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!

Stasis

In the Internet Age, there is no past. There is only the present. There is no escape from who you were, no matter how you may have changed.

I won’t labor too long on this point, as it’s just something that’s been on the mind lately. It makes me wonder about all of us who are producing, or appearing on, podcasts. It makes me wonder about all of us who blog.

You have to tread a fine line. If you cross someone who’s vindictive enough, they’ll manipulate audio or present it out of context to paint you in the worst light possible. If you make a misstatement on a blog, or overestimate the ability of people to read satire, you’ll be virtually dragged.

Worst of all, you have to be conscious that it’s out there. As they say, the Internet Never Forgets. It’s like we’re trapped in a state of perpetual stasis, with no allowance for something said in the past to…remain there.

Reddit The Internet Never Forgets
Someone posted this on Reddit and, well…it’s a good one.

People used to accept that you may have been a different person. That you could grow.

You’d recount a story from when you were younger and dumber, and smile ruefully. Sometimes you’d miss the fun, sometimes you’d be amazed you beat the odds. Sometimes, you’d be filled with regret.

Being me, I thought of Anakin Skywalker

Now Hear Me Out on This One

I’m just thinking about this in terms of the Internet Age. It happens.

In a sense, Darth Vader is a metaphor for how some people think regret is supposed to work. You must wear your Scarlet Letter – or, in Vader’s case, walking prison suit – to signify your perpetual punishment for the past.

Isn’t that part of what kept him trapped in bitterness and anger? He was literally in a permanent state of pain and anguish. After a certain point, all it does is further warp a person. They use this eternal mark as fuel for anger, and bitterness.

Vader was freed by love, shown to him by someone who had no reason to show it to him. Finally, what he’d been told – that the path he was walking was one from which he could never return – was revealed for the lie that it was. That there is always a way back, and you have to seek it.

But also, someone has to have the courage to extend that first hand to you. Someone has to be willing to acknowledge that no one is beyond redemption. It’s either there for all of us, or none.

Just a passing thought.

Vader rises from the table in Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith
“Yeah…you’re going to have to stay like this.”

What If Darth Vader Didn’t Go Back to the Emperor After the End of Star Wars?

Usual disclaimer: Star Wars in this context means Episode IV: A New Hope

A number of things I’ve written lately about Star Wars have come back to the same question of how much time passes between the chapters of the original Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Usually I harp on the idea that the films seem to work best if you allow the least amount of time between them, or at least a minimal duration.

One was spurred from a Words With Nerds listener who made the poor choice to taunt me with a question on Twitter. He was concerned why there was a wait between Luke’s Death Star victory and his departure to Dagobah.

I helped him out with that, but then I got to thinking.

If I’m willing to compress the timelines as I see fit as an audience member (as any audience member should), then I have to entertain the thought that Darth Vader went straight from the defeat at the Death Star to his fleet.

Incidentally, Vader’s fleet is accepted to have been named the Death Squadron, which seems silly since Death Fleet would indicate a fleet. In all honesty, Death Fleet is a scarier name. When I think of “Death Squad,” I think of a crack troop command sent out to depose rival governments; when I think “Death Fleet” I think “end of Carthage.” Maybe that’s just me.

Anyhow, if we do compress time so there’s at most a matter of months between Star Wars and Empire, I think that adds a lot of urgency to Vader’s search as well. He doesn’t need to know the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star at first; he only need to know that there is a pilot and he’s with the Rebel fleet.

Death Fleet on the Move

So he gets to the Death Fleet (I’m just calling it that now) and commandeers them, makes them hang a sharp turn, and goes to Yavin to pound the Rebels into dust only to find they were too quick and relocated already.

The establishing shot of the Executor Super Star Destroyer from The Empire Strikes Back
It is the brute squad!

If you want to add intrigue, make his commandeering of the Death Fleet be a source of irritation for Ozzel and an origin point for the obvious enmity between them. Ozzel was happily going about his mission when Vader, hot off the Death Star loss, shows up and turns what should be a quiet assignment before retirement into a hellacious goose chase.

Vader stays in contact with the Emperor finding out information as he goes. True to the Sith way, the two are racing to find out about this mysterious pilot and never know what the other knows, adding even more subtext to their conversation in Empire.

Tying It Together

So let’s pair this with my explanation about Luke’s delayed Dagobah journey, as it’s viewed by @roberthayjr. The Rebels are all too aware of this pursuit — as established at the beginning of Episode V — and so Luke never has the time to quiet his mind enough to hear/see Ben’s spirit clearly.

It takes a near-death experience to spur Luke into the next stage of his life. This pairs nicely with things, I think, and even serves as a nice symbolic fact about how people approach their own lives: they have to appreciate how fragile mortality is before they start living wisely.

What do you think?

Could Sybok Have Saved Darth Vader?

I had occasion to think recently of Star Trek V. My love for it is controversial and deepens with each time I watch it. It’s not a rational love. But it is a love of sorts.

As I thought about it, I came to think of Darth Vader and how pain was a motivating factor for him. He lived in constant pain. Part of his pain was physical, to be sure. Another significant part of his pain, however, was emotional.

Given that we’ve seen the complexity of the Star Wars galaxy to include a great many things not suspected in the past, I wondered why there wasn’t some sort of self-help series Vader could have used to alleviate his pain.

“I just need a huuuuuuuuuug!”

Thinking of self-help, I wondered if there was some sort of Dr. Phil-style guru who shat out platitudes about things to make it seem like every decision was OK so long as the person came to terms with it. I mean, it’s a big galaxy.

Given that, I thought of Sybok. He’s a straight-up commentary on self-help gurus. I figure then that he, or his equivalent, would exist in Star Wars. American culture (and possibly others) are resplendent with people who espouse the philosophy that no decision is truly wrong. Given that, it would follow that the Emperor could have sent a self-help guru to Vader and give him a pep talk.

Imagine a Sith truly at peace with his awful ways. The Emperor could have employed such a person, even for himself. An Oprah-like being who insisted that it was all OK so long as you personally were at peace with your choices.

Kirk & Vader

While Star Trek V rejected this philosophy, later Star Trek works fully embraced it. The entire series of Star Trek: Voyager seems to have been dedicated to spreading the notion that all choices are good choices so long as the individual is happy with them.

This means that Vader and Kirk may well be philosophical soul-mates. It means as well that Star Wars is a more philosophically grounded and fulfilling series of works than Star Trek.

Perhaps I really should be class president.

I just blew your mind.