Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
“For he who has not learnt to rule
His inner self, is only too intent to rule
His neighbor’s will to suit his own imperious mind.”
– Goethe’s Faust
Part I: How Liberty Dies
Revenge of the Sith opens with one of the longest, most elaborate and ambitious shots George Lucas has ever attempted. The camera pans down from the opening crawl, past a blinding sun, to reveal a Star Destroyer flying over Coruscant, one last twist on the iconic opening image of the original 1977 film. There we saw an evil Star Destroyer from behind; here we see a good one from above. The scene is almost comforting in its familiarity and stillness, though the warlike drums of Williams’ score hint at a building energy. Two starfighters, one yellow and one red – containing our heroes, Anakin and Obi-Wan, respectively – enter the frame abruptly, from above, and we follow them as they soar in unison down towards the triangular craft and across its surface, emphasizing its enormity. Then they spin and swoop down over the edge, and suddenly the frame and the soundtrack are filled with chaos as the camera reveals a raging space battle, all laser fire and explosions. This opening is an apt expression of the film – a finely controlled symphony of seemingly chaotic sound and fury, constantly alternating between vastness and intimacy. Order gives way to pandemonium, but underlying the madness is a grand design.
In Episode III, Lucas cuts loose entirely, painting on the biggest canvas he can. Revenge of the Sith is not even the longest Star Wars film in terms of runtime – that honor goes, by a few minutes, to Attack of the Clones – but it feels hugest because of its massive scope, and the sheer density of just how many events and incidents it contains. That sense of time and space cements the film’s greatness, investing it with a properly epic weight and gravitas that no other Star Wars film achieves. The scale on display here is so massive that, for me, it overwhelms every small fault with its sheer ambition. For every stilted or awkward line of dialogue, there’s an image so lavished with care and attention to detail that it can’t be dismissed. Those hoping for a more intimate experience may be disappointed by the way Lucas misses opportunities to put a more recognizably human face on the proceedings, but he seems stubbornly determined to approach his material with a formal, classical lens – a point driven home by Williams’ sweeping, operatic score (which, to my mind, qualifies as some of his best work). First and foremost, this is a war not of people but of ideas. For most of the film’s runtime, Lucas seems content to let the tragedy speak for itself on a conceptual, almost abstract level – at least until everything narrows to an intensely personal and emotional point in the trilogy’s final minutes.“Another happy landing.”
As the third and final film in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Revenge of the Sith continues to build on the themes and motifs of its two predecessors, drawing them to a conclusion. Descents, so prominent in Episode II, continue to make their presence felt in Episode III. After the heroes board an enemy ship, they find themselves trapped in an elevator that falls instead of rising. “R2, we need to be going up, not down,” Obi-Wan says. Later, the same enemy ship, commandeered by the heroes, splits in half before falling from the heavens in a fireball – the latest in a long line of action sequences ending with violent separations. “Not to worry,” Obi-Wan quips. “We are still flying half a ship.” Discussing the war, the Jedi speak frequently of the “Outer Rim sieges” – attempts to extend control to the furthest reaches of the galaxy, a continuation of the strain between the center and the outliers. In the Outer Rim, droid leader General Grievous hides out on Utapau, a planet where cities are built in sinkholes, necessitating many more descents – such as a subterranean chase recalling Episode II’s opening dive into the Coruscant underworld. Geography continues to have vertical significance: Obi-Wan tells his troops to “move on to the higher levels,” but when they turn on him, he is thwarted in his own ascent, shot down and plunged into a body of water. Later, however, he is able to famously proclaim, “I have the high ground,” before blocking Anakin’s upward flight.
The climactic duel between Anakin and Obi-Wan, on the lava planet Mustafar, is framed by hellish clouds and smoke recalling the motifs of obfuscation that permeated Attack of the Clones. When Palpatine’s shuttle approaches Mustafar in a subsequent scene, we first see its shadow traveling over the ground, recalling Padmé’s approach to the clouded Coruscant in the opening of Episode II. Anakin has a scar over one eye, just as C-3PO was missing an eye in The Phantom Menace and Captain Typho had an eyepatch in Attack of the Clones.
“War!” the opening crawl declares, and from the very first scene, the galaxy is in a state of chaos both external and internal. The conscious and unconscious may have maintained a fragile equilibrium throughout the prequel trilogy’s first two films, but that is long gone here, and things kept hidden come rushing to the surface in alarmingly rapid succession. Early on, Anakin says he doesn’t care if others know about his forbidden marriage to Padmé, but she insists on preserving its secrecy. “I want to have our baby back home on Naboo,” she says. “We can go to the lake country where no one will know.” Unlike Anakin, whose dualistic identity torments him, Padmé has become comfortable with bifurcation; she longs to return to a place of comfort and safety, where unconscious desires can be sated, but Revenge of the Sith pointedly lacks bodies of water, and spends less time on the green planet Naboo than either of the other prequels. “Don’t you see?” Anakin says. “We don’t have to run away anymore… together, you and I can rule the galaxy.” The possibility of achieving balance is swiftly dwindling. There is nowhere for the passions to hide unacknowledged anymore; instead, they crowd in upon the world of ideas like an invading force. The tension has reached a breaking point. “There are heroes on both sides,” the opening crawl states. The inverse, of course, is also true: “Evil is everywhere.”
