Chapter 17: In the Throne Room
Focus! Luke repeated to himself for the millionth time since his encounter with Darth Vader and the Emperor had begun. I must stay calm. I must control my emotions, especially my fear. I must not be goaded into a hasty reaction. Above all, I must not turn to the Dark Side! The mantras that Master Yoda had taught him bounced crazily in his mind to mix with the Emperor’s taunts.
The Emperor’s latest tactic was to allow Luke to witness the space battle between the Rebel Alliance and Imperial Forces. His use of offering Luke his lightsaber to goad the Jedi into an act of revenge for that space battle was cleverly done. Luke felt his control slip due to the double barrage, then begin to slide down towards chaos. He turned to behold his weapon, then reasserted emotional control in time to whip back around toward the Throne Room window. But now he could again witness the space battle where his friends were dying. He felt his control slip again, and the emotional slide began anew.
Back and forth, back and forth. Luke’s emotions were like Alderaan now; all over the place. He tried once again to assert emotional control, but his grip on his emotions was wearing thin. How long was he expected to keep this up? He’d lately thought he showed excellent emotional control, but this… He was going to lose. It was only a matter of time.
And the Emperor had all the time in the galaxy. The Empire would simply blow the Rebel Alliance to oblivion bit by bit while Luke dithered with his emotional control.
One more taunt. One more lightsaber goad. One more wicked smile from the Emperor.
“I am unarmed,” came the Emperor’s latest comment. “Strike me down with all of your hate, and--”
And Luke wasn’t listening anymore. It struck him as highly ludicrous for the Emperor to claim that he was unarmed. Of course he was armed. No Force user of the Emperor’s abilities was ever unarmed, even if he wasn’t currently armed with a visible weapon. Luke realized that.
Luke also realized that another Death Star blast had taken out another Rebel cruiser. He felt the beings inside the cruiser scream right before they winked out of existence. He’d had friends on that cruiser, and on the cruiser that had disappeared before that. He’d felt them all scream. It was only a matter of time before he felt Leia scream. And Han. And Lando.
I must stay calm. I must not be goaded. Above all, I must not give in.
It was amazing how fast Luke gave in. One minute, he was staring out the window, the next he was attacking the Emperor with his lightsaber in hand. He was fast.
But Vader was faster.
Vader’s red lightsaber met his green lightsaber six inches above the throne where the Emperor sat. The subject of that attack gleefully laughed while Vader’s red blade valiantly attempted to overpower its green counterpart. Sparks flew from the energy blades, and the smell of burnt ozone filled the air.
Luke looked up from the cackling Emperor to face his father over the crackling of the two lightsabers. He instantly felt a sense of calm rush through his mind. This was what he was meant to do. The Emperor and all his taunts and goads were just distractions from his true destiny.
He had to face Vader, just as Master Yoda had said.
So Luke faced Vader, calmly, rationally, confidently. The Force flowed through him. It filled him up. In seconds, it was his everything.
As it was Vader’s everything... except for one little spark of emotional conflict between good and evil, the Light and the Dark that Luke didn’t miss. The spark flickered, burned, flickered again, and was gone. But Luke had felt it, as he’d felt it before now. He would feel it again. More importantly, he knew what it meant.
No matter what the Emperor had commanded his apprentice to do, Vader would not kill his son.
Luke would not kill his father, though the Emperor wanted him to kill Vader and take his place as an apprentice to the Dark Side.
But again, Luke wasn’t paying attention, at least, not to the Emperor. Instead, he reached out and once more felt that spark of conflict in Vader. This time, the spark was much bigger, much stronger. How could the Emperor not sense that? Conversely, Luke felt no internal conflict. He and Vader fought as had been intended by the Force since the Force began.
Neither gained the upper hand. Neither gained control. They were well matched, this father and son. Equals.
Several moments later, Luke reached the bold decision to shut off his lightsaber and declare his intent to fight his father no longer. Vader pressed his advantage of facing a deactivated saber, as Luke had expected he would, and hadn’t taken his finger off his lightsaber’s power switch. The fight resumed as quickly as it had halted.
Focus! Luke commanded himself. It was an admonition that he didn’t really need. He was in the moment, so much a part of the Force that he could now hear Vader’s conflicting emotions as well as feel them. At least, he could hear evidence of that conflict between the Emperor’s continued taunts. Luke wished that the Emperor would just shut up, as he was distracting Luke from his real goal, like a bug was distracting as it buzzed relentlessly around your head. The Emperor was attracted to the darkness that Luke carried within him just as a bug was attracted to sweat. But where the Emperor thought the darkness within Luke was the Jedi’s focus, Luke concentrated instead on his Father’s conflicting emotions, even as Vader denied those emotions. Luke didn’t know who Vader was trying to convince. He had to know that Luke felt his internal conflict. What was increasingly puzzling was why the Emperor did not.
