Redefining Disability #11: Thoughts about Star Wars, Visual Symbolism, and Amputation.

Redefining Disability2My last post about Luke and Vader sparked some interesting discussion and made me think of something that I haven’t said. Star Wars uses a lot of visual symbolism, and there’s an intentional symmetry between imagery (and motion) in the different movies, and especially between two trilogies. I have documentary footage somewhere of Lucas describing those moments as visual poetry. Natacha and I rely on that a lot in our SW fanvids, and it probably just didn’t occur to me to talk about it because it seems intuitive.

The prosthetic hands are one of the biggest symbols going in Star Wars. There’s another, more morbid one about beheading, but I can’t really use that as an example relating to disability.

Symbolically, the loss of Luke’s hand in the Empire Strikes Back relates to the danger that he may fall the dark side. That danger comes from internal similaritites between Luke and Anakin, and the loss of the hand becomes a visible, tangible link. The hands become the unifying factor and a visual completion of the cycle from light to dark and back and again that is expressed between Anakin and Luke.

The loss of Anakin’s hand in Attack of the Clones is symbolically linked to the beginning of his fall to the Dark Side. It’s also the start of a physical meshing between Anakin and technology that symbolizes the dehumanization of Darth Vader (Obi-Wan warns Luke in Return of the Jedi that Vader is “more machine now than man,” which I think is mostly Obi-Wan trying really hard to convince himself that Anakin is dead, but it’s also a warning on several levels.)

At the end of Attack of the Clones, the hand and camera focus on the hand is an ominous symbol.

But, in the opening scenes of Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s hand is a powerful positive symbol. (While the beheading of Count Dooku relates to the fall to the Dark Side and parallels the scene in the cave on Dagobah where Luke beheads Vader/himself.) In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s hand is the power of loyalty, devotion and love that gives him the strength to save Obi-Wan (and himself). Camera focus on the hand that the key moment is an inverse parallel to Return of the Jedi when Luke cuts off Vader’s hand and then looks at his own, realizes what he’s doing, and chooses to let go of his anger. The whole confrontation with Dooku in ROTS is a visual reversal or mirroring of the Throne Room sequence on the Deathstar, and the prosthetic hand is literally the force that saves the Jedi on the way out of the ship. It acts as a promise to the audience and a reminder that some vestige of Anakin will remain in Vader.

(There is a shot of just the hand, but I don’t have a clear image.  I think this one is actually more fitting.)

We see the hand as a symbol of Anakin’s goodness holding on again at the end of the Mustafar sequence, with Anakin’s hand reaching up from the molten rock.

So, I have no doubt that in the sequel trilogy, we will see at least one Skywalker lose a limb — probably two — and it would be incredibly easy to fix the longest-running missed opportunity in disability awareness by just having a few lines from Luke about how he felt when he lost his hand and how that loss eventually helped him save Anakin.




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6 thoughts on “Redefining Disability #11: Thoughts about Star Wars, Visual Symbolism, and Amputation.

  1. Pingback: Continuing The Discussion On Star Wars, Symbolism And Amputation | Natacha Guyot

  2. Pingback: Redefining Disability #14 | Rose B Fischer

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