Friday, November 9, 2018

Maledictus: The Truth Behind Delphini Riddle’s Birth

A Harry Potter Theory

The world was taken by surprise when famed Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling announced plans for a play based on the much-beloved children’s book series. In the summer of 2016, I along with scores of other Potterheads stood in line at Strand Bookstore to pick up my copy of the play script the night of its release. Two days after that, I would put the book down, having read it in its entirety, feeling… underwhelmed and thoroughly confused.

There’s plenty that I enjoyed about the story; I loved the focus on Harry Potter’s middle child and his less-than-adventurous years at Hogwarts, a great contrast from Harry’s own tumultuous childhood;  I loved the reversal of fan expectations by making young Albus Potter a Slytherin and best friends with Scorpius, the son of Harry’s hated school rival; and, most importantly, I loved Hermione as Minister of Magic (childhood complete!). And while there’s plenty to nitpick at the less than stellar plot of the play and odd pacing issues, I ultimately forgave those things because it wasn’t written by Jo Rowling.

Not what anyone was expecting but not terrible, either.

That being said, the play did get a story treatment by Rowling and should, much as some of us are abhorred to, be considered Wizarding World canon. However, there is one detail in this story that has been nagging at me since my first reading, one detail that I can’t fully wrap my mind around: the parentage of Delphini, the play’s big baddie. Delphini is proclaimed the daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, but something about that doesn’t ring true to me.

According to an article by The Vulture, the union of Voldemort and Bellatrix resulting in Delphini may have its roots in history, specifically the union of Adolf Hitler and Unity Mitford, a union that was rumored to result in a love-child that is still alive and well today. The article even adds weight to this possibility by explaining Jo Rowling’s love and admiration of Unity Mitford’s sister, Jessica, and even goes so far as to suggest that Jessica, Unity, and Diana Mitford were the inspiration for sisters Andromeda, Bellatrix, and Narcissa Black from the novels. While that’s all well and good, unlike Hitler, Voldemort was less than human and had no compunction for basic human needs, including the need for love, human contact, and, yes, sex.

I actually tried to imagine Voldemort and Bellatrix having sex and… just… No.

I say “No” not because it’s not possible since Voldemort could have tried any number of magical means to feel the necessary human emotions required to engage another human in sex (love potion, anyone?) or because sex between two unlikely parties never happens (let’s face it: it happens all the time). I say “No” because it is very simply the most un-Voldemort thing for Voldemort to do, and Rowling is nothing if not consistent with her characterization.

Bellatrix may have had an unhealthy love bordering on obsession thing for Voldemort, but the reality is that Voldemort not once reciprocated her feelings. He saw her as a devoted follower, someone whose loyalty he would never have to question. But here’s the kicker: Voldemort is not incapable of showing affection for another living thing, it’s just that he’s never shown such affection for Bellatrix.

The one living, breathing creature Voldemort has ever shown any amount of affection for or looked at lovingly and protects vehemently, not because she’s loyal, but because Voldemort, I think, genuinely loves her the only way he knows how is his snake familiar, Nagini.

So to cut right to the chase, here’s my theory: the true parentage of Delphini is Tom Marvolo Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort... and, that’s right, Nagini.

Yes, you read that correctly. And before you start thinking of all the ways this is impossible, let me break down how it is, in fact, very possible.

I’ve already explained Voldemort’s side of this theoretical union: his lack of interest in basic human connections and his disdain for Bellatrix that makes that union not only unlikely but also counter to Voldemort’s very nature. However, before I get into how Nagini being the mother of anything is even possible, it’s important to discuss Bellatrix anyway. I may not believe she’s the mother of Delphini, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t have a role to play in Delphini’s existence.

As I’ve stated before and as is very well known among fans, Bellatrix is intensely faithful to Voldemort and, more importantly for the sake of my argument, remarkably unhinged. I don’t think there’s anything she wouldn’t do for him and few would disagree with that. So here’s what I think really happened:

Voldemort was down to his last remaining Horcruxes and his immortality was, for the first time ever, truly in jeopardy. That’s the motivation for his next attempt at immortality: a child, an heir. This becomes the object of his obsession especially since he’s the last heir to the Slytherin’s legacy, a legacy he would be eager to maintain. A child would not only keep the bloodline going for one more generation but, in the possible event of his death, Voldemort could still leave something behind. He could leave someone behind, someone to carry out his plans and fulfill his dark purpose. In the play, Harry calls Delphini Voldemort’s “ultimate Horcrux.” I think that’s an apt description.

But, as we saw with how meticulously he chose his Horcruxes, the mother of his child couldn’t be just anybody. Voldemort would have given this union much thought and Bellatrix would have been the obvious choice; she’s a pureblood witch with strong familial ties and an ardent Death Eater. Why not?

Here’s why: as much as Voldemort is unaccustomed to or even abhorrent of human contact (that impromptu hug he gave Draco in the films comes to mind), he’s also remarkably driven by his emotions. He does whatever he feels like doing and many of his reactions to the events around him are emotional reactions. So, while Bellatrix may be the obvious choice, he wouldn’t feel like making that kind of commitment to her nor, I think, would he want to reward Bellatrix’s unhealthy obsession with him. But, as I said, Bellatrix would still have a role to play.

So, Voldemort hatched his plan and, being able to communicate with Nagini, laid it out for her. Nagini would take on the form of Bellatrix using Polyjuice Potion and would drink every hour for the nine months it would take for a child to form and be born. Not enough has been revealed about Nagini for me to even begin to speculate why she would agree to do this, but there’s also not much is prompting me to think she wouldn’t agree to this. After all, she’s just as faithful to Voldemort as Bellatrix, if not more so.

Still think it’s impossible?

