Little Orphan Anakin

5: Daddy, Daddy, You Bastard, I'm Through


When I was five, Papa knew everything.
When I was twelve, Papa knew a great deal
When I was seventeen, Papa knew nothing
When I was thirty five, I could go to Papa for advice
When I was fifty—ah, if only I could still ask Papa.


The Star Wars movies are about growing up. They are also profoundly nostalgic about childhood. This is a paradox which neither George Lucas nor Luke Skywalker is able fully to resolve.

Episodes IV - VI are about the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Episodes I - III, on the other hand, are about Anakin's transition from childhood to adolescence. Luke's rite of passage involves becoming reconciled with his father; Anakin's involves leaving behind his mother and transferring his affections onto Amidala, his first lover.

'Jedi' and 'Father' are almost synonymous terms in the movies. How many times are they together on Luke's lips?

I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi, like my father.

I was once a Jedi Knight, the same as your father.

Why wish you become Jedi?
Mostly because of my father, I guess.

You've failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.

Due to a terrible script-writing mistake, Anakin Skywalker is literally the son of the Force, having been conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost. He explicitly says that Obi-Wan, the archetypal Jedi is the closest thing he has to a father.

There was a time when Hollywood psychological wounds were all blamed on Mum. James Dean's delinquency is solved the minute his domineering mother gets out of the way; Charles Foster Kane had to acquire a warehouse full of sledges to compensate for the fact that his mother sent him away; and we all know what Norman Bates did with his Mum. But somewhere along the line, the blame shifted to a quasi-mystical figure called Father, and it turned out that nearly all of life's problems could be solved with a quick 'I love you son / I love you too dad'. In some cases—anything with Robin Williams in it—this may have no significance beyond representing the anxieties of middle class men who don't feel that they spend enough time with their offspring. In more pretentious movies, 'Father' is probably a secularised-Christian-Jewish metaphor for God. Marlon Brando slips into the most embarrassingly theological language before sticking baby Superman into the space capsule. 'The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.' The Star Wars saga is not about the relationship between a father and a son, but between Fathers and Sons. 

The first trilogy is about Luke Skywalker and his Dad: the scene which sums up the movie is the unmasking of Vader. Luke has no memory of his mother. The Star Wars galaxy is very much a woman-free zone: apart from Beru, Mon Motha and a handful of slave girls, there are more or less no women in the films. The relationship with Leia seems fraternal long before we know that they are actually siblings.

It's very much a rite-of passage story, about a young man's passage from adolescence into adulthood; about how he becomes an independent human being. Vader, Ben and Uncle Own represent the various ways in which a young man perceives and remembers his father during this growing up process. Uncle Owen is his 'real' father, the one he knows in the real world; and Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader are two competing psychological memories of Dad: a good one and a bad one. On the one hand, we remember Dad as the perfect, all-good, all wise figure from when we were a little child: on the other hand, we perceive him as a terrifying, domineering, punishing figure.

George Lucas admits that Vader's wounding of Luke in The Empire Strikes Back is symbolic castration. We have to be careful with this. When Freud talks about the boys fear of being castrated by his father, he does not literally mean that young men expect their fathers to chop their willies off. 'Castration' represents the fear that Dad will prevent you from being a full man; that he will punish you if you assert your independence, that you have to escape from, or even kill Dad before your manhood is safe. Vader is a 'castrating' figure in this sense: what is finally terrifying about him is not that he blows up planets, but that he wants Luke's identity to be subsumed in his. 'Come with me…We will rule the galaxy as Father and Son. The Son of Skywalker will not become a Jedi. He will join us or die. It is the only way. It is your destiny.' Obi-Wan literally disappeared from Luke's life when he had taught him what he needed to know: the good father knows when it is time to step aside. Luke does not want to remain merely 'the Son of Skywalker', but to become a person in his own right. Ultimately, by taking Vader's mask off, he sees that the person underneath is no longer frightening or dominating. The redeemed Vader has turned from the Bad Father to the Good Father, and like Obi-Wan, he too must step aside and yet Luke become a person in his own right. At the end of the trilogy, Luke has stepped out of Vader's shadow and become a Jedi..

Or has he? It is profoundly questionable whether Luke Skywalker is capable of growing up. We will return to this point..

