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Something for Anakin to think about

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Jul. 13th, 2005 | 08:04 pm
mood: confusedconfused
posted by: hlglne in think_anakin

Reprinted with permission, by helgaleena...

Peoples, I have always thought that Anakin taming the reak in the arena on Geonosis was one of the more important metaphors for the world of possibilities Anakin is never allowed to realize. He and his two loves, harnessing raw wild energies that were supposed to destroy them, etc etc and then I came accross this essay that corroborates what I felt. Yes, I write slash, but the Kalevala is better still, no?




We Must Love One Another or Die – W. H. Auden

by Athena Andreadis


The second day that Revenge of the Sith opened, I left work early
early for me, that is) and like someone sneaking off to an illegal
tryst, I went to see it.

I went hopefully but reluctantly, at the last possible moment (stop
me from giving in to the Dark Side, Obi-Wan!). I'd enjoyed the brio
of A New Hope and had been captivated by the darker hues of The
Empire Strikes Back – though being Greek, I knew what "the surprise"
was the moment I heard there was one. However, I had heartily
disliked Return of the Jedi and Phantom Menace and was highly
ambivalent about Attack of the Clones. I'm not bewitched by the
endless battle scenes or the lightsaber pas-de-deux that eventually
blur into sameness. I have immovable reservations about a universe
geared to eleven-year old boys and their values – which exclude
significant chunks of human experience but include the core belief
that girls are icky and if a Jedi gets too close to them his
lightsaber won't ignite. Yet here I was, a scientist, a reader of
Sophocles in the original and a woman nearing fifty, going to a
matinee so that the room would be reasonably empty.

And in the darkness of the theater, I felt my eyelids prickle with
anger and grief when young Anakin Skywalker, his mouth contorted with
anguish, fell to his knees before the Emperor.

The ache persisted after I left the theater, so I started worrying it
like a sore tooth. The plot, script and characters of the film
flip-flop between the 10th and 30th centuries, between frothy action and
portentous message, awash in hip-bruising clunkiness and jarring
contradictions. But these shortcomings bedevil all Star War films, so that wasn't
the root cause. There's the annoying Campbellian mishmash of iconic
characters stripped of their specifics and reduced to facile shorthand
(Anakin morphs into Icarus, Sampson, Achilles, Oedipus, Christ, Lucifer,
Tristan, Othello, Faust… I'm sure I'll find more if I put my mind to
it). The degeneration of Padmé from Amazon to Puddle on the Floor was
unbearable but I had sort of expected that from Mr. Lucas, who clearly
feels comfortable only with virgins of both genders.

For a while, I thought that the ache came from my sense that Mr.
Lucas, with his unlimited resources, could have woven a gripping
story if only he'd move beyond his love of gizmos and lunchbox
profits. We desperately need compelling stories. Anakin
Skywalker's fall, if told well, can hook right into the solar plexus
because our culture has primed us for it: the fall of a great hero
through pride, fear, rage or loss is a major theme (and, some argue,
a definitive metaphor) of Western civilization.

Thinking over the constant mantra from both the Jedi and Sith Boys'
Treehouses ("Trust your feelings!") I finally isolated what disturbed me
so strongly that I started this essay on the eve of a grant deadline.
I'd ignored similar twinges while watching the original Star Wars
trilogy, because those films were lighthearted, lightweight romps. I cannot
ignore it in Episode 3, which unfolds with Wagnerian solemnity and
aspires to the mantle of Greek tragedy. There is a punitive spirit in the
Star Wars prequels, as manipulative and controlling as the Dark Side it
professes to abhor. Essentially, we are told that Anakin falls
because… he loves his mate and so cannot gain the detachment required to
become the Supreme Jedi Enforcer, a Buddhist Robocop.

To put it succinctly, Mr. Lucas advocates that only hierarchical
interactions are legitimate and that partnerships between equals are toxic.
Those between women and men are destructive and doomed. Those between
men are acceptable only if based on the religious/military model of
abject submission, in which alpha males apportion rewards at whim (there
are no interactions between women in Mr. Lucas' opus, as there is a
single girl in each trilogy). In Star Wars, old men rule joylessly over a
wasteland; girls die before they become those dreaded aliens, women;
young men are left bereft and isolated – in Anakin's case, literally
walled off from all humanizing contact in his final incarnation as a demon
in a can.

