Ladies of Legend: Deidre and Grainne

References: http://bardmythologies.com/diarmuid-and-grainne/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pursuit_of_Diarmuid_and_GráinneIrish Folk & Fairy Tales Omnibus (Time Warner Books, 2005) by Michael Scott, http://www.timelessmyths.com/celtic/ossian.html#Pursuit, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loathly_lady#Diarmuid, Celtic Myth and Legend (Newcastle Publishing Co. Inc., 1975) by Charles Squire, Legends of the Celts (HarperCollins, 1994, originally published 1989) by Frank Delaney

Trigger warning: references to suicide and sexual coercion

Irish mythology is filled with the stories of sad women, and these are two of the saddest. They never met, but there is a thematic resonance between them: theirs are the stories of jealous kings, reckless hearts and unnecessarily tragic love.

During a rowdy feast at the house of the bard Fedlimid, the heavily pregnant mistress of the house patiently waited on the men until they had all drunk themselves under the table, before retreating to her chamber to rest. No sooner had she reached the room, however, than her unborn child began to scream. Everyone woke in uproar. Fedlimid’s wife turned to the druid Cathbad for an explanation of what was happening. He laid a hand on her belly, and prophesied that she would give birth to a beautiful golden-haired girl, beloved by great warriors and kings. A few days later, however, when the baby was born, Cathbad made a second, much darker prophecy: that the baby girl, named Deidre, would bring shame and ruin to her land, that she would bring about the banishment of the sons of Usnach and the desertion of the warrior Fergus.

Fedlimid’s household were so horrified by this prophecy that some demanded the baby be killed. King Conchobar of Ulster, however, commanded that Deidre be brought to his palace, to be raised there and to in due time become his wife. He believed this arrangement would be enough to avert the prophecy. He was, needless to say, a very arrogant man.

Deidre grew up into a very beautiful young woman, golden-haired and blue-eyed, just as the druid had predicted – so beautiful that Conchobar grew possessive of her and housed her in isolation, much as one might lock up a prized piece of jewellery in a box. The only people Deidre was allowed to see were her foster-parents and a very stubborn (female!) satirist called Leborcham. One day the two women were watching Deidre’s foster father butchering a calf outside when a raven alighted on the snow to drink the spilled blood. “I could only love a man with those three colours,” Deidre claimed. “His hair must be as black as that raven, his cheeks must be as ruddy as the calf’s blood, and his skin should be as white as snow.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. Snow White’s mother made a similar set of wishes for her child. It would seem that Naoise, the eldest son of Usnach, came by his unusual colouring naturally. Leborcham told Deidre about his existence, which was not necessarily the best decision she could have made. Naoise was also an extraordinarily gifted singer, a powerful warrior and a skilled hunter. One day Deidre heard Naoise singing and sought him out. Recognising her as the future bride of the king, he was wary, but Deidre was having none of that; she pounced on him, seizing hold of his ears. “These two ears will be your shame and mockery, unless you take me away with you,” she told him, laughing. Naoise sang to call his brothers Ardan and Ainle to him and explained the command Deidre had laid on him. They all apparently saw the command as inescapable, because instead of trying to dissuade her, they decided to take her and escape to another kingdom.

The brothers and their followers journeyed through Ireland with the wrath of Conchobar always biting at their heels. In time they crossed the sea to England, first as cattle raiders, then as warriors in the service of the king. Deidre was once again kept in seclusion, but unfortunately the king’s steward spotted her in Naoise’s bed early one morning and decided that she would make the perfect queen. Her being very obviously taken was no problem at all – the steward only needed permission to have Naoise killed. The king of England, however, ordered that Deidre be wooed in secret first.

Deidre could not have been less interested. She repeated every promise and bribe to Naoise. The king sent the sons of Usnach on increasingly dangerous tasks, in the hope they would be killed, but they came back safely every time. Finally, the king instructed two of his guards to kill Naoise while he lay sleeping. Deidre heard of the plot in time and her whole party escaped.

The brothers had friends in Ulster who chose to blame the whole situation on Deidre and urged Conchobar to forgive and forget. Conchobar offered a safe return home, with his warriors Fergus, Dubhthach and Cormac as guarantors, and gave only one stipulation: the brothers were not to eat until they arrived at Conchobar’s table. Deidre suspected the worst. Prone to visions of darkness of her own, she argued to stay in England, but the homesick brothers agreed to Conchobar’s terms.

