot of room for interpretation. Since we don’t see Luke die at that moment, we could even presume that Sidious was just torturing Luke to the point of senselessness, after which he could just push him over the edge and watch him fall to his death.

Heck, we could imagine even that the Emperor would impale Luke with his hidden lightsaber after enjoying the torture. He might even summon Luke’s own saber and kill him with it just for the poetic flair.

After all, this boy – this child who should never have been – caused great grief for Sidious. After destroying the first Death Star, then helping the Rebellion survive Hoth, then proving that Vader was an even bigger disappointment than he thought, this boy had the gall not to turn to the Dark Side when offered the power of the galaxy.

I could absolutely see him torturing Luke until he could move in for an easy kill. The Force Lightning was the fun, the kill was the business.

I. Am. Not. Happy!

In Conclusion

Some might say I’m just stretching at this stage to hold onto the idea that Force Lightning itself doesn’t kill. And I concede that possibly, for someone with a weaker connection to the Force or already injured, Force Lightning could be a killer.

While you may argue that it killed Vader, he was already beaten down pretty hard by Luke. It’s possible that Force Lightning was just the final push like the flu for someone whose heart was already on the verge of failure. (In fact, there’s a pretty interesting argument about this that, as I write this, just inspired another blog. I’ll leave it at that for now.)

Given the examples onscreen, it seems like I’ve got a pretty solid case that Force Lightning is not deadly in and of itself.

So now that we’ve covered Surge Protection, Personal Insulation, and Questions of Lethality, I think we’re done with this for now. Tomorrow will lead to a new topic, and since I know some people don’t want to read just Star Wars related stuff (what?) I’ll choose something that’s not in that galaxy far, far away.

Also, if you like what you’re reading, maybe give me a break and leave a comment or send me a cup of coffee. Usually sites charge you for entertainment like this.

Exploring Force Lightning, Part II: Personal Insulation

In continuing our exploration of the cool Star Wars power known as Force Lightning, through which a Dark Side conjures a lightning storm and directs it through their fingertips, we come to the true spark for this series of questions. If, by some chance, you missed the initial post exploring its potential effects on electrical systems, feel free to read Exploring Force Lightning, Part I: Surge Protection.

Revisiting the Extension Cord

To recap, this series was born out of a musing while I was running an extension cord outdoors. The shielding of the wire prevented the current from coming into contact with me.

Force Lightning is some form of mystical electrical energy, as demonstrated by its effect on Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu, and Luke Skywalker, among others like Maul and Savage Opress. If that’s the case, what are the implications for the users like Dooku and Palpatine, and that one guy who wound up being a non-entity?

This would be a killer cosplay outfit, to be honest.

Body of Evidence

A strong argument for Force Lightning being electrical in nature is Darth Vader’s failure to use it while in the iconic black suit. It’s an accepted truth among fans that Vader channeling Force Lightning would have resulted in his own immediate demise as it fried his implanted survival systems. He was, after all, more machine than man.

This is supported by the image of him, dying, after throwing the Emperor to his death. (And it still counts as a death, even though the sequel trilogy brought him back to life after they let themselves get painted into a story corner.)

There are numerous counter-arguments about this, not the least of which is Vader summoning lightning in the not-officially-accepted-in-story-continuity Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. Technically, in release order, Vader unleashed a form of Force Lightning years before we saw it onscreen.

Of course, a lot of that book has been invalidated by later films and stories, but it’s proof at least that lightning wasn’t necessarily unavailable to someone in a mechanical suit.

Force Lightning also has a question of lethality attached to it. This is complicated by the fact that we see both death and survival when it is used onscreen. We’re going to table that consideration until next time, then.

Taking into account the previous argument for a power surge frying circuitry, it still seems like summoning Force Lightning could have been a very bad idea for Darth Vader unless he found a way to ground himself very effectively.

The Argument for Insulation

So the question at hand is what’s necessary to protect the person wielding Force Lightning from some sort of shock harming them in return. Having seen it used by several people, we never saw direct evidence they wore certain materials to ensure they wouldn’t be harmed, but we never saw anything to the contrary, either. In Star Wars that can be a lot of wiggle room.

