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I've just had my memory jogged by a few questions on this site. It occurs to be that the men of the Skywalker family have a propensity for losing their hands in duels.

Is this a common thing among lightsaber duellists? Is it a theme with symbolic importance, in and of itself? Or is it all drawing significance from the first loss of a hand by Anakin?

  • 2
    The apple never falls far from the tree. – LarsTech Jan 5 '12 at 15:56
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    Now, ask the symbolic meaning of falling into pit... – Umbrella Corporation Dec 7 '15 at 7:58
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As others have said, the cutting of hands seems to be a fairly common (and logical) thing to do in a Lightsaber combat (the hands being the forwardest part of the body).

This is confirmed by Lucas himself:

VANITY FAIR: What is the meaning of all the hands, arms, legs and heads being chopped off in the films that have emerged from Lucas' brain?

GEORGE LUCAS: That's what happens when you play with swords

In addition, it's not just Skywalkers who lose hands.

From this absolutely excellent compilation:

:

Table 1

Total count of limb-loss championship in the movie (only listing those with combined win+loss >=2 - see the second table below for all limb losses classified by loosee type):

    Duelist        | Limbs cut    | Limbs Lost
    --------------------------------------------------
    Obi-Wan Kenobi | 9  !!!       | 0
    Anakin/Vader   | 3            | 5 (incl. 2 legs)
    Dooku          | 1            | 2
    Luke           | 2            | 1

Table 2:

All Lightsaber limb losses classified by loosee type

    Duelist        | Limbs Lost (a+l) | Details       
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Darth Maul     | 0 or 2?          | He's cut in half. Some people count that as 2 legs.
    Mace Windu     | 1                | I'm sure EU has him cutting some himself :)
    Luke           | 1                |
    Dooku          | 2                |
    Anakin         | 3+1+1 and 2      | - Loses a real arm in Ep.II to Dooku
                                      | - Loses 2 prosthetic arms in Ep.III and Ep.VI
                                      | - Also, in "Dark Force Rising" Emperor cut
                                      |   off Vader's hand as punishment for Ep4 fail.
                                      | - In Splinter of Mind's Eye Vader loses a hand

    Grievous       | 4 + 2            | 2 arms to Obi-Wan in cyborg form;
                                      |    2a+2l in crash before becoming cyborg

    Ponda Baba     | 1                | Definitely not a Jedi - in a bar (cantina)
    Zam Wesell     | 1                | Definitely not a Jedi - in a bar 
    Stormtrooper   | 1                | Yoda chops off one hand in Ep.III

    Wampa          | 1                | Definitely not a Jedi
    Acklay         | 2                | 4-legged monsted on Geonosis vs. Obi-Wan

Please note that many of the limbs lost in the table above were NOT in Skywalker family, or even among Jedi. I grouped them in the table this way (Jedi group, Non-Jedi-Lightsaber-Fighter group, Sentient Humanoid non-Jedi group, Animal group - though Wampas were possibly semi-sentient).

And I'm not even counting limbs lost NOT to Lightsaber combat (e.g. C3PO)


Mind you, that doesn't stop people from reading into it. Three most popular interpretations I've seen were:

  • Freudian analysis from post-modernist movie critics who said it was an allusion to castration and some problems Luke and Anakin had with their mothers.

  • The theory that having a cauterizing weapon with no blood shown helps with movies' MPAA ratings.

  • Some minor theories about significance of Vader/Luke hands (Vader's, as a symbol of him turning into a machine, and Luke's as a symbol of a threat of turning into Vader). Then somehow everyone involved just kinda ran away with the meme, but then they got an arrow in the knee.

However, there's no canonical support for any of these.

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    Personally, I'd actually say Dooku lost 3 limbs. I'd count his head as a limb for purposes of this count. – BBlake Jan 5 '12 at 13:08
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    There's even names in lightsaber combat for the amputation of limbs (starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Lightsaber_combat). Specifically towards the arm, that one is referred to as Cho Mai (from starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Cho_mai). – Chuck Dee Jan 5 '12 at 17:23
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    Impressive chart... very imPRESSIVE! – Mark Rogers Jan 5 '12 at 19:49
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    Props to Anakin for having four limbs and managing to lose five. – KSmarts Feb 27 '15 at 17:17
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    +1 for "Then somehow everyone involved just kinda ran away with the meme, but then they got an arrow in the knee" – RianBattle Dec 28 '15 at 13:19
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If you want to disable an opponent in a lightsaber duel, but not kill them, taking their hand off is a good option. It doesn't apply so much in sword dueling, because the effort required to cut through bone is too much, but this doesn't apply to lightsabers.