The presentation of such a universe as desirable even in fantasy by
someone with Mr. Lucas' influence is dangerous, at a time when people
throughout the world are being turned into terrified cubicle drones and the
US is hurtling towards government by a fusion of military, church and
industry. We need different myths that topple this monolith, which
combines gigantism born of industrial consolidation and institutional
fusion with rampant social atomization. We have to reassert the virtues of
thoughtful disobedience and wholesome self-will. To put it in
Lucas-speak, guys who want their hugs should not be portrayed as weak or evil
for wanting them.

The meta-thesis of Sith essentially asserts that submitting to the
normal biological and social instincts catalyzes one's destruction
and ultimately makes one subject to depthless evil. It's just a
movie, I know. Still, it's a vehicle for the shared stories that
orient our thinking and help us imagine the possible. Today, facing
a post-9/11 three-headed monolith that would have make Eisenhower's
military industrial complex look benign, we really need archetypes
in our shared narratives who are rewarded for their capacity to bind
people in assertion of wholesome common interest. Anakin's story
wants to teach us that a fate much worse than death awaits the fool
who accepts love or tries to find an equitable community.

The boys in the bubble

I once saw an eerie picture taken at a Hasidic wedding. Separating the
foreground from the background was the long curtain that keeps the
genders apart. On the curtain fell the shadow of a young girl dancing, her
braids (still her own, not yet a lifeless wig) swinging. At the front
of the curtain, a boy was stretching his hand, trying to touch her
shadow. Whenever I contemplate Star Wars, I'm reminded of that picture.

The human universe of the Star War prequels is a cold, airless
locker. There are no families, no civic life beyond power politics,
no artists or scientists, no (pre)occupation except endless wars
which make as much sense as the Aztec campaigns to capture more
victims for their altars. There is no song, no laughter, no tears
until they spill like blood from hapless Anakin when his short
tether is jerked once too often. There is no intimacy, no
friendship beyond schoolboy camaraderie, no sex for either love or
pleasure – though dismemberments abound, so it's not the PG rating
that caused this elision.

The only ones shown to raise children in Star Wars are the Jedi and the
crèches that hatch the cloned boys bred for docility, who will become
stormtroopers. Harry Harlow showed definitively what happens to primate
babies when they're deprived of caresses, something that the Jedi seem
not to have registered during their long communion with the Force.
Several power hierarchies in human history used the Jedi recruitment
methods (removal from family, celibacy, forbidding of attachments) – most
notably the Ottoman sultans. Not surprisingly, this created the
janissary shock troops, not the samurai rangers Mr. Lucas wants us to believe
naturally arise from such an upbringing.

The Jedi mumble Taoist-derived platitudes to prove that they're on
the side of Light but they are really a fusion of a rupture cult and
a multinational corporation. To become "worthy", prospective Jedi
must suspend their own judgment and unquestioningly obey an
authority whose teachings consist of silly psychobabble, endless
hazing rituals and the sense of entitlement that comes from carrying
arms. In the Jedi order, all normal mental or emotional responses
are met either with the galactic version of the Amish Shunning
"You'll be expelled!" screams Obi-Wan when Anakin tries to rescue
Padmé during a battle) or with instructions to take cold baths
"Mourn do not!" intones Yoda when Anakin comes to him twisted with
anxiety from having nightmares about Padmé dying). Anakin is
supposedly not just the most powerful wielder of the Force but also
a pivot, yet the Jedi treat him like a passive asset or an unruly
horse. At least the Sith are frank about what they want and how they
go about getting it.

And to what great purpose is Anakin's high midichlorian count
harnessed? He is turned into a fighting machine for the status quo, just as
Wolverine of the X-Men is made into a weapon even though his gift is for
healing. The powerful realized long ago that the most reliable way to
produce killer automatons is to separate young boys from the other
gender and from the part of themselves that questions, does not split
thinking from feeling – and fights from inner conviction, not thwarted
affection and vaporous promises of glory. Anakin does not need to carry
destructive genes. The Jedi have implanted in him such abject fear of
natural reactions and processes that he is bound to detonate a landmine in
any direction he steps.