First of all, it should be noted that I had given up on this theory a few months back because when I researched if this was even possible, the Harry Potter Wiki page on Polyjuice Potion states that the potion does not work on non-humans. So, that was that; Polyjuice Potion wouldn’t work on Nagini so my theory suddenly had no backing.

That is until Nagini was revealed to be a Maledictus and that her human form would be played by Claudia Kim in the upcoming film Crimes of Grindlewald. For those of you who may not be familiar, a Maledictus is someone with a blood curse, a curse that causes them to transform permanently into an animal. Nagini was born human but now lives her life as a snake because of her blood curse. She cannot turn back to her human form even if she wanted to. Some have theorized that the reason she’s so loyal to Voldemort is that, as a Parselmouth, he was the first and only human contact Nagini ever got after her blood curse had fully taken hold of her.

Human Nagini, meet Snake Nagini

However, we know that Nagini could still achieve human form through magical means as she did in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when she impersonated Bathilda Bagshot. Now, the way it’s written in the novel and the way the Harry Potter Wiki describes it, Nagini was not so much impersonating the old woman as she was “possessing her corpse,” an act that required some as of yet unexplained Dark Magic on Voldemort’s part. So, perhaps stating that Nagini can somehow turn human temporarily is a bit of a stretch, but it’s still not impossible. There is still so much surrounding Nagini that we’re still learning about and still don’t understand, like how her venom kept Voldemort alive in Goblet of Fire or how Voldemort was even able to make a living thing a Horcrux intentionally. Regardless, Nagini may be a snake, but she was once human and is highly magical, so I’m willing to bet that Polyjuice Potion does work on her. I initially thought Nagini was using Polyjuice Potion to impersonate Bathilda Bagshot based on the way the moment was filmed. That impression I got from the film was where I first started to form this theory.

The way Nagini is able to speak and manipulate objects as Bathilda doesn't seem possible if all she's doing is coiling up in a corpse's empty chest cavity. Not to mention that when Nagini appears, there's no corpse to be seen. There's nothing but a bundle of robes and a snake. Also, what did Hermione find inside that blood splattered room buzzing with flies? I'm willing to bet that was Bathilda's mutilated body. So, yeah, I don't buy the whole corpse possession nonsense, at least not with the way it was filmed. The book's description makes it more feasible, but it is not without its issues.

Furthermore, I think this theory makes some sense with both the film and the book canon. When Delphini’s parentage was announced in Cursed Child, many people did the math and realized that Delphini must have already been born by the time Bellatrix, Nagini, and Voldemort died at the Battle of Hogwarts in May of 1998. Most estimate her birth to have taken place sometime in the summer of the previous year after Albus Dumbledore’s death because Bellatrix Lestrange was not on the Astronomy Tower the night of June 30th, 1997. Many speculate that she wasn’t there because she was pregnant with Delphini.

It is important to note that neither Bellatrix nor Nagini make an appearance in Half-Blood Prince and only Bellatrix appears in the film adaptation. To say that Bellatrix was with child at the end of the Half-Blood Prince is problematic because she appears in the film; it’s possible she is pregnant in the film and just not showing yet, but I doubt it. I can’t imagine Voldemort putting his child in any kind of danger and Bellatrix is not one to shy from a duel. No, if Bellatrix was pregnant the night of Dumbledore’s death, she would have stayed far away and in hiding. After all, any child of Voldemort would be in danger; she had to be kept secret as well as safe.

Of course, it’s also possible Bellatrix wasn’t pregnant just yet at the point. Or perhaps Delphini was already born by June 1997. I considered that as well. I believe Delphi was one year old when Voldemort died in May of 1998, the same age Harry was when he lost his parents to Voldemort. It would be like Rowling to make those patterns repeat; she had already repeated that pattern with Teddy Lupin when Remus asked Harry to be Teddy’s godfather (like Sirius before him) only for Teddy to lose both his parents at the Battle of Hogwarts mere weeks after his birth. So, why not give us that rhyming poem with Delphini? Here’s this girl with so much on her shoulders, the last remaining heir of Salazar Slytherin and the progeny of Lord Voldemort, living an orphaned life not so dissimilar from Harry’s? That kind of foil character just writes itself.

So, Nagini carried Delphi to term as a magical doppelganger of Bellatrix and gave birth in the summer of 1997. That means Nagini was pregnant throughout the entirety of Half-Blood Prince and Bellatrix is just a willing participant in Voldemort’s plan for an heir; she tends to Nagini, makes sure she drinks her Polyjuice Potion on the hour, and provides hair for new batches of the potion that she probably brews herself. It would explain why neither Bellatrix nor Nagini make an appearance in the novel, but it would also explain why Bellatrix in the film wasn’t nine months pregnant. A year after Delphini’s birth, all three of her parents die and the truth about her birth dies with them.

Now, the Harry Potter Wiki page for Maledictus states that the curse is passed down from mother to daughter... So, if Nagini is Delphini's real mother, shouldn't Delphini also be a Maledictus? Well, we don't know that she isn't, but signs point to her not being one. But I think I can explain that as well.

Obviously, magic is not something that can be easily explained but I think the magic of the Wizarding World does follow rules and, because the Wizarding World co-exists with the Muggle world, I suspect magic still accounts for the basic rules of human science most of the time. So, when a witch or wizard takes Polyjuice Potion and becomes someone else does that mean that witch or wizard is now, on a molecular and biological level, that person? Or is drinking the Polyjuice Potion just a way to disguise one's outward appearance? I'm willing to bet it's the latter rather than the former. I think this because of how complex Polyjuice potion is to brew (something that complex has to have some serious magical properties) and because in order to work, you need a bit of the person you're impersonating. In other words, you need their DNA. When you consider those two aspects of Polyjuice Potion in tandem, then I think it's safe to assume that drinkers of the Polyjuice Potion are literally becoming someone else, right down to their DNA. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Nagini may have been the one to physically carry Delphini, but she did so as Bellatrix. So, technically, that would mean Bellatrix is the biological mother of Delphini and Nagini was just a surrogate. It's like magical in vitro fertilization. It would explain why Delphini isn't a Maledictus like Nagini and also why everyone is so convinced of who Delphini's parents are (I'm not so convinced).

