Scene it on Friday – ESB Scene #51

Luke Vader dark side cave

Symbolism. Star Wars does not often come to mind as a movie ripe with symbolism.   It’s no On the Waterfront, that’s for sure. But this scene is (still) one of the most talked about scenes within the Star Wars saga.

It deviates from Lucas’ normal way of telling his stories and instead takes you on a journey of facing what is inside of you.

The most obvious and simple explanation for this cave scene is that when Luke sees his own face staring back up at him from the mask, it represents his greatest fear of becoming evil like Darth Vader.

But I want to take this a step further and it’s impossible to analyze and look at this scene without knowing about the previous scene. Usually I am able to look at a scene as a standalone, but in this case, it would be silly to do that.

After training, Luke and Yoda end up near the tree cave where Luke senses, rather than sees, the cave.

He says, “I feel cold, death.”

Yoda replies, “That place…is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.”

Luke replies with the most natural question: “What’s in there?” Hell, if I felt cold and death, I would definitely want to know what I am facing as well.

Yoda: “Only what you take with you.”

Luke picks up his weapon belt and begins to strap it on when Yoda says, “Your weapons…you will not need them.” And Luke straps it on anyway.

Which begs the question…do you think Luke’s vision would have been different if he had followed Yoda’s advice? What if he had not taken hisLuke dark side cave weapons? Yoda does not specifically say, “Do not take the weapons,” he only says that Luke will not need them. Does that mean he believes Luke is strong enough to conquer whatever is in the cave without weapons, using only the Force? Does this relate back to Luke’s inability (at this point) to rely only on the Force?


Lucas does mention this on the ESB commentary track. He says that if Luke continued down the road that he was on in ESB, (reliance on weapons, too eager to jump into situations, etc.), he would have turned to the dark side. But he also mentions that if Luke had gone into the cave with no weapons, he would not have met Vader. He remarks that it was a teaching moment – showing Luke what the dark side can bring out of a person.

If we think about Lucas’ comment, and that Yoda says that what is within the cave is “only what you take with you,” then we can surmise that Luke has the dark side within him…and probably pretty strongly. In fact, being Anakin’s son, we know that he is probably always straddling the line. This is most likely Yoda’s fear, that he will lose Luke to the dark side, like they lost Vader (a point Obi-Wan brings up at the end of Luke’s stay in Dagobah).

And to bring this scene to the next level: Yoda says in ROTJ, “Remember your failure at the cave.” Ergo, Luke failed in this scene.

This is the only line from Yoda that even hints back to this scene in the future movies. So did he fail because he brought his weapons into the cave? Or did he fail because he has the dark side within him and he couldn’t control it?

Much to think about, mmm?

Gosh, this always creeped me out when I was younger.
Gosh, this always creeped me out when I was younger.



Luke moves into the almost total darkness of the wet and slimy cave. The youth can barely make out the edge of the passage.

Holding his lit saber before him, he sees a lizard crawling up the side of the cave and a snake wrapped around the branches of a tree. Luke draws a deep breath, then pushes deeper into the cave. 

The space widens around him, but he feels that rather than sees it. His sword casts the only light as he peers into the darkness. It is very quiet here.

Then, a loud hiss! Darth Vader appears across the blackness, illuminated by his own just-ignited laser sword. Immediately, he charges Luke, saber held high. He is upon the youth in seconds, but Luke sidesteps perfectly and slashes at Vader with his sword.

Vader is decapitated. His helmet-encased head flies from his shoulders as his body disappears into the darkness. The metallic banging of the helmet fills the cave as Vader’s head spins and bounces, smashes on the floor, and finally stops. For an instant it rests on the floor, then it cracks vertically. The black helmet and breath mask fall away to reveal…Luke’s head.

Across the space, the standing Luke gasps at the sight, wide-eyed in terror.

The decapitated head fades away, as in a vision.


Meanwhile, Yoda sits on the root, calmly leaning on his Gimer Stick.


8 thoughts on “Scene it on Friday – ESB Scene #51

  1. He failed because his fear (or anger – same thing at this point) got the better of him and he killed Vader. He could have still taken the weapons with him into the cave, but thrown them away when the fight with Vader started… That’s what I’ve always thought, anyway.

    1. I doubt Luke would have been able to throw away his weapons at this point in the saga. He was only able to finally throw away his lightsaber at the end of ROTJ…at the point where he knew Darth Vader was his father and he didn’t want to end up like him. At this point, he’s still too green. I think if he had not gone in with his weapons, it would have shown a much more mature Jedi than he was and an ability to control his emotions and fear.

      So I guess I agree with what you’re saying?

  2. You have hit upon a question that I have always wondered: what would Luke have seen had he not taken the lightsaber? I don’t know, but I agree that it wouldn’t have been the same. But the way it did play out, I think Luke learned what he needed to

    It’s really a pretty deep scene, because Luke is definitely taking “fear” into the cave (hence he wants a weapon, because he’s afraid) so at first we’re not surprised to see Vader, because of course Luke is afraid of Vader. He’s scary. But no, that’s not the real fear. The real fear is becoming like Vader.

    I appreciate that Yoda is letting Luke learn things for himself, through experience, not just telling him what to do. Maybe he is a better teacher this time around? Or maybe he just felt he had nothing to lose at this point!

    1. I think all Star Wars fans have thought about this scene in multiple ways throughout the years. I kind of wish Lucas had thrown in more of them, though I can’t imagine where it would be. They explored more stuff like this in TCW, especially with the lightsaber crystal episode arc with the younglings (I think that was Season 5?) but it would have been nice to see some more of this.

      But then again, it’s SO random when you really think about the Star Wars saga. If there was going to be a place to have a scene like this, it has to be during Jedi training. But even that is weird because we don’t see it in the Prequels (ignoring TCW). I wonder what made him want to put this scene in. Could the movie have benefited without it? I actually think it may have been good in ROTJ. The only reason I can think of it in ESB is that Lucas wanted fans to think that Luke may turn into his father in the next movie and take Darth Vader’s place. So it raises a lot more questions once you see the end of the movie and know Vader is his father.

      This is one of those times I wish I had been born pre-1977.

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