He betrayed them, as Deidre had said he would. According to one account, a band of mercenaries lay in wait, rising up when the brothers came in view. Naoise was stabbed with a spear, and when Fergus’s son leapt to shield his fallen friend, he was murdered too. The brothers and their friends fought fiercely, but were overcome by the number of opponents. There is another account in which Cathbad enchanted the brothers, making them believe that waves were rising up around them on dry land; Cathbad believed that Conchobar would spare them, but instead the king had all three beheaded at one stroke with Naoise’s sword Retaliator. When the guarantors heard of the treachery, there was war between them and Conchobar. Fergus did indeed desert Ulster, leaving to serve Queen Medb. Cathbad laid a curse on Conchobar and on his land. And Deidre was left alone for Conchbar to claim.

In one version, she lived as Conchobar’s bride for a year, so deep in grief that no one could so much as make her smile. She hated everyone at the court, most of all Conchobar and Eoghan, leader of the mercenaries, and she was not afraid of saying so. Conchobar’s pride couldn’t take that. He gave her to Eoghan, who placed her in his chariot and tied her up so that she couldn’t run – but that did not stop Deidre, who threw herself over the side and died in the fall. In another version, Conchobar never got his hands on her. She dashed her head open on a rock rather than return to him. Her friends had her buried beside Naoise and from each grave grew a pine tree, the branches entwined, inseparable. Thus ends one of the Three Sorrows of Storytelling.

Deidre was treated as a thing from birth; loving Naoise wasn’t just a rebellion, it was a deliberate act of escape. It’s a classic Helen of Troy situation – men choose to kill each other and say it was a woman’s fault. If there was a prophecy of future wrongs to be made about anyone, it should have been Conchobar.

Grainne was the daughter of Cormac, the High King of Ireland, and Queen Aeta. When Fionn mac Cumhaill, leader of the Fianna – a famous band of warriors – paid court to her, both she and her father consented, but at the celebratory feast Grainne actually saw Fionn, who was much too old for her. She also saw Diarmait O’Duibhn, who was not.

He was one of Finn’s warriors and very handsome, with a beauty mark on his cheek that made any woman who saw him love him. As such, it’s hardly surprising that he had already played one of the lead roles in a tragic romance. Years ago, an ugly old woman who had wandered the world alone for seven years came to the lodge where the Fianna were sleeping, begging each warrior in turn to share the warmth of his bedroll with her. Only Diarmait took pity on her. In the morning, she awoke as a beautiful young woman, and she became Diarmait’s wife. She gave him the house he had always wanted by the sea, and all she asked of him was that he never mention how she had looked when they first met. Basic courtesy, you might think! But when she gave away the pups of his hunting dog to his friends, he rubbed her face in how noble he had been that one time, and in doing so he lost everything. She vanished. Diarmait’s search for her led him into the Otherworld, where he discovered that she was the king’s daughter and deathly ill. He saved her with a cup of healing water, but the price was that his love for her ended with her sickness.

He returned home to the Fianna, and met another beautiful princess. This one, however, was made of harder stuff, and what she wanted, she got.

Grainne sent around a drinking-horn of drugged wine, but did not offer it to Diarmait, so he was left awake. She told him that she loved him, and asked for his love in return. When he refused out of loyalty to his chieftain, Grainne laid a geasa – a bond – on him to run away with her.

When his fellow Fianna woke, Diarmait went around to each of them with his dilemma, and each told him that he could not break the geasa. Even Finn, when told the same story without Grainne’s name attached to it, gave the same advice. So that night Diarmait fled with Grainne. For some time they travelled together in a state of sexually frustrated antagonism, with Diarmait leaving small signs where she had slept to tell Fionn that Grainne was not his lover. As they were crossing a ford, a splash of water wet Grainne’s thigh and she remarked acerbically that it was braver than Diarmait was. She may have forced him into running away with her, but she needled him into bed.

Diarmait wove her a hut to sleep in, surrounded by a fence with seven doors. When the Fianna finally caught them up, the odds looked very bad. Diarmait had an impressive ally on his side, however: his foster-father Angus, the Irish god of love. Angus came to the lovers with a mantle of invisibility, offering to spirit them away. Diarmait’s pride wouldn’t allow him to leave in that eminently advisable way, but he asked Angus to take Grainne to safety. Nor were the Fianna really against him; of the seven doors, five were guarded by good friends who would have let Diarmait pass without bloodshed. It was his choice to go out of the one guarded by Fionn himself, and to do so with such a dramatically high leap that no one could catch him. Pure show-offery. He caught up with Angus and Grainne, unharmed.

Angus advised the lovers to never hide in a tree with one trunk, to never rest in a cave with one entrance, to never land on an island with one channel of approach, not to eat where they cooked and sleep where they ate, and where they slept once, to never sleep again – in short, to never ever stop moving. That was enough for a time, but Fionn was always hunting them. Knowing that he could not trust his own men to capture Diarmait, he sent other warriors to do the deed.

