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!

How the Emperor Set Up the New Republic for Failure in Star Wars

This post is tied to the episode of Aggressive Negotiations on The Nerd Party that’s released on April 9. Subscribe now for a fascinating discussion that sprang from this topic!

This post is basically an expanded look at the starting point, and we go in some interesting directions I won’t cover below. After all, to quote Darth Tyranus, “This is just the beginning!”

Why the New Republic Fell So Easily

A lot of ideas have been bandied about the Star Wars fan base about what went wrong with the New Republic in the years after Return of the Jedi, that allowed it to be wiped off the face of the galaxy between the single moment Hosnian Prime gets obliterated in The Force Awakens and during the short intermission before The Last Jedi.

There are countless flashy theories, and even Expanded Universe material to set up a grand vision of Sheev Palpatine setting a plan in motion to burn the house down on his way out. I think the solution is much more simple, beautiful, and requires no additional materials, sentinel droids, or people named “Gallius Rax.”

The Death Star Conference Room in Star Wars A New Hope which was called Star Wars in 1977 and featured the Death Star Conference Room and is the only Star Wars movie to feature a Death Star Conference Room since the only other Star Wars movies with Death Stars feature battle bridges and hallways and the Emperor's Throne Room but not the Death Star Conference Room in a Star Wars movie. I can't believe I just repeated Death Star Conference Room and Star Wars so much the words have lost all meaning.
“Next on the agenda, the proposal for more comfortable chairs. Good grief, is anyone else’s back bothering them?”

Remembering a Key Moment from Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope

“The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I’ve just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.”

“But how will the Emperor maintain control, without the bureaucracy?”

“The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep the local systems in line.”

– Grand Moff Tarkin & General Tagge, Star Wars

This is the most beautiful, simple explanation. It doesn’t even require reading additional materials; anyone who knows me, knows I hate that dodge.

How eloquent it is, that the New Republic was destined for trouble, and eventual failure, by the fact that Palpatine dismantled the mechanism of representative government. If the Empire was defined by his Sith will, and carried out by those personally loyal to him, with no mechanism for how things would work without a clear ascendant.

As a side note, I think one of the most flawed things envisioned in the post-Return of the Jedi storyline is that of Imperial forces unified in any substantive way. Palpatine gave power to people who were specifically antagonistic.

The war of personalities around that conference table on the Death Star is just one example of the type of people who were in Sidious’ Empire. Piett’s flagrant currying of favor with Vader, at the expense of Ozzell, shows two more people who would have been at each other’s throats in a power vacuum. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story shows this even more explicitly through the animosity and political maneuvering between Tarkin and Director Krennic.

Ben Mendelssohn as Director Krennic in Rogue One, who's a snappier dresser than Grand Moff Tarkin, but still not as great a dresser as Craigula, who isn't in Rogue One A Star Wars Story, which is a movie featuring Director Krennic.
Say what you want, he was a pretty snappy dresser.

Listen to Aggressive Negotiations for a Deeper Dive

Every revolution leaves a mess in its wake. What binds those who rebelled together no longer holds true after the rulers are deposed. Sometimes it breaks for the better, like the American Revolutionaries who spent a decade finding a workable method of government. Sometimes it breaks for the worse, like the French Revolutionaries who came to sate their righteous fury with innocent blood.

Matt Rushing and I pick up this topic and explore the implications of what came before, and try to make sense of what came after as we start with a look at what Palpatine did to set up the New Republic for failure.

My Honest Reviews of the Star Wars Films: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones came along at a very transitional time in my life. I’ve gone over the emotional connection I have with one traumatic scene before. I also had a great time seeing it at a midnight showing with my cousins.

As a result it’s often gotten treated with kid gloves when it comes to criticism through the years. But now it’s time for the Clones to be dissected. Honestly, fairly and without kid gloves.

Here’s Where the Fun Begins

Much like its predecessor, Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones is an imperfect film. Thanks to a change in the editing booth, though, it’s a step closer to perfect than The Phantom Menace. It’s apparent that bringing Lucasfilm sound editing mainstay and part-time director Ben Burtt into the booth gave Lucas the opportunity to speak in the shorthand he needed. It’s obvious that Burtt understood the nature of these films a little better (go figure, he’s been with Lucasfilm since the beginning) and the result is a tighter pace that “feels” more like the originals’ tenor.

This doesn’t diminish Episode I, but merely acknowledges that Episode II is when things start to feel more relaxed and maybe even a little more inspired. A bit more slapdash action, quicker transitions between spectacle and a little more polish on the effects.

