The Suffering Who Lived
By: Meg Dowell
NOTE: This article was originally written for the Youtini magazine earlier this year but had to be cut for time. For more in depth articles like this, check out our monthly subscription box!
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering … I sense much fear in you.” -- Yoda
The only thing worse than being trapped in the dark depths of space, fearing for your life, is being trapped with the one you love most, and swearing you’ll do anything to stop them from dying.
Joe Schreiber’s Death Troopers is just one of many stories spanning across the Star Wars universe that prove, time and again, the destructive power of fear.
The same destructive emotion that started Anakin Skywalker down the path toward the dark side of the Force can bring out the worst in all of us.
But only if we let it.
Some people put their lives on the line to prevent loss. Others turn to darkness in many forms. Even those who vow to do good often end up committing sin. And even though many Sith Lords join the regime because they’re desperate for power, some accept power in an attempt to prevent the inevitable.
Not all stories have a happy ending. But all endings have morals. Two separate stories set in the galaxy far, far away share one link: Fear -- and what can happen when you’re so afraid of losing someone that you go to extremes to sidestep the pain.
Watching Loved Ones Die
Several known Jedi have unlocked the secret to immortality. But for most of the galaxy -- both fictional and our own -- death is inevitable. Yet for some reason, it’s our primal instinct to prevent it at all costs. Especially if it means saving what -- and whom -- we love.
Love comes in many forms. Sometimes, it’s the love between members of a family -- born or adopted -- that endangers a life. Or two.
Brothers Kale and Trig Longo, major characters in Schreiber’s sci-fi horror novel, just witnessed the death of their father. With no one else to cling to but each other, it becomes clear that neither plans on leaving the prison barge Purge without the other. That is, until nightmares begin coming to life before their eyes.
Throughout the book, each brother does everything he knows to do to protect the one he loves more than anything. Trig attempts to make a dangerous deal to keep Kale alive. Kale defends Trig against the criminal out to kill them both.
When a plague sweeps through the space prison -- one that turns innocents and convicts alike into zombies, because Star Wars -- the Longo brothers are forced to fight even harder for their lives. And for each other.
Along their quest for escape -- and thus, survival -- they encounter a young Wookiee clinging to his deceased family. Despite the brothers’ attempts to rescue and save the youngling, it refuses to move. It will not lose its family. It will not leave them behind. Ultimately, it chooses death over life -- all because it fears the pain of losing those closest to him.
Perhaps it’s this that prompts Trig and Kale to fight as hard as they do to escape death. The idle are guaranteed to suffer. At least the fighters go down trying.
In the end, each brother is still forced to make a sacrifice. Kale, the older brother, suffers a zombie bite to save Trig. And Trig, the younger of the two, kills a zombified Kale once and for all -- not only to end the boy’s internal suffering, but to preserve his own life, what Kale would have wanted all along.
Only a handful of people suffered through that fear of loss long enough to survive. They could only, at the end of it all, save themselves. Their endings aren’t much different from a former warrior whose hunger to save another turned him into more of a machine than a man.
Preventing the Loss We Fear Most
At the height of the Galactic Republic, Anakin Skywalker was set to become the most powerful Jedi that had yet to roam the galaxy. But it wasn’t his quest for power that coaxed him to welcome the dark side. It was the fear he felt at the thought of losing Padme -- and the promise that, with power, he would be able to save her.
It began when the Jedi separated him from his mother -- as the Order was known to do. Old enough to have formed an unbreakable attachment to her, Anakin first faced the Jedi Council at nine years old with tangible fear in his heart. The Jedi sensed it.
But they warned him of its dangers. His master, time and again, cautioned against attachment, knowing what the fear of loss could drive even the most sacred minds to do.
And so, years later, when the young Jedi watched his mother die -- as the Longo brothers witnessed their father’s end -- he vowed never to lose another. Especially once he fell in love.
Knowledgeable not only of the unstoppable power of fear, but of Anakin’s all but obsessive love for another, Palpatine gradually drew the Jedi closer and closer to darkness. He made a vow of his own -- that he, and the dark power he wielded, could teach Anakin to stop his wife from dying.
The fearful Force-user stumbled into the trap but embraced the consequence. Whatever it took -- murder; betrayal; the deaths of innocents across the galaxy with a single order -- he would do it. Not for himself. But to keep her close.
The same way Kale Longo took a tooth for his beloved brother, Anakin Skywalker took an oath to save the life of the woman he loved. But there was no hopeful end to this story. Not yet.
Trig Longo lived, and carried hope with him even though Kale was no more. Both Anakin and the one he tried to save, did not survive their romance’s demise.
Though his body and mind survived the struggle between light and dark -- good and evil -- in identity, the Jedi Knight ceased to be. And a Dark Lord of the Sith was born to take his place.
Darth Vader carried the pain of the loss he caused beyond his rebirth. He used it to fuel his power and his hatred. Perhaps his fear of losing the power he’d given everything to acquire -- as if he loved it, in a way only a broken man ever could -- was what allowed him to survive clouded in darkness for so long.
What Makes Us Stronger
Fear is a power often sought and easily abused. When it strikes the innocent, it can become deadly. Or it can save a life.
When tangled within the complexities of love and loss, fear becomes an emotion worthy of a warning label. It drives many to madness, to carelessness, to unforgivable acts. In stories designed to caution against the dangers of fear, someone almost always dies.
A terrified boy loses his life to save his brother.
A young Wookiee faces death when he refuses to leave his deceased family behind.
A Jedi Knight seeks ultimate power to save the one he loves most.
Each of these paths that extend from fear eventually end in death, but at its biological roots, fear is nothing more than an instinct to survive; whether it’s your life you’re trying to protect or someone else’s. The rush of adrenaline that saturates your bloodstream when danger lurks is enough to make the weakest one the strongest of them all. Perhaps only for a moment. Or for many moments thereafter.
Fear drives us all to extremes. But sometimes, those extremes bring out the good in us. Not just the bad.
After all, it’s the fear of losing more innocent lives after the destruction of Alderaan that drives the Rebel Alliance to finally take a major stand against the Galactic Empire.
It’s the fear of losing his sister that persuades Luke Skywalker to engage his father in a duel to the death -- ultimately making both of them stronger in the Force in the end.
When we’re afraid of losing those we love, we hold them a little tighter. Appreciate them a little deeper. Preserve our memories of them with greater care.
We dream a little bigger. Fight a little harder. Achieve a great deal more.
Before Vader’s suffering came to an end, it was love that brought him back to the light. Hope -- not fear. But how does one know hope, when they have yet to feel loss? Would Trig Longo have fought so hard to escape the Purge and embark on a brighter future if he hadn’t learned what it felt like to lose what mattered most?
All of us suffer so that we can learn to dream. To fight. To live. Fear is enough to tempt anyone to stumble into darkness. But that’s where we find strength. That’s how we learn to survive. Without fear, we have no reason to try harder. Without the possibility of loss, we have no reason to love.
There are many paths to the dark side. But all of us have a little darkness in us, if only so we can learn to cherish the light.
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About Meg Dowell
Meg is a health science writer by day and a Star Wars enthusiast 24/7. What started out as one spontaneous movie night with her dad quickly morphed into a lifelong quest to read everything that has ever been written about the world’s greatest fictional galaxy. She lives in Illinois with her cat, dog, and medal-worthy book collection, and believes any conversation in which Star Wars references are applicable is one worth having.
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