Released in 2005, Revenge of the Sith carried a heavy sense of finality: it was the last film George Lucas directed to date, and the last installment of his six-part Star Wars saga. As the final bridge between the prequels and the original films, it is, in many ways, the crux of the series, and thus it is no surprise that it is also one of the most densely laden with intertextual references and allusions. R2-D2’s periscope, emerging from a pile of droid parts, visually mirrors the single eye of the iconic trash compactor monster from the original film. When General Grievous orders a lackey to “activate ray shields,” the eagle-eared (or perhaps simply obsessive) viewer will recall that the Death Star’s exhaust port was ray-shielded, necessitating the use of proton torpedoes. More broadly speaking, Sith returns to Star Wars’ roots in the western genre: Obi-Wan’s showdown with Grievous culminates in a series of Leone-esque close-ups, and in a classic cowboy maneuver, Obi-Wan whistles for his reptile mount and leaps down into the saddle.From L to R: “Revenge of the Sith” (2005), “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” (1966)
More substantially, much of the dramatic impact of Revenge of the Sith is derived from our knowledge of the films that surround it. The final farewell between Anakin and Obi-Wan as friends is charged with tragic import because we know that when they next meet, they will be mortal enemies. When Anakin’s children are born at the film’s end, we know that they will grow up to become our childhood heroes, Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. As Revenge of the Sith approaches its conclusion, it evokes an eager sense of anticipation, but also one of impotent dread. When Obi-Wan asserts that “the chancellor will not be able to control the thousands of star systems without keeping the senate intact,” we know that in the next film, Episode IV, this very same ruling body will be dissolved permanently. The film begins with a crumbling Republic and ends with a victorious Empire. It begins with Anakin Skywalker, a hero, and ends with Darth Vader, a villain. The tragic outcome is inevitable; it was written in stone thirty years ago, when Darth Vader gave the iconic proclamation, “I am your father.”
The political dimensions of the prequel trilogy were only lightly sketched in the two preceding films, and they only come to their fullest expression in Episode III, as Anakin’s fall from grace is paralleled with the galaxy’s transition from Republic to Empire. Faithful to Lucas’ modus operandi of expressing ideas on both a micro and macro scale, the grand socio-political military conflict is rooted in the same psychological factors as Anakin’s development. The Republic is characterized by the same childish fear of loss and the unknown, the same infantile desire to conform unruly reality to one’s wishes. “Together,” Anakin says to Padmé, “we can make things the way we want them to be.” The entire galaxy regresses into a state of dependence and childlikeness, wanting only security, to be taken care of and abdicate responsibility. Pain, suffering, and death are natural parts of life that must be confronted, but the child seeks to deny and avoid them. The Jedi and the lofty ideals they represent are abandoned in favor of complete capitulation to these unconscious wishes.
“We’re a democracy,” said Governor Sio Bibble of Naboo in The Phantom Menace. “The people have decided.” His defiance in that instance was rewarded, as the heroes defeated the tyrannical Trade Federation and restored liberty to their planet, but the refrain was less certain in Attack of the Clones: “We must keep our faith in the Republic… the day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.” “Let’s pray that day never comes,” Padmé replied then, but in Revenge of the Sith, she can only lament: “So this is how liberty dies – with thunderous applause.” The galaxy’s unacknowledged passions chip away at the foundations of its democratic ideals. They are questioned, found wanting, and ultimately discarded.
How does liberty die? Fear kills it.
As Yoda said in The Phantom Menace, fear is the path to the dark side, and fear of loss is the shadow of greed. Indeed, Palpatine is remarkably cunning in his ability to amass political and economic power for himself by playing on the fear and greed of the Republic. (Note that General Grievous’ flagship is called the Invisible Hand, a reference both to Jung’s “invisible player” and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.) The Jedi are able to sense, uneasily, that the Dark Side surrounds the soon-to-be Emperor, but because of their own fear and arrogance, they are unaware of the true extent to which it controls the Senate. Palpatine’s memorable boast, “I am the Senate,” proves well founded. (In a rather obvious metaphor, he later uses the Force to hurl the Senate pods at Yoda during their climactic duel.) Without their realizing it, Palpatine has so thoroughly excised the Jedi from the body politic that few of the representatives seem to bat an eye when he begins issuing orders for their mass executions. The Jedi, partly through their own complacence and blindness, have become so isolated from the galaxy at large that their loss hardly seems to be felt by its denizens. The Clone Troopers they command turn on them at a moment’s notice in the stirringly tragic Order 66 sequence, one of the saga’s most sweeping moments of pathos. Order 66 is surely a reference to the Biblical number of the beast, 666, which will be crucial to the Antichrist’s consolidation of economic power – in the Book of Revelation, the number is associated with buying and selling. The order is delivered by hologram, recalling Sidious’ visual appearance as the titular phantom menace of Episode I. Yoda, sensing the tragedy, clutches first his heart, and then his head. The massacre of the Jedi is horrifying on a visceral level as well as an ideological one. Here, and in a subsequent sequence intercutting Palpatine’s ascension to Emperor with Anakin’s murders of the Separatist leaders who acted as his unwitting puppets, Lucas pays homage to his friend and contemporary, Francis Ford Coppola, and The Godfather’s iconic baptism montage, in which Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone attends his son’s baptism while his enemies in the mob are – to use one of Palpatine’s turns of phrase – “taken care of.”
