Riffing on Star Wars: #12 — Why Water Matters in Star Wars

Few things are more exciting to discuss about Star Wars than the role of water in the films. There’s snow, there’s rain, and even a waterfall or two. Okay, perhaps water isn’t quite the hot topic for the franchise at the moment or ever, for that matter, but its presence in the films has often been accompanied with several themes. Let’s take a looksee at the wettest element of Star Wars.

In the first Star Wars film, water is completely absent for most of its duration. Opening on Tatooine, A New Hope relegates the substance to a farming crop, making our future hero a moisture farmer in the barren desert lands of the sandy planet. Unlike Arrakis of Dune fame, where moisture of any sort is conserved with the utmost care and treated as one of the most valuable resources, moisture farming is represented as something akin to any other crop grown on a farm. It’s entirely just the setting for Luke Skywalker’s origin. Perhaps if there were giant killer worms, instead of hairy banthas, roaming the wastes, the life of a moisture farmer might have been a bit more exciting. Water, though, does come to represent certain qualities in the films.

Foremost is its association with those who do good or are good in A New Hope. Alderaan, seconds before its super laser induced downsizing, is a planet that looks quite a bit like our own. We instantly attach a level of fondness for it, more so, as our heroic princess and rebel, is a native. Its destruction is seeded into the film to highlight how evil the Galactic Empire truly is, even without the power of the Dark Side of the Force. Guess what other planet shares a similarity to our own in the film? Yavin IV, the base of the rebels and the next intended target of the Death Star until it’s Skywalkered out of existence. Once again the good guys are associated with a planet, a wet planet, very much like our own. Good guys and water pop up elsewhere in the films.

Skipping ahead to The Phantom Menace, the most virtuous people of the film are again associated with one heck of a similar ‘blue marble,’ Naboo. Presented as the victim of a trade embargo and later invasion, Naboo can be placed on the same shelf as Yavin IV and Alderaan (smithereened). With the sole exception of Kamino, which situates itself in a fuzzy gray area as the production planet for clone troopers, virtually every water filled planet we visit, such as Kashyyyk, are the homes of the good guys and folks we root for against either the Empire or the Separatists. In fact, the absence of water has likewise served as a visual symbol that we should expect bad guys or bad things to happen.

Our very first planet, Tatooine, is a great example. The cities of the sandy planet have generally been populated with repugnant or outright immoral characters, a hive of scum and villainy, indeed. Be it Mos Eisley as a whole, on the word of Obi-Wan Kenobi, or characters like the Hutts or Watto, who actively participate in the slave trade despite its illicit status in the galaxy. Our heroic or good characters who live on these planets are often represented as the exception, not the rule. Elsewhere, diving into the prequel trilogy, we have Geonosis and Mustafar. The former is the barren planet resembling the red rock filled Southwest of the United States and filled with tens of thousands of flying green insectoid-like aliens. Not only do the Geonosians happily cheer the potential death of others in their arena, but as we saw, they also played a potential role in the construction of the ultimate weapon, the Death Star. Did we mention it was absent any water? The only planet with less water is the other, Mustafar, where molten rock serves the role of the liquid, complete with lava falls. Little needs to be said of this planet other than its role as a meeting place for the Separatist leaders, and that other little thing, where Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker had their second to last duel, which left Anakin without a leg (or two) to stand on. It served as the fiery crucible for the final evolution of Darth Vader.

In the Star Wars universe, not even frozen water catches a break, either. Hoth isn’t only just where Luke Skywalker almost became wampa left overs, but it’s also the stage of the most significant victory of the Empire over the rebels. Never again in the film do we see the rebels lose in such a dramatic and devastating manner. We don’t return to cold climates again until The Force Awakens. As it’s definitely fresh in everyone’s minds, we don’t have to remind you that Starkiller base wasn’t just home to a multi-planet killing laser and emotional gut punching death of a major Star Wars character. Nope, we definitely don’t have to remind anyone of those facts. Needless to say, the only good water comes above 32 degree Fahrenheit.

