Star Wars is loaded with moments, scenes and sequences that spark our imagination and compete for our superlative admiration. “The best” is hardly a fact that can be proven definitively. We are all moved by different things that are informed by our experiences and tastes. There is no right answer. Except for one. Unarguably, the best Star Wars has to offer takes place on a swampy, foggy planet with two characters. There are no space battles or bounty hunters. There are no flashy set pieces or drawn out duels. There is only a puppet and an burgeoning, impatient hero. Yet it is a masterpiece and shows us all we need.
The entirety of the Dagobah scenes provide a prime example of the mysterious and mystical elements of Star Wars. Furthermore it explores, or hints at, other themes vital to its story. Luke tossing his lightsaber away in Jedi (Return of, not The Last) may be my crowning moment, the one I hold dear more than all others, but Luke’s journey on Dagobah is an achievement in Star Wars storytelling that can’t be matched. It has humor, growth, action, mystery, and wonder all mixed together.
In terms of movie magic, Yoda, and Luke’s interaction with him, is by far the saga’s greatest achievement. Consider it on paper. One star, a rubber Muppet, a sound stage, a few smoke machines and snakes. All of this in the squeal to the one of the most popular and ground breaking adventure movies ever filmed. Was George nuts? Yes he was. And thank God. Because as a 5-year-old and now a 40-year-old, I believe every second of it. Every line Yoda utters is perfectly delivered by Frank Oz. They carry the weight of the Force. Long before the prequels or nerd message boards or twitter discussions, we had Yoda explaining it to us. As a kid I had no idea what “luminous” meant, but I understood completely in that moment. Mark Hamill bought into it completely, thus I did as well. And millions others. When Yoda gets serious I stiffen in my seat a little, like in 4th grade math when I would get yelled at for not paying attention. And because of this bit of magic, we get sucked along for the ride. Yoda’s transformation from goofy stranger to Jedi master (ever notice the pitch of Oz’s voice drops just a bit for the latter performance) and Luke’s growth from impatient whining to impatient confidence encapsulate the saga. Sure, he’s not quite ready yet for his destiny, but he moves in that direction.
I also love the complexity of it. Specifically, Luke’s decision to leave. He sees his friends in trouble. He wants to help, of course, who wouldn’t. If you learned to balance on one hand, lift a rock with your mind, and see the future, all at the same time, wouldn’t you feel you’ve learned enough to go help some friends? But Yoda, and later the meddling Obi-Wan, warn him against it to the point of letting Luke’s friends, including the “other,” die. And on the subject the “another,” where in the hell did that come from? Another what? Of course we now know it is Leia (or is it?), but it’s quite a tidbit to just toss in there. So, Luke fights Vader who turns out to be himself (shit yeah, that happened too!), his friends should die rather than Luke be tempted by the dark side, and there is another. Not bad for a fake swamp. Maybe it was just George’s warm up for the prophecy and the chosen one, but still not too shabby.
With potential echoes of all of this coming with The Last Jedi, I can’t help but be excited. Not that I want to see Empire all over again because, well, we already have Empire. But I am hoping for that same magic. I want to see the same mix of adventure and wonder, mystery and philosophy, friendship and humor. I think there is a chance.
Maybe I was a little unfair to say Dagobah is unarguably the best sequence in Star Wars. I suppose I will allow for other opinions. There are a lot of great moments. Rey calling to the lightsaber with the Force, the trench run, the duel of the fates, various noble sacrifices and on and on. Not to mention the things we haven’t seen yet. So, I won’t make this opinion a fact, yet. I’ll keep an open mind.
Oh, one more thing: Artoo on his tippy-toes looking through Yoda’s window is the cutest moment in movie history. I will fight you over that one.