One final point that I think supports my theory is the name of Voldemort’s alleged child. According to her Wikia page, “In Greek mythology, Delphyne was the name of a female dragon who was appointed by her mother, the earth goddess Gaia, to guard the Pythia, commonly known as the Oracle of Delphi. Some myths describe Delphyne as being a half-maiden, half-snake creature similar to Echidna.”

Half-maiden, half-snake….

Any Potterhead worth their salt knows Jo Rowling is very deliberate with her naming.

It’s true that this all just speculation and I have very little evidence to back any of this up. I could be wrong and Delphini’s parentage could just simply be the result of the writing of a man who isn’t as familiar with these characters as most people who grew up reading the novels. However, this theory is what makes the most sense to me based on what I know of Jo Rowling’s writing, the mythology, and Voldemort’s character. So, yeah, maybe I’m wrong and Voldemort did the simple thing and just impregnated Bellatrix (and yes, I mean the actual Bellatrix) the “natural” way…

But you have to admit that a twisted plot that involves impregnating a snake who was born human while she’s magically impersonating the woman everyone agrees is Delphini’s mother is creepy and sadistic and wrong… and the much more Voldemort thing to do.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Pearly Crucible

I stepped through the club doors, trading the tepid summer day for the artificially cooled interior of that city dive, the store front’s neon lights blinding all who were foolish enough to look at its red, blue, and purple alternations of promiscuous displays. It didn't take me long to find who I was looking for; he was in the corner furthest from the entrance and, ergo, the furthest he could get from the stage. It must have been a slow night if he couldn't spare a few singles for that evening’s coterie of dancers. Then he again, he said he wanted to talk over the phone; maybe it was the noise he was trying to get away from.

I made my way towards the slumped-over figure of my companion, through that familiar haze of sickly sweet scents; hand-rolled cigarette smoke, classy men's cologne mingled seducingly with painfully cheap street perfume, the natural body odors of unwashed miscreants look for an easy lay, and something that smelled suspiciously like picked pear and coleslaw. I lingered in that noxious combination of smells for a bit while I chatted up the bartender and ordered a few drinks. He insisted on showing me pictures of his newborn and by the time I joined Andy in the back table, gin and tonic in one hand and Scotch on the rocks in the other, I already felt the desperate need for a hard scrub in the shower. Home seemed further away than ever before.

I placed the glass of amber liquid in front of Andy. The ice clinked against the glass. Andy looked up me, saying nothing.

I shrugged and took a seat. “You looked like you need something stronger.” Andy regarded the Scotch for a moment before downing it in one breath. My eyebrows shot up on my forehead. “Guess I was right?”

Andy slammed the glass on the table. He continued his apparent vow of silence.

I cleared my throat and leaned toward my friend. Andy has never been the tidiest of men, but today, he was especially haggard; his faded navy blue shirt was sagging at the collar, his usually trimmed beard looked like it would be more at home living as a dust bunny underneath an ancient sofa, and I was sure my nose detected a distinct odor that reminded me of corn chips. I’ve seen him like only once before and I knew from experience he was fighting with his wife again. “Whats on your mind, Andy?” I said as politely as I could manage.

Andy buried his face in his hands “I’m all fucked up.”

I took a sip of my gin. “Why’s that?”

Andy regarded me over the tips of his fingers. His chocolate brown eyes looked the same as the day I met him. My old man got me a summer job cleaning toilets at the reformatory where Andy was doing time for some major vandalism at his high school. He was always a messed up kid, but he was a messed up kid who needed a friend. After he saved my sorry ass from the creepy warden’s advances in the girl's lavatory, I decided I could be that friend to him. Our lives took very different paths, but we always managed to stay present in each other’s lives.

“You ever been in love, Logan?” Andy said suddenly.

My eyebrows knitted together at the odd question, but I didn't have to think much to answer. “Sure.”

Andy’s voice suddenly became wistful. “What's it like?”

I couldn't contain my curiosity at the point. “What's going on? Did something happen with Amy?”

Andy inhaled sharply as he averted the look I gave him, the shadow of what looked like shame crossing his face. He didn't respond and I didn't press him any further. I was pretty sure I had my answer.

I took a swing of my drink. “You know that feeling you get,” I said finally, “when you miss a step going down the stairs? Or when you almost tip over when you’re leaning back on a chair?” Andy nodded. “That’s what it’s like. . . That’s what it’s like to fall in love.”  My voice softened and the ghostly pang of old heartbreak burned in my chest. Andy continued to watch me, his hungry eyes pleading for more.

And like a man possessed, I continued: “It’s this tiny fraction of a second of pure fucking terror.

You have no idea how or why it happened and you certainly don’t have time to process it. It happens so quickly, yet you almost feel like you’re frozen in time.

Then the moment ends as soon as it started; your instincts kick in, you grab onto the banister or the edge of the desk, and you convince yourself you're okay.”

I paused to take another gulp of my gin; my throat was burning from so much talking. By now, Andy had lit what was probably not his first cigarette of the evening. I continued as if I hadn't stopped:

“But your heart's still pounding in your chest, yeah? Loud and booming, like a bass drum. That’s how you know it ain't over. You're sweating a cold sweat, the kind that only a sudden rush of adrenaline can bring on. You feel your limbs quiver ever so slightly. . . and then, inexplicably, you laugh, as if nothing happened, as if laughing will suddenly make that residual terror finally dissipate so you could go on pretending to be normal. It's an empty, confused laugh, the kind that might come out when you don't quite get the joke but you don't want to look like an idiot in front of your peers (we’ve all done it).