To the point, did Darth Sidious wear rubber underpants?

If we want to accept that yes, he did have to wear specific protective clothing, then we have to entertain another question. Is it possible that someone wearing the right types of material could mitigate the effects of being hit with Force Lightning?

It seems that would have been a great tip for Obi-Wan’s ghost, or Yoda, to give to Luke. However, given the past failings on honesty there it may be that I’m expecting too much.

“Those leather boots seem comfy, Luke, but they could leave you vulnerable to evil lightning.”

The Argument Against Insulation

When the Force Lightning is thrown, it doesn’t seem to come into contact with the hands per se, but initiate from the space around them. It seems that while they are a valuable focusing tool, the hands aren’t essential to the conjuring.

Also, I think Snoke summons it from some distance away? I’m pretty sure I’m right about that. I’m not watching The Last Jedi again to check, so please feel free to confirm this on your own.

There’s evidence as well of the intended target being able to stop, absorb, and redirect Force Lightning. (Minch) Yoda does this against both Darth Tyranus (Count Dooku) and Darth Sidious. In those instances you can see that the Force Lightning never comes into direct contact with him, but redirects or absorbs before direct contact. This supports the idea that the summoner is not actually summoning the power through their physical body.

Additionally, while the insulation note argues against Vader calling it, we have some evidence that the circuitry wouldn’t overload. Luke takes a whole heapin’ helpin’ o’ lightning and his robotic hand worked perfectly well.

That robotic hand was attached in a funding-strapped rebel field hospital, not an Imperial facility, and if it worked after Force Lightning then Vader could theoretically have handled it, too. (That touches off a whole separate argument about the quality of state-run medical care in the Empire, but maybe some other day I’ll hit that one.)

This dovetails into the next topic for Force Lightning, though: Questions of Lethality.

Tune in Next Time!

Exploring Force Lightning, Part I: Surge Protection

One of the coolest powers revealed in Star Wars, at least for a time, was what’s been dubbed Force Lightning. Summoning power from the darkest depths of the Force, a Dark Side user could conjure a literal lightning storm of fury and direct it through their fingertips.

As this series progresses I’m going to look at several questions left unanswered by its onscreen use. I’ll also share some thoughts on its continued appearance in the series.

Let’s face it, you didn’t come here for the latest social media debate to score cheap endorphins from people with whom you agree.

Above please see your complete list of options during online debate.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Extension Cord of Pondering

I was running an extension cord outdoors to do some yard work one day, and I pondered on the implications of electrical contact. Here I was, handling a conduit for certain death while shielded by a certain thickness of rubber insulation designed to be marvelously flexible yet strong enough to save my life.

If there was a flaw in the insulation it would undoubtedly be bad for me, but it would also blow a circuit. It could potentially render inoperable something not shielded properly that was on the same line. This happens with lightning ground strikes; a home’s electrical systems can be damaged by the surge of a close hit, or a strike on the home itself.

Being me, this naturally led to pondering about Force Lightning. If it is, in fact, some form of mystical electrical energy, what are the implications on electrical systems around it when it is unleashed?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is c45fe-e0e8122503a4444c2bfe0fc677b7446147637f2f_hq.jpg
These guys could be in a lot of trouble.

Wielding the Unwieldy

Most times we’ve seen Force Lightning unleashed, it’s been incredibly focused. But there is also demonstrable “bleed” wherein it hits additional spots other than its intended target. The very first time we saw it onscreen in Return of the Jedi (1983), the lightning hit more than just the writhing Luke.

This isn’t much of a concern to Darth Tyranus (Count Dooku) on Geonosis, who is able to deliver focused blasts within the confines of a lair carved from rock. Rock isn’t the greatest conductor, and energy searches for the easiest path, so I can see why it isn’t the greatest concern, especially as he never directs a blast toward his solar sailer.

