Revenge Of The Sith: A Mind At War

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I know I said this earlier this week you guys but I just have to repeat myself, I cannot believe we’re already in the third month of our countdown to Episode IX!!! I don’t know about you, but it’s been a hell of a lot of fun exploring these films one at a time, and Revenge of the Sith is one of my all-time favorites — because let’s be honest, it’s dramatic as hell and I live for that kind of over-the-top madness in my mythic lore! What really drives home the tone and emotion of this prequel finale is our fallen hero: Anakin Skywalker himself. The little boy who escaped slavery and devoted his life to the people of the galaxy and became the the young Jedi we’ve come to love and care for now has to die so that Vader can be born in his stead. His ultimate fate was known since the very beginning but now it’s time for him to finally fall beyond our outstretched fingers and plunge into the place where only true villains dwell. And dear god, does Hayden Christensen deliver an emotionally devastating performance.

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The Anakin we meet in the beginning  of Revenge of the Sith is definitely not the same as the reckless, eager-to-prove-himself-but-often-to-his-own-detriment one we left behind at the end of Attack of the Clones. A few years have passed and with the assurance of Padme’s love and support and a more confident and sedate maturity borne of experience and lessons learned, Anakin has settled in his role as a Jedi Knight despite the continued spite of the Masters of the Order. Within the first twenty minutes of the film we see Anakin calmly and resiliently save Obi-Wan’s life twice, council patience while urging greater kindness for those around him (specifically the clones and R2), and engage in combat with a previous enemy with far more control and level-headedness than was previously displayed. For all intents and purposes, Anakin has grown up into a kind, intelligent, compassionate human being and Star Wars goes to great lengths to establish that fact as soon as possible. So many fans and viewers identify Anakin as whiney, immature, and power-hungry but that’s not the character we’re given at all. That’s the Jedi’s tainted version of him, the propaganda slogan that’s hardwired into our perceptions as we watch our supposed heroes fall from grace. Yes, Anakin’s personality changes over the course of ROTS, and it’s important that we see it, but not for the reason so many of us think.

“I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate. You have anger. But you don’t use them.” — Count Dooku

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As I said, Anakin’s introduction in this film is as an unmistakable hero —  he saves his former Master from not only buzz-droids and a failing personal space-craft, but from being left behind unconscious on an enemy vessel, is willing to risk his own life and his Jedi-mandated mission to save the lives of his Clone troops, and even urges Obi-Wan to be kinder and more considerate to their droid companion and fan-favorite badass: R2-D2. This is a stark and immediate change from the nervous, uncomfortable-in-his-skin teenager we last saw — this is an adult and a leader taking charge to save lives. Lucas even goes so far as to show Anakin advocating patience instead of action, urging that they wait for help instead of surging ahead blindly fighting their way out of a situation… a far leap from the boy who rushed headlong into a fight against an unknown enemy and had the lower half of his arm sliced off within seconds. This is the man Anakin truly is, or is as close to that person as we’ll ever get without Jedi or fate involvement. This is Shmi’s son, the boy who thinks only of others, who knows nothing of greed, and who faced down almost certain death to help complete strangers stranded on a desert planet. This is the Anakin we mourn for when he makes that final fatal choice, and this is the Anakin that is stolen from us and from Padme by the Force itself.

“Something’s happening. I’m not the Jedi I should be.” — Anakin Skywalker

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But alongside this new maturity and growth is the sense that something is very wrong with our hero. We see it in brief flashes of unexplainable violence and even sense it in the quiet moments between he and Padme. The boy who spoke the truth of his feelings at every turn is suddenly more subdued, more uneasy with his thoughts and actions and words and doesn’t know what is happening to himself and the world around him. With each new outburst Anakin slowly begins shutting down, spiraling into himself, unsure of how to communicate what is happening inside of himself and no matter how he explains it to those around him, no one understands enough to actually help. Ultimately he is older, he is wiser, and sadly for him and everyone around him, he is closer than ever to succumbing to his fate.

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Moments after his defeat of Count Dooku, something unexplainable comes over our hero and in a fatal flash he beheads his unarmed opponent — to the urging of Chancellor Palpatine. It’s easy to dismiss this as evidence of Anakin’s already submissive state to his future Master of the darkside of the Force, but this shocking lack of control is shown directly after Dooku comments on Anakin’s refusal to connect to his darker and more human instincts. If Anakin was nothing more than a walking monster waiting to happen then there is no point in stating that he doesn’t fight with the most dangerous and effective aspects of himself, the audience would be all-too ready to watch Vader come out to play, but that’s the whole point. Vader is not wholly Anakin. Vader is the representation of the darkest part of Ani’s human nature and despite himself, his beliefs, and his own choices, that dark energy is being forced to manifest not only by the actions of those around him, but also by the Force itself. Anakin is destiny and fate made real. The Force has watched as it’s users misused it’s energy for thousands of years, as even the good fell prey to corruption and power-mongering and it has finally said enough… and sent Anakin to wipe clean the slate. These flashes are only the beginning of the Force making it’s will known.

“Something’s happening…”

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For Anakin, the small glimpse of happiness and peace that was granted to him is over. The Sith are taking over the government of the galaxy and the Jedi have proven complicit to their crimes, allying themselves with their mortal enemies to stave off the Force’s judgement, ultimately justifying the Force’s need to cleanse itself. Both the Jedi and the Sith are morally corrupt, tipping the scales towards intolerance, hostility, and even death. There is no balance to be found in the Force any longer, so Anakin must create it anew. But in doing so he will lose himself in the process because he is the balance. To wipe away the tarnished light, he will become darkness and death incarnate, and only when it’s time to destroy the dark will he find the light inside himself again. Until his fated task is complete, Anakin’s cries for help will go unheard and ultimately unanswered, even by the audience themselves. We can only watch, and suffer along with him, as he slowly descends into madness and step by painful step loses himself completely to the will of the Force.

