ON THE TORTURE OF PRINCESS LEIA
An Excerpt from My Forthcoming Book Star Wars: Scene-by-Scene
by John David Ebert
Three Imperial T.I.E. fighters—polished gray-black—are now shown heading for the Death Star as a transitional shot to the space station. Meanwhile, inside one of the Death Star’s corridors, Darth Vader is shown walking purposefully forward, escorted by two Imperial guards. The corridor is completely black, with a reddish lattice grille floor. They pause in front of a room, the door to which slides instantly open, and Vader steps down into Princess Leia’s prison chamber. It is a small room with black walls and a glowing red grille ceiling. The Princess, thus far, looks unharmed, but as Vader steps toward her he says that they will now begin the process of discussing the location of the rebel fortress. Behind him, through the doorway, there floats a sinister-looking black ball with chromium features and various instruments are poking from its surface, one of which, as the camera closes in, appears to be a hypodermic needle, possibly loaded with sodium pentothal or some other kind of “truth serum.” The probe floats forward into the room, making a pulsating electronic hum, and the door slides shut.
Thus far the film has shown us various characters in situations of confinement. The capture, first, of Princess Leia; followed by the capture and sale of the droids; and Luke’s discontent as an unhappy farmer dreaming of a more exotic life as an adventurer. R2D2 was the first to trace a line of flight out of his imprisonment when Luke removed his restraining bolt, and the pursuit of R2 eventually led to the dislodging of Luke from his own confinement to the life of a farmer. This release from his own prison, however, was effected by the murder of his foster parents, but he is now free and on his way to begin his journey through the cosmos.
The present scene, on the other hand, shows us, for the first time, the claustrophobic nature of Princess Leia’s confinement in a small prison cell inside the Death Star. The situation of confinement is made even worse by the sight of the torture probe that now moves towards her with the needle out and ready.
Vader will try—unsuccessfully, as it turns out—to torture the secret of the location of the rebel fortress out of her. But the scene can also be read as a process of inscription: that is, the needle can function just as well—as one does, for instance, in Kafka’s short story “In the Penal Colony,” in which one’s crimes are inscribed by such a machine into the flesh—as an instrument of inscription to begin the process of overcoding the princess with the Imperial sign regime. She is not just going to be tortured: but rather, also, “overcoded” by the semiotics of the state apparatus and its biopolitics. The electronic tagging, inscribing with RFID chips and other such means of branding by the state apparatus are biopolitical forms of inscription which encode the individual into the System so that he or she can be tracked and monitored like human cattle. One’s “rights” under such conditions dissolve into thin air as the state strips away all forms of protection. The princess, in other words, has no protective exoskeleton to prevent her from being stripped down to the level of what Giorgio Agamben called in his book Homo Sacer, “zoe,” or bare naked life, in which individuals are deprived of their rights as the state withdraws its juridical, protective shell, or encasing from them. They can then be put into camps, where they can be tortured or killed with impunity, such as is the case today at Guantanomo Bay.
Whereas Luke’s protective carapace has just been stripped from him by the death of his foster parents, Princess Leia has also had her protective shell of “diplomatic” rights stripped from her and she is now reduced ontologically to the status of “bare naked life.” Anything can be done to her, and nobody need be held responsible for her fate.
She is pure pink flesh, exposed, uncoded, unprotected and unhomed.
But the process of inscribing her into the state apparatus is now about to begin.
This book, “Star Wars: Scene-by-Scene” will be available on Amazon later this year.