As alluded to in yesterday’s Flashback Blog, tonight’s entry is all about Daddy Issues. Specifically, it’s about the Daddy Issues on display in the Star Wars films, a theme that seems to stick with Lucas through the entire series.
It only makes sense. According to the biographies I’ve read of Lucas, and the bits of his life that are out there for public consumption, he had a strained relationship with his dad (who wanted him to be a businessman like he was). He’s very passionate about being a father himself. Several character, location and species names were taken from childhood words his kids invented, especially his son. One of his daughters is a writer for The Clone Wars and has arguably turned out some of the best–written episodes for that show.
It’s a side of him that we know about, that I respect.
But what about the Daddy Issues we see in Star Wars? That’s the crux of this blog.
Reading the Text
Recently, with a little half–smile on her face, Agent Bun remarked how unique (in a good way?) it is that I see such depth in the Star Wars films when so many people see a set of action adventure films and not much more. I suppose that to some, my analysis of the films bears out strangely. I contend, however, that the themes and symbolism I see in the “text,” as Prof. Miller would call it, are in there.
After all, art is a reflection of the artist, as well as the times in which they live. Literature and plays gave us what we know of Aeschylus and the Greeks, Plutarch and the Romans. Shakespeare’s works reflect what both the groundlings and nobility thought about the world and how it worked. Even trite garbage like Michael Bay’s efforts reflect something of who we are as a people since we keep paying millions and millions of dollars to see them.
Character By Character
I’ve wondered the best way to approach this blog, veering between movie–by–movie, trilogy–by–trilogy and character–by–character. I’m going to mix it up in such a way that allows me to compare, contrast and hop around instead of constructing parallel tracks and tying it all back together at the end.
So first, let’s take a look at the major players in our drama, Anakin and Luke, themselves father and son. That folds together nicely after all.
Anakin’s “father figures” are plentiful, but boil down to four major influences: Watto, Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Palpatine/Sidious. Not too shabby for a boy with no biological father. I know that Watto may seem like a stretch, but stay with me.
Watto is at best a distant father type, who sees his “son” as no more than a servant (I know, right?) to do his bidding. He could care less what the boy does in his free time, so long as he does what he’s told when he’s told to do it. There’s an intimation at one point that Watto may occasionally strike Anakin to discipline him, but it’s fairly apparent that he never beats him in the way we’d qualify something as abuse. Besides, Watto appears to indulge the boy a bit and lets him talk back; you kind of have the feeling that Watto doesn’t have any friends and the child is the only one with whom he can talk.
Luke has this paralleled in his own life with Uncle Owen. Owen is controlling, won’t let Luke go and cares only that he gets his chores done. I’ll also take the opportunity to point out that Owen actually isn’t blood–related to Luke, either.
So in essence, both Luke and Anakin’s first father figures are distant foster parents. They care for the boys in their own way and to their own ends, but are too small of heart to see beyond their own needs when it comes to them.
The other parallel is that their lives change dramatically when a Jedi gets involved, a new father figure to supplant the old.
However, Anakin’s story diverges ever so much here. While Watto is a father figure of sorts, Anakin is only attached to his mother. He grows up in her world as it were, much like the Greeks raised their children in antiquity; boys weren’t worthy to join the world until age seven, at which point their fathers wrenched them from the world of their mother and didn’t allow them back. Likewise, Qui–Gon rends Anakin from this safe nest of love and devotion with the purpose to thrust him into a life of emotionless dedication and logic (something the the coolly rational Jedi seem to value more than anything).
The obvious retort is, of course, that Luke sees the tragic ending of his foster parents. But while Qui–Gon takes, Obi–Wan is there to salve the hurt and save the boy. This in itself echoes Obi–Wan’s choice to take Anakin as a student; Qui–Gon’s death leaves Anakin adrift just after having his world drastically altered already.
In both cases, Obi–Wan is the father as friend and gentle guide, a dispenser of wisdom but never a harsh disciplinarian. That works to be a bad thing in Anakin’s case, and arguably Luke is spared this Dad-as-buddy model when Kenobi is cut down. Ironically, by Luke’s real father. I know it’s not intended, it was not in any way, but that’s an unintentional layer that I think is too cool not to examine. In a way, Vader prevents Luke from getting the same sh***y instructional style that screwed him up in the first place.
But there is an interesting note about the Obi–Wan/Anakin relationship.
Father as Friend
Obi–Wan is obviously not ready or able to handle Anakin. He hasn’t even settled down himself. He’s the father, if you will, who never stops indulging himself and sets a bad example for the son as a result.
In the beginning of Attack of the Clones he chastises Anakin for acting impulsively, telling him to calm down and think. He does this immediately after jumping out of a skyscraper and then falling to what should have been his death, while pursuing an assassin. Of course, after he said that wasn’t to be their mission either; he was the one harping about the limits of their mandate.
There’s an interesting contrast drawn later in the film as well. Jango and Boba Fett serve as a stark counterpoint to the Obi&ndashWan/Anakin relationship.
Boba is being raised to walk in his father’s footsteps, and obeys without question. He is everything a padawan is supposed to be, ironically. He’s a loyal and attentive son, training to take his father’s place in this life. Obi–Wan can’t elicit this from Anakin because he’s never behaving as an example. His instructional style is evocative of the old cliché, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
This obvious shortfall on Obi–Wan’s part is arguably what leads Anakin to seek another mentor. Chancellor Palpatine, whom we all know as Darth Sidious.
Father as Manipulator
Palpatine presents us with the archetype of the Father as Manipulator. He wants his “son” to achieve great things, but his motivation is for the greater glory of himself.
Look at Attack of the Clones. When Anakin gets his assignment to guard Padmé, Palpatine congratulates and encourages him. He tells him what promise there is in him and makes Anakin to feel good and happy for his minor success. Obi–Wan, on the other hand, treats Anakin like a trouble-making child in front of others, just before setting of to make trouble.
I contend that Palpatine does care about Anakin, but in a very selfish way. We’ve all known people like this. They love in their own way, but always in their mind is what they get out of the relationship, what sense of validation they can receive. They do not compromise, they appeal to vanity to get you to agree to their terms. They do not allow for your own personal growth, but rather use emotional attachment as a way to pull you along their own path.
He does, however, provide Anakin with guidance for his ambition. Anakin, confused by his own lack of true guidance at the hands of Obi–Wan, would naturally gravitate toward someone who would bolster his feelings of self worth.
The contrast for Luke is Yoda. While Yoda is not entirely forthcoming and is guiding Luke along for purposes that are not his own, his motivations are not selfish. While he may be guiding Luke along a certain path that was chosen for him, it’s a path of service and selflessness as opposed to selfishness and self–aggrandizement.
I realize I rambled a bit, and even hit the publish button when I meant to hit preview. But I think that the father themes in these films run far deeper than many give credit, and I think it’s past time people realized it.