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The Journey Continues: Revenge Of The Sith

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It was an epic year of high school firsts and personal discoveries, of big victories and small failures, and over-all great change in the weeks and months leading up to the release of Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith. And throughout it all, my house was chock-full of minutely detailed fan-theories and wide-eyed conspiracy theories regarding the final fate our galactic heroes and supposed villains. I remember having countless detailed conversations with my dad as to what exactly was going to make Anakin turn to the darkside and become Darth Vader. We all figured it had something to do with Padme dying since we’d all seen what happened with his mother and the rage that lurked beneath the surface, especially considering he loved her so intensely and she definitely wasn’t in the originals. so as sad as it was, it was a safe bet that our badass Queen turned Senator was going to be taken from us somehow. But by whom? How? And why? These were the million-dollar questions and dear god did we have some crazy ideas.

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Looking back at it all, the entire lead-up to the release was completely nerve-wracking and thrilling – the stakes had never been so high for me before with regards to a movie franchise. The only thing that came close was waiting for each new Harry Potter book (and let me tell you was a whole-other level of stress, especially after The Goblet of Fire), but Star Wars was something I had literally been born into, I had lived and breathed with theses character and their stories my entire life, and now with this final episode on the horizon, we were going to be given the answers to every question we as fans had ever asked ourselves. What were we going to do with ourselves once it was all over?!

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I remember when the Sunday paper released the first detailed images of Episode III and Anakin, I was eating breakfast with my family at one of our favorite diners and I just couldn’t take my eyes off the haunting image of Ani surrounded by the black and red of Mustafar. This was it… it was actually finally happening. The Anakin I had fallen in love with over the last two films was about to face the thing that was going to break him, that was going to turn him from the bright happy boy who loved an amazing woman, to the black-clad mechanical monster that terrorized the galaxy. I was going to be with him every step of the way, but this was a perilous journey and I knew we weren’t all going to make it through to the other side. I was almost 16, and this was the first time I had to let a character go. I’d known going in that there was no saving him, but over the course of two films and six years, I had forgotten somehow that Anakin was not mine to keep. That I had to give him back to fate so that he could become the villain he was meant to be. Because the end of his story had already been told, it was the cliffhanger of a middle that was about to be revealed.

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When the film finally soared into theaters May 19th 2005 my parents, my little brother, and I took our seats and I held my breath. This was the last time we wouldn’t know the whole story…or so we thought. It didn’t surprise me to learn that I had been right, that it was the loss of Padme, or rather the fear of losing her, that lead Anakin down the darkest of paths, but I was blown away by how intense every second of the film was. I cried in anguish as Anakin made that fatal decision to leave the Jedi temple to stop Mace Windu from arresting Palpatine, and then again in horror as he marched back into the temple to wreck the destruction of Darth Vader. That scene shocked me more than any other. My Anakin was gone, I had watched him leave, watched him blur into Darth Vader before my very eyes, and no amount of begging and pleading from either Padme or myself could get him to stop and come back to the light. I left the theater stunned and absolutely amazed, telling those waiting in line for the next showing that they were in for a heck of an emotional roller-coaster!

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Fourteen years later and I still feel utter shock and devastation every time I watch Revenge of the Sith. Every time Anakin stands alone in the temple, feeling the weight of Padme’s life on his shoulders I want to scream at him not to leave, not to make this horrible decision. Even as I’ve gotten older and my love of the Jedi Order has faded into a much harsher viewpoint, I still find myself wishing that Anakin could have found another way, that he had just waited for Obi-Wan or something, I don’t even know what really! But his fate was sealed long before his birth, and this was the path the Force set him upon and no amount of tears or wishes was going to keep him from bring balance to the galaxy in the most brutal way possible.

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And in the end that’s what makes this film so epic and timeless. No matter how much time has passed since its original release, fans still find themselves interacting with the moments playing out onscreen, hoping time and again that this time the story changes, that this time Anakin makes a different choice. We sit there entranced as the events unfold before us, the way that they always have ever since 2005 and still we can’t help but have hope. Hope that this time, we can rewrite the story, that we can defy fate. Hope that this time, maybe if we’re strong enough, we can reach through the Force and save the characters we’ve come to love.

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Attack Of The Clones: An Unholy Alliance

“What if I told you that the Republic was now under the control of a dark lord of the Sith?”  — Count Dooku
“No, that’s not possible. The Jedi would sense it.”  — Obi-Wan Kenobi
“The dark side has clouded their vision. Hundreds of senators are now under the influence of a Sith lord called Darth Sidious.”  — Count Dooku

After re-watching The Attack of the Clones for this month, I noticed something strange that I’ve never fully paid attention to before and it stuck with me throughout the entire film and that’s just how often Yoda and Mace Windu are in the same room with or in close proximity to Chancellor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious and the future tyrannical Emperor of the galaxy himself. I’m not sure how I missed it before, though it probably had something to do with me being preoccupied with the Ani/Padme affair or the Ani/Obi-Wan drama, but this time, right from the beginning I noticed that our two best known and loved Jedi Masters were definitely in the room with arguably the greatest evil in the galaxy…and they didn’t seem to register or notice anything odd…which when you think about it, is odd in-and-of itself.