The Jedi philosophy does not lead to swashbuckling exploits, but to
Wounded Knee and Buchenwald, to young men flying airplanes into
buildings. People are systematically dehumanized in Star Wars,
treated as interchangeable ciphers. We never see what happens to the
civilians. The cloned soldiers never take off their helmets, making
it convenient to forget that they are still human inside those
plastic uniforms. Hacking off body parts appears the sole
legitimate response to disagreement in Star Wars: there is no
visible price for it, if committed by a Jedi – and by virtue of the
lightsaber it's always neatly bloodless.

Yet there is an interesting exception to this coyness: Obi-Wan – the
embodiment of all Jedi virtues – first mutilates his apprentice, his
adopted younger brother, the comrade who repeatedly saved his life,
then leaves him burning alive. Granted, the plot dictates that this
charred stump must survive to menace his children as a cardboard
villain in the sequels. However, Mr. Lucas could have achieved story
continuity without making a snuff scene about what must happen to those who
question authority.

All this desolation springs from the glorification of infantile dualism
and the mistrust of complex human interactions. "Be afraid!Desire will
make you betray duty!" pronounce the Jedi in their quest for
tractability – and Anakin rips himself to shreds over the false conflict. In
Dune, Paul Atreides becomes a genuine Prometheus, because he wrenches
control of his strings from the Bene Gesserit and assumes full
responsibility for the jihad he unleashes. Anakin, on the other hand – ardent,
naïve, frantic for approval – never attains free will or the charisma and
seductive grandeur of a true Lucifer, despite his off-the-charts Force
readings. Callously treated by all his surrogate fathers, that torn
boy is not a failed Messiah but a pawn. In the end, he follows the Jedi
teachings to their logical conclusion, and creates a universe of total
order by systematic slaughter. It would have been better for him and
for the galaxy if he'd been Iroquois: the women of that nation could
forbid their men from taking part in unjust wars.

Catching girl cooties

If men of the Star Wars universe are held in cages of rage and fear,
its lone girls are ignored until the boys need an Angel in the
House(Jango Fett at least is honest, bypassing women altogether). The token girl
in the Lucas universe faces a lose-lose proposition. She cannot do
anything by and for herself; her sole function is to act as an impotent
hand-wringing conscience for the men. However, this function is
worthless since non-warriors in Star Wars are treated as subhuman, despite the
lip service to justice and compassion. As Eowyn says to Aragorn: "All
your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the
house. But when the men have died in battle and honour, you have leave to
be burned in the house, for the men will need it no more."

Just as the boys in Star Wars are given the false choice between glory
or love, the girls are given the thankless task of being feisty but
unthreatening, without any guarantee of clemency for good behavior. Worse
yet, since there is only one female per Star Wars trilogy, she has to
be mother, sister, lover all rolled into one. That, of course, is a
no-no because it blurs the sacrosanct divisions between virgin and whore –
and also because it implies dominance (to underline the transgression,
Padmé is explicitly older and of higher rank than her tercel boy
husband). The girl is a threat to the boy's purity of purpose, an Eve in the
making; when she crosses the sexual and emotional boundary, she is
speedily dispatched, Ophelia-style, abandoning her defenseless children –
the girl condemned to be left untrained in her power, the boy slated to
undergo the brutalization already meted out to his father. Once again,
Mr. Lucas is swift to punish those who partake of the fruit of
knowledge and threaten to become independent moral agents.

There is something almost prurient in this punitive puritanism, but it
also points to a tremendous failure of the imagination. In a universe
with advanced prosthetics, sentient AIs, cloned armies and
faster-than-light travel, women have no access to contraception and still stand to
lose their jobs when they get pregnant, like Japanese office girls.
Mr. Lucas not only cleaves to the tenets of the nuclear family, but
explicitly to its fifties version. Yet even within Mr. Lucas' tiny menu of
female choices there is one compelling alternative. Predictably, he
toys with it but eventually lets it lie fallow, as it would subvert his
emphasis on the dangers of loving women and the need to choose the
disembodied rewards of monastic male bonding.

