For what is probably the most controversial and polarizing scene in the original Star Wars trilogy, the cave scene on Dagobah still leaves many wondering just what the hell was going on. The Empire Strikes Back certainly isn’t a movie filled with ambiguity and mystery, so the scene definitely stands out among the action-packed sequences and character driven stories. This Scene Discussion intends to break down what happened in that bizarre scene and hopefully make some sense out of it (in more ways than one).
I’ll start by getting this out of the way much sooner than later: The cave scene was meant to have many meanings. There is no set one way or another answer to why Yoda wanted Luke to go into the magic cave; other than it being another test for the young Jedi apprentice. When he tells Luke “Your weapons, you will not need them” and Luke disregards his advice, it is soon established that whatever Luke is going to see in that cave will not be good. Was it because he didn’t listen to Yoda? That’s a question I’m sure Luke is asking himself.
As Luke progresses through the cave, he sees Darth Vader (or at least a vision of him). We hear the iconic sound of a lightsaber igniting but we don’t see which man drew first. We assume it’s Vader simply because he’s the bad guy and he’s approaching Luke, but instead it is Luke who throws up the offensive first. The two stand there, facing each other for a second until Vader attacks first. Luke defends himself and then, suddenly, slashes Vader’s head right off, seemingly killing the enemy.
When Vader’s head rolls closer to Luke and the smoke clears after an explosion, it’s revealed to Luke that it is his face within Vader’s mask. He looks upon himself, shocked and confused on why he’s witnessing such a thing. Is it because he’s fighting out of anger? Quite possibly. The scene is then cut to Yoda who looks very disappointed of the failed trial.
So why is the scene filled with ambiguity and mystery? Well, like I said earlier, The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars in general has rarely been filled with any of those elements, at least not in any pronounced way. This scene was constructed to not only fuel the inner conflict of the dark side versus the light side of the force within Luke himself, but also how the Force is a strong mysterious power that can change our future, despite how always in motion it might be. The Force is so powerful that it could tempt Luke into the wrong side. The cave reminds us that our hero is in grave danger if he keeps up his recklessness, even if Yoda trains him the best he can.
The bizarre scene is also there to set up the later scene of Luke deciding to go against Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s warnings to not go to Cloud City to save his friends and face Darth Vader. Yoda even exclaims “The cave, remember your failure at the cave!” to Luke’s closed ears. Our reckless hero is marching towards evil, ignoring what he’s learned from his masters. Ultimately, he pays the price by not being able to save his friends, brutally defeated by Vader, and learning the truth that sends him falling from grace.