Maybe Luke was sensing a family connection that the Emperor naturally didn’t share. Yoda hadn’t said anything about such a connection, but maybe he wasn’t aware of it, either. As far as Luke knew, Yoda didn’t have any family members who were also Force sensitive. Neither did Obi-Wan.
Clearly, neither did the Emperor. If he was aware of this apparent Skywalker family connection, he wouldn’t be so confident that he already knew how this conflict was going to end. He certainly wouldn’t have been audacious enough to declare that Luke as well as Darth Vader now belonged to him. In spite of what the Emperor claimed, Luke had no intention of tapping into that well of darkness residing inside him. Until he figured out how best to take advantage of his father’s wavering emotions, Luke decided to hide.
And then Vader took up the taunting that the Emperor had begun. Surprisingly enough, the goading was much more successful this time. Luke felt Vader’s deep and powerful voice resonate within him in personal ways that the Emperor’s never had. All Vader had to do was mention Luke’s abiding connection to his friends, and the next thing Luke knew, he was basically telling Vader everything about his sister.
Then Darth Vader said the one thing that was too much for Luke to endure. “If you won’t turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will.”
“No!” Luke leapt out of the alcove he was hiding in to attack Vader with a dark ferocity that he didn’t know he possessed. The idea that his sweet sister could be perverted into joining with the Emperor was hideous.
Luke pressed his attack as soon as he made it, barely aware of what he was doing. His lightsaber slashed through the air in green blurs of motion. Sparks flew and the energy blades sizzled. He could allow himself to fight Darth Vader, but there was no way that he was going to let Leia do the same. She was completely untrained, and would therefore be easy prey for the megalomaniacal Emperor and his dark apprentice. The only way that Vader and his evil master would get their hands on Leia was if he was dead and couldn’t stop it, and Luke would kill his father before he let that happen.
Blows rained down on Vader, who had to half lie on the ground in order to defend himself, Luke’s saber pounding a relentless shower of sparks over him. With one mighty final swing, Luke cut through his father’s hand at the wrist, completely severing it. Both Vader’s lightsaber and the hand wielding it tumbled away.
His own panting filled Luke’s ears, accompanied by the wheezing hiss that punctuated his father’s labored breathing. A moment went by where the ringing in Luke’s ears even covered up the Emperor’s mad laughter at this unexpected turn of events. Once it finally did infiltrate Luke’s consciousness, it wasn’t to make the Jedi glorify in the darkness that surged through his veins, but to wake the horror buried within Luke that he had somehow allowed himself to be goaded into doing what he swore he would never do. He truly was one step from killing his own father, from becoming his own father.
This wasn’t what he wanted. The Emperor was behind him, laughing crazily again, and his father was before him, making signs of surrender to ward off his own possible death. Strangely enough, Luke could no longer sense the conflict within Vader. He didn’t know if that was because the conflict between Light and Dark no longer existed within his father, or because he himself had travelled down the Dark path so far that he couldn’t feel it anymore. Perhaps it really was as Yoda had always said it was: once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.
Luke gazed unblinkingly at his gloved mechanical hand, utterly fascinated, utterly horrified. He had chosen to start down the Dark path. According to Yoda, he would now be on it forever.
He refused to accept that.
In a move that wove father and son together as tightly as steel, Luke straightened to at last become the Jedi he was meant to be. He deactivated, then tossed away his lightsaber. “I am a Jedi, like my father before me,” he declared, his confidence in this maneuver growing by the second. It just felt right.
At first, the Emperor was simply annoyed at Luke’s claim, his displeasure apparent in his bewildered frown. This was obviously not the way he had expected a contest with Luke’s Dark Side to go. However, his confusion quickly turned into fury.
The twisted expression on the Emperor’s face warned Luke a second before it happened that the Emperor did not like it when people openly defied him.
Blue energy flew from the Emperor’s fingertips to viciously attack this newest Jedi just as Luke fell backwards. Pain like he’d never before experienced crashed into him from all sides. He couldn’t focus against it. He couldn’t recall Master Yoda’s teachings. He couldn’t even think. The worst part was that he had no defense against those flashes of blue streaks because he had voluntarily thrown it away. That decision may have made him a Jedi, but he would be a short lived Jedi unless he did something about it immediately.