Diarmait and Grainne befriended the giant Muadhan, who travelled with them for a while as a protector. While the  group were sheltering in a cave, three warriors came to camp in the same place and talked of pursuing Diarmait without realising the man himself was before them. Which does rather raise the question of how they were expecting to find him at all? Diarmait solemnly informed them that he had learned tricks from the hero they hunted, and would show them how dangerous their quest was. He then proceeded to slaughter the champions’ followers and left the champions themselves tied up on the beach. He also evaded their venomous (venomous?) hounds.

There was a rowan tree guarded by a one-eyed giant named Sharvan the Surly, who looked so terrifying that no warrior dared cross into his lands, making his general vicinity a good place for determined outlaws to hang out. Diarmait, who after all was very charming, managed to sweet-talk Sharvan into letting the lovers camp indefinitely on his lands. The only rule was that they were never to eat the berries of the tree. So of course, Grainne desperately wanted the berries. She was pregnant and the cravings were unbearable. When she told Diarmait, he took her request to Sharvan, only to be flatly denied. Diarmait then fought the giant and won. Sharvan died; Diarmait fetched Grainne and the two of them climbed the tree to eat the sweetest berries in the higher branches.

Fionn heard of Sharvan’s death and knew instinctively that Diarmait had killed him. He arranged his men underneath the tree and decided to lure Diarmait out with a game of chess, played against his son Oisin. Every time Oisin went to make a move that would lead to his defeat, a berry fell on the place he ought to move. Only one man in Ireland could beat Fionn at chess, and when Oisin managed that for the first time, Fionn knew he had been guided by Diarmait. Another extraordinary leap saved Diarmait from capture, and Angus swept Grainne away in his cloak.

Fionn called on his old nurse, likely to have been the druidess Bodhmall, who was also Fionn’s aunt. She flew through the air on a water lily and when she caught up to Diarmait, she pierced his shield with poisoned darts. Though the pain was agonising, Diarmait managed to retaliate in kind, killing her with a spear. What was more, he survived afterwards.

Diarmait and Grainne had five children together, four sons and a daughter, and if ANYONE can find out what their names were, have mercy and tell me. Not one of my sources names one of them. Life on the run with a large family was hellish, one would imagine. Between the imploding Fianna and the actual god of love pointing out the absurdity of the situation, Fionn finally gave up on the pursuit and allowed the lovers to live in peace. Diarmait had a fort built for his family, named Rath Grainia after Grainne, and he even managed to salvage some of his friendship with Fionn. There are versions in which Fionn eventually married Grainne’s sister, Ailbe Grúadbrecc.

But he never quite lost his desire for vengeance.

Grainne missed her father and Diarmait missed his comrades from the Fianna. Grainne convinced him to invite their nearest, dearest and most deadly to a feast, including Fionn as a gesture of goodwill. That night, as the household slept, Diarmait woke to the sound of hunting hounds. Each time he woke, Grainne – for all her sweet overtures, not trusting Fionn an inch – convinced him not to leave the bed. In the morning, she could not convince him to leave the matter be, or go outside with his armour on and his best weapons to hand.

What happened next depends on the version you read. In one, Fionn’s intentions were not actively destructive. Diarmait’s father had murdered Diarmait’s half-brother Roc, and the dead boy had been transformed into a savage boar for the sole purpose of exacting revenge. Fionn warned Diarmait of the danger, and Diarmait chose to disregard that warning. In this version, Diarmait killed the boar but was gored in the process. In an alternative account, Fionn knew exactly what he was doing. Diarmait survived the boar hunt uninjured, but Fionn asked him to measure out the beast’s skin with his bare feet, and Diarmait’s heel was pierced by a poisoned bristle.

Diarmait lay dying. If Fionn brought him a drink of water between his hands, he would be healed; Fionn had once stuck his thumb in the cauldron of Cerridwen, and ever after there was a magic in it. Fionn went to the river, but let the water trickle away as he remembered Diarmait’s elopement with Grainne. Torn by the old friendship, he returned to fetch more water, only to let it trickle away again. The third time, he pulled himself together and brought the water to Diarmait’s mouth – but too late. By then, Diarmait was dead.

Angus would not let the Fianna bury his foster-son. He took the body away with him, and through his divine arts, sometimes gave it what little life he could, so that he could speak with Diarmait again. Even in her grief, Grainne was relieved Angus had what was left of her husband in his keeping. What else she felt varies widely in different accounts. In one version, Fionn was not married to Ailbe, and paid court to Grainne again. Though at first she scorned him, she finally agreed to be his wife. In another version, she died of a broken heart.