But that's all it is, isn't it? A bland, unfunny joke; a hapless ride around an antique, almost terrifying carousel; an order of unsalted, soggy fries (and sorry, no refunds!); a gray tablecloth sporting gray candelabras with gray candles that smell like plain smoke. It all goes from adrenaline-fueled ecstasy to a tumor shaped blob of confusion and anxiety. And that's what they don't tell you. They don't tell you how scary it is.

You know the crap they do tell you? ‘The heart wants what it wants’? ‘You can’t choose who you love’? Blah blah blah. . .”

I shook my head, clearly critical. Through the veil of smoke coming off the lit end of his cancer stick, Andy’s eyes were glazed over; they were staring at something over my shoulder. When he spoke, his voice was devoid of emotion. “Sounds fucking terrible.”

“It is. It's the goddamn worst. They don't tell you that love is just the production of chemicals in your brain under the right circumstances. It's all bullshit. Trust me, you're better off without it.” Looking for something to do with my hands, I turned my empty glass in my hand, listening for the chirping of ice against glass. The buzz of activity behind me grew suddenly, and it occurred to me that no one had bothered us since I took my seat. I wondered if the bartender was too busy talking about his newborn to remember he had a job. Another fool trapped in the sticky web of love’s lies, I suppose.

Andy put his cigarette out inside his glass; he had already smoked it down to a bud. He crossed his arms in front of him and watched the butt float among the melted ice inside his Scotch glass. I waited for him to say something.

“If it's all bullshit,” he said finally, “then we do spend our lives looking for it?”

I sighed deeply. I didn't answer right away. His question brought back of barrage of memories, a lifetime of relationships and loves lost. Becca, who said we were too different; Manny, who didn't want to come out to his family; Jordan, who said I was too intense; Jasmine, who wanted kids; April, who couldn't be with someone who “wasn't on her level”; Q, dear, sweet, wonderful Q, who left this life too soon; and Ethan, who was too damn sexy and desirable and who made me feel like shit every second I was around him.

“We entrust our hearts to people every time we fall in love and we naively think it's safe with them... For a while, it is, and for that short while, it's bliss and it's amazing. Then it's not, and when that person leaves, they take a little piece of your heart with them. Then you meet someone else and, like an insane person hoping for different results, you do it all over again. And again, and again, losing more bits of your heart and collecting bits of other people’s hearts to replace the parts you lost, until eventually, you have nothing left to give and you're stuck with a mismatched patchwork heart held together by strings of lies and yards of tears and sewn together with stupid, ridiculous hope. . . We're junkies, chasing that high, no matter how many near-death experiences we have because of that damn drug, we keep coming back for more. . .”

I trailed off, my voice too heavy to keep going. My tongue was desert dry and I was craving more gin. Andy leaned back in his seat, stretched out his arms along the backrest, and threw his head back until he was looking up at the ceiling.

For a while -- might have been 5 minutes, might have been an hour -- neither of us spoke. I was leaning forward in my seat, my elbows on my knees, staring at the ground between my feet. I could hear familiar voices behind me and some of them might have even called my name once or twice, but I was too deep inside my own memories to notice. My words hung in the air and sometimes buzzed past me like bees looking for nectar. Just as I was thinking of getting the hell out of there, even if it meant abandoning Andy, I felt more than I heard him finally come back to life.

Andy took a deep breath and then chuckled; it was a dry, bland sound the kind that lets you know there was nothing truly funny about the situation.

“Sounds fucking amazing, old friend,” he sighed.

I stared him, incredulous. I was certain nothing I had said was worthy of being called amazing, and didn’t Andy himself just finish realizing how god-awful it is to exist, to feel, to trust others? Maybe there was more than nicotine in those hand-rolled cigarettes of his. “What makes you say that?” I said, aware of my unsympathetic tone but not really caring.

Andy slowly sat back up and when he faced me, I was appalled to find that he had been crying. “Because,” he said, “heartbreak sounds a hell of a lot better than never having known love at all.” He dug his wallet out from his back pocket and produced a few crumpled bills.

“You’re leaving?”

“Yeah. . . I’m gonna go talk to Amy.”

I scoffed. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.” I took a bitter swig of my gin, downing the last of it in a loud, violent gulp.

Andy chuckled. “You know why I wanted  to see you?” I shook my head. “I wanted to remind myself exactly how bitter I don’t want to end up. So, thank you.” He grinned goofily at me. “That was a close call.

“Piss off,” I said, but I smiled in spite of myself. Andy reached over and patted my shoulder.

“You’ll find somebody, brother.”

My smile faded and I gazed at the remnants of my gin, regretful now at how hastily I drank it and wishing, once again, that the bartender would do some bartending for once. After a quiet minute, the buzz of the club now a distant hum, I sighed. “I had somebody. . .” I said. Then I laughed bitterly. “I had a lot of somebodys.”

Andy nodded. “I know losing Q was hard, but you had nothing to do with that. . . Life will carry on. And you? You'll find more somebodys.”

I shook my head in disagreement. "What for?" I half cried. "To what end?"

Andy thought about it for a second. His hand slid off my shoulder and I found myself missing the weight of it, a thought that caused a heaviness at the pit of my stomach. Has it really been that long?

Andy looked down at me. "To feel, Logan," he said. "You'll do it so you can remind yourself you're alive."

“You know,” I said, soaking in his words, “I recall being summoned here to comfort you. Why are you doing the comforting?”

