Attack Of The Clones: Fallen Heroes

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“I’m a Jedi… I know I’m better than this…” — Anakin Skywalker

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is beginning of the dark fall for the Force’s Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker. No longer the sweet, eager child that we first met on Tattooine, restrictive and emotionally suffocating dogma paired with constant suspicion and unrelenting correction have left our once-happy Ani with tattered nerves, shaken confidence, and the overwhelming will to prove himself. Often coming across as grandiose or whiney, Anakin’s dramatic shift in mood and temperament is a cry for help that remains unheard. The ground beneath his feet is crumbling, he knows something is wrong and everyone casts the blame in his direction. No one hears him save for Obi-Wan, who’s terrified and misunderstood help only exacerbates the problem, and Padme, the woman and influence he is not permitted to have. The Jedi don’t care if Anakin is floundering, they’ve built up an army to protect themselves against him, and Palpatine knows his best time to strike is when Anakin is at his lowest point.

“Young Skywalker is in pain. Terrible pain.” — Master Yoda

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Empathic by nature, Anakin is struggling right from the beginning of the film, with nerves, anxiety, and even nightmares – reoccurring dreams centered around the one person who he loves most in the galaxy, the person whose guidance and wisdom he is struggling to hold onto… his mother. Are the dreams a message from his own consciousness, alert to the fact that his mother is in peril, or are they sent by the darkside, by Palpatine to terrorize a child with the one thing he fears the absolute most? I’m not sure myself, but both instances have merit and either way, no matter their source, Anakin is being slowly and methodically tortured, every night, every day with the possibility that the person who loves him most might be taken from him more than she already has been. And having lived ten years surrounded by people who don’t trust him and blatantly do not want him amongst them, Shmi is one of the only people in Anakin’s young life who he truly feels safe with, who he knows truly loves him. Either he abandons her to her fate and must live with the knowledge that he has done so or he must go to her and in doing so prove himself unworthy of being a Jedi. The fact that he chooses his mother over the Jedi goes to show just how loving and pure Ani is at his heart, and how twisted and dangerous the Jedi mentality is when love is turned into an enemy.

“I know I’m disobeying my mandate to protect you Senator, but I have to go. I have to help her!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have a choice.” — Anakin Skywalker

In the end, Anakin spends the length of AOTC apologizing for his actions, to Obi-Wan, to Padme, his mother… everyone he holds dear and cares about. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s an endless stream of apologies and the desperate need for forgiveness. He is drowning in the unceasing waves of fate, reaching out for some sort of lifeline and the only person who reaches back is Padme, and she keeps him above water…for a time. Because no matter how romantic the notion, one person is not strong enough to bear the weight of another for a lifetime unaided. Had Yoda and the other Jedi put aside their fear and rallied around Anakin, determined to at least let him know that they were there for him, that they appreciated him, Anakin might have survived. They all might have survived. But they didn’t. And that’s why they had to fall, why the Force sent Anakin to live this unbelievably hard and unfairly painful life, because the Jedi were not as they should be. The balance was skewed.

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And with the last episode of the Skywalker saga looming on the horizon, we find ourselves back on similar ground…with a boy, a girl, and a choice. Even before his birth Ben Solo was being hunted, his mind invaded by Snoke (a fact we learn from the Aftermath trilogy), and with our knowledge of Snoke’s maniacal cruelty, it is safe to assume that in one fashion or another, Ben was being tortured from the inside out… just like his grandfather. There has been little released regarding Ben as a child and no doubt that is purposeful, but we do know is that his parents sent him away to Luke because “there was too much Vader in him” and they kept the truth of his heritage a secret (Bloodline) which leads to the loneliness, isolation, and fear that Anakin endured at the same age.

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It’s little wonder that Ben became Kylo, that after enduring the same things his grandfather did, that they shared the same fate. If anything that teaches us that how you treat someone has a direct correlation to how they treat themselves and the world around them. Ben and Anakin were made to feel dangerous, they were treated with suspicion by those who should have loved them most and that isolation and fear of am I am bad person? drove them to disaster. And much like Padme before her, we now have Rey, a beacon of love and hope standing in Kylo’s path, the only one who hears the cries of help in the darkness. And valiantly, she does try to save him, but this time our heroine has some darkness of her own that she has to face, this time the journey is not completely one-sided. Rey and Kylo both need to be saved to some extent, they have reached out to each other, across time, the galaxy, and a war, but like Anakin and Padme they are not enough to save the other alone.