(As a side note, Dooku’s solar sailer remains one of the coolest ship designs in all of Star Wars. Thus have I proclaimed.)

However, the question at hand is insulation and protection. We’ve seen Force Lightning unleashed within the confines of an artificial environment built from metal, wiring, and complex circuitry. Is there any reason to believe that surge protection and insulation were a concern for those systems?

Please accept this example of how evil clouds are.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When Darth Sidious (Sheev Palpatine) unleashes Force Lightning in the Chancellor’s Office in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (the best Star Wars film to date, and a true work of art), and subsequently in the Senate Chambers as he fights Minch Yoda (look it up), we don’t observe any specific effects.

We’d have reason to believe that surge protection and insulation would be part and parcel of these areas’ construction. However, you can argue that it’s inconclusive what effect it has.

The Chancellor’s office has systems and power working after his attack on Mace Windu, and the Senate is essentially running on low power. To be argumentative I can can construct that some systems were damaged, but the ones still operational only suffered incidental contact that wasn’t enough to cause an issue.

I could argue that the Senate had to undergo some renovations before it was opened fully again. While there are functional systems after the fight with (Minch) Yoda &emdash; Sidious is in a pod, and the shock troopers are also using at least one &emdash; I could say that thanks to volume of pods those were the ones left functional while others were damaged. If they each had closed systems, the damage would have been limited.

He had an excuse to keep the Senate chambers shut down anyway as they cleaned up the pods destroyed by Sidious’ wanton attempts to crush Yoda.

That feels more like being argumentative for the sake of it, however. It leads me into the second topic for the series, though, and the one truly spurred by the extension cord.

What insulation does an individual require in order to wield Force Lightning in the first place?

That’s next time!

Why Not Call It Something Other Than “The Dark Side”?

We find ourselves back in Star Wars territory today, with a question posed recently by my friend, @theinsanerobin. He originally shared this thought on Twitter, Before you wonder if I somehow broke my social media fasting, he proved one of my theories true by sharing this musing with me independently.

As he shared it with me:

You’d think the Dark Side would brand themselves differently. Something other than what the Light Side calls them.

Everyone thinks they’re righteous.

Like instead of being “Anti-Light” they’d be “Pro-Passion” or something.

My response was, simply, Do you really want to go down this road[?]

He said my insight would be fun. While I do have fun with my insights at times, I don’t know how fun this will be.

I do believe you’ll enjoy it, though.

Brandon Lee as The Crow in the movie The Crow released in 1994 starring Brandon Lee and featuring the great soundtrack to The Crow starring Brandon Lee.
Let’s have some fun!

What’s in a Name?

The first thing to establish here is that I’m not going to pursue any pedantic, circular arguments about Lucas establishing a fairy tale. However true that is, which does ameliorate a lot of these sorts of questions, it’s an easy way out of the argument.

I’m going to present logical, believable reasons, consistent with everything understood about the Dark Side of the Force.

It boils down to the very Shakespearean sense of the Sith, and any other Dark Side user in the Star Wars galaxy. To borrow the Bard’s sentiment, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.

The Honesty of Darth Bane

Practitioners of the Dark Side are simply too honest to care about using a different name. They do not waste their time with preamble about why you should believe their doctrine. Either you will buy in, or you won’t. The only liars are the ones who can’t be honest with themselves.

I’m including Anakin in that line about characters lying to themselves. I still entertain the controversial view that Anakin flipped to the Dark Side in Attack of the Clones, and the rest of the Prequel Trilogy is the story of a man denying what he’s truly become. He’s started the slide, and as he scrambles back up the slope continues to find that his heart pulls him back to the truth of himself.

I’m not completely sold on that interpretation, but it does fit. Even if you incorporate The Clone Wars television series, you can see the Jedi being dishonest with themselves and indulging his worst tendencies in the hopes their prophecy comes true in a positive way. They pushed all their chips in to bet on Anakin, and will do anything to make sure it pays off.

It’s certainly a really interesting filter through which to watch his arc.

