Squeaky Mouse Droid: The “Dak” Side
“Feeling alright, sir?”
“Just like new Dak, about you?
“I feel like I can take on the whole Empire myself.”
“I know what you mean.”
– Dak and Luke, readying for battle in The Empire Strikes Back
These scene, barely a few seconds long, is (like nearly every other scene from the original trilogy) is not memorable, but immortal. It also lends itself to some good-natured humor. Who doesn’t love Family Guy’s take on this scene: Dak rushes out to exactly what he insinuates here, as he flies off by himself to take on the Empire alone. The gag: we see a Star Destroyer easily pick him off with a single blaster shot. Bye, bye Dak.
Director Irvin Kirshner included the scene above inside a montage of the Rebel fighter pilots getting ready for battle. In his commentary for the film, he insinuated that the preparation for a battle is just as important as the battle itself, and preparations for the battle of Hoth closely parallel the preparations of young American soldiers might have had from World War Two on, and the whole patriotic “we know we can win” attitude is reflected in these scenes, and while this is felt throughout the scene as the camera pans around the enthusiastic pilots getting ready to fight the good fight, it is really personified by Dak, all in that little exchange I quoted (from memory, mind you) above. He is the voice of all those pilots.
Here’s the rub folks. This scene (and, frankly, this article) is not about Dak, it’s about Luke. In fact, these says a whole lot about Luke’s character that you might not have thought about. Does he really share Dak’s enthusiasm? You can see in his expression that he’s like to, but he can’t quite muster it.
Yes, this scene is all about Luke. Think about this: in the first film, he basically was Dak. Really. Sure, he was reluctant to go with Obi Wan at the outset, but once his aunt and uncle were killed by the Empire, he had completely shifted: he was all about this adventure. When he met Han Solo, he wasn’t about to let the smuggler (and more experienced pilot and soon to be friend and mentor) show him up, which is why he brags to him about how well he can fly, and he wasn’t above a bit of posturing when he threatened to get up and walk out as Han named his price to go on the errand that Obi-Wan hired him for. They also have little spouts throughout the adventure, but it’s pretty clear, that beneath the surface,, that they like each other. Han kind of sees Luke as someone he can take under his wing, and Luke sees him has someone who has been around on a few adventures, and this would be his first. Obi-Wan, and even Luke himself, knows that Luke can learn about adventuring from Han. As the adventure goes own Han and Luke begin to care about each other more and more. It’s one of the most perfectly developed friendships in film.
For most of this first adventure, Luke seems to have little fear, and is pretty confident that he and his friends will be triumphant. Though he doesn’t have dialogue which indicates that he feels that he can “take on the whole empire” himself as Dak does, it’s pretty obvious that, in A New Hope, that he thinks he can. Throughout the adventure running on the Death Star he has a kind of confidence in the circumstances and (for the most part) he doesn’t seem all that worried. In prison cell block he darts across the corridor to dive into the trash compactor without any fear even as laser bolts are flying past him. When he and Leia are surrounded by stormtoopers on a disabled bridge, Luke is not afraid as he stops to prepare a grappling hook so that they can swing across. He has utter confidence that the “impossible shot” needed to destroy the Death Star is not impossible, and is not really that difference from shooting wombats back on Tatooine. He courage hardly wavers in the film, which is notable considering that this is his first adventure. Sure, there are a few moments where he panics bit, such as when he is trying to get a hold of Threepio when the trash compactor walls close in, or when he is looking for Biggs for cover during the battle, but this “panicking” is due mainly to impatience, not despair.
There are a few events that one might argue would humble him, even on his first adventure. The first is the death of his aunt and uncle at the hands of the Empire as they were no doubt searching for Luke’s droids. He might not see eye to eye with them, and he might want nothing more than to get out on his own the way anyone his situation might, but he does care about them. While sadness and regret is natural for him here, it never turns into despair, as even he can see that, with their deaths, the fight must be taken to the Empire. He is only more driven to fight when they die..
The same can be said for the death of Obi-Wan at the hands of Darth Vader. His guide and mentor on this new adventure did hit him hard, but he felt something more: and even more pressing need to fight the good fight, with Obi-Wan continuing to offer guidance even after his death. It might have taken a moment, but he becomes even more determined to help Leia and her cause after Obi-Wan dies.
It’s his new friend, Han Solo, that gives Luke the most pause in the entire film. With Han now paid up for his services, he seems to want to leave the good fight behind, just when Luke was willing to admit that there is more than a mercenary to that man, but someone who has become a real friend. He can’t dwell on it too much, as there was a battle to fight. As we all know, Han doesn’t actually let him down at all.
So when Luke tells Dak “I know what you mean,” he really does, but his tone is a bit reserved. The events of The Empire Strikes Back will try him like nothing else has before. This conversation happens in the first act of the film, but already Luke is no longer the person that he once was. He had been fighting with the Rebellion for some (undetermined) amount of time, and in this film alone he was nearly killed by a monster and had almost frozen to death. He begins the film as quite a different person than he was at the end of A New Hope. As he and Dak gear up to fight the Empire, Luke probably knows that, unlike the attack on the first Death Star, this is not a battle that really can be won, as the rebels are in a defensive position, and the Empire has landed ground troops. The only victory that can be achieved is if he and his friends can simply escape, and the dream of the Rebellion can continue so that the fight can be won on another day. Throughout the film, Luke sees more losses and no real victories, even as he accomplishes great feats of heroism (such as single-handedly taking down an Imperial Walker by himself).
He know what Dak means, but he doesn’t quite believe it, not any more. By the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Luke is a changed man