So I would think it is more today with the way people are taught to fight with them - I would guess it is Lightsaber 101 - how to disable your opponent.

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  • So there is nothing symbolic about this? – AncientSwordRage Jan 5 '12 at 9:46
  • I am not convinced that there needs to be. That does not mean that it is not valid to read one into it, just that it is as valid to accept it as part of the dangers of playing with lightsabres – Schroedingers Cat Jan 5 '12 at 10:44
  • It just that Vader loses his hand, then with the risk of falling to the darkside a current theme, Luke loses his. Then at the end Vader loses his again. – AncientSwordRage Jan 5 '12 at 10:48
  • Poor lightsabre duelists are attracted to the darkside? Those who have been hurt fighting for good are liable to go bad? I don't think there is a need for anything more. I might be wrong, of course, but I don't see anything more than normal injuries. – Schroedingers Cat Jan 5 '12 at 10:59
  • I don't know that it's as planned a maneouver as you suggest. In a battle, one is hoping to do whatever damage one can... – Brian Knoblauch Jan 5 '12 at 12:53
8

I remember reading the novel to Revenge of the Sith by Matthew Stover, and in there is a scene where Count Dooku is talking to Palpatine (very close to the beginning of the book, before the Emperor is rescued). In the dialogue, Count Dooku mentions that he feels Skywalker is weak for getting a prosthetic hand, and not just learning to fight with his left hand. To me, this suggest that it is relatively common for Jedi to lose their hands, across very many generations (from all of Count Dooku's past experience, and he was Qui-Gon's master, to Luke Skywalker, and I haven't read enough of the novels past that to know if people lose their hands).

Also, in RotS, Anakin stops Mace Windu from killing Palpatine by cutting off his hand, merely a means of disabling him.

All that being said, I feel it is just a part of lightsaber combat. A (relatively) common injury, similar to missing fingers for people playing the Finger Dance (from a Song of Ice and Fire).

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2

One possible reason is that in the original trilogy, lightsaber fights were heavily based on Kendo, the martial art of traditional Japanese swordfighting. In Kendo, one of the three basic attacks targets the wrist. The others target the top of the head and the neck - a killing blow - so a disabling attack would be against the wrist.

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2

my thinking on it is that it symbolizes power.. usually it was the RIGHT hand that was severed, which often symbolizes the right hand of power eg sitting at the right hand of the king.... or even.. possibly the destruction of the right-hand path. lucas was soo deep into mythology and symbolism that I doubt seriously that it doesn't have some meaning, seeing as how it is a very big motif in his films.
the only one that really knows is lucas and his explanation seems so useless as to make one wonder what it really means, he does use it ALOT. It reminds me of William peter blattys reluctance to admit that the ninth configuration is a Christian allegory.. its just too obvious.

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1

Let's consider the cinematic significance of that first hand.

When I first saw The Empire Strikes Back, and Luke lost his hand, it was immediately tragic and disturbing. Not knowing that he could be given a mechanical hand later, it seemed like his career as a Jedi was over.

Vader hadn't just won the fight, he had permanently crippled the last hope of the Alliance. It was an utter defeat, crushing for the viewer.

So I can see why others have drawn parallels to castration.

I entirely agree with the point that dismemberment is the most logical way to disable an opponent in a lightsaber fight, but it was also a very effective and visual way to end that battle, far more dramatic than if Vader had simply knocked the lightsaber from Luke's hand.

So my suggestion is that is was highly symbolic for the viewer, if not for the characters themselves.

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Instead of the freudian version (castration -> problems with the mother), I would think is much more like circumcision. ( ;-) )

It is an initiation. Every really important jedi (or sith) lose at least a single limb somewhere in the film - maybe Palpatine and Joda are exceptions. But they are somehow more as simple "fighters", they are much more masterminds.

And, this initiation doesn't happen always on the highest point of their career.

Out of the plot, I think it has much more to do with Lucas' psyche - if it is not a joke from him.

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It is not just in Star Wars we see this trope. Video games: Lost Planet, Enchanted Arms, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, as well as, Anime : Secret Agent Cobra, & of course, a lot of Marvel movies from their cinematic universe have characters w/limbs getting severed, usually the right hand. My take, it's a symbolism involving a loss of power & the struggle to regain it.

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    Can you elaborate on this? – Adamant Aug 10 '16 at 6:34

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