The Honesty of Another Bane

Back to the point at hand, Dark Side practitioners may be dishonest as a means to an end, but they’re never meaningfully dishonest about their quest for power. Their end goal is power, control, and domination. They are ultimately selfish.

There is a universal objective recognition that the goals they seek are not good. Since they cannot be of the light, why not simply call it what it is, and pronounce it dark.

You can look to another work that demonstrates this principle just as clearly. Christopher Nolan’s superb The Dark Knight Rises has a character called Bane who’s painfully honest about being “molded by [the dark].” He refers to himself as “necessary evil.”

This gets to an underlying and interesting philosophical point that surely would cause LANDRU to explode. (If you don’t get that reference, it’s a Star Trek thing.) Bane, like his mentor Ra’s al Ghul and other people “of the dark,” can often see themselves as the unpleasant tools of life. They understand and appreciate the personal wrongness of what they do, but can justify it as a means to an end.

I don’t think that applies to Palpatine, though, who’s just an all-around bastard.

Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, a Batman movie starring Tom Hardy as Bane because Bane is a primary villain in The Dark Knight Rises.
Another example of an Honest Bane. Darth Bane would be proud!

They’re Not Trying to Sell Soap

The idea that there’s some sort of political advantage to having a nicer name seems a byproduct of our marketing mindsets. After all, we’re self-marketers on social media, leveraging hashtags and keywords to generate engagement and satisfy our…whatever.

While Sheev Palpatine may have danced around it at first, note that he was exceedingly up front with Anakin Skywalker in the opera box. He flatly declares, “The Dark Side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be…unnatural.

In short, there’s no reason not to call it The Dark Side. There’d be little to no point, because once you got past the name, you’d say, “Boy, that sounds pretty…dark. Like the opposite of light. Can we just stop calling it Fluffy Bunny Side and keep moving?”

It’s about pursuing things that are ultimately selfish. The means to achieve these things are against the Natural Order, like creating life using dark magic, or justifying the slaughter of innocents as a necessary tool.

Anakin is correct that the Sith – our model Dark Side users for the better part of four decades – think inwardly, only of themselves. It’s not limited to the Sith, and I’m not even bringing in the Nightsisters to supplement the argument. I’m not even talking about the Knights of Ren (or Stimpy).

There are people in the Star Wars galaxy using the Dark Side who have no affiliation, or who don’t even have a strong Force connection. Their selfish and monstrous acts simply feed that Dark Side.

The operatives of Crimson Dawn, the soldiers of the Empire, and the chalky visage of General Hux all display an honesty that, while not admirable, is exceedingly blunt. Those of The Dark Side don’t care about what you want to call it. What point is there in obfuscation once they’re revealed?

Their point is not simply to convert, but dominate. To borrow a line from Darth Sidious, “If you will not turn, you will be destroyed.” You can either be down with the sickness, or get 10,000 volts blasted at you through evil magic.

In Conclusion

What is that people always say they want to see more, anyway? Honesty! Billy Joel pointed out that it’s such a lonely word, and everyone is so untrue. So embrace the Dark Side’s honesty. They don’t care if you join, because they believe that their power will give them the way to win either way.

I should be president of the Dark Side. Too bad I don’t want to be.

Ray Park as Maul, who was formerly Darth Maul, but became Maul instead of Darth Maul because he wasn't a Sith and Darth is a Sith title and so he's just Maul for SEO purposes.
Remember, NOT a Sith at this point in the story. Do not use “Darth” or he’ll mess you up.

Flashback Blog: I Must Obey My Master

Yep. I’m still in the process of reclaiming my old blogs from their old origin points to protect them from being locked away from me for good. I’m also very tired and going to sleep pretty much immediately after I post this.

This time, I decided to nab another one that explores the nature of the Dark Side, but also Anakin/Vader’s dependency on Palpatine/Sidious. It’s something that, as a fan, I’m always interested in trying to peg down just because of the subtextual complexity laid down in that relationship.

So here are my thoughts from 2005, just a few months after Revenge of the Sith was released.

I Must Obey My Master

Originally published on August 24, 2005, at the original kessel korner.