In a third version, she raised her boys on a diet of fury to avenge their father. Not that they really needed to, in the end – Diarmait’s death was the beginning of the end for the Fianna.

Grainne was not a kind woman. When she saw something she wanted, she went after it without giving a damn about the consequences to herself or to anyone else. She essentially kidnapped Diarmait and taunted him into sleeping with her. But damn, what a hurricane of a personality. I like to think she did live, and raged, and Fionn knew better than to set foot near her for the rest of his days.

These stories vary wildly depending on time and teller – I work with the sources I have to hand but if you know an alternative version I would love to hear it!

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Review – My True Love Gave to Me

My True Love Gave to Me – ed. Stephanie Perkins

Macmillan, 2014

In this collection of winter romances, the holidays bring people together…and break them apart. Whether it’s putting on the dress for a winter party or donning a mask to disappear into a revel, reconnecting with an old love or reaching out to a stranger, this is a time for wishes, and change.

As an Australian, there is something fundamentally a bit disconcerting about Christmas stories set in winter, however used to reading them I am, and of course when it comes to holiday fiction, the level of schmaltz you’re looking for is a variable thing. Some of these stories were definitely too sentimental for my taste, but others had a lovely grounded warmth and sincerity that really appealed to me. While Christmas was the dominant theme, there were a variety of other holidays celebrated throughout the collection. My favourites included Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Midnights’, Kelly Link’s ‘The Lady and the Fox’, ‘It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown’ by Stephanie Perkins (a sequel to which appears in the collection Summer Days, Summer Nights) and ‘Krampuslauf’ by Holly Black.

February news

 

http://ticonderogapublications.com/web/images/9781925212488_web.jpghttps://lessthanthreepress.com/books/images/humanityforbeginners400.jpg

I am very pleased to announce that my story ‘Blueblood’ has been reprinted in The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2015, edited by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene and available for pre-order now. The cover is GORGEOUS and the full line up of authors can be seen here.

My novella Humanity for Beginners is also out this month! It is still open for pre-orders here. I lucked out with another stunning cover! I already have my e-book and I may be a little excited about that.

On Heroines

I recently did an interview on Alyx Dellamonica’s blog, where I was asked about a fictional woman who inspires me, what influence she had on how I write, and what the word ‘heroine’ really means. They were fascinating questions to think about, and complicated ones, because I have had many heroines in my life to guide me onward, upward, to shape the way I think and act.

I have been thinking about heroines a great deal in the last couple of days. Mine is a generation that has never known a world without Princess Leia in it. Now we all do. Carrie Fisher’s death, so closely followed by the death of her mother Debbie Reynolds, is a horrible loss, and in a year when many towers of strength have already crumbled. It’s hard to know what to say when so much has already been said so eloquently. I didn’t know Carrie Fisher in person, I’ve never even seen her play a role outside of Star Wars. What I do know is that she was a brave, beloved woman who was honest and unapologetic about who she was.

Heroines are the women who inspire us, astonish us, who say with their lives: this is possible. When the towers crumble, you take that inspiration and start building. So that’s what we have to do.

May the Force be with you.

‘Humanity for Beginners’

I am delighted to announce that my urban fantasy novella Humanity for Beginners is now available for pre-order from Less Than Three Press’s website! It will be published on February 14th 2017 and will be 15% off until then, plus there’s a sale running until the end of this month that actually makes it 28% off through December.

Humanity for Beginners is an e-book about Gloria, who has accidentally ended up running a halfway house for lesbian werewolves in her idyllic little bed-and-breakfast. Between helping one young lycanthrope adjust to life after the bite, soothing ruffled fur when the other one brings home an unexpected cat and trying to figure out why her best friend Nadine has passive-aggressively taken over her kitchen, she’s not having the best month ever, and that’s before full moon hits.

This is the longest fiction I’ve ever had published and I couldn’t be happier to share it with you!

Return of the Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

If there’s a bright spot in the universe,” Luke once said, when he thought he’d be stuck on Tatooine forever, “this is the planet it’s farthest from.” For a backwater wasteland run by a mob of giant slugs, however, it gets a lot of narrative attention. Having left Cloud City with Han Solo (frozen solid in a block of carbonite and allegedly alive) Boba Fett delivered him to Jabba the Hutt’s palace, where Han is now on display as both trophy and warning. This is what happens if Jabba gets fed up with you.

