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!

Question from a Listener: “Why doesn’t Ghost Obi-Wan send Luke to Yoda right after he blows up the Death Star?”

Super Death Panda at Hoth

A listener of Words With Nerds (as you all should be) proposed a question to me on Twitter. To avoid misstating anything, here it is:

It’s a decent question. That is likely to be enough for @roberthayjr to feel happy; he’s a good egg who likes to challenge.

As I thought about the question, though, it’s one that I think is rooted in the “accepted timeline” between Star Wars: A New Hope and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. That is currently accepted to be 3 years.

The first and easiest way to disregard the question, then, is to say that there’s nothing in the text of the film that mandates a long time between the films. It could be as little as a month between films. The only length of time required is for it to be long enough that they run into a bounty hunter on Ord Mantell, per the dialogue from Han. You can tweak that a little further by saying that it would also need to be enough time for Vader to get back to the fleet, discover Luke’s identity, and set off searching for him without telling the Emperor. (This triggers a new and intriguing thought that I’ll write about later.)

That’s a little bit of a cheat, though. It’s a way of “lawyering around” the question. I don’t want to do that….

…this time.

Ghost Obi-Wan is Emphatic
Luke! Don’t give away the secret recipe. That leads to the dark…fried.

My Answer

The answer as I see it then, is two-fold:

  1. Luke wasn’t strong enough in the Force to see Obi-Wan until that near-death experience on Hoth; and/or
  2. Obi-Wan was waiting to step across the fabric of two realities until Luke was judged ready to take the next step; we’d heard him speak during the final act of Star Wars, he was likely waiting to appear until the right time.

I like both parts of this answer because they can, technically, function on their own.

The second point deserves a little more exploration, though. For if Obi-Wan could speak to Luke, why couldn’t he just tell him to go to Dagobah?

Refining the Answer

The refinement is that Obi-Wan was waiting to send Luke to Dagobah until Luke was could indicate a development and maturity in his Force abilities that was a clear sign that he was ready for the next, important step. After all, as soon as Luke goes to Yoda, it’s going to set off enough of a disturbance in the Force for the Emperor to sense it — hence him coming to Vader and talking about it in Empire.

Again, Luke had to be strong enough to see it, and Obi-Wan appeared when he saw that he was.

As a final “nitpicking interpretation,” who says that Obi-Wan didn’t speak to Luke between Empire and Jedi, dropping hints? Clearly Luke develops further skills like telekineses seen at the start of Empire.

He could have gotten there through meditation, too, but it’s equally valid to think that Obi-Wan spoke to him as Qui-Gon spoke to Obi-Wan while he was on Tatooine. This is, again, an accepted bit of knowledge, inferred from the text of Revenge of the Sith as much as anything else.

So, Bobby, how’d I do? Maybe it’s worth a discussion on Aggressive Negotiations….

Yoda is a many-colored being.
I also come from an era when we accepted both green AND purple (AND blue) Yodas.

Another Way George Lucas Schooled Us All

Shadows of the Future

George Lucas, and his team, have always been a bit ahead of the curve in terms of marketing and showmanship. I realized recently how far ahead as I thought about the Shadows of the Empire campaign in the 1990s. He gave us a preview of the future just ahead of the Internet’s breakout changing of the world and our interactions with it.

For those that don’t remember, Shadows of the Empire (henceforth SOTE) was the sort-of-sequel that fit in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. At the time, it was referred to as the movie without a movie. There was a comic book pseudo-adaptation, a video game (N64!), a novel that served as a novelization, and even a complete soundtrack. Heck, there was a poster by Drew Struzan.

Ben Burtt even helped write an operatic piece in an alien language for a climactic moment that was supposedly adapted from an ancient opera in the Star Wars universe.

And though I know some will roll their eyes, Lucas worked in the ship “The Outrider” and Swoops into the Star Wars Special Edition as a nod to the officialness of the work.

The movie without a movie

I’m on to the thought now that SOTE showed the forthcoming tangential importance of an actual film. In the landscape he saw coming, the box office success of a film is a secondary concern. The idea of the film is what hooks us.

The story could be related in an abstract way. You didn’t need to see SOTE to understand what was happening. SOTE was purposefully done that way, and I think because they saw what was coming. Lucas wanted to know how far he could push things.