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This is where I hope the story of Star Wars has been leading us, to the lesson that still hasn’t been learned yet… that it isn’t enough to call yourself a hero. You have to actually be one. Poe, Finn, Rose, the Resistance itself needs to do what the Jedi failed to do which is show compassion, forgiveness, and the determination to let go of their own fears and prejudices in the effort to help someone they perceive to be an enemy. They need to be real heroes, not battle victors, and act with the qualities they so loudly proclaim to defend. This time if the lightside is going to win the day they need to deserve it, they need to have earned it, and do what the Council of Jedi Masters failed to do: act with decency and love. This time, they need to be worthy.

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Attack Of The Clones: Once Upon A Cautionary Tale

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“Why didn’t you tell me there was danger? Why didn’t you warn me?” — Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Like most avid readers, I’ve learned some of my greatest life lessons from stories. Their wealth of knowledge and wisdom has fed my soul for 29 years and it is because of all of them that I am the woman I am today. Fairytales, mythology, fantasy, romance, classics, adventures and darkness, I am a keeper of tales and once-upon-a-times. I know no better way to impart knowledge to other beings than through words, written and spoken alike — for they contain infinite power and magic.

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Perhaps because I think in terms of what book or film reminds me of this or that particular situation, I often wonder what books and stories my favorite characters are exposed to in their worlds? What words guided their lives, gave them peace and comfort, or warned them of danger still to come?

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I know to guard my heart and my senses because of stories like Star Wars, Romeo and Juliet, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I know that people who we love and are loved by can deceive because of Jane Eyre, and I know that love is very rarely ever easy because of Wuthering Heights. I am surrounded by stories that explain my world and it’s consequences to me, but what tales did Anakin and Padme have to teach them that fate isn’t always kind? What fairytales warned them to love moderately, or to perceive the monster lurking behind the face of a friend? Was there a galactic Romeo and Juliet that a lovelorn Padme quoted listlessly to herself when Anakin was sent into battle for months at a time? Did Anakin whisper desert folklore from his childhood to help himself fall asleep at night?

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“My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I AM Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.” — Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Ultimately there is a difference between knowing something and understanding why it is the way it is. The clarity is found in example, in finding yourself in another. Stories give us that clarity. What stories did Anakin and Padme have? Did they find themselves in others? Would it have saved them if they had? Or did they choose to look away, to hide from the truth that could have set them free? They knew their love was forbidden, but did they have an example to show them what that really meant?

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In the end, the romance between Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala is one of the most beautiful and tragic love stories in modern storytelling. Full of forbidden desire, angst, fear, secrets, and ill-fated love, it is truly a cautionary tale for the ages. It teaches the audience what its own heroes failed to learn: to love carefully, wisely, and without falsehood. But above all it teaches that sometimes, no matter your intent, fate has a hand in the way your story progresses. Sometimes you can do everything right, and still fall. Because Once Upon a Time is never a guarantee of happily ever after, it’s only a gateway to a story yet to be told and truths yet to be discovered.

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Attack Of The Clones: Naboo — The End Of The Fairytale


Star Wars has always had fascinating planets with beautiful – if not deadly – scenery and ambiance, but nothing in the Original Trilogy prepared me for seeing the beauty of Naboo for the first time back in 1999. The land was lush, with bright green grass and architecture that spoke of grandeur and elegance, even to a nine-year-old. It seemed fitting to me and my youthful sensibilities, that that’s where Padme Amidala came from, a beautiful, elegant planet for a beautiful, elegant woman. And when we were lucky enough to return to that shimmering world in Attack of the Clones, I was not only thrilled, but immediately entranced and mesmerized by the sheer tranquility of the Lake Country where Padme and Anakin took refuge after her deadly assassination attempts.

