Chopped Off Hands in the Star Wars Movies

In the Star Wars movies, lightsaber fights frequently end with someone losing a hand. Maybe it's just because it looks cool without being too serious. With advanced medical technology, chopped-off limbs in the Star Wars universe are remarkably easy to fix. On the other hand, the cut off hands and arms make for some interesting symbolism and connections between the Prequels and the Original Trilogy. And, odd man out, there are no chopped-off limbs in "Episode VII: The Force Awakens."

Star Wars Identities 10, Ponda Baba
T a k/Flikr/CC BY 2.0

Technically, the first disembodied limb ever shown in Star Wars is C-3PO's, when the Sandpeople attack, they tear off his arm. Since that's a rather loose interpretation of "cut off hand," however, let's move on to the one everyone thinks of first -- when Ponda Baba attacks Luke in the Mos Eisley Cantina, Obi-Wan draws his lightsaber and slices off the Aqualish's arm. The bar pauses for a moment, then ignores the violence.

This scene works well to illustrate the "wretched hive of scum and villainy," but it makes no sense in the plot. The Jedi have been outlawed and hunted down for two decades, and Obi-Wan must stay in hiding at least long enough to get off the planet. Why would he pull out his Jedi weapon just to break up a minor bar fight? More »

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Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Early in Episode V, Luke is captured by a Wampa. He fights the snow monster to escape, cutting off one of its arms. Perhaps this cut off arm exists due to the difficulties of showing the Wampa onscreen: instead of an extended fight with both Luke and the Wampa in the same frame, we see a bloody arm fall.

The most famous limb removal in all Star Wars, however, occurs near the end of the film, when Darth Vader cuts off Luke’s hand before revealing himself to be Luke’s father. In this emotionally charged end to a tense duel, we see the contrast between physical and emotional pain. Luke’s cry when his hand gets cut off is nothing compared to his reaction to learning his true parentage. (But then, the hand is more easily replaceable.)

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Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

There are several parallel hand removal scenes in the Star Wars saga, but Luke cutting off Darth Vader’s hand in "Return of the Jedi" is the most obvious. Luke gives in to his anger and touches the dark side, cornering Vader at the edge of a bottomless pit and cutting off his mechanical hand, and then stops fighting and pleads with Vader to join him.

This time it works, and Vader turns to the light side. Although the parallel is more heavy-handed than the others, it does work to heighten the emotion in this climactic scene.

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Episode I: The Phantom Menace

"The Phantom Menace" is the odd movie out, with no hands or arms cut off whatsoever. It does up the ante, however, with Obi-Wan cutting Darth Maul completely in half, leaving him to fall down another one of those bottomless pits without safety railings. It's a departure from the Original Trilogy, but Lucas must have done something right here. Out of all the complaints fans have about Episode I, "no one got his hand cut off" is not usually one of them.

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Episode II: Attack of the Clones

The first-hand removal in the Star Wars saga, chronologically speaking, occurs when Obi-Wan cuts off Zam Wessell’s lower arm as she starts to attack him in a bar. One can draw parallels to the Cantina scene in Episode IV, although attacking a bar patron with a lightsaber actually makes sense here.

Later, we have the first of Anakin’s many limb removals: Count Dooku cuts off his arm during their duel. Anakin’s replacement arm foreshadows his later mechanical suit, and his role as a brash young Jedi rushing into battle with a Sith Lord to protect his loved ones parallels Luke's role in their duel on Bespin.

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Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Lucas goes to town in Episode III, which has as many cut-off hands and arms as the rest of the Star Wars films combined. First, Anakin takes revenge against Dooku by cutting off both his hands in a dark parallel to Luke's revenge in Episode VI.

Obi-Wan cuts off two hands in his duel with General Grievous, and Anakin cuts off Mace Windu’s hand to stop him from attacking Palpatine. Finally, Obi-Wan duels Anakin on Mustafar. Although he stops before killing his former apprentice, he does cut off Anakin's remaining human arm.

The loss of Anakin’s second arm is the most deeply symbolic limb removal in all of Star Wars. All he has left is his mechanical arm, and with that he drags himself to safety and into the mechanical body of Darth Vader.