In Renault's The King Must Die, the Amazon Hippolyta agrees to a parley
with Theseus, "one king to another". You are a queen, he corrects her.
No, she replies, I'm a king like you... a woman king. Hippolyta becomes
the irreplaceable center of Theseus' life because she is his equal.
Would that Mr. Lucas had been "radical" enough to make Padmé as powerful
as Buffy, the slayer and lover of vampires, or as resourceful as
Guinevere in the recent revisionist remake of King Arthur. It might even
have helped his anemic storyline.

If a girl cannot have adventures of her own, she can at least be the
boy's partner in his. This allows a non-hierarchical interaction in
which real stakes are involved, with room for both intimacy and
camaraderie, both vulnerability and heroics. For a brief moment in Attack of the
Clones there is hope for such an alliance, in the arena confrontation.
There, Padmé becomes Anakin's charioteer (a position reserved for the
hero's male lover in the sagas) and she proves formidable in battle
despite her lack of a lightsaber. It is telling that this segment contains
the sole believable kiss that the two exchange.

Such partnerships cut right through the hoary male bonding of the Jedi
and their ilk and are truly subversive. Love that spurs people into
action is rightly feared by power hierarchies, because it strides across
boundaries considered immovable. Anakin's original hothouse
infatuation in Attack of the Clones is not really dangerous to the status quo –
in fact, it acts as a convenient pressure release valve. At the end of
that episode, though, Anakin makes a conscious covenant with Padmé
unlike his agreement to enter into the Jedi order, for which he was too
young to give informed consent.

The stories of André Norton and the wuxia films of Yimou Zhang and Ang
Lee explore this mode by making the genders often conflicted allies but
always equal in prowess. In contrast to the passivity and distance of
pedestals, partners guarding each other's back are fully engaged with
each other and with the task at hand. The private and public duties
fuse into a seamless whole, reinforcing rather than weakening each other.
However, even second-hand heroism for women is not an option in the
Lucas universe.

The beta males have it all – ask a bonobo

I once saw a cartoon of a bunch of cave men, throwing spears at a saber
tooth tiger that has already mauled several. One of them is saying to
another, "I can't imagine how stupid the beta males must be feeling,
left behind with the women." This encapsulates the attitude of the Jedi
and Mr. Lucas, and also serves as the goad used in boot camps. It's a
neat trick, of course, because forswearing the love of women as
polluting does not turn boys into superheroes or rebel leaders, it merely
makes them angry and needy enough to unquestioningly become cannon fodder.
Even doofy Peter Parker figures this one out in Spiderman 2.

If the Jedi teachings are inadequate even during times of strife, they
are even worse recipes for living when the exploits must come to an end
(maybe that explains the need for constant upheavals in the series).
Men and women who are fully grown humans can pick up weapons during
rebellion or defensive war and then can lay them down and go back to being
bards, healers, explorers, craftspeople, parents. The American
revolution was all about yeomen standing up to elite troops -- as was the
Vietnam war. When the din of battle ceases, people can think and start
asking questions. The Jedi need to retain their privileges as a
self-appointed elite caste and the clones, solely bred for killing, cannot stand
down. So if one war ends, a new one must be started. Integration of
professional soldiers has always been a major problem in human
societies. In Star Wars, the slow pace and hard labors of peace appear as
glamorous as doing laundry when juxtaposed to the duels and battles, no
matter how pointless these are. But those who have seen real war and its
aftermath know how far removed it is from the balletic, antiseptic
melees featured in Star Wars.

The original Star Wars trilogy was a gentler, kinder place than the
prequels in part because the workings of love or peace did not rear their
ugly heads. But Anakin wants affection as well as a purpose worthy of
his powers. When the abuse keeps falling on him like Chinese water
torture despite his heroic efforts, he grows mutinous – so he and his
Jocasta must be made into examples. By making Anakin the focus of the
sextet, Mr. Lucas invalidates the lightheartedness, verve and hopefulness
of the original trilogy. We are meant to judge the boy weak in resolve,
open to temptation because he's concerned for his mother and his wife,
in need of redemption by the son who achieves the state of holy eunuch
that eluded his sire.

