Editorials

The language of touch and hands in Star Wars

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Holding hands carries with it a significance in storytelling and real life. Science shows that joining hands can synchronise breathing and heartrate while, in fiction, an outstretched hand is an offer, a plea or invitation.

The last few months brought hand holding and gestures to the forefront of Star Wars with the latest addition in the saga films and the latter half of Rebels’ concluding series. In The Last Jedi, Rey and Kylo Ren get better acquainted through a shared Force connection. It begins with swapping snide remarks and sarcasm, but quickly blossoms into something fertile, friendly and, yes, even erotic.

So strong is their connection that they appear to be in the same space, as if they could reach out and touch. In one of the most striking shots of the movie, the camera is filled with Rey and Ren’s hands before cutting in closer, to their fingertips just millimetres apart. Fans, critics, commentators and even Mark Hamill himself have described this moment as a sex scene and it’s easy to see why. It’s loaded with sexual imagery, bathed in warm romantic light and sensually shot. The viewer can almost see how the lines of their fingerprints fit together like missing pieces of the same puzzle.

As well as the erotic, The Last Jedi also shows hands connecting on a planetary scale. Rey, and later Luke, place their palms on the ground of Ahch-To and feel the world ebb and flow beneath their fingers. It’s through this revelation that Rey attunes her senses to the Force and understands the deeper connection between all things, from an unhatched egg to the swelling sea.

Hands are by their very nature a catalyst for the senses, able to pick up on the tiniest changes of a surface and how much pressure is needed. For a Force user, hands are an even more important tool. Rather than being the means through which the Force flows, hands articulate that energy. Both Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker are able to control the force despite having mechanical arms.

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Hidden hands

The example of Vader is an especially heartbreaking one. Re-watching the prequel trilogy and paying particular attention to Anakin’s hands yields some impressive insight into his character. There’s so many subtle touches and tremors, be that gently stroking Padmé’s bared skin, keeping them under his cloak and out of sight, or grinding grains of sand between his fingers. We know that Anakin doesn’t like the feeling of sand, so as well as revealing the contempt he holds for his home world, it shows how deeply he feels, both emotionally and physically.

The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is a complex and multi-faceted story, but having both hands taken from him is a cruel stroke of fate. Yes, Vader is “more machine now than man”, but it’s a fate worse than Obi-Wan let’s on. In becoming Vader, with his robotic limbs, Anakin loses his ability to touch and to feel. While articulating the Force is no object, his hands are now abstractions, little better than the appendages of droids. Had Padmé survived, he wouldn’t even have been able to touch her face or feel the soft warmth of her skin.

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Luke sees himself becoming Vader

After Luke gives into his hate and lashes out at Vader in Return of the Jedi, he stops himself before striking the killing blow that would deliver him into the service of the Emperor. He stares down at a defeated Vader, wires springing from the wrist where Luke had cut off his hand only moments before. He pauses, contemplates his own mechanical limb and sees his whole future before him. By staring into the depths of the abyss and seeing himself reflected, Luke was able to turn from following the same path.

So, hands have always held significance in the Star Wars saga, but this was taken a step further in ‘Wolves and a Door’, the twelfth episode of the final series of Rebels. In an attempt to get into the Jedi temple on Lothal, Ezra and Sabine are confronted by a beautiful mural of the Father, Son and Daughter from the Mortis arc of The Clone Wars. With more than a little help from Sabine, Ezra realises that hands are the key to opening the doorway. Touching hands is literally a language – perhaps the purest, most basic and universal language here on earth and in a galaxy far, far away.

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Everything’s connected

As a new parent, I’m witnessing first-hand the importance hands have in the early life and development of a baby. At the tender age of two weeks, my daughter experiences the world through her mouth and hands. The former needs no explanation, but the latter is her only other means of communication. They explore and interact the world through grabs, scratches, pokes and squeezes, while my own hands can soothe and calm.

Applying this same idea to Star Wars reveals an entire subtext told through hand gestures, gentle touches or through the loss of limbs. There’s many narrative links tying the entire saga together, but holding hands may be the most beautiful.

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