But the Rebellion has bigger problems. In what is not the most original plot twist George Lucas could have come up with, the Empire has started construction on the Death Star 2.0 and are a startling way ahead of schedule considering the last one took them twenty odd years to develop. Darth Vader comes to see the progress and he’s a lot less impressed than I am. When the commander overseeing construction protests that he needs more men to get the work done on schedule, Vader pulls out the ultimate threat: the Emperor is coming to view the operation personally, and he does not accept excuses. Or other people’s opinions. Or any reality that doesn’t fit with what he wants.

Meanwhile, on Tatooine, C3-PO and R2-D2 are once more walking through the desert, this time towards Jabba the Hutt’s palace. They are carrying a message on Luke’s behalf. C3-PO’s hopes of this mission being a complete non-starter are dashed when they are allowed into the palace, and I don’t blame him for the reluctance – it’s a horrible place, full of horrible people and other people having a really horrible time. Having what is probably the most horrible time of all is the Twi’lek slave girl sitting at Jabba’s feet. Her sole purpose in this movie is being something beautiful that he can break. Did Jabba really need to be an inter-species sexual predator as well as a violent and capricious mob boss? Really?

The two droids don’t actually know what Luke’s message says. R2-D2 has already been fondled by Jabba’s creepy lackey by the time they reach Jabba and C3-PO is poised for a full on panic attack so the realisation that Luke doesn’t intend to get them out – that they are in fact gifts for Jabba, to more easily facilitate negotiations for Han’s release – is a dreadful shock. It’s hard to tell whether this is a ploy on Luke’s part or not. Despite delivering a sickening amount of flattery in one short message, he could not look more stony.

He’s also introducing himself as a Jedi Knight these days. That doesn’t mean much to Jabba, who keeps the droids but has no intention of giving up his favourite statue. On the way through Jabba’s extremely inhospitable halls, C3-PO and R2-D2 are brought to a torture chamber for droids (it is really disturbing) where C3-PO is fitted with a restraining bolt and sent back up to act as Jabba’s interpreter. R2-D2 is taken off to wait tables on Jabba’s barge. They are both terrified and this is not okay. I am disappointed in you, Luke.

Jabba hosts a party that night – or maybe it’s not a party, maybe he always has a live band performing non-stop for his entertainment and skimpily clad dancing girls in chains performing at his whim, I don’t know. He’s the type. Boba Fett is in attendance, a little separate from the rest of Jabba’s crew and radiating a vibe of disinterest. When Jabba hauls the Twi’lek girl off the dance floor towards him, practically salivating at her distress, she fights back as hard as she can and I really want to rescue her from this story, because she DESERVES BETTER. Jabba gets bored with her struggles. He opens a trapdoor and drops her into the pit beneath the floor, to be torn apart by the monster he keeps beneath the palace.

The ‘entertainment’ is distrupted when a short-tempered bounty hunter in a helmet and body armour comes down the stairs, hauling Chewbacca along with them. There’s a price on his head and the bounty hunter has come to collect, using a thermal detonator as inducement for Jabba to up the sum. Jabba is amused. He agrees to hand over half the demanded (presumably exorbitant) price and the bounty hunter stays afterwards to join in the party. Chewbacca is towed off to the dungeons. One of the guards is a disguised Lando Calrissian, who watches but doesn’t act, not yet.

When the party is over and the palace is quiet, the bounty hunter slips back into the dark throne room and goes to Han, adjusting the settings on the carbonite to unfreeze him. Han tumbles out, unconscious, shaking and temporarily blind from hibernation sickness. He’s scared and confused. Pulling off the helmet, the bounty hunter is revealed to be Leia – but she’s shown her hand too soon. Jabba suspected a trick and set up an ambush. Han immediately tries to fast talk his way out of it, but no dice, he’s dragged off to the dungeons. Leia is forced to take on the vacant role of dancing slave girl, chained to Jabba’s side and stripped down to the infamous golden bikini.

Let’s not mince words: this is a narrative choice based on sexism. Leia’s treatment is specifically, sexually denigrating when there is no good reason for her to be treated differently to the male prisoners. I can’t watch this movie without remembering what it was like, as a little girl, to see my favourite character treated as a thing and to understand that she was being treated that way because she was the same gender as me. What’s worse is that I wasn’t surprised. Because I already knew that’s what happened to women when the story wanted to hurt them: their clothes got taken away and so did their strength.

I sincerely hope this trope dies a swift and merciless death.