Andy scratched his nose, which I knew was code for a sheepish confession and I felt my heart sink. Andy was pitying me. The bastard was pitying me, even though he’s the one with the overbearing, shrill wife at home that's the reason we both have a drinking problem. As if reading my mind, Andy said, “I know Amy can be. . . difficult, and I know you two have never liked each other--”

“I reject that statement,” I interrupted, “I liked her just fine before you two met.”

“--nevertheless,” Andy said, with the exasperated air of someone who’s had this conversation before, “Amy is the kind of difficult I’m more than happy to bear with, especially since she had to deal with my bullshit.” He pulled out another Newport and lit up. "She makes me feel something, you know?"

“I can’t say I envy either of you.” I tried my best not to sound as bitter as I am famous for being, but I admitted to myself that I was impressed with Andy’s maturity, and with only one Scotch in his system. He usually needs four of those in order to adopt the facade of a reasonable man. Us old friends parted ways, Andy on his way home to his Amy, and I was left alone to cradle my empty gin glass, with still no sign of the bartender. I made a mental note to not pay for my drinks upfront next time.

With Andy gone and nothing to focus on, my senses started to zero in on my surroundings. Bar food was being fried up in the kitchen and Kanye West was playing on the overhead speakers, but I was more interested in what sight this hole-in-the-wall had to offer. It wasn’t long until I locked eyes with a dapper gentleman who I’ve never seen here before and who was almost comically out of place. He had a neat goatee, dark almond-shaped eyes, and he was well-dressed in a silk vest and matching tie; not the sort of fare usually found in this seedy spot. I was immediately interested and I must have shown it because he sauntered over with a confidence only an Adonis could possess and took Andy’s former spot. He introduced himself as Amir and his Yorkshire accent snagged at my naval and dragged me completely under.

I would, later that evening, lost in the mess of a haphazardly unmade bed, tangled sheets, and miles upon miles of Amir’s delectable chocolate skin, ruminate on the hypocrisy that was my bitter words starkly compared to my actions. Broken as I was, lost as I felt, I was a junkie and this was my drug. I realized that Andy was absolutely right; we allow ourselves to fall into the trap of digging for the common crystals that are one-night stands while occasionally stumbling upon the less common gems that are relationships all in the hopes that we might actually hit the jackpot and find a diamond wedged between layers of grime, filth, and shit.

I lazily traced the lines of Amir’s sleeping face. I didn’t know what he was or what this was, if it was anything, yet. . . But for those blissful moments, the possibility of something grand and rare and wonderful did feel worth the risk I was taking in once again trusting my heart to a complete stranger. And as though he wanted to verify what I was feeling, Amir opened his eyes, looked deeply into mine, and I felt my heart leap as though I just nose-dived off the edge of a particularly steep cliff.

I had forgotten.

I had forgotten what it felt like.

Chasing love can be painful, and finding love can be aggravating, but the ecstasy of human connections you make along the way are enough crystals and gems to make an exceptionally unique and lovely necklace.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Two Sides of the Coin: A Case for the hero of Star Wars

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Leia, rather than Luke, is the true hero of Star Wars... Alright, maybe not so universally, but I think there's a strong case for Leia. Before you pull out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out.

In the late spring of 1977, a small time science fiction film hit movie theaters for the first time and took the world by storm. That summer, after droves of people rushed to the box office to catch this singularly unique movie, Star Wars has been called many things: an out-of-body experience; the biggest possible adventure fantasy; universally loved. The rest is history. If you, dear reader, happen to be in the minuscule percentage of people who have never seen a second of any Star Wars film (not to mention its two animated TV shows, several comic book runs, and various novels), a percentage with more zeros than Harrison Ford's net worth, here is a quick synopsis: a young (white) man from a desert planet escapes with a smuggler, saves a princess, and destroys a planet-killing machine the size of a small moon... I know, right? Great stuff. And that's just the first movie. The name of this young hero is Luke Skywalker, a fact that has permeated the pop cultural zeitgeist so deeply that even non-watchers of Star Wars know his name. I don’t think anyone would ever disagree that Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars, but I am here to convince you that he is, in fact, not our hero or indeed, our protagonist.

I am working on the assumption that most readers are very familiar with Star Wars, but if that’s not the case then fair warning: spoilers and info dump ahead. And for you Star Wars purists, yes, I do bring up the prequel series. Read at your own risk.

Many would argue that A New Hope is Luke's movie and I can understand why. Luke has the most screen time, he is front and center on the film's marketing materials, and he is the one to deliver the final blow to the Death Star that brings the movie to its epic conclusion. However, when you strip all that away, is the narrative really driven by him? Subtract that final blow to the Death Star, the one that only a Force user could make (convenient), and does Luke really drive the narrative of the movie? I would argue that he doesn't. Granted, the movie does it's best to make sure Luke's pals have important roles to play as well; it's no coincidence that the film opens with, not Luke, but Leia's storyline.

However, each film has a character at its center and in the case of A New Hope, I would argue that Han Solo is the at the center of the film's overarching story. For example, without Han, would Luke have even found a way off Tatooine? In fact, once you break down Luke's involvement in the film's narrative, you begin to realize he was orchestrated down his path by other characters' more deliberate actions and more concrete motivations. Had Leia not sent out a message to Obi-Wan for help with R2-D2 and C-3PO, who Luke only came across by sheer dumb luck, would Luke have found his motivation to finally leave Tatooine? Had the combined efforts of Darth Vader and his Stormtroopers not resulted in the incinerated deaths of Owen and Beru, the only thing keeping Luke on Tatooine, would he have ever toughened his resolve to follow Obi-Wan to Mos Eisley and right into the Millenium Falcon in its rag-tag pilot duo? Han Solo and his Millenium Falcon are the tools that carved the path to making Luke and Leia's story possible; he got Luke and Obi-Wan off Tatooine, he helped Leia escape the clutches of the Empire, and he gives Luke his window of opportunity to blow up the Death Star by blasting Vader off his tail.