There is something over which I have pondered for more than twenty years. In Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader, on the forest moon of Endor, declares, “I must obey my master.” In light of the events revealed in Revenge of the Sith, I think finally know why.

Now, you must know that I am not pulling this from any official source. So don’t take my word as ‘canon’, unless like me, it makes the most sense for you. 🙂

I have always wondered why Vader must obey his master. It just didn’t make sense; Vader offered Luke the opportunity in The Empire Strikes Back to overthrow the Emperor. (As a side note, I loved the parallel moment in Sith when he made the same offer to Padmé.)

There are any of a number of noble reasons you can throw out there as well. One which I always favored was that Vader defends the Emperor, in part because on a subconscious level he wants to prevent Luke from making the same mistakes he did. That explanation still works in the subtext, but it’s not a strong enough motivator to keep Sidious alive.

Vader is already doubting the ways of the Sith by the beginning of Return of the Jedi. The statement, “It is too late for me, son” points to a conflicted soul, one who is resigned to his fate but unhappy about it. It’s not the triumphant declaration of power that we came to expect from Vader after A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, when he was still a blazing acolyte of the Dark Side.

Despite the conflict, despite the doubt, Vader acts first out of the Fear of Death. And since we know that Vader fears death above all other things, he must do everything in his power to protect…the wellspring of his life.

After Revenge of the Sith, it clicked for me when Sidious told Anakin the story of Darth Plagueis. The Sith want to acheive immortality by unnaturally prolonging life. The one word that Palpatine/Sidious hit on in the “legend” was power. Later, when Anakin turns, Sidious states that “only one has mastered” the secret to immortality, “but together, I am sure we can discover its secret.”*

The Emperor, when he goes to find Anakin on Mustafar, does not turn and look for a new apprentice. It would have made sense, would it not? Especially for a ruthless, self-serving manipulator like Sidious. He had already won. We know that Anakin is damaged goods by that point, and so does he. But rather, he goes to the lava shore and saves Anakin’s life. This is not a tender man, so to see any sort of tenderness does not fit.

Palpatine still needs Anakin, because as weakened as he is, he is still the key to Palpatine’s chance at immortality. After his slash-and-burn fate, Anakin needs Palpatine’s power to stay alive as well. They act like parasites, one feeding off the other.

That is the key. Together, Sidious and Vader are extremely powerful. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I believe that one keeps the other alive.

Even in his weakened state as a zombie cyborg, Vader provides the power for the Emperor to cheat death…to a certain point. The problem is that Vader is no longer the powerful man that Anakin was, and as time marches on he cannot feed the Emperor’s “need” much longer. The Emperor now needs the whole, unspoiled son if he is to unlock the secret forever.

Vader, on the other hand, made three plays for power (Mustafar, Death Star, Bespin) and failed. The sun is already setting on him, and he knows that he has blown his chance at “independence”. He needs the Emperor in Return of the Jedi far more than the Emperor needs him. Vader must obey his master, because otherwise he will die. Without Palpatine, the key to Vader’s unnatural life ends.

“Luke, help me take this mask off.”
“But you’ll die.”
“Nothing can stop that now…”

I am already sure that everyone will tell me that it was the Emperor’s lightning that killed Vader. Being more machine than man, blah, blah, blah. But you know what? People survive Force lightning in the films. While I think still that it brings the house crashing down, it is the removal of the Emperor’s power that ensures Vader’s death. This adds even more nobility to the sacrifice. When he throws the Emperor down that ill-placed reactor shaft, he knows that he is committing suicide to save his son. That is the ultimate sacrifice – not to just throw yourself into harm’s way, but to know that it means your end.

So what was the final moment that pushed Vader over the edge? We all know that. But now, maybe I understand why it was such a difficult decision from the start.

* Give me a break. If I mis-quoted something, I know I was at least in the ball park. I haven’t seen Sith more than five times yet, the memorization will come.

I still think this is a pretty valid interpretation after all these years. Anyone have any thoughts?