The other night my wife and I were watching Return of the Jedi. As you well know, Luke Skywalker does battle with a monster called the Rancor in a cavern beneath the throne of Jabba the Hutt in Jabba’s Palace in Tattooine towards the beginning of the film. When Luke falls through the trapdoor activated by Jabba, one of the green, pig-headed guards — a Gammorean Guard (fact: Gommorian would be better) — falls with him.
The Gammorean Guard is promptly eaten by the Rancor.
Throughout Luke’s dragonslaying encounter with the Rancor, we get flashes of the crowd upstairs cheering on the fight or looking worried. Amongst them are other Gammorean Guards. Due to being men in rubber suits, they are impassive, unflappable. I noticed this time that as we see Luke’s accompanying Gammorean gobbled up by the Rancor that the shot cuts to one of the watching Gammorean Guards.
We don’t really think about this guy, do we? But I’m sure that his rubber heart was broken by watching a stop-motion version of his friend eaten by a stop-motion monster.
This is part of the whole wickedness of Jabba’s Palace. He doesn’t give a whit for sentient life. He lives for pleasure and monetary gain. When Luke poses a threat to that, not only does he casually attempt to feed Luke to a monster, he does so without being careful to keep his own minions safe. One of his personal guards is eaten by the monster to whom he feeds his enemies because of the hard, cruel heart lurking beneath his sluggish, flabby body.
This looks to be a great moment for him. We see him in action, using his martial skills acquired in his Jedi training. We cheer him on in the conflict. Well done, Luke! You saved yourself and defeated the enemy.
But wars make one not great.
There lies the Rancor, dead and gone.
I’ve always been struck by the Rancor Keeper as he strides in, shirtless, to see his pet monster slain by the young Jedi. He sees the beast lying there dead and begins to cry, and an alien of some sort comforts him. I realised yesterday morning that I subconsciously thought of the Rancor Keeper as the Rancor’s dad.
Here’s the next question that the pain of the Rancor Keeper and the meaningless slaying of the Gammorean Guard raises — for what? Was it worth it?
We automatically say, ‘Yes! Luke would have died otherwise.’
But Luke was in Jabba’s Palace of his own free will. So then we say, ‘Ah, but he was there in a daring rescue mission to set Han free from the carbonite freezing.’
And look how that single rescue mission of one man — one man who is not essential for the survival of the human race, let alone the rebellion against the Galactic Empire — transpires. Besides the Gammorean Guard and the Rancor, there are the many others dead, slain at the Sarlic Pit, either by Luke’s lightsaber or by falling into the pit’s beast where they will be slowly digested for 1000 years. Fan favourite Boba Fett goes this way (don’t worry, the comic books resurrect him).
The famous Bible quote is, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’, not, ‘Greater love has no man that this, that he kill a whole bunch of dudes to rescue one friend.’
In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda warns Luke not to go to Cloud City and confront Darth Vader. Luke is not ready. Doing so will set Luke down a dangerous path, a path of dancing with darkness and fear, a path that could lead to the Dark Side. What if this opening scene at Jabba’s Palace is intentionally ambiguous rather than straightforwardly heroic? What if Luke is still on his ambiguous path from Empire?
Mark Hamill certainly thought so, and imagined that Luke would actually go over to the Dark Side before finding redemption, just like his father. Some have even speculated that Darth Luke is the reason we don’t see Skywalker on any of the movie posters or in the trailers for The Force Awakens.
I, for one, think that Luke was headed on an ambiguous path. And he found himself in the Emperor’s Throne Room, and he confronted Darth Vader, and he was headed towards the Dark Side. You can see it in his fury, his rage, his violence. And then he cuts off his father’s hand. He looks at his own robotic hand. He realises that he is doing exactly what the Emperor wants. He realises that he is headed towards the Dark Side.
And unlike Anakin Skywalker, he stops.
If Luke had turned to the Dark Side, he would have had to have killed Darth Vader, in cold blood, just as Anakin killed hundreds of Jedi himself. But Luke is not his father. He is his father’s redemption. Thus the return of the Jedi.
And as Luke suffers for his realisation and choice of the Light over the Dark, Anakin Skywalker, one of the greatest Jedis of history, returns and kills off the Sith Lord, Emperor Palpatine.
But the path that led to that Throne Room, to that moment of decision where Luke almost chooses Darkness over Light, violence over mercy, death over life, includes Jabba’s Palace and the deaths of many of Jabba’s minions, from the Gammorean Guard to Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt himself.