As a politician, Palpatine is presumably used to keeping himself tightly under-wraps at all times, and as a Sith even doubly so, but Yoda and Windu are the best the Jedi Order have to offer and they’re sitting two feet from the metaphorical-font of all darkness and villainy and death, and they don’t notice anything? Not even a flicker of the Force saying that something is not right?! And this pairing doesn’t happen just once, but multiple times throughout the film – to the point we even see the Masters in the Senate itself during the vote that allows Palpatine to have emergency executive powers which he then uses to “create” the of the Republic army (i.e the clonetroopers)! They are in the epicenter of Palpatine’s powerbase itself, present for the moment he is given almost unlimited political power and still it comes as a surprise to them in the ROTS that he is the Sith lord they’ve been “searching” for? I’m sorry but I don’t buy it.

The Jedi are tapped into the essence of the Force itself, feeling it’s pull and sway and searching out it’s truth and defending the good in the galaxy and yet we’re to believe that it’s two best representatives and most learned, experienced, and wise Masters are blind to what’s right in front of them, because Sidious is that powerful? That may have been more likely had they not so often been in close proximity but again, we see them in the same room at the same time, several times throughout the film. The Force is something that is felt in and around all things but most especially it’s active users, we see this time and again in the movies. Luke even teaches Rey how to access and interprets it in The Last Jedi where within just moments she understands and feels enough to know that Luke has shut himself off from the Force and that there is a lack of something around him and it’s noticeable. So even if Palpatine was shutting the Force off when in the presence of the Jedi Masters, it should still have registered for them that this lack of connection was highly unusual considering the Force is in all things.

“And this is the lesson: That Force does not belong to the Jedi. To say that if the Jedi dies, the light dies is vanity. Can you feel that?!”  — Luke Skywalker

“But I didn’t see you… Nothing from you. You’ve closed yourself off from the Force.” — Rey

Yoda notices Anakin’s pain from across the Galaxy when Shmi died, he feels the loss of each Jedi when Order 66 occurs, and yet he doesn’t notice what’s sitting across from him staring him in the face? Unlikely. And why were Yoda and Windu in the Senate that day anyway, do the Jedi have representation on the Senatorial floor, and if so, are they the Jedi Senators? Because considering how much overall disgust, distrust, and you-can’t-trust-politicians-because-they’re-power-hungry-monsters speeches are thrown around and repeatedly hinted at during AOTC and ROTS then that’s saying something about the Jedi Masters. Even if they are not elected officials, they are the only Jedi we see on the senatorial floor – if not the only non-political people we see in the Senate that I can remember – and that makes them the Jedi senatorial representatives to the audience if nothing else.

“And don’t forget: she a politician, and they’re not to be trusted.”  — Obi-Wan Kenobi

So again, if they supposedly harbor no real suspicion of Palpatine, why are the Jedi Masters present in the Senate…on the very day the creation of the Republic Army becomes legal. An army that was created by a Jedi Master (Sifo-Dyas) and recruited for by a Sith (Tyranus aka Dooku) ten years previous…just about the time that Anakin Skywalker was brought before the Jedi Council and acknowledged as the Chosen One… from the prophecy that foretold the destruction of both the Jedi and the Sith.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and nothing brings together warring fractions like the idea that they will both be destroyed by a third power now on the rise. For all the talk of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, we are shown our “heroes” and our “villains” together again and again and again and now an army that they both had a hand in making comes into play, just as Anakin becomes old enough to become disillusioned and noticeably dissatisfaction and angry. I mean talk about a coincidence of galactic proportions… but then “all is as the Force wills it” – there are no coincidences in Star Wars.

The greatest Masters of the Jedi Order knew their time was running out, their reckoning had come in the form of a child who had endured slavery and poverty and still faced the world with love and acceptance, and short of killing him outright and proving themselves to be the villains of the galaxy, they had no way of stopping him. So, they united with the only other people who had a stake in the game and were equally threatened: the dark lords of the Sith themselves. Together these two factions created an army that consisted of a cloned Mandalorian Bounty Hunter, i.e. one of the most dangerous sorts of fighters in the galaxy, all to keep themselves safe from a child created by the Force itself with one purpose: to restore balance to the force. In the end, the Jedi Masters made a deal with the devil to stay alive but didn’t pay attention to the fine print – Palpatine would help them, but he had a contingency plan of his own…

 

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Attack Of The Clones: Master and Padawan


“Why do I get the feeling you’re going to be the death of me?” – Obi-Wan Kenobi
“Don’t say that, master. You’re the closest thing I have to a father.”  — Anakin Skywalker

Hearing this exchange for the first time as a soon-to-be thirteen-year-old, I was dramatically shook. I mean the irony nearly bowled me over – I remember thinking, “No Obi, you don’t understand, HE IS GOING TO KILL YOU!” It’s one of those great little moments in the films where Star Wars itself goes a bit meta and speaks directly to the fans.

The relationship between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker is something that drives the entire saga. In A New Hope we first hear Obi-Wan’s admittedly skewed version of events before we see them meet as enemies, duel, and watch in horror as we lose our first big SW hero when Darth Vader strikes down a willing Obi-Wan. This is in effect one of our true first moments of seeing how far Vader will go as a villain, Tarkin was the one that ordered the destruction of Alderaan, but Vader killed our beloved mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi.

