Little Orphan Anakin

6: The Hero With at Least Two Faces

Diagram: Structure of Star Wars Saga From the Viewers Point of View (Word Doc)

We are now in a position to try to understand the structure of the Star Wars saga as we actually experience it

Star Wars is, first, a series of movies; secondly, the psychological biography of an Everyman hero; and thirdly a patchwork history of a not very interesting science fiction setting. If we try to read the movies sequentially, from Episode I - VI, we are inclined to foreground the 'historical' narrative. But this Star Wars 'saga', the one which begins with Qui-Gon fighting Trade Federation robots is a wholly imaginary work, one which no-one has ever or will ever see. Only by looking at the movies we actually saw—the saga that began with C3PO shutting down the main reactor—can we discuss the way those movies actually effect us, and begin to understand just how clever George Lucas has been.

Our first experience is a movie called Star Wars which exists independently of the other five movies. Considered alone, Star Wars is a perfectly satisfactory and completed journey of the Hero. At the end of Star Wars, good-father Obi-Wan has stepped out of the way, and exists only as a memory, or a voice, in Luke's mind: what Freud would call the super-ego. In the last moments of the movie, Luke trusts in the Force, and destroys the Death Star. If this isn't 'becoming a Jedi', what is?

Our second experience is of a movie called 'Star Wars Episode V:  The Empire Strikes Back'. It is highly important to our experience of 'The Star Wars Saga' that we initially accept Star Wars as a complete and finished entity, and only subsequently learn that it is 'Episode IV'. Uniquely for a sequel, 'Star Wars 2' extends the saga in both directions: what we thought was a complete entity turns out to extend both forwards and backwards. This is important; because 'Star Wars IV' is a summary of the whole psychological plot (the Hero Grows Up) which also serves as the first chapter of a much more complex saga—which, in effect, tells the same story. We need to have allowed ourselves the innocence of experiencing A New Hope as a fairy tale in order to properly experience the disillusionment of  Empire Strikes Back—which says, in effect 'They didn't all live happily ever after. And there was a lot going on before we said once upon a time, too.'

Once we know that Star Wars was actually Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, then we become aware of the existence of Star Wars Episodes I - III. True, when we watched A New Hope and heard Obi-Wan, Uncle Owen, and Darth Vader talking about events in the 'olden days', we had a vague sense of a 'back story'--previous events in the Star Wars universe the existence of which gave the setting some of its mythical power. But once we read the words 'Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,' those events are 'firmed up' as being possible subjects for movies. We all have our own ideas about what those prequel movies are about. You can't watch Episode IV - VI without having some mental picture, however vague, about what life was like 'before the Dark Times', about what Vader's training by Kenobi might have been like. At two crucial moments, our 'imaginary' prequels re-write themselves in our heads. The first, of course, is when Vader reveals his paternity, and two characters in the prequel trilogy, the good-father and the good-father's-slayer merge into one. The second, and less important, is the revelation that Luke has a sister.

When we see 'Star Wars: Episode I', we are in a sense seeing the movie for the second time. We already know roughly what is going to happen—Palpatine will become Emperor, the Republic will fall, Obi-Wan will acquire an apprentice called Anakin, Anakin will become Vader, Vader will kill all the Jedi knights but himself be maimed, Vader will have twin children called Luke and Leia. We almost certainly have our own preconceptions of what the Old Republic was like, and the film is almost certainly different from those preconceptions. Almost by definition, our reaction to the prequel is to say 'That wasn't how I imagined it' every five minutes. (This is a very different experience from saying, as we might do with a sequel 'that wasn't what I expected' or 'that is a surprise.) As we have seen, this disillusionment is very much built into the structure of the movies, so that we are not merely surprised that the prequels are different from what we expected; we are disappointed that they are more banal and prosaic. (It is a matter of debate how much of the fan-disillusionment that Phantom Menace engendered was an intentional part of the film's emotional structure—the revelation that child-hood as experienced is not the same as child-hood as imagined through the eyes of nostalgia—and how much was just due to it being a genuinely bad movie…) Just as 'dad', the old man we have to deal with on a day to day basis falls short by comparison with the perfect Father we remember from when we were small children; so Hayden Christensen and Jake Lloyd fall short of the Anakin's of our mind…and this is not necessarily the fault of either the actors or the script.