If you don't think this is the best damn scene in the movie, then we can't be friends.

Han Solo was the only smuggler willing to ferry Obi-Wan and Luke off Tatooine and his reasons for doing so weren't relegated to just money. If his encounter with Greedo and Jabba the Hutt are any indication, Han is not very welcomed on Tatooine, a plot line that is resolved in later films but heavily established in A New Hope. Money is poor motivation for viewers of the film, but not for Han the smuggler who is deep in debt with Jabba, a gangster who isn't easily negotiated with. So, in order to save his own skin, Han agrees to help Luke rescue Leia, once again driving the narrative forward. Han may have the simplest plot throughout the films, considering is neither a Jedi nor a politician, but it's his relatively straightforward conflict that moves the narrative in the direction it needs to go. By the end of A New Hope, Han is no longer motivated by money but by the bond he forms with Luke and Leia and his now heavy involvement with the Rebellion. It's the development of his character that becomes the driving force of the film's plot.  

Meanwhile, Return of the Jedi chronicles the Battle of Endor, the Rebellion's final blow and the eventual overthrow of the Empire. Being the politician that she is, Leia is instrumental as a leader of the Rebellion and, therefore, her actions become the driving force of the narrative here. I know that's an unusual claim given that Leia is put in a compromising position as Jabba's newest slave, but Leia didn't get the moniker "Huttslayer" for nothing; she saved herself in that situation and single-handedly killed one of the most powerful creatures in the Outer Rim. And while many find the Ewok's role in the Battle of Endor ridiculous, we have to live with the fact that teddy bears saving the galaxy is canon, and it was Leia who made that possible. She appealed to the natives of Endor and enlisted their adorable help and knowledge of the terrain (that is their home, after all) to take down the second Death Star's deflector shield. I am particularly fond of this move on Leia's part because very much in George Lucas' "poem that rhymes" storytelling style, Leia garnering support from the Ewoks is reminiscent of Padme's plea to Boss Nass, the leader of the Gungans, Naboo's native aquatic species, in her final stand against the Trade Federation in Phantom Menace.

Bad. Ass.

There's also something to be said about Leia's indirect involvement in Luke's duel with Vader in the Death Star hovering above Endor. When Vader invaded (no pun intended) Luke's mind and discovered the existence of his twin sister, Vader threatened to try and turn Leia to the dark side instead. This unleashed a barrage of hate-fueled blows that ultimately incapacitated Vader and opened Luke's eyes to the dangers of the dark side, thus strengthening his resolve to save rather than kill his father. This was yet another instance of Luke feeling the pull of the dark, but it was the threat of extinguishing Leia's light that drove him there, solidifying her importance not only in this film but in the series as a whole, a topic I will explore in-depth later.

So if A New Hope is Han's movie and Return of the Jedi, despite its name, is Leia's movie, which one is Luke's? Easy! The Empire Strikes Back is very much Luke's movie, which is good for Luke fans because it's almost universally considered the best of the original trilogy. Each film in the original trilogy is driven by one if it's central trio of characters, a pattern that is repeated in the subsequent trilogies. In fact, the sequel trilogies follow this pattern to a T; of the original trilogy characters, Han is the driving force behind The Force Awakens, Luke is in the driver's seat in The Last Jedi, and the final as of yet untitled third sequel was supposed to be Leia's film (although questions about how that is going to be possible with the advent of Carrie Fisher's tragic passing still linger).

What does any of this have to do with Luke's role as the non-hero of the films? Well, I've been able to whittle down Luke's action in all of his films to a single phrase: "He did the last thing."

Destroying the Death Star? The last thing.

Facing off against Darth Vader? The last thing.
Facing off against Vader again and influencing him to kill Palpatine? The last thing.
Taking Kylo Ren head on? The last thing.

It's worth noting that in most of these last-minute arrivals, Luke needed rescuing. Without Han's intervention in A New Hope, Luke may not have had the opportunity to deliver the killing blow to the Death Star. After Luke's first duel with Darth Vader and the very dramatic reveal of Luke's true parentage, Luke reached out to Leia through the Force for a rescue assist after leaping to his death. During his second duel with Darth Vader and follow-up face-off with Emporer Palpatine, Luke needs rescuing once again, this time by Vader himself. The final last-minute arrival, while the worst offender, is the only one in which Luke does not need saving. However, his actions on Crait and his Force projection strategy resulted in his death.

We still love you, Luke!

To be fair, I did say The Empire Strikes Back is Luke's film, so even though he does the last thing in that movie, he also does other things; he helps defend the rebel base on Hoth, he trains with Yoda to be a Jedi, and leaves his training to save his friends on Bespin. The reason this is Luke's film is that he finally comes into his own as a character and is seen making his own choices for the first time.  He ignores Yoda and Force Ghost Obi-Wan's words of warning and leaves Dagobah of his own accord because his friends matter more than any Chosen One prophecy these old masters love to wax poetic about. This is significant in Luke's evolution as a character because, for the first time, he wasn't just along for the ride, he was in the driver's seat.

If you look back on Anakin Skywalker's story, part of what drives him to become Darth Vader was his inability or unwillingness to makes his own choices and do what he felt was right. Despite all of  Anakin's abilities and clever banter, he was very much restricted by the Jedi Order and his sense of loyalty to it until he felt ultimately betrayed by them, and by then, it was too late. Even his choice to join Palpatine at the end of Revenge of the Sith was him being manipulated and devoid of agency. As Darth Vader, the only time we see him decide for himself was when he chose to save Luke from Palpatine, thereby bringing balance to the Force and proving he was the Chosen One all along. However, to give credit where credit is due, it's unlikely that Darth Vader would have made this decision without Luke's influence.