And even after this point their lives were entwined as Obi-Wan returned as a Force Ghost to help Yoda train Luke as a Jedi, preparing him to face and kill Darth Vader, Luke’s own father. It’s only after Luke calls him on his falsehoods, that Obi-Wan admits the full truth, but defends his previous story in true Jedi manipulative fashion, saying he told the truth, “from a certain point of view.”

So, after all the events and drama of the original trilogy and the very limited time they shared in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones was the first time we truly got to see this epic pair together before Anakin became Vader and Obi-Wan’s story gets a bit fuzzy. And it’s truly so Shakespearian. We ALL KNOW Anakin is going to kill Obi-Wan someday, we’ve already seen it happen, but here they are onscreen with a relationship that although complicated, is full to the brim with love and affection. It makes it so much more difficult to see them as friends knowing how their story ends, but that’s really what makes the saga itself so effective. If they had hated each other from the get-go then we wouldn’t really care that Vader killed Obi-Wan, but that’s not the case at all, and so when the inevitable happens, we suffer along with the characters.

At the end of TPM Obi-Wan fulfills Qui-Gon’s dying wish to train Anakin, even going so far as to threaten the Council with disobedience, but we’re left with the knowledge that Anakin was not Obi’s choice. Would he resent his new responsibility to train a boy he didn’t know and had no real connection to, is that what would drive them apart and lead them to the deathly events of A New Hope? But then we see them together at last in the elevator in Attack of the Clones and immediately, the sense of warmth and familiarity sweeps over us. Obi-Wan may not have chosen Anakin and may never have on his own, but he truly loves Ani, and Ani loves him in return.

In this movie especially we see their relationship as Master and Padawan, or rather Father and Son. From the get-go we see Obi-Wan trying to instill wisdom and the Jedi mentality and Anakin bristling under the constant scrutiny. They bicker and push at each other constantly, but beneath it all is the truth that Anakin so easily admitted.

“You’re the closest thing I have to a father.”  — Anakin Skywalker


Watching AOTC again as an adult, I see not only the aggravation that Anakin feels at being judged, commented on, and critiqued constantly, but the absolute fear that Obi-Wan feels about Anakin. Obi-Wan knows the members of the Council rejected Anakin, he knows they don’t want him in their ranks and yet they’re forced to accept his presence. He understands that unlike any-other Jedi before him, Anakin has no true allies amongst the Jedi other than himself, and that without him Ani would truly be alone and at the mercy of the Jedi Masters. He respects the Council of Masters as his peers and comrades in the Force, but he truly loves Anakin, and in that love, resides great fear of what will happen to Anakin when he’s no longer protected with Padawan-status.

I think that fear leads him to push Anakin, to constantly keep at him and press his own mentality and character onto his student because that’s the only way he knows to keep Anakin safe. If he could make Ani enough like himself then the Council wouldn’t feel so threatened, they like Obi-Wan, so therefore they would like an Obi-Wan-esque Anakin. But that’s not possible. Anakin’s personality is too set to be changed, and his destiny wouldn’t allow for it anyway. He is who he is and although he respects and love Obi-Wan he doesn’t like the constant strain of always being wrong or being labeled as second-best. He wants to shine, but Obi-Wan is terrified of what will happen if he does. Again, it’s so Shakespearian, Obi-Wan tries to protect Anakin but it only leads to resentment and in effect, drives a wedge between Master and Padawan.

In the end, I think we see a great foundation formed in Attack of the Clones. Anakin and Obi-Wan are almost nothing like we’d expect them to be after seeing the Original Trilogy, they aren’t enemies but rather a small family unit with tangible real-world problems. There’s such an abundance of love between them and it makes the story so much more relatable and heartbreaking knowing that their fates are already set in stone. Obi-Wan will die. Vader will kill him. But for now, they are family, they protect each other and face the same issues all families do – just on a galactic level. But more than anything, there is Obi-Wan’s fear for his Padawan, fear for his son, that one day he will not be there to protect Anakin when he needs to be. And Anakin interprets this fear as any teenager would: as judgement and understandably bristles as being so undervalued. And even here, right at the beginning we see the cracks that are forming around them, setting the Force’s plan into motion. One day Anakin will fall, and not even Obi-Wan’s love will be enough to save him.

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Attack Of The Clones: Stolen Moments and A Splintered Soul

No man has ever outrun his fate, and no protagonist either. Anakin Skywalker is young, charming, hopelessly in love, dedicated to his commitment to protect the galaxy and its inhabitants, and is an earnest, loving son. He’s gifted with a lightsaber, vivacious and sweet, with a kind heart not often found in such a harsh galaxy. But he is also Chosen.

No matter who he may want to be, what life he may choose for himself, Anakin’s fate is inescapable. It’s wound around his neck like a noose, choking the light, the love, and the happiness out of him as each second passes. With blood and betrayal and death, he will one day bring balance to the Force and thereby bring to an end the warring, unbending factions of the Sith and the Jedi, with their holier-than-thou dogma and uncompromising restrictions. The Force is neither light nor dark, good nor evil — it is the balance of all things and it demands balance in return, and the cost will be nothing less than Anakin Skywalker’s heart and soul.

It all sounds dramatic as hell, but this is a soap opera in space – if the stakes weren’t truly monumental then why would we even care. And we do care, because despite what he becomes later on, we all can relate to Anakin as he is now – young and in love, full of naïve hope that life can truly be all that he wants it to. It’s heartbreaking watching someone strive to do the right thing and make a difference in their environment knowing that no matter what they choose to do, one choice will never be theirs to alter.