To me, Naboo symbolizes the very best the galaxy has to offer. I’s an Eden amongst the almost hellish desert and frostbitten worlds we more-often find our heroes in — and no disrespect to the Ewoks, but it’s a little more upscale as forest worlds tend to go. From what we see of its landscapes, cities, and hideaways, Naboo has a near perfect blend of nature and man, with man-made structures that enhance natural beauty, not attempt to overpower or overshadow them. And after reading Queen’s Shadow and even Leia: Princess of Alderaan, I feel like I understand its people and cultures better, their desire to be of service and to create art, celebrate life, and sustain peace.

With its rounded edges, shimmering waterfalls, quiet strength, and above all tranquil peace, Naboo is what is missing from the sequel trilogy. We began TFA with our core cast on the desert planet of Jakku, a callback to Luke and Tattooine from the originals, but Luke was always the middle of the story – the real beginning was on Naboo itself in Episode I. Over the course of the first two trilogies, we’ve gone from Naboo to Tattooine, in essence from Eden to Hell/ Paradise to the Underworld, and now in the last trilogy we’re back again in the desert, and there’s only one place I can think of that the saga can truly end, coming full circle, and that’s back where the story began: Naboo – paradise.

The story of Star Wars is timeless and cyclical, it mirrors and repeats itself in a thousand intricate ways, and what it’s ultimately shown us is the fall of the hero. Both Anakin and Luke start off strong in their heroic journeys, but overtime they stumble and fall, each going into their own isolated versions of the Hell/the Underworld: a volcanic, firepit of a world, and a lonely isolated island with no one to admire and love either of them for their heroic deeds. And neither truly escape those self-imposed Hells, Anakin dies in space, and Luke dies still on his spit of land in the middle of a raging sea. Both achieve redemption and glimpse the bright peace of the Force, either in the love shining in his son’s eyes, or the majestic double sunset that cries of home, but the audience and the redeemed characters are never taken back to the ultimate peaceful calm of Naboo. I think that is purposeful.

What better way to end the saga of the Skywalkers than where it all began – and with another Skywalker male in dire need of redemption, forgiveness, and love. To most, Kylo Ren’s redemption is the one that is most uncertain, but that’s why it is the most needed. Anakin committed many heinous deeds and actions, but because we met him as a child and saw the conditions he lived in and the suffering he faced, we are much quicker to forgive him. And Luke is so universally revered as an untouchable hero that most miss his failings all together, so his redemption is admittedly glossed over because the majority of the SW audience can’t see past the young hero we were given 40 years ago.

But Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo is another matter altogether. Kylo is someone we met when he was already an adult, we have no cute or endearing memories to put beside all the bad things he’s done. And he’s committed arguably the most heinous crime of all: he took Han Solo away from us. Let’s be honest, the majority of non-Kylo fans hate him, not because he killed his own father, but because he took something from the audience themselves, he took someone from us that we’ve had for almost a lifetime. He took our Han away. And that is unforgivable.

To most.

So, of our three troubled Skywalker men, no one needs more forgiveness from not only their own world, but from the audience and our world, than Kylo Ren. He needs something truly epic to shift the tide of favor but once it’s been done, he needs what no other redeemed hero has been given yet: the peace and healing that is found on Naboo. The story needs to complete itself, it needs to end with the fairytale quality that it’s always showcased so well, and loop back around to end at the beginning. Because that’s the beauty of Star Wars, whether you start at the beginning or dive in at the middle, you are always led back to the brightest hope for a happy ending, so that no matter how many times you tell the story, you are left with hope and a glimpse at what might be happily ever after.


 

 

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The Phantom Menace: The True Phantom Menace


For over forty years we’ve celebrated the Jedi as heroes, the ultimate victors in the galactic conquest that spanned time and space itself, and when we had nothing but the Original trilogy to go by, that might have been true. But if the prequal trilogy has taught us anything, it’s that the truth is never what you think it is and things are never as simple as they originally appear. For example, Darth Vader is more than a suit-encased villain…he’s a little boy who builds droids to help his mother and who risks his life to help complete strangers. And the Emperor is more than a threatening hooded-figure holding Vader’s leash on the Death Star, he’s a suave, well-liked politician who comes from one of the most peaceful planets we visit in the entire series. Even Obi-Wan was once a student with a flair of a temper who questioned his teacher. Time and again we are shown that our first impressions of these characters and themes are wrong, or incomplete because we didn’t know the whole story. So with all that in mind, are we to believe that the entirety of the Jedi order just conveniently misunderstood the word balance and nobody bothered to correct them?