But the dilemma that breaks Anakin is a decoy, to distract him from
realizing that he's being used. His real fall comes when, goaded past
endurance, he attains the detachment so dear to the Jedi and stops seeing
people as individuals. His tragic error is not that "he loveth too
well" (as Mr. Lucas posits) but, on the contrary, that he doesn't trust
his lover enough to heed her counsel. His primary loyalty is always to
his masters, not to his partner – and he still gets seared to ash for
not saying "Yes, Master!" often enough. Nor is he truly forgiven: in the
end he isn't reunited with Padmé, but sentenced to spend eternity with
Yoda. As for Padmé, there is little left to grieve over. Except as an
incubator, she really dies at the end of Episode 2.

In The Matrix, Neo and Trinity go down together in battle, bonded
partners to the bitter end. A sludgeful of mystic bombast bubbles through
that trilogy, but at least Trinity is never reduced to Mary Magdalene.
Perhaps the difference is that the Oracle issuing the portents in The
Matrix is a confident, rebellious, ornery old woman, rather than a chorus
of frightened, rule-bound, prissy old men. Ursula LeGuin's Roke wizards
start out in a configuration almost identical to that of the Jedi in
her early Earthsea novels – but by the end of the cycle, braver and wiser
than the Jedi, they decide to open their doors to the world, Their
choice guarantees that they remain forces of renewal, rather than
oppression.

Anakin should have listened to his mate, and opted out of the brutal,
pointless competition for teacher's pet. He could still have become the
hero and savior he so craved to be: he could have gone with her to free
the slaves on Tatooine (even if that meant giving up his nifty
lightsaber). They'd probably have failed and he might go through the agony of
watching her die – but, as King Théoden says, that would be an end
worthy of remembrance. Or, if she could not sway him from his ruinous
path, she should be the one to fight him, Galadriel to his Fëanor, instead
of fading away like a Victorian consumptive.

There is a man in Star Wars who gets it all and he is the one who
follows Padmé's injunction to step out of the imprisoning box. That is Han
Solo, not a Jedi but a commoner, a freelance mercenary who does not
care about belonging to boys' clubs. That also happens in The Fifth
Element, where Korben Dallas becomes a hero by just being a regular guy –
but equally crucially, by giving his supreme loyalty to his lover. In The
Lord of the Rings, too, it is not the hero Boromir but his younger
brother Faramir, the reluctant warrior, the scholar scorned by his father,
who survives and wins Eowyn. Tolkien, despite his unabashedly Manichean
view of the world, is more nuanced, progressive and humane than Mr.
Lucas.

After Revenge of the Sith, I for one cannot look at the praying mantis
mask of Vader without superimposing on it the haunted eyes of the boy
entombed within that carapace, still smoking with need and loss. I
cannot watch the films without recalling how his mentors tormented and
betrayed him, turned his humanity against him, leading him to wreak
terrible ruin in his turn. Of the girl I can only see a pale ineffectual
ghost. Episodes 2 and 3 of the Star Wars prequels are a cautionary tale
about the dangers of wanting to be fully human, tracts on the need for
unquestioning submission to authority. Armies, fundamentalist churches
and corporations should add them to their teaching manuals. The rest of
us should go and create subversive tales of universes not threatened by
complexity, wholesome tribal (read: sub-institutional) affiliations or
plain garden-variety affection.

Athena Andreadis is an academic research scientist at work in the
Boston area and the author of To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star
Trek.



Fellow SW myth-heads,
Andreadis calls for the subversive use of "plain garden variety affection". That is the secret ingredient of a worthwhile SW fanfic IMO. We are revising Lucas in self-defense!
or at least, that is how I am reading her here...

http://www.livejournal.com/users/hlglne helgaleena-slash

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Comments {10}

Alena

(no subject)

from: leolandria
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 02:31 am (UTC)
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Brilliant essay, and not surprising she's a local. ^_^

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every city has its secret...

(no subject)

from: rabidfangurl
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 03:56 am (UTC)
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I gave up reading that essay midway through because if I banged my head into the wall one more time, I would hurt something important.