AOTC opens with an attack on Senator Padme Amidala’s life, an act that brings a nervous and frantically excited Anakin Skywalker, now a Jedi Padawan-learner, back into her life. He’s older, more mature and handsome, and she’s as beautiful and defiant as ever. Immediately we all know where the story is going, but there’s a catch: one day, however far in the future, Anakin will become Vader… He will fall to the dark side and although we don’t yet know how or why or what the scope of that actually looks like yet (back in 2002), we know eventually he ends up alone, deep in space, scarred and mutilated, and encased in machinery. So, we’re left wondering… what happens to Padme? What happens to this love we see blooming? How can it all go so wrong?


“I’ve thought about her every day since we’ve parted…” — Anakin Skywalker

It’s hypnotic and disturbing to fall in love with a couple knowing that their future cannot possibly be bright. Their days in the sun are numbered and they don’t even know it yet. Every look, every thought, every gentle touch is one less that they had a moment ago – but we can’t help but to fall for them, just as they fell for each other. In the cool and isolated lake country of Naboo, Padme and Ani are given a handful of beautiful moments and memories before the twisting of the knife begins anew and Anakin is drawn further down the path of fate, this time unleashing his hate and destruction upon a limited populace in retribution for his mother’s stolen life. It’s only a taste of what’s to come but it’s a stark contrast to the waterfall picnics and candlelit dinners of just moments ago. It’s a heartbreaking scene, and it’s there to remind us – and Anakin – that his life is not his own. No matter what we may want for him, Anakin is not ours to save, and he is not his own to govern.

“You’re not all powerful, Ani.” — Padme Amidala
“Well I should be. Someday I will be. I will be the most powerful Jedi ever — I promise you. I will even learn to stop people from dying!” — Anakin Skywalker

The truth is Anakin was born a slave, and although he escaped physical bondage on Tattooine after the events of The Phantom Menace, he remained a slave to the will and desire of the Force until the day he died. And no Star Wars film better encapsulates the inevitability and inescapable nature of Anakin’s destructive fate than Attack of the Clones because in the end, the entire film is a love-letter to a life that could have been, to a love that could have lasted. It’s a collection of beautiful, haunting memories of a life that never truly got the chance to choose and a love that was doomed before it even began.

 

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The Phantom Menace: Shadows In The Force

When I started today’s post (yesterday) I actually thought it was going to be a relatively easy one to write. It was one of the first ones I jotted down when I decided I wanted to do the one-film a month theme, and I just felt so passionately about it. Then when I started writing, the words flowed so effortlessly and with a humor I don’t often achieve, so suffice it to say, I was thrilled.


Until about 8:30 pm last night when I’m about halfway through writing and it hits me, and dammit if it didn’t hit me with my own Star Wars logic that I was using at that very moment to prove my point: I was wrong. I was very, very wrong, and the entire half a blog post I’d already written was going to have to be scrapped because although I could finish it and it would make sense to most everyone else, I knew it was flawed and would make my arguments inconsistent. So…I panicked. I shelved the unfinished post and created a Whimsical Mutterings tumblr account to give myself something to do while I calmed down and figured out what to write instead. Needless to say, it was a long night.

Originally this post was going to be all about how Qui-Gon stole from Fate (the Force) by manipulating the dice-roll to obtain Anakin’s freedom and in retaliation, Fate fought back in the finale and claimed his life. I mean the song playing as he, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul are fighting is even called Duel of the Fates! It was so epically perfect!

Until it wasn’t…

“All is as the Force wills it.”  — Chirrut Imwe   Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Ironically my notion of Karma being a bitch ultimately bit me in the ass. My argument was predicated on the fact that Qui-Gon acted outside of the will of the Force, to obtain what he wanted. And in my defense, it truly does seem that way. He wants Anakin freed, there is a 50/50 chance this will happen on its own or that the Force will choose Anakin on its own, but Qui-Gon uses the Force to ensure that it does. He took away the possibility of Shmi being liberated and in doing so set Anakin on a path that led directly to the Jedi Council and their own deadly neuroses. It made perfect sense then that since he interfered and essentially tipped the scales, there would be resulting consequences. He dueled with fate and ultimately fate claimed victory. Thank you, the end, put a nice bow on it and we’ll call it a day.

Except that I believe (and have said so before) that Anakin’s destiny was predetermined. He was the one foretold to bring balance to the Force and that meant he had to walk a certain path in life, no matter how difficult or painful. So how could I then say that Qui-Gon acted outside of the will and desire of the Force by essentially ensuring that Anakin goes where he needs to, to fulfill his ultimate destiny?! I can’t. It doesn’t work. Yes, Qui-Gon interfered because he wanted to, but also because the Force knew he would want to and placed him there to do just that. He didn’t steal from fate… he helped it.

So naturally you can see my dilemma, I couldn’t publish something that I no-longer believed in myself, but there was still something about the idea of fate and Qui-Gon that wouldn’t stop nagging me. And the title of the song – Duel of the Fates – it, it was basically taunting me, I mean it couldn’t be for nothing right? There was something there, I just had to find it. And after many hours of pondering and some verbal sparring, I hit upon something: Qui-Gon didn’t steal from fate/the Force, but at the very end he did unlock a new aspect of it.

His role in the Chosen One’s life was always meant to be short. He had to die to ensure Anakin turned out the way he did under Obi-Wan and the council’s guidance and tutelage because eventually Anakin would have to turn on the Jedi to bring balance to the Force, but he never would have if Qui-Gon had lived. It was Anakin’s anger, resentment, insecurity, and need for secrecy that was necessary to make him break from the Jedi, but they would be non-existent had he grown up with a more tolerant Gray Jedi like Qui-Gon who would have tailored his training to fit Ani’s unique situation and personality. He would have taught Ani hand’s on and with a calm passion and determination, instead of spouting off never-ending rhetoric and sarcastic witticisms. Therefore Qui-Gon had to die. He had to pass the torch on to his morally-upright padawan, Obi-Wan for Anakin to become the conflagration that the Force needed to cleanse itself. And he did.