But he still couldn’t think. All he could do was writhe in agony. Fire consumed him from the inside out. He couldn’t do anything except beg.
But once again his plea didn’t take any form that the Emperor might have predicted. Luke didn’t even take note of his torturer. Instead, he begged with that spark in Vader that he had felt before. “Father, please, help me!”
Vader clearly heard Luke, but still stood beside his Master to watch as the torture continued. His head swivelled several times between his Master and his son. Luke cried out in wordless pleas several more times. The Emperor declared that Luke’s death was imminent, and it certainly looked imminent. Luke was now so consumed by the blue Darkness of the Force that he glowed.
But then between one heartbeat and the next, Vader changed; the conflict still raging within him took on a life of its own. Despite the blue flashes of energy, Luke felt it the second it happened. The conflict narrowed down into a single truth that the Emperor had never successfully extinguished; Vader was still Anakin Skywalker. In the next instant, Vader once again became Anakin in a way he hadn’t been for over twenty years.
That was when Luke’s own conflict resolved itself in a blink of time; he had found his father at last.
There was no way that the Emperor could possibly miss such a strong Force sensation. He would turn on his apprentice next.
But that wasn’t what happened. He continued to focus on Luke, and according to his expression, to take ugly pleasure in the torture. Luke could sense that killing the younger Skywalker had became Emperor Palpatine’s reason for existing.
And that was when the Emperor made his most critical mistake. Had he been paying attention, he would never have missed it, for the Force practically screamed of it; he was killing the son of his trusted apprentice while that apprentice watched.
Only he wasn’t the Emperor’s apprentice any longer. He wasn’t anything… except a father.
Suddenly the fire didn’t hurt Luke, and didn’t burn his insides. In the instant before Vader lifted his former Master into the air, taking the blue streaks from his son and onto himself, Luke finally fully understood everything in one wild burst of the Force.
He knew that it was his destiny to face Vader, and by doing that, restore balance to the Force. What neither he nor Obi-Wan nor Yoda had ever considered was that his father had also been destined to balance the Force. Palpatine’s rise to power was also something no one had predicted, or that he would carry on the tradition of the Sith and become Darth Sidious, or that he would name himself Emperor. Once Anakin Skywalker joined his Emperor in Darkness, the Force was perpetually out of balance, and had stayed that way for years.
Until Leia came along. It was part accident, and partly no accident at all that Leia (Skywalker) Organa was captured by Darth Vader above Luke Skywalker’s home planet of Tatooine. Why Tatooine? It wasn’t any more a center for the Force than any other planet, though it did have one thing that no other did; Obi-Wan Kenobi. All the players in this Force drama were in the same place at the same time.
One might say that the Force’s desire to gain balance reasserted itself that day. Leia had first dibs at saving her father from the Dark Side, but the Dark Side was too entrenched in Vader for the Light in Leia to have any effect. He forced her to watch the Empire blow up her home planet instead.
Enter Luke, another Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, another Master of the Force and wielder of the Light. The potential for balance to reassert itself was now present in The Force, but the opportunity passed without anyone taking advantage of it. Ben Kenobi died in the following conflict, taking the possibility of balance with him. Yet, he did so in order to add to the natural power of Light that resided in Luke. The contest for future balance was more equal than it appeared.
Then Luke destroyed the Empire’s newest destructive toy, almost destroying Vader in the process. Vader then tried to seduce his son into joining him in Darkness, but only managed to sever his hand instead. There was still an imbalance in the Force, though the way that the Skywalker twins had come together boded well for finding balance at long last.
Now here, in the second Death Star’s Throne Room, surrounded by the Dark Side and evil deeds and wicked people, at last Luke understood. His destiny wasn’t to join the Emperor, to face Darth Vader, or even to save his father. It was to restore balance to the Force, and then to keep that balance. To do that, he had to save his father from himself. But it looked like his father had beaten him to it.
The lightning pain in Luke steadily subsided until it disappeared altogether when Vader lifted the Emperor high above his head prior to throwing him down the Death Star’s reactor shaft. The following explosion tilted the Force in a way that it hadn’t leaned in years. Light and Dark once again sang in harmony, resonating with the power shared by the two Sides, power that flowed through Luke to heal him even as it sucked the power from Vader in order to do it. Give and take, life and death, Light and Dark; the perfect balance.