The second trilogy is about Anakin Skywalker and his Mum. Its emblematic scene is Anakin turning his back on his mother, and going off with Qui-Gon to become a Jedi. Where Luke had no memory of his Mother, Anakin has no knowledge of his Father. Where Owen, Ben and Vader represent Luke's differing perceptions of his Father; Shmi and Amidala represent a young man's changing perception of women in general. Anakin's growth into adulthood is complete when Amidala turns from a symbolic mother to an ordinary woman; which happens to be at the same moment that Anakin buries his actual mother. Again, when Freud talks about the Oedipus complex, he does not mean that all men literally want to commit incest with their mothers; he is simply pointing to the fact that Mother is the first woman of any importance in our lives, and that our eventual wife is to some extent a substitute for her.

The first words which Anakin speaks are to Amidala: 'Are you an angel?. (And hers, to him, are infinitely patronizing: 'Aren't you a funny little boy.') As it happens, she is not an angel, but a Queen, and then, due to the oddities of the Naboo constitution, merely a senator. Angels and Queens are fairly similar to Mothers, existing on a pedestal and totally off the agenda for any kind of romantic involvement. Amidala explicitly puts herself in a quasi-maternal role towards Anakin. When they leave Tatooine for the first time, she puts a poncho around him because he is cold, which is, coincidentally, the same gesture that Leia had used to show her sympathy for Luke after Obi-Wan died. 'To me, you'll always be the little boy I met on Tatooine', she says, mortifyingly, to the teenaged Annie.

Attack of the Clones begins, naturally enough, with Anakin's first mission independently of Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan is 'the nearest thing' which Annie has to father; but the teenaged son is already straining at the leash: he thinks he is in advance of his father, he never feels that he is listened to, he holds me back. It’s not fair. Obi-Wan is in the role of 'bad father' — not the nightmare figure that Vader was for Luke, but just as unwilling to allow him to be a person in his own right. At any rate, that is how Anakin perceives him.

The first mission which this Daedelus sends him off on is  to guard Amidala. Following the Oedipal script to the letter, Obi-Wan makes it absolutely clear that Annie is not permitted to love Amidala. We've been told nothing about Jedi taking vows of celibacy up to this point: indeed, the idea of the Force running strong in particular families would seem to speak against it. But mythological fathers prohibit mythological sons from marrying mythological mothers. It's what they do.

Amidala and Annie 'decide' that they cannot fall in love. And in case anyone misses the point, in the very next scene, Annie has a dream-vision about his real, literal mother: the one who he left behind on Tatooine to become a Jedi knight. In Phantom Menace, leaving his real mother (Shmi) entailed acquiring a symbolic one (Amidala); so it makes sense that, having been rejected by the symbolic-mother who he would like to marry, he runs home to the real one.

Cinema audiences cannot, of course, forebear from tittering during the excruciating nightmare scene, because Anakin's wriggling in bed look as if he's, er, how can I put this, having a wank. And the audience probably have a point:. The whole sequence is about puberty, sexual awakening and adolescence. Annie is becoming aware of women for the first time. (No wonder he keeps breaking his lightsaber.)

Now it gets weird. The dream-vision occurred on Amidala's home planet, indeed, at one of her favourite childhood haunts. (Picnics and chases through long grass are classic images of 'innocent' childhood.) But the nightmare calls Anakin back to the place of his own childhood, the increasingly repetitive planet Tatooine. And where should he end up but at the Lars homestead from part IV: the place where we first met Luke; where Luke bought 3PO, where Luke set out to meet Ben Kenobi—the absolute point of origin. Annie's search for his mother has taken him back to the womb. Like Luke, he is going to set out on a quest from this place and end up a substantially different person.

In a depressingly perfunctory bit of plot, it turns out that Anakin's mother is dead. Just as Luke shot off in his landspeeder to find Father Ben, and returns to find Owen and Beru's funeral pyre; so Anakin shoots off on a speeder-bike to find Shmi, and returns with her body. Luke stood at almost precisely this spot and announced his intention to 'become a Jedi, like my father.' Anakin, likewise, promises that he will never fail again and become the greatest Jedi in the universe. The death of Shmi is explicitly said to mark his passage to adult-hood: 'My son, my son, my grown up son.'