It's important to note that Luke is NOT his father, and the galaxy is probably better off for it. However, Luke's decision on Crait in The Last Jedi is the culmination of a series of poor decisions since he turned his back on Yoda's training on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. If Anakin's story is a cautionary tale of indecision through manipulation, Luke's is a cautionary tale on poor decisions.

So if he's not the hero and he's not the villain, then what is he?
My answer to that is Luke is just Luke. He is a Jedi, a pretty kick-ass pilot, a son, a brother, and a friend. It's only when Luke is seen struggling with his identity in The Last Jedi that his true inner turmoil arises. It was the very identification of Luke Skywalker the Hero, one crafted by public opinion and the mystique of Jedis at a time when Jedis were considered myths, that led him to exile himself to Ahch-To upon his perceived failure to resurrect the Jedi Order. Luke felt the pressure to live up to the legacy of his father, before his fall from grace, as well as the legacy that falsely attributes the death of the Emporer solely to Luke, thereby painting him as a hero while Anakin died a pariah. I don't believe for a second that Luke ever considered himself a hero, especially knowing the truth about his father and the truth of what happened the day the Empire fell, and this is evident by the great lengths he went to hide from the world and his hesitancy to assist the Resistance when called upon in the sequels.
Now, if you believe in fate, or as it is more commonly referred to in the Star Wars universe, the will of the Force, then everything happened the way it was meant to happen and Luke was precisely where he needed to be at all times, regardless of his "choices." But if this is true (and who am I to say that it isn't?), why would Yoda and Force Ghost Obi-Wan try to convince Luke to stay on Dagobah if where he needed to be was Bespin? Why would Anakin spend a majority of his career as Darth Vader in the comics directly defying Palpatine if he needed to be his apprentice? Why did a young Obi-Wan feel the need to fight and potentially kill his friend and brother to stop the dark path he was on in the prequels if that's exactly where Anakin needed to be? Did they not believe, or know about, the will of the Force? If so, they then must have believed that it is our choices that decide our fate and not the other way around.

Regardless of what you believe, from a writing standpoint its difficult to use something as abstract as the will of the Force as the driving force behind your narrative, especially in the case of the original trilogy, which was filmed before fans began speculating on just how wide-reaching and influential the Force is. So that leaves only one question: if Luke isn't the hero of the story, then who is?
The answer to that is the crux of my argument: the hero of Star Wars really depends on your perspective. I fully expect a good portion of readers to vehemently disagree with me and insist that Luke always was and always will be the hero of Star Wars, and that's okay. That's their perspective and I fully respect their right to feel that way. However, I vehemently disagree with them.
The true hero of Star Wars always was and will always be Leia Organa.   
She knows.

To start off, Episodes IV and V open with Leia (Leia being captured by Darth Vader while she hides the Death Star plans in R2-D2 and Leia defending the Hoth base while her Rebels evacuate, respectively), and while Episode VI doesn't open with Leia, she's the first of the main trio to physically appear on screen and starts off the action when she, disguised as the bounty hunter Boushh, rescues Han from his carbonite prison. Beyond that simple fact, in order to understand Leia's importance to the film series, we have to closely look at the film series as a whole.
The central theme of Star Wars is the common "good vs. evil" story we all know and love presented to us in uncommon ways, but this theme materializes in two distinct but intrinsically linked plotlines; the political drama of freedom fighters facing off against a massive oppressive force and the more ideological battle of Sith versus Jedi. The Skywalker twins each auspiciously represent one side of the coin, with Leia neck deep in overseeing freedom and peace reign across the galaxy while Luke battles his inner demons in his quest to oversee the light side of the Force defeat its dark side.
Maz Kanata very eloquently pointed out in Force Awakens that the light and dark side of the Force has taken on many forms over the millennia, and each time they must face each other in a battle for control over the galaxy and all its inhabitants. It began with the ancient Jedi Order and the Sith (back before The Rule of Two) and was then followed by the Galactic Civil War between the Galactic Empire, controlled by a Sith Lord, and the Rebel Alliance, whose main two players were Force-sensitive twins who fought for the light. Before the fall of the Republic and the destruction of the Jedi, the two sides of the Clone Wars followed a similar pattern: the Confederacy of Independent Systems, also known as the Separatists, was being led by Count Dooku, a Sith apprentice known as Darth Tyrannus, while the Republic had the unified backing of the Jedi. The lines begin to blur in the sequels, which makes sense considering Luke Skywalker, master Jedi and the last of his kind, was mostly legend by the time the New Republic was up and running, and calling Supreme Leader Snoke a Sith would be remiss, although he definitely dabbles in the dark side. Being two sides of the same coin, do Luke and Leia each represent one side of the Force? If so, which is which? To determine this, we have to examine each character's actions and motivations.

For all your awkward space mom needs!

