The Dark Side Of Star Wars
I have seen a lot of calls recently for a darker, more mature Star Wars movie. I am always a bit baffled when I see this for a few reasons. One is that darker does not necessarily equal more mature, or even better for that matter. I have seen some dark movies that were really bad. Another reason is that changing Star Wars will somehow make it more appealing, not realizing that part of its appeal is in its ability to entertain different groups of people, and not just kids, or older people, or oither demographics. Finally, while it is true that Star Wars is pretty family friendly, this does not mean it hasn't had its dark moments. Most of these were implied and hinted at, a lot happen off camera, but there are many things that if taken out of the context of a fantasy space adventure would be seen to be disturbing and/or gruesome. So let's go over some of the darker elements in Star Wars.
The Phantom Menace
Easily the goofiest of the movies, this movie was not without a couple of dark moments. When Anakin is explaining to Padme why slaves don't run away for instance. He explains that they have a chip implanted that causes their head to explode. What makes this especially disturbing is seeing a young boy so gleefully describing the horrific death that awaits him if he tries to reclaim his freedom. It's pretty messed up. Qui-Gon's death was a little dark, just due the abruptness and casualness of it. No grand sweeping strike to take him down, just a hit to the face to stagger him then he's skewered. It is not the dramatic hero's death that one would expect for a main protagonist in a space opera. Darth Maul being cut in two was also rather gruesome.
Attack of the Clones
The obvious dark element in this movie is the death of Anakin's mother, and his subsequent slaughter of the Sand People village, including women and children. This is really the beginning of his turn to the dark side, and it was horrific enough that Yoda sensed it on another planet. Anakin losing and arm in his fight with Dooku was another moment. What is it with Star Wars and dismembering people? Of course the whole idea of an army of clones being created simply to die and fight for whoever has paid for them is kind of disturbing as well.
Revenge of the Sith
Of course this is by necessity the darkest movie, as it is the chronicle of Anakin's fall to the dark side of the Force. In order to set up for the first trilogy, not only did he have to become Darth Vader, but the Jedi would have to be betrayed and wiped out. Even knowing this going in I was shocked at a couple of moments. Anakin decapitating Dooku at the beginning of the movie was a good indication of where it was heading. After that it's no so bad for a while, until again with the arm cutting! Anakin takes off Mace Windu's arm, allowing Palpatine to kill him with Force lightning. Then comes the most disturbing part of the whole franchise, Anakin killing the young Jedi in training. Thank god this happened off screen or I'm not sure I could have handled it, it was upsetting as it was. Then Anakin's rage causes him to Force choke a pregnant Padme, almost killing her there and ultimately leading to her death later in the movie. Finally the showdown with ObiWan. You can see that he does not want to kill his friend, Ewan did a great job of showing the pain and anguish that character was going through.And after he has cut off his arms and legs (Lucas needs counselling, I swear) and his best friend has burst into flame, he walks away hearing his screams but unable to kill him even though it would have been a mercy at that point. If you don't think that is dark, you scare me.
A New Hope
We'll skip over the disturbing aspect of a brother trying to get it on with his sister, I mean he didn't know and so many jokes have been made about it that I think most people don't even see it as all that weird anymore. But early on in the movie Luke comes across the charred remains of the people who have raised him since infancy. The smoking skeletons are quite visible on screen. The in the Cantina, of course someone loses an arm. Ben fight with Vader takes on an extra poignancy after Revenge of the Sith. He is facing the man he loved too much to kill all those years ago, even after he had slaughtered children. He knows he will probably not be able to bring himself to kill him this time either. So he sacrifices himself, becoming one with the Force so that he can train Luke to do the thing that he cannot bring himself to do. The destruction of Alderaan is something that doesn't really get dealt with in the movie much, but it was the execution of billions of unwitting people with one shot. Leia turns away in grief, and Ben gets shaken when he feels the planet die, then everyone just kind of goes about their business. The next time we see Leia, she is being snarky to Luke, who she thinks is a storm trooper. One thing I loved about Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy of books was that it revisited the huge impact this event had on Leia and others who were off planet at the time. It gae the tragedy some weight that the movie didn't give it. Another dark element of this movie was the interrogation droid. It comes in with it's needles and whatnot, and we see the look of terror on Leia's face, and the door closes so that we don't know what is happening behind it but are left to believe that it is doing more than injecting her with a truth serum, as there would be no reason to cut away dramatically for that.
The Empire Strikes Back
Long considered to be the "dark" Star Wars movie, it earned this reputation mainly on the fact that the Empire seemed to come out as the winners by and large at the end of the movie. More dismemberment, with Luke losing his hand to Vader. There is the Dark Side cave where Luke fights Vader only to have his own face revealed under the mask. Han is tortured by Vader, simply to have Luke feel it through the Force in an effort to lure him to Cloud City. Ironically, given its reputation as the dark movie of the franchise, it may have the fewest disturbing elements of all six movies of the first two trilogies.
Return of the Jedi
This is the movie that is always derided for selling the franchise out to little kids by including living teddy bears. Of course most people don't mention that those teddy bears were going to cook the heroes alive and eat them. They had the fire lit under Han before Luke used the Force and C3PO to convince them to stop. Boba Fett's death becomes disturbing if you remember that according to what Jabba said earlier he was being slowly digested over a thousand years. And yes EU fans, I know that he got out in the books, but until that gets written into the new canon, he is dead again. Sorry. The most disturbing part of this movie though, is something that I have rarely seen mentioned. When Leia is Jabba's slave, it is implied that he has or is going to, if not rape her, at least molest her in some way. The lascivious way he licks his lips at her, C3PO saying he cannot watch, hinm telling her that she will come to appreciate him. There is also the dancer who fought against being pulled back to him, and as a result was fed to the rancor. All of this adds up to at least give the impression that sexual abuse of some sort is not off the table for the princess. This is one of the darkest and skeeviest moments in the franchise for me. It's right up there with Anakin killing the kids for how disturbing it is.
I have only seen the new movie twice, so I'm not as familiar with it and the only thing that really comes to mind is Han's murder by his son, and the massacre of the village at the beginning of the movie. But reading over these, really think about how much darker a Star Wars movie could get without losing the charm that makes Star Wars special. In my opinion the only reason these scenes don't drag the whole franchise down to the level of a Sam Raimi horror movie is the goofiness and light heartedness that permeates everything else in the movies. If you want a dark, gritty and super violent science fiction movie, that's cool. Just don't expect it to be a Star Wars movie, They have come up with a formula that works, and they are not likely to deviate much from it. And to be honest, most people probably wouldn't want them to.