The moment all our Star Wars hope died.
I hadn’t meant to buy Dak. I mean, who wants to buy Dak? No-one, apparently. He stood there in his tiny box, frozen next to a giant Ben Kenobi and under a grotesque Jabba. Half price, bearing the shame of a price tag slapped sideways across the original, desperation laying between the sticky layers. Dak, with his total of three minutes screen time, cheekily declaring that he can wipe out the Empire single-handed before being unceremoniously removed from existence by an errant laser blast from an oncoming AT-AT. Corpse soon flattened into the ice by a medal foot, inches away from our hero retrieving his favourite glowstick. Luke lives to fight another day, the memory of his co-pilot that he dragged to his doom left behind in the snow to freeze forever.
I’d gone into Golden Age Collectibles in downtown Vancouver for another reason, but it’s a dangerous place, full of temptation and distraction. Not literally dangerous, of course – Granville Street’s edgy neon past has been suitably diluted down to standard retail fare, fast food, and clipboard-wielding charity landmines – but, from a financial perspective, Golden Age is a long thin honey trap with staff who will actually take the time to help/chat/make us spend money. A deadly combination. My plan was to pick up a 6″ Black Series Princess Leia that I could excitedly throw at Carrie Fisher during her signing session at Fan Expo in April, but on seeing it up close, I didn’t like the design (unlike the Vader and Boba Fett that adorn my gaming shelf) so Plan B was a rather gorgeous variant of Star Wars Issue 2.
Dak, all 3.75″ of him, knocked against the 6″ Leia as I put her back. The Black Series figures are highly detailed and wonderfully articulated, but for some reason I hadn’t paid much attention to the smaller sizes. It was the marked-down price that made me pick him up for a closer look – because I’m a marketing psychologist’s wet dream – and the helmet was just so beautiful. That white design, blue insignia and orange visor get me every time. I needed (needed! Ha!) a pilot for a Tie Fighter I have at home that my son uses for swirling space battles, so it was finally Dak’s time to shine.
He stopped being a compromise as soon as I opened the box.
Firstly, the level of articulation is ridiculous. He’s the same size as my original figures (if a little less bulky) but all the points of manipulation – knees, ankles, wrists, waist, neck – meant that he can adopt the perfect seated position for the Tie Fighter. Then I put his helmet on, spying his face through the visor, and realised that his expression was perfect. Hope, youth, bravery, naivety. All the attributes that got shot down during his final attack run on Hoth.
When it comes to favourite Star Wars movies, it’s a common shift from A New Hope to The Empire Strikes Back for people in my age bracket. In my younger years Episode IV was a weekly occurrence, with the occasional move up through Empire just to get to the epic somersaults of Return Of The Jedi. I understood Empire, but I’m pretty sure now that I didn’t understand it. The darker moments of loss, betrayal, pain, and final revelation were somewhat lost on me, the epic first third clouding over the deeper implications of the second and third. As I got older, as I studied filmmaking and storytelling, Empire started to show itself as, really, the ultimate sequel. Beautifully paced and directed, full of agony and failure, it highlights many parallel feelings that emerge as our twenties approach to ruin the fun. Suddenly, the change in tone brings out layers of deeper meaning, eyes adjusting to the glare to see what had lay beneath the whole time. Quite rightly, Empire is lauded for its bravery in making the protagonists lose, a mid-trilogy trick that has often been replicated but never bettered, with a final twist so shocking that the director didn’t even entrust it to the actor involved.
And, of course, it’s Luke that’s the focus of this shift. His transformation from glow-eyed farmboy to single-handed rebel commander – embittered by having his arse so comprehensively handed to him; son of Vader, standing forlorn against the starship window as his friends fly off to rescue his best friend – is the perfect set-up for his cool-headed Jedi maneuvers that come in Return Of The Jedi. It’s this final enduring image in a movie stuffed with memorable moments that becomes a representation of Empire‘s brutal core. However, as Dak’s tiny plastic face reminded me, the movie’s loss of innocence comes from an earlier, deeper place.
As the Empire attacks the base on Hoth, our hero leaps into his snowspeeder. “Feeling alright, sir?”, asks his co-pilot. A boy in man’s clothing. “Just like new, Dak. How about you?” “Right now I feel like I could take on the whole Empire by myself.”
Who is Dak? Unlike recurring pilot badass Wedge Antilles, we have absolutely no idea who this boy is. And he is just a boy, with a voice that has barely risen above the crackling of teenage years throwing out promises of quick victory. “I know what you mean”, replies the hero. After all, Luke and Dak are cut from the exact same cloth; young men who follow their ideals and dare to stand up to the oncoming storm. Skywalker here is echoing all of us, feet tapping in eager anticipation of another blazing fight against the Empire. Dak is that tapping foot, he is the wide-eyed, teeth-gritted determination that anything is possible and that good will out. As their snowspeeder hurls itself towards the stomping AT-ATs, it’s Dak who brings us into the fight, back to back with Skywalker against the forces of evil. “Attack pattern Delta. Hold On”. It’s Dak who has to deal with crappy malfunctioning technology just at the point of highest danger, calmly switching to auxiliary when the firing control malfunctions.
And then the bravery, promise, potential, grit; it all disappears with a single laser blast. This is where all the idealism fed from Luke’s Force-guided first adventure fizzles out. Dak doesn’t have a ghostly voice to guide him, nor a celestial instinct more accurate than a targeting computer, and his death is not the burning sacrifice of a hero. He does not martyr himself for the greater good or go down screaming into the darkness. A quick, chance shot, and he is slumped in a shower of sparks. The end. The hero is left to glare through his own visor and quietly inform a squad mate that he has lost his gunner, before leaving his ship – and Dak – behind, crushed underfoot, smoking in the white. The foot has suddenly stopped tapping.
There’s a little part in us all, a vibrating tenacity that reacts to the injustices around us, a voice that refuses to lie down in the face of greater odds, whose appetite for heroic escapades has been fed for years with the daring-do of a thousand glorious protagonists. We’re taught that the hero always wins, and good shall endure over evil. That we can be the hero too.
However, as much as we’d like to be Luke, we’re not. He’s magic, and special, and utterly unique. In that scene, at that time, we’re Dak, and we know it, and our hopes for victory go down with him to be buried in the snow.