I’m of the generation that saw Star Wars in the theater in 1977 as a young child, and since then I’ve watched the original trilogy more times than I can count. A few years ago—after embarking on the spiritual journey to defeat the “dragon,” awaken the “sleeping princess” and find the “Grail Castle”—hint: it’s just a left and a right and over a drawbridge—I watched the first three films again, focused entirely on the arc of Luke Skywalker.
No matter what happened on screen, I kept Luke in my mind until I could hold his entire development in one cohesive image, how he goes from naive farm boy to the Jedi adept we see at the end. But to reach that exalted state, Luke must first endure the trials of the dark second film, which is loaded with motifs drawn from the process of initiation into a knightly spiritual order.
Empire Strikes Back opens with Luke demonstrating his growing Force powers as he pulls the fallen lightsaber to him in order to defeat the snow monster. But when he later arrives on the chthonic swamp planet seeking the great Jedi master, he falls back on his impatient, immature personality. This is common in the process of spiritual awakening as the higher self tries to break free, but the egoic mind keeps defaulting to the old personality. Luke feels understandably confused, now a seeker but also a doubter, wondering if he’s even on the right path. When he finally finds Yoda, the great guru does not look as he expected, making the point that enlightenment unfolds in particular ways and from sources that one could never guess.
Now the breaking down of Luke’s old ego commences with a series of trials that bring an equal amount of success and failure. Luke’s entire consciousness is rebuilt, including what is possible and who he really is. After the mystic experience of confronting his shadow in the mask of Darth Vader, Luke learns the horrible truth that the lord of darkness is his real father, sacrificing his arm to discover the truth. And in keeping with initiatic traditions extending through alchemy and medieval chivalric legends, Luke learns he has a “twin sister,” here literalized as the character Princess Leia, but which can be read esoterically as Luke’s awakened anima, or soul.
We’ll finish our New Year’s series on spiritual rebirth with a final look at Luke’s ego death and new, twice-born Jedi self in our next column, and relate it to an ancient tale in the Hindu tradition.