In the dungeons, Han reunites with a jubilant Chewbacca, who explains that Luke is going to come and rescue them – an idea that Han is tremendously doubtful about, as he still thinks of Luke as a good-hearted but naive farmboy. Luke is not that person any more. He walks into the palace shrouded in a dark cloak, sweeping away the guards with easy gestures, like he’s swatting flies. Unfortunately, Jabba is not as susceptible to Jedi mind tricks. It’s strange to think he’d remember the ways of Jedi, that it’s actually only a generation ago that the Jedi were a legend everybody knew and respected. Jabba probably remembers little Anakin Skywalker the impossible Podracer – I wonder if he ever joined the dots? Probably not. He may not be swayed by mind tricks, but he’s not bright.

Luke is calm in the face of Jabba’s…everything. He does not speak directly to Leia and she does not look happy to see him; she’s still chained up, there’s nothing to be happy about yet. And Luke is not an all-powerful legend, he’s a well-trained man surrounded by professional killers. Jabba activates the trapdoor and Luke falls into the pit along with an unlucky guard, who is immediately devoured by the monster. As Luke is hoisted toward the Rancor’s maw, he stabs it in the mouth with an old bone and runs, but there’s no way out. So instead he smashes the portcullis gateway and brings it down on the Rancor’s head, much to its keeper’s distress.

His first attempt having failed, Jabba comes up with another exciting execution for his prisoners. Luke, Han and Chewbacca are taken out to the Dune Sea, where they will be hurled into the nest of the Sarlaac while Jabba’s crew watch on from his barge. Luke keeps his chill. Leia is disgusted with everything. R2-D2 serves drinks.

Lando has managed to get aboard the smaller craft that is transporting the prisoners. When they reach the Sarlaac (another enormous monster that is all tentacles and teeth) a gangplank extends over its snapping mouth. “Jabba, this is your last chance,” Luke calls out. “Free us or die.” Jabba laughs. Luke is prodded out onto the gangplank. He nods to Lando, flicks a salute to R2-D2 and does a Force-powered backflip as the Skywalkers’ guardian droid sends his lightsaber flying into his hand. A free-for-all breaks out as the other prisoners fight off their guards. Boba Fett flies down to deal with Luke and is accidentally knocked into the pit by a half-blind Han. Leia, with enormous pleasure, loops her chain around Jabba’s neck and throttles him to death. R2-D2 then busts her out. Team Rebellion leave Jabba’s barge in flaming smithereens as they fly away.

Upon departure from Tatooine, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando and C3-PO go to join the Rebellion forces in the Millenium Falcon while Luke travels back to Dagobah with R2-D2. Meanwhile, at the construction site of the second Death Star, everyone is assembled to greet their Emperor. He casually delivers his orders to Vader as they walk between ranks of stormtroopers: they are going to wait for Luke to confront them, and then claim him for the Dark Side of the Force. After all, the Emperor has already turned one Skywalker. Why not get the latest model?

On Dagobah, Yoda’s nine hundred years are weighing heavily on him. He tells Luke that his training is complete, then gently mocks him for the awestruck statement “So I am a Jedi.” Yoda insists that Luke must defeat Vader before he can truly call himself that and Luke quietly brings up the question of his parentage. Yoda tries to avoid answering but has to admit that it’s true, Darth Vader is Luke’s father. He pleads with Luke to pass on what he’s learned, his last, choked words being, “There is another Skywalker.” Then he’s gone. His blanket collapses as the body underneath it fades away.

Leaving the hut, Luke is joined by the ghostly presence of Obi-Wan. Luke angrily demands to know why he lied about who Vader really was; Obi-Wan unapologetically explains that it was true ‘from a certain point of view’. “He’s more machine now than man,” he says sadly. Luke is convinced that there is still good in Vader (where is your EVIDENCE, Luke, he put your best friend in a FREEZER) and is unwilling to kill him. Obi-Wan then reveals that Luke has a twin sister, kept separate from him since birth. Luke guesses, instantly and correctly, that it’s Leia. It’s a Force thing. Obi-Wan tells him to be cautious of his emotions, lest the Emperor use them against him.

Aboard the Rebellion flagship, Lando has been made a general (to Han’s genuine delight) and Leia has got hold of proper clothes again, thank goodness. The rebels have learned the location of the new Death Star and also know that the weapons systems are not yet operational. Most importantly, the Emperor will be aboard. They have a small window of time in which to attack. The energy shield that defends the Death Star is generated on the forest moon of Endor, and has to be taken out before the station itself can be destroyed; Lando volunteers to lead the attack on the Death Star while a strike team led by Han goes after the energy shield. Han wouldn’t commit Chewbacca to such a dangerous mission, which is really adorable, but Chewie exasperatedly insists on going and Leia volunteers as well. Luke arrives in time to join them. Leia can immediately tell something is up with him but it’s not the right place for explanations.

