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Loyalty: The Underrated Theme of Star Wars

Loyalty: The Underrated Theme of Star Wars

ROTJ_GroupAs part of their five questions for new guests to Coffee with Kenobi, Dan and Cory ask their guests “what themes or messages from Star Wars resonate with you?” I’ve always been intrigued by the answers that guests have given. Of all the questions they ask, that is probably the one I have considered the most. Well, it comes after favorite Star Wars film and favorite character, but third place isn’t bad. Right? I digress. A recent episode of Coffee with Kenobi had me pondering the themes and messages from Star Wars again. I realized that perhaps one of the more underrated themes from the movies is “loyalty.”

Loyalty is demonstrated in Star Wars in many ways. One of the most obvious portrayals of loyalty is between the characters. Everywhere Han Solo went, Chewbacca was sure to follow. In the era of Legends, this was attributed to a life debt, but with the reset of the Star Wars canon, fans are not entirely sure why Chewbacca is so loyal to the old scoundrel and if the life debt means what it used to if anything at all. Han Solo does many things that Chewbacca disagrees with, but the big Wookiee always has his back. For example, when Han was prepared to abandon the Rebellion before the Battle of Yavin, Chewbacca stuck by his side, but his behavior said he preferred a different course of action. Chewbacca’s loyalty nearly cost him dearly when his friend was condemned to carbon freezing on Cloud City. It took Han’s pleas to look after Leia to keep him from doing something drastic.

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Loyalty is not reserved just for friends in Star Wars. As in this world, loyalty often exists between individuals and organizations. Examples of this abound in Star Wars. Leia is extremely loyal to the Rebellion. Nowhere is this more apparent than during her interrogation by Grand Moff Tarkin on the Death Star. A great personal risk to herself, and ultimately her home planet of Alderaan, Leia stood up to the Empire to protect the Rebellion. Leia was forced to choose between her loyalty to her home world and her loyalty to the Rebellion. Although she figured out a way to remain loyal to both, the deceit of Grand Moff Tarkin attempted to take advantage of her loyalty to Alderaan to get her to betray the Rebellion. It didn’t work quite the way he expected, and in the end, Alderaan paid the price for her loyalty and for the freedom from tyranny Leia and the Rebellion would bring to the rest of the galaxy.

Luke Skywalker confronted his own test of loyalty during The Empire Strikes Back. While training with Yoda in the swamps of Dagobah, Luke had his vision. In it, he could see Han and Leia, his friends suffering, and perhaps dying. He had a choice to make. Stay on Dagobah, continue his training, and prepare to face Darth Vader; or, abandon his training to honor the loyalty he had to his friends. Yoda and Obi-Wan tried to warn Luke. He wasn’t ready to face Darth Vader, and his actions would only destroy everything Han and Leia fought for. While his actions ultimately did not doom Leia and the Rebellion, Luke was in worse shape afterwards. There is a lesson to be learned here: loyalty can hurt you if you are not careful.

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At the same time, Lando Calrissian was struggling with divided loyalties. On one side, his old friend and his companions had arrived at Cloud City looking for help. Lando sincerely wanted to help and offered to make his facility and people available to Han to repair the Millennium Falcon. However, Lando was also very loyal to Cloud City and its inhabitants. Lead by Boba Fett, Darth Vader and the Empire had arrived and placed Cloud City, of which Lando was the administrator, in danger. Lando had a difficult choice to make. If he didn’t sacrifice Han, Cloud City could be compromised. If he helped Han, then Cloud City would be left with an Imperial garrison on site at best. Lando was forced to sacrifice both in the end in order to honor both loyalties.

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Luke, Leia, Lando, Chewbacca and the droids had an opportunity to honor their loyalty to their friend in Return of the Jedi. For a moment, Leia set aside her loyalty to the Rebellion to attempt to rescue Han Solo from Jabba’s palace. Given that she sacrificed so much for the Rebellion before, this is no small gesture. Even though he had attempted to work for the best interest of all, Lando took actions to atone for the choices he made at Cloud City. Chewbacca was honoring his friendship to Han Solo, a man he would do anything for. Luke set aside a competing loyalty as well, but more on that later. At that moment, rescuing Han Solo was probably not the most important thing any of them could have been doing to combat the Empire. The fate of the galaxy was at stake with the Empire building a new Death Star. Yet, sometimes the loyalty of friendship rises above all else. By being true to their friend, Luke, Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca were true to themselves.

Perhaps the biggest test of loyalty was when the Emperor attempted to corrupt Luke Skywalker to the dark side of the Force. By placing Luke’s friends, the fleet, and the Rebellion in peril, the Emperor preyed upon Luke’s loyalties. His goal was to break his loyalty to the Force and embrace the dark side. Is it possible to be loyal to the Force? Isn’t that a matter of faith? To that I say, what is faith if not loyalty to a belief? The Emperor was very nearly successful. Luke snatched his lightsaber from the Emperor’s throne and was prepared to give into hate in order to honor his loyalties and save his friends. It didn’t work out that way though. Darth Vader intervened. He and Luke clashed, and once again, just when Luke had Vader defeated and was prepared to take the final steps to the dark side, and despite the urging of the Emperor, Luke honored his loyalty to the Force. He didn’t give. He proudly proclaimed that like his father before him, he too was a Jedi. He resisted the lure. His faith – his loyalty to the Force – was rewarded and the Dark Side was defeated.

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The lessons to be learned from Star Wars regarding loyalty are that it is not something to be taken lightly. Loyalty is an honorable concept. Honoring friendships and causes are commendable actions. However, loyalty can be taken advantage of by those with impure motives, and in some cases those with good intentions. At least twice during the course of the original trilogy, the villains attempted to prey upon the heroes’ loyalty. In Luke’s case, it nearly cost him everything. Loyalty can cause people to make rash decisions and act foolishly. Therefore, take Luke’s example. When someone threatens dire consequences to something you feel allegiance to, stop and take the time you have to examine the potential outcome from compliance. Your other loyalties and faith just might provide you a solution.

Thanks for reading my blog at Coffee with Kenobi. Contact me at dkeithly@coffeewithkenobi.com or on Twitter @DJKver2.

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1 Comment

  1. Melinda
    March 25, 2016 at 21:05 Reply

    Loyalty certainly is a strong theme throughout the Star Wars films, televions series and novels. It is a theme that resonnates time and time again, and I’m sure we’ll see it played out in the future. One of the features that I like about how it is handled in the Saga is that it shows just what can be accomplished when individuals show their loyalty toward one another.

    Chewbacca oftentimes was a good influence on Han, and it is the loyalty the two have for each other that makes the pair such a strong team. Han and Chewie definitely personify the adage “two are stronger than one”. By the way, Chewie may have pledged a life debt to Han, but their relationship certainly goes well beyond that. 🙂

    I agree with you wholeheartedly – unsavory sorts definitely will use one’s loyalty toward others to get what they want. The great manipulator Emperor Palpatine was a master at that. He used it against Anakin, and tried the same tactic with Luke. Luke may have faltered there for a bit, but unlike his father, Luke was able to regain his composure, and understand what it really means to be a Jedi, what was at stake for the galaxy. 🙂 Thank goodness.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about such an important theme. 🙂

    MTFBWY 🙂

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