The inheritors of that legacy have capitalized on it indeed.

I haven’t seen Jurassic World yet, but I know everything I need simply by observing the toy aisle with my kids. The ancillary materials give away enough to the audience that they can construct their own version of the story mentally. In a sense, the story has become an oral tradition again.

Look at the recent leaks of the Star Wars Episode VII action figure line. The names on the figures and how they’re packaged pair with rumors or interviews you’ve heard and you’re already writing the movie in your head.

A Wider Way to Tell the Story

From a different perspective, though, SOTE also allowed purposeful deviations in storytelling. This is certainly something we’re now missing.Everything “needs” to be contained, tied in and restricted.

Look at the 1977 comics adaptation of Star Wars (“Episode IV” to the young punks); it’s vastly different from the final film. Look at the novelization; it’s still got Blue Squadron.

People used to be OK with these variations! They are what drove our imaginations and, in a sense, said it was OK to play in that world without having to worry about officially sanctioned sources. We were our own Expanded Universe.

What happened to us?

Different interpretations used to be highly valued. Now people argue with fervor over “which interpretation” is the official one. It’s why I enjoy head canon and mourn the loss of poster art. Reading the comics adaptation helped flesh out the film, and any gaps you wondered.

Of course, I also still wish they made new radio dramas. Oh well.

Some Questions

I am left in Limbo on the question of “officialness.” Is SOTE still regarded as accurate, or is it now “legends” materials?

Is disregarding it key to making room for Rogue One and Episode VII? If so, I’m really glad I still have my original-run CD.

Cha-Ching!

Tauntauns: Strangely Useless?

I’ve been re-listening to the Star Wars Radio Dramas.

They’re amazingly compelling theatre of the mind, highlighting the best of a lost art. Even the most ardent fan will find new layers to their love of a decidedly “visual” film, as they re-imagine how certain characters look in their mind with slight twists on familiar situations.

I lament still that the prequels will probably never be turned into radio dramas. I consider it a tragically missed opportunity. If Disney® ™ wasn’t sure to sue the living existence out of me, I’d put them together myself.

Anyway, as you’ve noticed lately, I’ve been asking provocative questions ranging in topic from interspecies sexual ethics to command structure and strategy of a fictional space empire.

So re-listening to the first couple of episodes of The Empire Strikes Back Radio Drama recently, I had cause to mull over something that happens in such short order in the film that I never really paid it much mind. Heck, I don’t think anyone else has either.

Tauntauns

As far as anyone knows, tauntauns were a part of the bafflingly still-existent animal ecosystem on the sixth planet of the Hoth system. They were the free-range meals for Wampas, and therefore useful steeds for the rebel alliance.

Luke’s tauntaun tries to warn him about the Wampa, but he doesn’t notice. Somehow those gargantuan creatures are as stealthy as T-Rexes at the end of Jurassic Park.

Han then rides a tauntaun out to find Luke. Han’s tauntaun then…freezes to death.

Now, I’m not complaining about that plot point. It increased peril, demonstrated Han’s willingness to do anything to save Luke and provided for a wonderful story that I related to my our elderly neighbors at the time about tauntaun guts looking like macaroni. (This resulted in the first of many talks about what to discuss in polite company.)

However, I was thinking as I listened this time about the fact that the tauntaun froze to death, and both Luke and Han had not. Because a species indigenous to an icy planet really shouldn’t be more susceptible to exposure death than the two humans.

There are only two possible ways it makes sense to me.

Exertion

Han’s tauntaun has been pushed to a breaking point by the time it reaches Luke. Under normal conditions, instinct would have driven it to find shelter of its own and conserved energy. Energy that its system would have needed to ensure its survival in nighttime conditions.

In other words, since Han only had to ride the tauntaun, the effects of exposure were lessened since his body had conserved energy.

Of course, then there’s Luke. Who had been wandering for a while in a blizzard as night fell on an ice planet. Which leads me to the only all-encompassing explanation.

The Force

The Force was strong in Luke and so he was able to survive the exposure. After all, his father had survived dismemberment and then being set on fire.

So the Force kept Luke alive. Not intentionally (it seems to be extremely hands-off in the fate of the galaxy), but Luke’s attenuation to it made him more capable to survival in extreme conditions.

So where do you weigh in? Have I resolved the question?