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Learning Failure, Learning from Failure

Contrary to the popular consensus among Star Wars fans, “The Empire Strikes Back” is not my favorite Star Wars movie. Luke Skywalker doesn’t even make it into my top ten favorite Star Wars characters. Perhaps it’s because he seems too pure, too hopeful, and too virtuous, making it difficult for me to perceive him as a multi-dimensional character and truly empathize with him.

However, the story arc of Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back” is one of my favorite narratives in Star Wars. It’s akin to a space opera version of the story of Job, isn’t it? The adventure and challenges (or rather, miseries) that Luke Skywalker experiences are relentlessly harsh in “The Empire Strikes Back”. Right from the start, he’s almost eaten by a wampa, and he harbors unreciprocated feelings for Leia, who is enamored with Han, and turns out to be his sister. (Luke’s innocent expressions while haplessly pursuing Leia grant me one of the purest pleasures this movie has to offer.) Dagobah is a damp and gloomy place, and Yoda doesn’t exactly seem like the grand Jedi Master, constantly engaging in cryptic conversations and demanding Luke to lift the spaceship. To add to the distress, the villainous Darth Vader hunting him turns out to be his father, resulting in Luke losing his wrist in a duel with him.

The reason I appreciate Luke Skywalker’s coming-of-age story in “The Empire Strikes Back” is not solely due to a perverse pleasure derived from witnessing others’ misfortunes. Through these miseries, he truly becomes a Jedi — a Jedi potent enough to bring down the Empire, even surpassing the infamous Darth Vader. Despite failing to keep his promise to return to Dagobah for further training, and with his mentor ascending as a force ghost in the meantime, through a series of incompleteness and immaturity, he evolves into a Jedi. This narrative is precisely what makes Luke Skywalker (and not Leia or Han or any other character) the protagonist of “The Empire Strikes Back”.

Everyone bears their share of miseries in life. Leia has her own, so does Han, and even C3PO’s life (if we can call it that) doesn’t seem too comfortable. What “The Empire Strikes Back” highlights is Luke’s failure. We often find ourselves feeling minuscule, embarrassed, and even ashamed in front of our failures and mistakes, even when the misfortunes are not our fault. The struggles, both big and small, that we lump together as “misery,” foster growth in Luke, and in us. One of my favorite scenes in the openly failure-praising (and hence dear to me) Episode 8, is when Yoda appears as a force ghost and burns the Jedi scriptures, stating, “the greatest teacher, failure is.” Failure is not just a setback; thanks to failure, Luke could become a Jedi.