Methinks I'd best get cracking on my essay about chastity in Star Wars, with the little digressions on courtly love, testing the hero, and the symbolic castration of the Grail King. ::sighs and crawls into bed with her Campbell::

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lazypadawan

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from: lazypadawan
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 04:44 am (UTC)
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I couldn't disagree more with what this woman wrote. If you agree with it, I don't see how you'd even like SW in the first place.

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every city has its secret...

(no subject)

from: rabidfangurl
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 04:54 am (UTC)
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Amen sister!

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hlglne

(no subject)

from: hlglne
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 07:28 am (UTC)
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Could you give an example? because I really do like Star Wars. Obi-Ani is equivalent to Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Only for nowadays. I know it is hard to choose only one example, but we could start with one.

BTW in my fics I do spend a lot of time sniffing between the lines of canon, for genuine love, which GL is not very skilled at depicting. I see a need and supply it, and hopefully some joy also.

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lazypadawan

(no subject)

from: lazypadawan
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 02:42 pm (UTC)
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There are some points in there that I figure Anakin/Vader fans would agree with. But as a whole, as a left-wing sf fan, she doesn't get these movies any more than Orson Scott Card got them when trashed ROTS in his review. She dismisses the movies as having the values of 11-year-old boys (and implies they are anti-female), says Lucas cares mostly about "gizmos and lunchbox profits," and claims that the point of the prequels is to nail people into submission: Armies, fundamentalist churches and corporations should add them to their teaching manuals.

By making Anakin the focus of the sextet, Mr. Lucas invalidates the lightheartedness, verve and hopefulness
of the original trilogy


No it doesn't. The OT builds off the hopeful tone at the very end of ROTS, if you view them as a saga in order from Episode I-VI.

As for depicting genuine love, it is there. I was convinced of the love between Anakin and Padmé, Han and Leia, Luke and Leia, Luke and all of his other friends, and Obi-Wan and Anakin (speaking of all kinds of love, not just romantic/sexual love). I wouldn't write about any of these ships if there was no there there IMO.

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hlglne

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from: hlglne
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC)
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You are correct, LP; there is plenty of there there.

That is a good example of where Andreadis is going for shock. she does tend to call it space opera as if that was a bad thing. However, her intuition about 'girl cooties' I'm afraid I felt too, though of course there are no concrete examples one can point at. Because nobody ever touches anybody else , ever, if they can help it! Even Ani and Padme in bed. sheesh, I am starting to generalize, sorry. too much gestalt, not enough substance.
But when they do touch, why do we start to squee? because we have been starved for it by Lucas until those moments!

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lazypadawan

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from: lazypadawan
date: Jul. 15th, 2005 05:42 am (UTC)
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When the characters touch, it means something. Hence the squees.

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Katta

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from: kattahj
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 08:02 pm (UTC)
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It's funny, I had a radically different interpretation of the prequels - or rather, of what they meant. I saw the Jedi as a civilisation that's doomed to fail, since they've created a "light" that is as unforgiving and cold as the "darkness", which is why (as the essayist points out) the Empire is in a way the logical conclusion. Luke realizes that and creates a path that is neither here nor there, refusing to detach himself but also to give in to his anger and fears.

In other words, the world lost in III isn't as good as the world won in VI.

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hlglne

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from: hlglne
date: Jul. 14th, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)
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I agree with you about that. The politics of the Republic, as well as the Jedi Order, are rotten to the core. A decadent universe such as QueerAsJedi fits right in. They screwed up Anakin's head so much that he simply had to take them down. That constitutes bringing of the "balance to the Force" in the first trilogy. Second trilogy, it is the reunion with Luke.

The Force hiccuped and Ani turned. I just wish that they hadn't killed that newly tamed reak on Geonosis. I wish it had stomped Dooku and Jango cleanly. The same goes for that execrable feathered gecko in ROTS called Boga. All that CG on a few few short hours of bonding with Obi-Wan, then, it's big beast carcass time again. Lucas does not believe in successsfully riding the beast unless you're from an EU backwater like Dathomir.

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