But that was only the beginning.

Qui-Gon is the first Force Ghost we get any mention of it the Star Wars saga (not the first to appear onscreen, but in the timeline of the episodic story I mean). He is the first to transcend death and still remain himself after the passing of his mortal body at the end of The Phantom Menace, which seems to come as quite a shock to others – even the great master Yoda himself. So it stands to reason that this occurrence is outside the norm, even in this fantastical galaxy far, far away. Unseen and mostly unheard, Qui-Gon can no longer affect the outcome of the prophecy of the Force, but that doesn’t stop him from at least being present when Anakin needs him most. We hear Qui-Gon call out to Anakin in The Attack of the Clones when Ani takes his vengeance upon those who killed his mother. He reaches out, desperate to reach that little boy he’d found so long ago who has grown up to know such desolation and pain. Even in death, he never gives up on Anakin. Instead he stays with him, trying to guide him even when no one can hear him. Until Yoda does.

Just as Anakin’s resentment, anger, and insecurity were necessary for him to become the balance of the Force, so to were Qui-Gon’s skepticism, determination, and his absolute belief in Anakin, in allowing him to accomplish what no other Force-user had done before: to open a doorway to immortality, and perhaps time itself. I know they’ve delved into the shadowy realm of time in the Rebels show so it would not surprise me if the subject came up again in Episode IX. There is something there in the space beyond death, in the web of fate and time itself that Star Wars wants us to see and comprehend. And when we finally reach that moment of clarity and understanding it will be with the knowledge that Qui-Gon, a Gray Jedi, led the way for us.

 

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The Phantom Menace: A Light in the Darkness

“Are you an angel?” — Anakin Skywalker

Before May of 1999, it was hard to imagine Darth Vader having any sort of relationship with a woman that would lead to her having his kids – you know, back when he was a suited-up, mechanical cyborg-man bent on destroying all the good in the galaxy – but watching little Ani meet Padme for the first time was like seeing the hands of fate in motion. He’s so unflinchingly emotive, everything he feels and thinks he says, and right from the get-go he understands Padme is important to him and has no qualms about expressing that. True love, soulmates, Force-bonded, whatever you want to call it, these two are meant to be and their love is so powerful it changes the face of the entire galaxy for generations to come, and in more ways than one. But it’s the genesis of this love, its very own origin story if you will, that we finally get to see in The Phantom Menace and it’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.

“There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth, I raised him. I can’t explain what happened.” – Shmi Skywalker

Anakin was a child of the Force itself, made manifest to complete a destiny that was already written in the darkness of the stars. It crafted Anakin, creating every facet of his personality to be the one who bought balance to the warring sides of its supposed-practitioners. It gave him Shmi, a loving, intelligent mother to instill in him the desire and drive to act as his conscious saw fit. It made him a slave, so that he recognized and understood the slow-burning hatred of being controlled and oppressed. It made him powerful enough to attract the attention of those who might otherwise overlook him. And finally, when the time was right, the Force ensured an unbelievably strong, powerhouse of a person came into Anakin’s life at the exact right time.

Fate can be cruel, but it can also be kind.

Now personally, I believe that Anakin was always meant to destroy the Sith and the Jedi, because balance does not mean wiping out one side so the other can become more powerful and be left completely unchecked. Balance means evening out the playing field, or in more drastic cases, wiping it clean to start completely over again. I never understood how the Jedi interpreted that prophecy any other way considering the amount of time they spent meditating and seeking the will of the Force (I mean talk about narcissism am I right) but I don’t want to dwell too much on the subject because that’s another post entirely. The basis of my thought just needs to be explained for the rest to make relative sense.

The Force crafted Ani – knowing exactly what was going to happen later and what he was going to have to do – and there is great cruelty in that, creating something to purposely make it suffer for your own ends. But the Force is neither good nor evil, malicious nor kind, it’s that middle-ground in between that just is. It is the balance. So alongside that cruelty there is compassion, and it is that compassion that brought Anakin and Padme together. Despite the looming darkness of the future, they were given this time to bask in the light. Yes, they would both live incredibly harrowing, painful, and ultimately short lives, but they would also know the greatest joy and beauty that can ever be found in life: love. Deep, everlasting, pure love.

Knowing the death and despair that was to come, the Force provided a short span of years – the calm before the deadliest of storms – to know that they were absolutely loved heart and soul and it all began here in The Phantom Menace when Ani walked into the Watto’s junk shop and found Padme waiting for him. He recognized something in her immediately, and voiced it. He was brave enough to speak out, and Padme was brave enough to reciprocate. Anakin needed to know this love, needed to feel it soul-deep, because only the absolute fear of losing it would ever make him turn so far from the light and reach out instead for the darkness inside him. Even in compassion there is cruelty, and there can be no cruelty without compassion. Balance.

But for now in The Phantom Menace, the scale is tipped in our favor. And in the bright heat of desert-swept Tatooine and jubilant celebration of lush Naboo, we can revel in the triumphant light of hope and blossoming love for as long as we possibly can.