All the Oedipal themes collide at Shmi's funeral. Luke's father (Anakin) and Luke's father (Owen) are burying Anakin's mother (Shmi) in the presence of Luke's mother (Amidala) who is also Anakin's stand-in mother. Also present is Anakin's stepfather. The scene is interrupted by an emergency phone call from Anakin's next-best-thing-to-a- father, Obi-wan. And it is at this point—when Mother is buried, when Son has declared himself to be an adult, and when Father calls us home—at this moment, Amidala undergoes her final transformation. As long as Shmi was alive, Amidala was an exalted figure with whom love was very definitely off the agenda. Now Shmi is dead, Amidala becomes a resourceful, accessible tomboy figure: able to handle a blaster, perform escapology, and take control of the situation, and eminently available as a lover for Annie. She has, in fact, transformed into Princess Leia, complete with silly hairstyle. They can both start ignoring the various parental authority figures: disobey Obi-Wan's instructions not to come after him, and finally, disobey the Jedi order and fall in love. The death of his mother represents the moment at which Anakin grows up: now, finally, he can be interested in girls.

By now, everybody knows that Luke Skywalker is one of Joseph Campbell's heroes with a thousand faces. For Campbell, 'Hero' is more or less synonymous with 'everyman' or 'self' or possibly 'ego' in a Freudian sense. The journey of the Hero is a metaphor for Everyone's journey through life; or else it is a metaphor for the process by which the Self confronts its inner demons and becomes psychologically whole.

You don't have to buy the Freud-Campbell reading to agree that viewers of the movie are expected to identify pretty strongly with Luke. Some people have pointed out the similarity of the names 'Lucas' and 'Luke' and suggested that he represents the director. Maybe: but it's more important that Luke is our; our avatar in the Star Wars universe, the eyes through which we see the world. We wish that we had a best mate like Han Solo to look out for us, and a wise old father like Obi-Wan to teach us, but we never wanted to be those characters, or thought that we could be. It's not so much that we pretend that we are Luke: we know from the beginning of the movie, that Luke is Us.

But Anakin fits equally clearly into the Hero With a Thousand Faces pattern. He has a mysterious, semi-divine origin; he leaves his home to go on a quest; he receives weapons and teaching from a wise old man; and acquires companions, some of which are extremely annoying. According to Campbell, the quest of the Hero involves descending, metaphorically or literally, into an underworld; and returning with a 'boon' that will save the world. It's a little early to review Episode III  but I think that it is a safe bet that the movie will end with Annie falling into a volcano, lava flow or other pit. The whole of the second trilogy might therefore be seen as his passage through the underworld, climaxing with his defeat of the Emperor, which will be conflated with 'bringing balance to the Force.'

Again, I don't think that it is controversial to say that we are meant to be identifying with Anakin throughout the first trilogy, and that our capacity to enjoy the movie depends on the extent to which we can do so. Lucas wanted to direct Phantom Menace at a young audience, and was therefore probably correct to give the movie a very young main character: Anakin's is a role which the average nine-year old can imagine himself into without difficulty. On the whole, when I was watching the film, I was able to project myself into Anakin, since he seemed so much to be fulfilling my fantasies as nine year old Star Wars fan (he gets his own space ship to play with, gets to build his own robot, and then gets taken off to become a Jedi Knight—for real.) I had more of a problem with Attack of the Clones, because I don't think that I ever was quite that kind of uber-teen which Anakin is supposed to represent.

If Annie and Luke are both 'everyman' figures, then it is not a great stretch to say that the two movies, considered psychologically, have only one hero, called Luke-Anakin, or Skywalker, or simply the Hero. Luke and Anakin are ultimately the same person. While watching Episodes I and II I repeatedly forgot that this was supposed to be a film about Darth Vader (the blonde kid is Darth Vader???) and found myself thinking that I was really looking at a younger Luke Skywalker. This is particularly clear when Annie is dressed in flying gear before the Pod race, and when Anakin and Amidala step onto a bridge in the droid foundry and more-or-less quote the beginning of the chasm swing sequence from A New Hope.

