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Luna Eclipsed is one of the best and most influential episodes of MLP, as the one episode that centers around Princess Luna. Those newer to the fandom might not realize just how big an impact this episode had, or realize the gravity of the fact that Luna was barely a character up until this point. For the first year of her existence, all fans knew of Luna was what they got out of the Nightmare Moon arc. Nevertheless, countless headcanons, artworks, and fanfics were made about the mysterious princess, and lots of people had their own ideas about what she was really like.
Very few of those people expected her to be quite so loud, or quite so tall, or a socially maladjusted princess looking for companionship from her subjects. The fan reaction was mixed, but ultimately positive, and the already beloved character only skyrocketed in popularity.
Seriously, with the amount of fan content centered around Luna, you’d think she was one of the mane characters. I know that this fandom produces a lot of stuff for all of the background ponies, but the sheer amount of high-quality Luna content is kind of astounding. One of the hardest things about making this video was just deciding which song about this particular episode I wanted to use for the ending. Hell, one of the like three pony songs I’VE ever made was a retelling of Luna Eclipsed!
So what’s up with this episode that makes it and Luna so interesting? Part of it is the mysterious nature of the character and the show in general. I’ve noticed that among people who are really invested in the worldbuilding of Equestria, Celestia and Luna tend to be the most talked-about characters, because they give the most insight into Equestria’s history and systems of operation. Add to that a really tragic backstory, a magnificent character design, and the mysteriousness of being a princess of darkness, and you’ve got a character that digs her way into the audience’s mind.
But Luna isn’t carrying the weight all on her own. In typical M.A. Larsen fasion, the episode has numerous callbacks, such as Rainbow Dash being dressed in a Shadowbolt costume, and it sets up one piece of background continuity which runs through seasons two and three: the introduction of Starswirl the Bearded. Beyond the plot intrigue, the episode also has a distinct aesthetic, being the only episode to take place entirely at night, meaning a total change in the color palette; not to mention all of the characters appear in costume. This results in an episode that feels totally unique from the rest of the show.
The actual plot of the episode is very straightforward, though it does contain some interesting little mechanisms.
For instance, the disconnect between what the citizens of Ponyville think about Nightmare Moon, and what she actually is. The reason no one saw the attack of Nightmare Moon coming is that they all associate her with a different legend than the one that matters. Remember that several characters regard Nightmare Moon as “just an old mare’s tale” in the beginning, and when it’s revealed who she really is, no one has to ask, “who the hell is Nightmare Moon?”
That’s because they think of Nightmare Moon as the spirit of Nightmare Night, to whom candy offerings are made so that she won’t eat anyone. The disconnect in the minds of the townsfolk is so strong, that none of them mentally associates the Nightmare Moon that got turned into Princess Luna with the Nightmare Moon of Nightmare Night.
And you can hardly blame them. They barely had time to figure out what was happening in the pilot episodes, and when it was wrapped up, Luna looked like this. Now, she suddenly reappears looking more like she did when she was a bad guy, and instead of being all “I missed you big sister,” she’s all like “CITIZENS OF PONYVILLE!” I think I’d be a little intimidated too if someone I mostly remember as a villain made an entrance like this.
And it’s worth noting that the mane six all act relatively in-character about it. Twilight and Applejack quickly realize the issue, Rainbow Dash only arrives to play pranks on Luna, and Fluttershy’s reaction is, well… very Fluttershy. Expecially very M.A. Larson’s interpretation of Fluttershy. Pinkie Pie’s reaction is used as a clever bait and switch. She drives a lot of the fear of the townspeople with her overreactions, but actually knows that Luna isn’t out to hurt her. She’s just trying to have fun by embracing the Nightmare Night tradition, without realizing the pain that she’s accidentally causing for Luna.
Another interesting aspect of the characters’ participation in Nightmare Night is that it reminds us how the mane six are all young adults, as they interact with the holiday in the way that young adults do Halloween. For Twilight, it’s a chance to show off her hoof-stitched costume. Applejack is a community organizer. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie enjoy the night with a childlike wonderment, but in Pinkie’s case, she’s doing it as a fascimile. Unlike the kids who are genuinely scared, Pinkie is psyching herself up so that she can enjoy the thrills. I know a lot of people who do stuff like this on Halloween by marathoning classic horror movies and walking around in the woods and stuff. Even Spike, perhaps as a result of being around young adults most of the time, has a more disillusioned approach to the holiday, with his comments about how the mare’s wig ruins the thrill of her speech for him.
Before I close out on this analysis, I want to revisit Starswirl the Bearded, since this character has been under ever-growing scrutiny as he keeps getting mentioned across the series, and especially in the season three finale. Twilight mentions that the book she’d given Spike to read about him was called “obscure unicorn history,” though she then goes on to say that he was among the most important sorcerers of the pre-classical era, and has a wing named after him in the Canterlot archive.
Starswirl’s obscurity fits with the idea that he never made any friends in his lifetime, and it seems likely that his work was largely respected and preserved by the Princesses themselves. I love that Twilight’s Starswirl costume creates a way for her and Luna to connect instantly as two of what is probably a very small handful of ponies that actually remember him.
Next week, the train of brilliant episodes continues. Gotta love Season 2!