In the same way that A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are continually pointing backwards to an as-yet-unmade prequel; Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Episode III are continually pointing forwards to the first trilogy. A considerable amount of this 'pointing forward' is intended to re-write the original trilogy and invest it with meaning and significance which it did not have when we originally saw it. In particular, it appears to be intended to re-write the crucial Luke-Vader-Emperor confrontation which makes up most of the meat of Episode VI. In Episode VI, Palpatine mockingly calls Luke Skywalker 'my apprentice'—a line which takes on a great deal more significance once we know that Palpatine is Lord of the Sith, and Vader is his Apprentice. (Indeed, we have already seen one apprentice, Darth Maul being killed and replaced with Anakin; so the possibility that Vader might die and be replaced with Luke seems to be a real one.) I also suspect that Vader's destruction of the Emperor at the climax of the movie is going to be invested with an additional level of meaning. Anakin is the one who would bring balance to the Force, and Palpatine and the Sith are the ones who had put it out of balance; therefore in order for Anakin to fulfill the prophecy, he had to turn to the Dark Side, if only to get close enough to Palpatine to kill him. (But having turned to the Dark Side, of course, he doesn't want to kill his master, so he needs Luke to bring him back. Damn clever, these prophesies.) Something which, when we first saw it, was a family drama about a father and a son, and a political drama about an evil emperor and his servant, is transformed into a world-historical drama. A mythic hero, conceived by the power of the midichlorians, born of the virgin Shmi, wounded by Obi-Wan, descended to the Dark Side, redeemed through the sufferings of his Son, defeats a centuries old evil and brings back the spring, or at any rate, brings balance to the Force. It is important that we have this double experience—first, as a story about a father and a son; and second as a much more cosmic and universal event.

The first time we experience the first trilogy, we experience it from the point of view of Luke, the everyman-hero. Luke is the hero and, until the closing moments of Empire Strikes Back, and still through most of Return of the Jedi, Vader is simply the villain. As we have seen, in the closing moment of Return of the Jedi, Luke appears to fail in his quest, refuses to leave his father behind and thus fails to grow up and become a Jedi. For that reason, we have to go back to his childhood, and make another attempt at growing up. As 'readers', we experience the Quest of the Hero again (leaving home, growing up, becoming a Jedi) but this time, with Anakin as our Avatar.

Much of Anakin's journey, as we have seen, recapitulates Luke. He leaves his family, he learns about the Force from Obi-Wan and Yoda, he is tempted by the Dark Side. But Anakin's quest also fails. In Episode III, he is consumed by the Dark Side; and fights a climactic battle with Obi-Wan. In this climactic battle, the Son is maimed by the Father. While watching this battle we will doubtless recall the confrontation between Vader and Luke in Episode V. In both cases, the Hero is confronting his domineering, 'evil' father, and in both cases the son is wounded.

But Anakin's story does not end with Episode III: it continues into Episodes IV, V and VI. So we have to re-experience those films, this time taking Darth Vader as the hero. Many of the key scenes are different when we re-experience them. We no longer see the confrontation between Vader and Obi-Wan simply as a clash between two more-or-less Jedi peers; but a continuation of the patricidal theme. This is now the third time we have seen the Hero face the Hero's Father; and this time, finally, the Hero's Father knows that he must lose and allow the Son to surpass him. When Vader says … 'I sense something', we wonder whether he is really sensing 'his old master', or is beginning to remember and recognize his son. When he says 'The Force is strong in this one', we wonder if he suspects who This One is. We recognize that the Death Star—even the Empire Itself—are very much an underworld through which the Hero is passing in order to bring balance back to the Force. And the second time we experience Vader's unmasking, we perceive it, not as a final test which Luke fails, but as the final stage in the salvation of Anakin, the Hero. Luke is no longer the Hero who fails to grow up: this time is the agency through which the fallen Hero is redeemed. When we experienced Return of the Jedi, from Luke's viewpoint, then the final moments seem to be a failure, the Hero turning his back on his friends and looking towards his Father. When we experience it from Anakin's viewpoint, we perceive it as a final success. The wounds that the Hero received at the hands of his Father are healed, and our last image is of Anakin: mature, good, in his Jedi robes, and alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda, represent the final salvation of the hero and, presumably, the restoration of balance to the Force, the healing of the world.

Hochsten Heiles Wunder! Erlosung dem Erloser.

We have gone a long journey with the Hero—from Luke, to Anakin, to Vader and back to Anakin again. The cycle, which has been more like a spiral, is completed. Lucas is absolutely correct to rule out making Episodes VII, VIII and IX: there is absolutely nowhere left for the sequels to go.

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