Throughout the films and beyond, Leia has shown herself to be a dedicated politician, expert diplomat, and fearless freedom fighter, tirelessly fighting for the lives and freedom of the people and never seeking glory. This is no surprise, considering who her birth mother is. Leia's adopted father, Senator Bail Organa, was not only a friend and ally to Padme Amidala but one of the founders of the Rebel Alliance. From birth, Leia was raised to be fair, compassionate, and pragmatic, and her father did an excellent job teaching her to always fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. As future queen of Alderaan, Leia's life was set out for her and she accepted her responsibilities with the grace of the princess that she was. But Leia was no Disney Princess, despite the company's recent acquisition of Lucasfilm; the term "princess" was a political title for a future heiress.
Leia's political career began at the ripe old age of 14 when she became a junior legislator, and she was already fooling and working against the Empire by 16 years old when she met the crew of the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels. Then at 19, she replaced her father as Senator of Alderaan, and she proved herself to be quite the humanitarian during her time as an Imperial Senator before the Empire finally managed to dissolve the Senate. Even after the tragic loss of her home planet, Leia continued to fight the Empire in any way she could. No longer forced to work in the shadows, Leia openly joined the Rebel Alliance and quickly rose among its ranks. Later in her career, after the fall of the Empire and the rise of the New Republic, Leia continued to work as a diplomat and politician. She experienced two tragedies in this later part of her life; her fall from grace in the political theater when she was revealed to be the biological daughter of Darth Vader and the loss of her son, Ben Solo, to the dark side of the Force. Yet, despite these hard hits, Leia refused to bend to oppression and injustice. After learning of the formation of the First Order, Leia gathered freedom fighters once more and, like her true father before her, formed the Resistance as General Leia Organa.   
Luke, unfortunately, has never demonstrated his sister's resolve to keep fighting and not much initially motivated him to start fighting. As a moisture farmer on Tatooine, Luke's ultimate goal was to get off Tatooine (who can blame him?), but his original plan was problematic: Luke was intent on joining the Empire as an Imperial pilot. He says this while simultaneously admitting that he's fully aware the Empire is, and I quote, "terrible."  Then there is his dramatic leap to his death when he discovers that Darth Vader was his father, and he probably would have died had he not reached out to Leia through the Force. Let's not forget his equally dramatic reaction to his failure to resurrect the Jedi Order when he very briefly considered taking his own nephew's life, an act that would drive Ben Solo down the path that Luke was intent on preventing in that exact instant. Distrustful of Luke and already being seduced by Snoke, Ben morphed into Kylo Ren and wiped out what would have been the next generation of Jedis, a moment reminiscent of Anakin's own slaughter of younglings at the Jedi Temple on Coruscant in Revenge of the Sith.
Regardless of whether or not the Force plays a role in the way these events play out, Star Wars sends a clear message: actions have consequences. And while Leia rises to meet the occasion (no doubt she felt responsible for the destruction of Alderaan and the deaths of rebel fighters after each mission), she refuses to stay down because she is always remembering the innocent lives she is fighting to preserve, while Luke's response is to exile himself in abject humiliation. It took a visit from Yoda's Force Ghost for Luke to learn his lesson, forgive himself, and finally live up to his legacy. While I accept and respect Luke's instrumental role throughout the story, I would categorize him as a more reluctant, dark hero than the traditional hero archetype. And let's face it; a flawed hero makes for fascinating storytelling.
Just as the dark and light side of the Force must work in tandem, so must Luke and Leia. If Luke represents the pull of the dark then Leia, the other side of the proverbial coin, must represent the glow of the light. This comparison is, I think, supported by their actions and reactions to the path they've led in life.
In The Clone Wars, series creator Dave Filoni introduced the Son and Daughter characters, members of a powerful family of Force users who exiled themselves to the planet Mortis, where they live to keep the Force balanced. The Daughter, embodying serenity, compassion, and love, is the personification of the Light Side, and the Son, angry, violent, and selfish, embodied the Dark Side. While the implications of Filoni's decision to personify the Light Side as female and the Dark Side as male go beyond Star Wars, I don't think it's a stretch to look at the Son and Daughter as analogous to Luke and Leia and their role in bringing balance to the Force. So, if the Light Side of the Force is synonymous with "hero" in the Star Wars universe, is it not then logical to look at Leia's efforts and her role in the story as the true hero's journey? Leia may not be the Force user her brother is, but she has shown herself to be more than an adept, if casual, Force user, especially in those more subtle uses of the Force.

Son vs. Daughter. Dark vs. Light.
In defense of Luke, a character I don't by any means hate, by the way, it's only responsible of me to point out that I am not an unbiased party when it comes to Star Wars' favorite twins. Then again, you're unlikely to find an unbiased party anywhere regarding Star Wars. To know the franchise intimately is to love the franchise. For my part, it's difficult to not love Leia more considering my relationship with the various female characters that came before and after Leia, particularly her biological mother, Padme. While I wasn't super fond of her portrayal towards the end of Revenge of the Sith, my overall love for Padme as a character is something words cannot describe. Star Wars has also never shied away from portraying their female characters fairly and humanely; among their many excellent female characters are Ahsoka Tano, Hera Syndulla, and, of course, Rey, the heart of the sequel series. But Leia's influence on the series goes beyond what she represented as a woman; she was unmatched in her compassion, indomitable in her leadership, and unwavering in her determination. She was, to me, the very embodiment of a hero.  

However, not unlike what Gary Oldman's Commisoner Jim Gordon says of Christian Bale's Batman at the end of The Dark Knight, Leia is the hero the Star Wars franchise deserves, but she's not always the one it needs. In Force Awakens, much time and effort is spent trying to track down Luke, and Leia is among those eager to find him, but it's never explicatley stated why. By the end of The Last Jedi, it's all too clear why Luke matters; the Galaxy needs hope. Leia understands more than anyone what her brother represents, and she knows that if the Resistance is to grow strong enough to take down the First Order, they need a hero who represents the hope people felt during the Galactic Civil War and Luke is that ray of hope. Hope gives people a reason to fight and that reason motivates them to join the fight. Leia is humble enough to take a back seat if it means lives can be saved and if it gives peace a chance to reign again. She can be seen doing this over and over again.

Yes, Phasma, too!

But let's be honest here: if you don't believe Leia is the hero, then you must think Luke is. And if you don't think Luke is the hero, then you must believe Leia is. Those are the only two real options, and some people may even seek that happy medium and claim they're both the hero of Star Wars. However, being two sides of the same coin does not equal sides make; the dark and light side of the Force are two sides of the same coin but no one would argue that they're equal in scope and importance. So when considering who the one true hero of Star Wars is, it ultimately depends on your perspective.