Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
In the Empire Strikes Back, the second instalment in Star Wars’ original trilogy, there is a lot going on, and the script moves the trilogy forward in multiple directions. One of the great moments in this film is when Luke enters the cave on Dagobah. Who would expect a film from so many years ago to bring in a psychological angle in a science fiction genre! Yet if this scene is truly iconic it’s because of its ability to engage the audience with a sense of mystery and use the context to bring out deeper layers of Luke’s character and psychology.
“Only what you take with you”
The cave, also called the “Dark Side Cave”, located deep in what seem to be equatorial swamps, challenges the perception of anyone who enters it. And when Luke does, he is compelled to face his own fears. And this fear takes the form of the terrifying Darth Vader, who is here revealed to have Luke Skywalker’s face.
The Dark Side Cave gives its visitors experiences and visions of the past and of the possible futures as well. From the moment Luke walks into the cave, the scene is charged with deep metaphors and as it unfolds, we see why it is such a pivotal moment for this key character.
We are taken deep into Luke’s fears, his own dark side, his motivations, and the tenuous fates that await him; a future of which we still know and understand very little at this point in the script.
The character’s powerful inner turmoil, when he encounters himself as Darth Vader, demonstrates his personal convictions and his courage to do whatever it takes. But it also shows us his fear of becoming the very thing he is fighting. The cave is not only a test of Luke’s character, it’s also a dark and ominous foreshadowing!
Luke’s experience leaves him with a sense of foreboding. What could the cave be really telling him? What terrible dangers lie ahead? Will Luke come through and navigate the threats that assail him?
Before he enters, Luke asks Yoda what is in the cave. Yoda’s cryptic answer is both mysterious and revealing! “Only what you take with you”, he responds! This is key to understanding the importance of the scene. And what happens later in the trilogy only adds to the mystery, magic and significance of this iconic scene.