“You refer to the prophecy of The One who will bring balance to the Force. You believe it’s this boy?” – Mace Windu

I know prophecies can be interpreted in a thousand different ways and none of the interpretations be correct, but balance has a straightforward definition as words go. Balance: a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions. Pretty easy stuff. And yet a roomful of highly intelligent and supposedly wise, leaders of the galactic police-force all misinterpreted it? Even Master YODA?! He’s been around for over 900 years at this point and has presumably spent a great chunk of that time meditating and seeking wisdom, so either he’s really bad at it, and by default, the rest of the Jedi are as well (which I find difficult to believe) … or our more likely, our heroes knew exactly what balance meant — and actively fought against it, because it makes no sense that such a diverse group of enlightened individuals all came to the wrong conclusion about the meaning of such a simple word.


There’s a line Padme speaks in Revenge of the Sith that catches my attention every time I revisit the saga: “What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we have been fighting to destroy?”

Ergo: What if our heroes are not heroes at all…what if they’re the villains?

Let’s be honest, the Jedi Council knew exactly what the prophecy of The One meant because if they didn’t then their lack of intelligence is unbelievably staggering. So when Anakin finally appeared before them, they immediately shunned him– and by proxy, the will of the Force itself – because they knew balance does not mean wiping out the Sith to leave the Jedi unchecked. Balance means a clean slate. It means equality. It means an end to their powerbase and their perceived right to judge the galaxy by their views and opinions.

That’s right. When a little boy newly freed from slavery stood in front of a roomful of heroes and asked to join them in their quest to help bring peace to the galaxy, they responded with a harsh and resounding: NO. He is too old, they crooned, too full of fear. And because they’re our heroes of old, we and the rest of the galaxy listened, and in their excuses heard wisdom. But is anyone too old to learn to be a better member of society. Is anyone too old to try to do the right thing? I personally wasn’t aware that there was an age-limit on becoming a good person. A child who has been a slave all of his life and who suddenly has the autonomy to choose his own course in life, decides to give himself over to selflessness and the good of the galaxy and you belittle him and tell him no…because he’s nine…and has the emotional maturity to handle all the things life has thrown at him without becoming bitter or violent… and you’re the heroes in this story?

I don’t think so.

The plain truth is the Jedi Council recognized Anakin for what he was the moment he first stood before them: he was their reckoning, their downfall from power. And in their own palpable fear, they rejected him. They purposefully rejected the will of the Force and because we hailed them as heroes, we didn’t see it. Anakin was the physical manifestation of the Force itself coming to wipe the slate clean and put an end to the warring extremist ideals, which would in turn leave the notion of the Jedi in the antiquated past where it belonged, and as a collective voice the Jedi Council said no – we wield the Force, the Force does not wield us.

So no, I do not see heroes here. I see an inflated sense of self-importance, a belief in their own divine right to rule and judge both the Force itself and the morality of the galaxy at large. I see narcissism, and fear, and the refusal to compromise. You can preach and speak peace and love and harmony, but your actions better reflect all those things or everything you claim to stand for is meaningless. If your hallmark is compassion, then you damn well better show it.

“See through you we can.” – Yoda

In the end, the prequel trilogy sets us up to discover all the hidden truths in the Star Wars saga that we ultimately missed the first time around, and it all begins in The Phantom Menace. We learn that Vader was more than a monster, and that the story we thought we knew is only partially true. But perhaps most important to the tale as a whole, and yet sadly overlooked due to our emotional attachment to the original story, we’re given a harsh truth about those we’ve come to love, emulate, and admire above all others. We just have to be brave enough to see it. Because again, the truth is there in the simple meaning of the words: The Phantom Menace. It’s not referring to the darkness we all plainly see coming, it’s hinting at those who hide in plain sight, those whose darkness is masked by faces of those we trust most. The true phantom menace.

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