If we treat Luke and Anakin as a single character, then Shmi's funeral makes a great deal of symbolic sense. Amidala is literally Luke's mother, and symbolically Anakin's mother. Once we combine Luke and Anakin into a single person, then we can see that Amidala is simply The Hero's Mother. But, of course, Shmi is also the Hero's Mother. As we have seen, once Shmi is buried, Amidala takes on a role very much like Princess Leia; who is (in A New Hope at any rate) Luke's potential lover. Once we combine Luke and Anakin into a single person, then Amidala, Shmi and Leia merge into a classic three headed goddess, the Hero's mother and lover. The meaning of the funeral scene is clearly 'The Hero, Anakin-Luke, buries his mother: the Hero's Mother Amidala-Shmi, is transformed into the Hero's Lover, Amidala-Leia.'












Literal Mother

Surrogate Mother /Lover

(Amidala  comes to resemble Leia)



Bad Father


Bad Father


Literal Mother




Good father


Hero's Bad Father

Hero's dead mother

Hero's  mother

Hero's Lover

Hero's Father

(Hero's Mother)

Hero's Good Father


Viewed sequentially, from Episode I - Episode VI, the Star Wars saga is a fairly straightforward 'growing up' or journey- through-life myth. Luke-Anakin, the hero, left his mother behind in Episode I, as a little boy; went off on a quest to recover his true father as a young man in Episode IV; and was reconciled with his Father's ghost in Episode VI.  The hero is a child in Episode I, a teenager in Episodes II and III; a young man in Episodes IV and V and an old man in the closing moments of Episode VI: we have experienced his whole life.

But, of course, we don't experience the films sequentially. In terms of our actual experience of the movies, the 'Unmasking of Vader' scene, comes, not at the end of the saga, but slap dab in the middle: it is the fulcrum around which the saga pivots. When Luke takes Vader's mask off, Anakin comes onto the stage for the first time, and our identification shifts from Luke to him. Almost the first view we have of Anakin Skywalker is very last image of the movie.

At the time of Phantom Menace, I argued that Luke, by becoming reconciled with Darth Vader, had regained a kind of childhood innocence, represented by the next trilogy being about the boy Anakin at the time of the old republic. But I now think that it is more complicated than that. Luke's quest is not, in fact, about recovering childhood: it's about growing up: that's what reconciliation with the father means.

And, at the very last minute, Luke blows it.

Compare the Father - Son scene in The Empire Strikes Back with that in Return of the Jedi:

Vader: No. I am your Father.

Luke: No, no, that's not true, that's impossible

Vader: Search your feelings. You know it to be the truth.

Luke: No, no.

Vader: Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son…come with me. It's the only way.


Vader: Luke, help me take this mask off.

Luke: But you'll die.

Vader: Nothing can stop that now. Just for once let me look on you with my own eyes. Now go my son. Leave me.

Luke. No. You're coming with me. I'll not leave you here. I've got to save you.

Vader: You already have. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister; you were right

Luke: Father…I won't leave you.

The evil, child consuming father in Empire Strikes Back says 'Come with me. Join me. Your destiny lies with me.' The redeemed, good father in Return of the Jedi says 'Go, leave me.' In Empire Strikes Back, Luke would sooner die than be 'the Son of Skywalker'; but in Return of the Jedi, he disobeys his father. The very last line spoken by Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars trilogy is 'Father, I won't leave you' and indeed, he takes the dead Vader with him back to Endor. In the victory celebrations, he looks away from Leia and the teddy bears, and at the ghost of his father (or rather, his Fathers: Anakin and Ben are both phantom menaces at the feast.) So at this pivot-point of the two trilogies, Luke holds on to his father. He has failed the test and refused to grow up. So there is nowhere to go, in terms of the psychology of the Hero, but back into childhood. The hero becomes the little fatherless boy, who is going to have to leave his mother, and try, once again to become a Jedi.

The Star Wars films are therefore based on a deeply ambivalent view of psychology. The Hero is trapped in an irresolvable double bind. To grow up, he has to be reconciled with his father: but once he has been reconciled with him, he can't leave him behind; and he is reduced, for ever afterwards, to the role of son. The flawed Hero is, at bottom, a little boy who cannot grow up; the ideal avatar for generations of Star Wars fans.

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