Quick plot synopsis: A fallen Jedi starts some trouble, Padmé gets targeted for assassination while trying to stop the war and a clone army has been created for the Republic without (good) Jedi knowledge. Anakin falls in love, Obi-Wan gets sleuthy and the war starts, which makes Yoda sad.

Unsurprisingly, it was better received.

Clone the Love, Love the Clones

And there’s a lot to love here for both fans and non-fans alike.

Instead of evoking a cold world ruled by disciplined warriors, this film feels more like a youthful adventure. Frankly, there’s more heart.

Interestingly enough, this film—the second in this trilogy—evokes Lucas’ own second work, American Graffiti. Anakin and Obi-Wan pursue a villain in what amounts to a spaceship version of John Milner’s hot rod. The design sensibilities on the capital planet are a bit more Art Deco. There’s even a 1950s-style diner with a big four-armed guy who may as well have been called Mel (his name was Dexter Jettster, and he remains one of the brightest points in the picture.)

This sets an interesting arc as you can see echoes of THX-1138 in The Phantom Menace and so if you progress along, either Lucas is using his previous films to be evocative of the growth of emotion, or after his long absence from the director’s chair we’re watching his literal artistic rebirth as he progresses from the overly intellectual to the blatantly emotional. I’d love to get inside his brain and see if he’d done it purposely or just repeated history.

And then of course, there’s Baby Boba and Daddy Fett.

After decades of absurd devotion to a semi-minor, though admittedly cool, character introduced in The Empire Strikes Back, we meet his father, Jango Fett. As played by Temeura Morrison, this Fett was mask on and mask off a total joy to watch. In a notable scene where he stares down Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s pure gunfighter swagger.

Jango serves as the genetic template for the Clone Army that’s a source of such consternation in the film. So Clones also gives fans precisely what they wished for years, which was an army of Fett. But instead of doing it in a completely lame way, Lucas gives the fanboys a partial “f*** you” by making Fett into the antecedent of the stormtroopers, who have been reduced in fan circles to the equivalent of the Keystone Cops.

Lucas completes his collection of Revered B-List British Actors of Yesteryear by adding Christopher Lee to the ensemble, who ironically played Dracula to Peter (Grand Moff Tarkin) Cushing’s Van Helsing.

All basso bravura, Lee brings a vigor to a brief role as the first indicator of a great Jedi’s ability to fall (hint-like Anakin will).

The backdrops also evoke the American paintings of the Frontier era, when hyper-realism portrayed an idealistic yet brooding sense of grandeur.

Lucas posits some interesting philosophical questions here, as well. Is murder ever understandable? Is the military a tool of the ruling class, so long as its members are more devoted to the military structure than to being citizens? Is it possible for a Jedi to fall in love as quickly as Michael Corleone and Apollonia Vitelli?

Clone the Hate, Hate the Nerds

Of course, the film isn’t perfect. The love story is admittedly rushed and, going back to the editing beef I developed, about half of the speeder chase in the beginning of the film could have been cut in favor of at least one more scene showing Padmé and Anakin getting to know each other before their frolicking in the meadow.

There is precisely one line in the film that’s a complete train wreck, and unfortunately it takes away the power of one of its best scenes. When this film was released in IMAX®, they cut that line out and the scene played much better. Then it was back in on the DVD. Go figure.

The effects are tremendous on the whole, and the cinematography must have been a technical nightmare; however they did get a bit too ambitious for a few things and could have been well served to know when to develop the digital matte paintings with a bit more depth and detail.

It would have been nice, as well, to see a scene in there that I know was filmed that provided context for how drastically radical it was for Count Dooku to have left the Jedi Order. That back story is wildly relevant and would have at least kept Dooku fresh in our minds before the end of the film.

Sidious also gets short shrift; after dominating the first film, it would have been nice to see him in more than one scene at the end. Although, arguably, you do: but I mean with the cloak. I like him better with the gravelly voice and hood.

The Final Analysis

Still, Attack of the Clones remains one of my favorite films to pop into the DVD player and watch. There’s a tremendous sense of fun to it, and it takes itself far less seriously than The Phantom Menace. The choices are a bit more natural; of course, in context this fits because it’s another step closer to the actual story we grew up watching. We’ve moved from the Cold Golden Age to the Civil War and we’re on our way to the Wild West.

And typically, I hate “bridge” stories. They are by their very nature unresolved. They are not the beginning of the story where the important foundation is laid. They are not the thrilling end when secrets are revealed. They exist only to prep you for what comes next. I hated Matrix Reloaded. Back to the Future Parts II and III were tremendoulsy misguided. Star Trek III exists merely to exist (as frequent commenter Frylock Bodine has accurately illuminated).

But this one is different. It’s enjoyable enough that you don’t mind a lack of resolution because if this is the set up, you can’t wait for the punch line.