When water isn’t serving as a planetary identifier, it has one other common purpose in the Star Wars universe — a symbolic concealer or barrier. This first happens in The Empire Strikes Back with a planet we’ve yet to mention, Dagobah. From the start, Dagobah’s thick cloud cover (they’re filled with water, people!), conceals the planet from Skywalker’s X-wing’s scans and ultimately causes him to crash land in, yes, murky water. The water on the planet supports abundant life, enough life that it conceals the presence of the Jedi Master Yoda, who reluctantly takes on Skywalker as his student. It’s in the midst of this training that are provided another example of water as symbolic of a barrier and it has to do with an X-wing.

The swamp water, in which the X-wing rested, had already been established as a dangerous part of the Dagobah jungle, after a giant aquatic creature gobbled R2-D2 only to realize it didn’t need that much iron in its diet. Beyond that, the X-wing was stuck in the water, and its problematic position provided a chance for Luke to demonstrate his newfound understanding of the Force and its powers. The further sinking of the X-wing resulted in Yoda instructing his student to lift the star fighter out the water, a task that Luke fails miserably at. His failure and the barrier between him fully comprehending the Force is signified by the craft sinking even further beneath the murky water’s surface. Leaving Dagobah, water also served to conceal the truth on Kamino.

Cloud filled skies also greeted Obi-Wan when he arrived on the otherwise mysterious water covered planet, concealed from the Jedi Archives by certain never’do’wells. Giant swells of dark water rise and collapse around the solitary towers which await Obi-Wan’s arrival, and help hide the fact that the ocean structures are home to a rapidly growing clone army. Also in the prequel trilogy, the depths of Naboo’s oceans are presented as dangerous and peril, unless Godzilla-sized aquatic beasts are your thing, in that case, they’re a paradise. Beyond concealing the monsters of the deep, the water also hides the city of the Gungans from the prying eyes of the Separatists, which gives the Gungan head of state, Boss Nass plenty of reasons to ignore the plight of the human Naboo on dry land. It’s also in the prequel trilogy in one of the many iconic moments of Revenge of the Sith, water works the best at concealment.

The setting is the opera on Coruscant, but unlike our opera, the stage is an enormous sphere of floating water. Within it, performers gracefully move in a dream-like dance trailing vibrant colored cloth behind them in the water. Due to their placement in the water, they never truly come into focus, and so, in a way, the water is concealing their true nature. The watery performance visually reflects the conversation going on by two observers, Anakin Skywalker and Chancellor Palpatine. It’s a moment of seduction, as the elder statesman plants the seeds that not only are the Sith, the enemy of the Jedi, automatically evil, but that Sith knowledge might even be exactly what Anakin needs to prevent the death of his beloved Padme. Palpatine’s sweet whispers (they are watching an opera, you know) are truths concealed, blurry promises that could benefit from being brought into focus. Years later, The Force Awakens sums up water in one grand sweep.

As we have already mentioned about snow and good things happening, The Force Awakens pulls the same trick again. Our hero is saved from a miserable experience on a desert planet, one run by a nefarious figure with henchmen, and meets one of the wisest figures in the galaxy in a castle surrounded by water. The abundance of water is a thing of wonder for Rey, something which we can definitely transfer to Maz Kanata shortly thereafter. Even in the final moments of the film, the water premise comes through on the planet of Ahch-to. Don’t recognize it? There’s a reason, the name was never mentioned in the film, but we were treated to endless oceans and it’s on an island, a castle of isolation surrounded by water, that we find the long lost Luke Skywalker. From the beginning with A New Hope to the literal end in The Force Awakens, water has taken on a surprising role in terms of theme and symbolism in the Star Wars universe. As a general rule, or perhaps we should say, as an admiral rule, when water is absent in the Star Wars universe, consider the words of the most aquatic speaking alien in the franchise, Admiral Ackbar, as it very well could be…a trap.