 

 

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The Phantom Menace: The Emergence and Importance of Fate


When I think about The Phantom Menace, I am overwhelmingly struck by the quintessential fairy-tale nature of the entire film. The scope, the dreamy colors, the adventure, and dangers, and daring! It’s all there and so are the familiar characters we as an audience know by heart: the age-old damsel in distress (who valiantly saves herself IMHO), the Arthurian-esque knights of morality who color our perception of good and evil for better or worse, the archetypal lost prince with an uncertain destiny, and larger than life villains who seek to overthrow goodness and humanity, etc. etc. In essence, TPM truly is the “Once Upon a Time…” segment of the Star Wars saga and without it the entire series is immediately unmoored and unbalanced.

The trials and tribulations of the future don’t mean as much or pack as much of an emotional punch when you don’t know that before Vader was Vader, he was Anakin, a young slave who dreamed of setting his people free and who opened his heart and his home to people in need and risked his life to help them when no one else would. And it’s hard to care about the momentarily-mentioned broken bond between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in A New Hope (when so much else is happening onscreen with Luke and Leia and Han) unless you’ve witnessed the two meeting for the first time and felt the ripples of fate move across the surface of the galaxy. And it’s difficult to feel pity for a man who makes ALL THE WRONG DECISIONS when it comes to his family unless you know that that entire future of that family began with a little boy innocently asking a beautiful young girl if she was an angel.

And that’s what I love so much about The Phantom Menace. More than any other prequel film, it shows the working hands of fate – or the force – and all that was required for the story that we know and love to come into existence. Padme’s world had to be invaded so she would leave it, her ship had to be damaged so it would need repairs, and Ani had to be a slave so he would be in the shop when Padme walked in looking for help. Because how else would a Queen from a lush, green planet meet a slave boy from a harsh, desert world?

In short, this movie had to happen, these events had to take place for the rest of the story to mean anything. Without TPM the story of Darth Vader is still there, but the emotional impact is stunted, and the characters only partially fleshed out. After all, a villain is only a villain at a certain time in his life, and a hero is only a hero when the story is told a certain way.

 

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KYLO REN IS A HUFFLEPUFF!!!

Yes, you read that title right and I’ll say it again for the people in the back…KYLO REN, MASTER OF THE KNIGHTS OF REN, SON OF DARKNESS, HEIR APPARENT TO LORD VADER, AND THE NEW SUPREME LEADER OF THE FIRST ORDER…IS A HUFFLEPUFF.

Surprising I know but go figure.

I stumbled upon this discovery after reading a hella fun article over on Strangely Pop Cultured a few days ago wherein the writer explained how Kylo’s parents are both actually members of the Slytherin house. As a Snake myself, I was thrilled to have Princess Leia and Han Solo among my ranks because in all honesty, we need all the heroic Slytherin examples we can get — but it left me wondering… if both his parents are heroic Slytherins, what exactly is Kylo Ren/ Ben Solo?

I won’t lie, this question stumped me for a while. Kylo is an extremely complex character wrapped in layers of frayed emotions and self-deceit and I wanted to do him justice. The easy answer and the one I think most would give is that he’s a Slytherin as well, but I think that’s for all the wrong reasons i.e. Slytherin is evil and so is Kylo therefore bad person equals bad house, but that’s unfairly profiling and simplifying both the character and the house. Slytherin is not an evil house comprised solely of evil people. Evil isn’t house specific (I’m looking at you Pettigrew and Lockhart). Slytherins simply idolize cunning and ambition, traits that when wielded correctly can actually be used for great good! And Kylo Ren is one of the most complex, fully realized characters in the sequel trilogy, so to judge him without understanding his motivations would be childish. So again, I asked myself: what Hogwarts house would encapsulate all that Kylo is?!

And the answer was simple.

For all his over-the-top destructive behavior and bravado, cunning and ambitious are not keywords I’d use to describe Kylo Ren. Slytherins are go-getters and he’s reactionary at best. Brave and wise go out the window too and with them, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw – not because he doesn’t have any of these qualities, he does, but they are not driving forces behind his personality. No, Kylo at his core exemplifies dedication, fairness and above all: loyalty. A Hufflepuff through and through.

Still don’t believe me? Let’s break it down a little bit shall we?

First up: dedication… Kylo’s pretty damn dedicated to a few things, namely eradicating the last vestiges of the Jedi and the Sith teachings in the galaxy. As an ex-padawan learner, Kylo saw first-hand how dangerous the Jedi ideology and practice is when his own uncle nearly killed him in his sleep because of perceived darkness. Never mind that Vader actively wielded and misused his inner darkness for over twenty years and was somehow still forgivable, it’s the mostly-dormant darkness in Kylo that warrants an immediate death sentence. This easily demonstrates how unjust and unreliable the Jedi/Sith system is as it houses no room for middle ground and yet is executed with individualistic concerns. That being said, Kylo has spent years methodically searching for his uncle to ensure that that kind of uncompromising lethality is annihilated and if that’s not dedication I don’t know what is.