Han practically orders Lando to take the Falcon, like it’s a lucky charm between them that will make sure his friend comes back in one piece. They’re pretty cute together now that all the betrayal and back-stabbing is out of the way. The Emperor, however, is by no means as unprepared as the rebels think. He has the imperial fleet waiting on the far side of Endor, where it won’t be detected.

Han’s team approach in a small imperial shuttle in the hope that they can use it to land undetected. Last time Han posed as an imperial officer, it didn’t go well, but this time everything goes to plan – until Vader senses Luke’s presence. When the rebels land on Endor, there are stormtroopers in the forest looking for them. Luke and Leia are separated from the rest of the group as they try to stop two scouts getting away; they are then separated from each other when they run into more stormtroopers and Leia is knocked unconscious.

She’s found by an Ewok. Ewoks are an indigenous species on Endor, who are basically walking, talking, spear-carrying teddy bears. Star Wars fandom does not seem to like them. I DO. So does Leia. She befriends this one by communicating through the medium of biscuit and they fight a stormtrooper together, which is a proven bonding experience. The Ewok decides she’s friendly enough to take back to his village. This apparently necessitates another costume change, Leia’s third so far in the course of the movie. The rationale behind the Ewoks just happening to have a dress in Leia’s size, designed for her species, goes unexplained.

In the search for his sister, Luke finds Leia’s discarded helmet and Han finds the ruin of the speeders she took down. Chewbacca is distracted by the smell of meat, suspended from a branch. It must smell incredible to him because he reaches out without thinking and the whole lot of them are scooped up in a net. Eternally resourceful, R2 cuts them free, but they are quickly surrounded by Ewoks, and they don’t pass muster nearly so well as Leia does. Then C3-PO sits up and the Ewoks mistake him for a god. It’s a pretty racist bit of storytelling, actually, relying on the trope of ‘gullible natives’. The trope is carried further when Luke, Han and Chewbacca are transported to the village to be cooked. The Ewoks’ reverence doesn’t go so far as listening to what C3-PO actually wants, so Luke fakes a divine rage by lifting C3-PO into the air with the Force. That’s enough to convince the Ewoks, who free their prisoners.

C3-PO recounts their adventures to date, complete with precise sound effects. He has an appreciative audience; the Ewoks decide to adopt them all, including the rebel cause. Luke slips away from the festive atmosphere and Leia follows him, sensing that he’s in an odd mood. He asks if she remembers her mother. She tells him that she remembers a woman who was kind and sad, but that can’t have been Padme, as she died when the twins were born. Luke tells Leia that Vader is on Endor. He explains that Vader is his father – and that Leia is his sister. She claims to have always known, which is total nonsense and probably just her way of handling all the awful of the situation. Luke insists on leaving. Han comes bumbling up while Leia desperately wants to be left alone, and his jealousy jumps to all the wrong conclusions. Despite his confusion, he does try to be supportive.

Luke surrenders to Vader. He is determined to reawaken the Light Side in him, just as Vader is determined to bring out the Dark Side in him. Vader turns almost plaintive as he tells Luke that he must obey the Emperor – Luke is right, the little slave boy from Tatooine is still in there, but that doesn’t change any of Vader’s innumerable murderous life choices and he makes a new one by hauling his optimistic son off to face the Emperor.

Han’s team prepare to take out the shield generator and Lando leads the rebel fleet towards the Death Star. With a clever diversion tactic courtesy of their Ewok allies, Han and Leia reach the control bunker where the generator is located, but it is a trap set up by the Emperor. They are quickly surrounded by stormtroopers and when Lando reaches the Death Star its shield is still operational. Realising that the imperial forces are prepared for them, Lando tries to call off the attack. It’s too late. Suddenly, they are all stuck in a last stand.

Aboard the Death Star, Luke is calm in the face of the Emperor’s…everything. He tries not to react when the Emperor gloats over the imminent failure of the rebel attack, but he’s rethinking his pacifist approach. Why he considers killing the Emperor to be crossing a moral line when he’s been totally fine with killing stormtroopers is a mystery to me – he killed Jabba’s people without any visible qualms either – but probably it’s something to do with setting a Good Example to Vader, who has been making querulous comments on how irresistible the Dark Side is ever since he came into the Emperor’s presence, like he’s trying to convince himself as well as Luke. The Emperor has a lot to say about Destiny, and how Luke’s Destiny is to become a Sith Lord like his father. To drive home Luke’s despair, he reveals that the Death Star’s weapons system is up and running – maybe not at full strength, given that it only takes out a single spacecraft, but certainly capable of decimating the rebel fleet when the Emperor gives the order.

