Star Wars 1–3 were largely a trash . . . fire? Fires? I’m not sure if we should consider them discrete rubbish burning events. But we did get a few great things out of them, and one of those was insight into Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious. He didn’t rise to power through force or even through, well, THE Force. He did it by understanding the machinations of his world in spooky ways. He knew the political system, the economic system, and even the Jedi, and he knew them all so well that he fooled everyone. He got defenders of peace to go to war, and all without raising more than vague suspicion. And the feather in his . . . ahhh, hood, I guess, is Anakin — the most powerful piece on the board that he expertly converted to his side.
In a pinch, sure, Darth Sidious will shoot lightning out of his fingertips. But that is not what makes him powerful.
Fast forward to Luke on the second Death Star. He came to call his father away from the Dark Side. Let me put that another way. Luke walked into the house of a master manipulator to win back the person he manipulated best, and the person he understands better than anyone.
I don’t care how much a person learns about space wizardry in a swamp somewhere, that’s quite a call to make. It would be the most incredible call of Luke’s Jedi-dom, I guess, except that a few minutes later he throws away his light saber. He throws it away! Like he doesn’t just close it. He doesn’t stick it in his back pocket or something. He throws it away while standing between the two most dangerous people in the story, which is so crazy I have to type half a paragraph in bold to hit it right.
In case I wasn’t clear before: he throws it away.*
And he was right to. The master manipulator, who fooled the whole galaxy, who understood how everything worked, made a miscalculation. He couldn’t see the good in people. He thought the good was something he could kill. And Luke called him on that. He chose to believe that people could be better, and he committed to that belief about as hard as a person can (see also: light saber, throwing away of).
And you know what? We should have seen it coming.
“Take care of yourself, Han. I guess it’s what you’re best at.”
That gut punch of a line might be the hardest blow landed in the series. In twelve devastating words, Luke says “you can be better, I’ve seen you be better, and I am so angry and so hurt that you aren’t better.” And somewhere out in space, in a scene we never see, Han Solo turns the ship around and goes back. This kid believes in people so much, they go against their lesser instincts, not because they even want to, but just to not disappoint him. He has so much faith, it’s enough for people that don’t have any of their own.
In a pinch, sure, he’ll blow up planet-destroying laser base.
But that is not. What makes him. Powerful.
*Which must make it even more complicated when someone shows up and tries to hand him one.