Second up is fairness and again, it’s easy to see in both films. Kylo is extremely reactionary, he’s a tit for tat character when it comes down to it, you strike out at me, I strike out at you. Fair is fair. We see this best when he faces his father Han Solo. Whatever our preconceived notions of Han, it is made abundantly clear in the supplemental reading and The Force Awakens itself (Kylo telling Rey Han would have disappointed her as a father) that Kylo has unresolved issues with his father. In Daniel Jose Older’s novel Last Shot, we see a young Ben Solo distraught when his father leaves him for a mission that almost ended with baby Ben being killed by his unqualified babysitting droid and we’re left with the sense that this forced separation will be a reoccurring theme in their relationship. And once he’s older, Ben is sent away to Luke for training (an act again that almost resulted in his death) so it’s not hard to imagine the resentment that comes from being constantly left behind or sent away. Therefore, after all the years of unnecessary painful goodbyes and resulting near-death experiences and a lifetime of Snoke whispering poisoned words in his mind, it’s no surprise that a severely conflicted Kylo redresses the issue and strikes a blow for himself – in the worst way possible of course, but morality aside, Kylo finally stands up to his father and makes it clear: you hurt me, now I’m hurting you. Again, worst possible way to make this point, but it’s a space opera and it’s go-big or go home. This goes double for when he faces Luke in The Last Jedi. Whether or not he completed the act and whether or not it’s understandable, Luke tried to kill Kylo and Kylo definitely returned the favor. Fair is fair after all.

Last, but not least, the epitome of Hufflepuff traits: loyalty. Broken and used as he is, Kylo Ren is undoubtedly loyal…to those who deserve his loyalty. He doesn’t bestow it lightly, it’s made clear that until Luke’s ill-fated attempt on his life, Kylo struggled with the darkness inside his head, never giving into it until that final act of familial treachery. Betrayed by his uncle, sent away by his parents, Kylo made his way to the only constant presence in his life: Snoke. He does all that he can to become the person Snoke wants him to be, aka the next great Vader. He constructs a mask for himself, literally and figuratively, drawing any tangible or perceptible lightside qualities deep into himself until he is left with Kylo Ren, a deception, a mask in every definition of the word. The loyalty that binds him to Snoke takes him down the darkest paths, nearly destroying him, but he endures it and it’s not until Snoke proves un-loyal in turn by first tasking him with killing his own father and then again by using his connection to Rey for nefarious purposes and then demanding he kill her that Kylo retracts that loyalty. For a moment we think that loyalty will be given to Rey, but Rey isn’t quite ready or deserving of it yet. She doesn’t know enough about Kylo, his motivations, or the galaxy at large to be deserving of a Hufflepuff’s loyalty, she can’t see past what she herself wants and so for the time, Kylo is loyal to the only person he has left: himself. I imagine that will change in Episode IX, but for now it’s for the best, he needs to heal before he can give such a large piece of himself away to another person and another cause.

And there you have it, Kylo Ren is a clear-cut Hufflepuff if I ever saw one: dedicated, fair, and above all, loyal. Destructive and dangerous, it’s easy to take his actions for those of a “stereotypical” Slytherin, but he’s not. He playacts as one, trying so desperately that it comes off as unauthentic and that’s because at his core, Kylo Ren embodies the very best of the Hufflepuff qualities – they’ve just been twisted by negative forces both outside and within. But there is still hope for his future. As my favorite Gryffindor once said: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). I think we’re going to see a whole new Kylo Ren in the next film, a Kylo who chooses for himself for once, someone who had taken the time to examine the mistakes and hurts of his past and has resolved to be better in the future. Not a perfect person mind you, because as Luke famously said himself in The Last Jedi, “It is time for the Jedi to end.” The galaxy doesn’t need perfection, it doesn’t need absolutes, it needs people who truly understand themselves and can act with both passion and clarity. It needs a middle-ground. Souls with a touch of darkness and a taste of light.

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Legacy Of A Star Wars Queen

I don’t know about you guys, but one of my favorite things about reading Star Wars novels are those awesome aha moments you randomly get that connects what you’re reading now to the those stories we already know and love. It’s almost like the entire galaxy aligns for a split second and you can see the past, present, and future all at once and if you just try hard enough, you might be able to reach in and touch the very fabric of that galaxy far far away. Perhaps alter the story or at least walk in the hallowed footsteps of your favorite heroes! I’m overthinking it I know, but I’m a writer, that’s what I do 😂 Anyway, since I’m rereading Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray, I figured I’d share with you one of my favorites moments that I just stumbled across again! Warning: spoilers head!

On a diplomatic mission to one of Naboo’s moons, sixteen year old Leia Organa comes dangerously (and unknowingly) close to her birth mother’s home planet in an effort to prove herself worthy of being named the crown princess of Alderaan. Um…excuse me while I burst into my happy dance! Not only do we get a mention of Padme’s beautiful home world, but we also come face to face with the new Queen of Naboo herself and Leia even wears one of her mother’s most famous ceremonial dresses! *Swoon* It’s sheer perfection.

Perhaps it’s just me, but it makes me so absurdly happy to have Leia so close to her actual mom in some way, even if it’s only through culture, heritage, and a shared burden of responsibility. It’s almost like Padme is there with her daughter, guiding her through the political arena that she herself mastered before her untimely death. Don’t get me wrong — Breha is a WONDERFUL mother, queen, and guide but I just feel as though Padme is unfairly forgotten in the SW universe therefore any mention of her just makes my day! She was one badass SW lady and she definitely deserved more! And it’s heartbreaking knowing that two of my all time favorite Star Wars women will never know one another, especially given how similar they are. Leia could have learned so much from Padme, maybe even have followed in her mother’s footsteps and become Queen of Naboo herself! But sadly, we can’t change the past (or can we Rebels?!) and little moments like these are all we’re given. So I’ll happily take them and always hope for more!

And there you have it, such a quick, little moment in the overall course of Leia’s life, and SW history in general, but Leia’s visit to Naboo’s mining moon is definitely one of my favorite aha moments in the SW novels.What about you guys, what are your favorite aha moments? Is there one you’d like to see in a future novel? Let me know in the comments!

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