Destiny, though, has failed to take the Ewoks into account. No doubt the Emperor thought of them as inconsequential, but the terrain is in their favour, they are small and fast enough to easily disappear when they want to, and there are enough gaps in stormtrooper armour that bows and arrows shot by expert marksmen have a good impact. You get the feeling that they have been watching the imperial invaders closely and planning all of this in detail. Chewbacca provides their small army with extra muscle. Han hotwires the control bunker doors while Leia covers him and they gain entry, setting the place to blow up.

If Luke wants to save his friends, he has to take out the Emperor. When Vader reads Luke’s mind and learns that Leia is also a Skywalker, Luke very nearly kills him. He cuts off Vader’s hand, he has him pinned – but when it comes right down to it, he will not kill his father. That’s just not who he is. Seeing Luke’s unwavering commitment to the Light Side, the Emperor tires of his game. He tortures Luke with Force lightning, delighting in it, while Vader stands silent behind him. Luke weakly pleads with his father to save him and something, finally, finally, snaps. Vader is not strong enough to stop the Emperor, but he’s strong enough to lift him. Hoisting his master into the air, somehow walking while wreathed in lightning, Vader hurls the Emperor into the Death Star’s power core, to his death.

With the shield down at last, Lando flies into the Death Star to aim for the power generator. He sends back most of his team, there’s no space for the fight in here. One pilot takes down a Star Destroyer and sends it smashing into the Death Star, and the station is in chaos as Luke staggers for a hangar bay, more or less carrying Vader. At Vader’s insistence, he removes the helmet, revealing the damaged human underneath. Luke wants to save him. “You already have,” Vader says. “Tell your sister…you were right.” He dies there, and has someone to mourn him.

The rebels take out the power generator. Luke escapes just in time and Lando bursts through the flames with a triumphant shout. To those watching on Endor, the explosion means victory. Han tries to reassure Leia that Luke wasn’t on board the Death Star when it blew and she calmly agrees that he wasn’t, that she can feel he’s still alive. Han misunderstands again. Leia spells it out with unnecessary patience, like he’s a bit thick for not having worked it out already: Luke is her brother.

Luke brings Vader’s body to the moon surface and builds a pyre to burn it. He stands vigil while the rest of the universe celebrates the end of the Empire, in a retconned montage that includes Coruscant and Naboo. It is an outpouring that cannot be stopped. The Ewoks celebrate in their own way, lighting bonfires and dancing, using stormtrooper helmets as drums. Han and Chewbacca grab onto Lando like family, and Leia yanks Luke into a hug. When he looks back at the night, he sees Obi-Wan and Yoda watching him – and his father is with them. The young, hot version of his father, because this is on DVD and George Lucas got at it. Still, it’s kind of fitting. It wasn’t Vader that Luke saved, it was Anakin. And Leia pulls Luke back into the revels, because this is the family that Luke saved himself to rejoin.

I have such mixed feelings about this movie. I can’t watch it without feeling my mother’s quiet and fierce disappointment on Leia’s behalf and my own sense of betrayal as an adult; I also have a lot less patience for Darth Vader getting every second chance that Luke can muster after so many people suffered and died at Vader’s own command. At the same time, Luke’s stubborn insistence on forging a new way, on being a better kind of Jedi, brings a deeper sense of relief after seeing the terrible mistakes made by his predecessors.

Which does not mean he can’t make terrible mistakes of his own. But he’s begun the right way.

What is there to say?

The American election results are not something that any of us, no matter how far away we live, can ignore. I am sadder and more cynical than I was a week ago, but I’m going to repeat here what I said on Tumblr:

As an Australian, I do not pretend to understand the American electoral system or the political and social landscape that led voters to make the choices they have made. I watched this election unfold on Tumblr. I watched people go from cautious optimism to shock and terror. I am on the other side of the world and I am afraid, not just because I care about the minorities who are now more at risk than ever, or because the other side of the world is not nearly far enough away for my own country to be unaffected, but because this year humanity as a species has put its ugly side on full display. I’m afraid of what happens next. This is not what the future was meant to look like.

I’m honestly not sure that anything I say is going to be helpful right now, but silence will help less. So here’s all I have to offer: hold on. To each other and to hope. You are anything but alone. Your country is still yours no matter what he says or does. You are going to have chances to wear him down, to loosen his grip, so take them. Make him regret ever running for office.

All of this is going to be history someday. The chapter isn’t written yet, so fight him for the pen.

The future does not belong to him.

And to that I’ll add, keep safe.