Though politically minded commentators have eagerly tied the rise of Palpatine in Episode III to various events in the modern civic sphere, Lucas has always had more of a penchant for the timeless than the timely. The political titles and terminology of Star Wars more readily evoke ancient Roman history than the Bush administration; the transition from Republic to Empire is itself a specifically Roman occurrence. When viewed through this lens, Palpatine becomes a kind of Julius Caesar, with Mace Windu as an unsuccessful Brutus, willing to kill in order to preserve the Republic he has pledged his loyalty to. It is hardly surprising that Lucas draws the political themes of his films from the same time period where he retrieves many of his philosophical themes. Obi-Wan’s assertion that Palpatine is “very clever at following the passions and prejudices of the Senate” could be a description lifted directly from Plutarch’s Lives. Throughout the prequels, we have seen that the Senate, ostensibly a seat of reason, has become more and more subtly driven by passion, culminating in the moment where Palpatine, robed in red, declares to “thunderous applause” that the Republic will be reorganized into an Empire – for a “safe and secure” society. Indeed, when we first see the Senate building in Episode III, it is arrived at by a purple speeder, and ominously accented by vivid red. The completeness of the takeover is symbolized by another shift in colors; after assuming the seat of Emperor, the color of Palpatine’s robe shifts from red to purple, and he leaves his red office to take up residence in a purple one (guarded by red-robed Royal Guards who will reappear in Episode VI), indicating the total unification of passion and reason.
From this purple office, Palpatine informs his new apprentice, Darth Vader, that he has “restored peace and justice to the galaxy.” Throughout Revenge of the Sith, Palpatine preys on the Senate’s desire for peace to accomplish his ends and gain control. “Once more the Sith will rule the galaxy,” he gloats to Vader, before adding – “And we shall have peace.” Ironically, Palpatine is able to manipulate the Separatists with the same promise: in his final moments, before being silenced by Vader’s lightsaber, Nute Gunray pleads, “Lord Sidious promised us peace! We only want…” The thought is never finished.
Peace, by Palpatine’s definition, entails complete control, and thus the desire for peace is twisted into a justification for fascism. Democracy in Star Wars is fragile because its constituents are unconsciously motivated by the desire to attain safety through control. Unconsciously, they desire fascism. From a certain perspective, liberty and peace seem opposed, and one can be sacrificed for the sake of the other. Opposites are closer than you would think. Surrendering to passion completely seems, at first glance, like a kind of freedom from the confinement of ideals – it is certainly an escape for Anakin from the constraints of the Jedi code – but this kind of life is its own kind of enslavement, and an even more tyrannical one at that. Instead of finding peace in a properly spirited balance between passion and reason, the galaxy swings from one ineffective extreme to the other.
We see this played out on a galaxy-wide political scale, and we see Anakin living out the same ideals on a personal level, as his love for Padmé is perverted, by the fear of loss, into a lust for control. He seeks to confine her on Coruscant, ordering her to stay while he goes to enact Palpatine’s plans. “I won’t lose you the way I lost my mother,” he says, possessively. Both Palpatine and Anakin present their movement to despotism as altruistic, motivated not by the selfishness of the one governing but by his desire for the safety of the one governed. “Love won’t save you, Padmé,” Anakin says near the film’s end, trying to justify his dark deeds and his new allegiance to Palpatine and the Empire. “Only my new powers can do that… I’m doing it for you. To protect you.” Somehow, he conflates Padmé and Palpatine: “My loyalty is to the Republic,” he tells her, “To the Chancellor… to you.”
But even in the midst of this supremely dark transition, Lucas plants seeds of hope. “There’s been a Rebellion, sir,” says a Clone Trooper, explaining to Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) why the Jedi have been slaughtered. The line foreshadows Bail’s crucial role in forming the Rebellion that will ultimately topple the Empire. “You will not take [Padmé] from me,” Anakin rages at Obi-Wan, but he replies by shifting the blame back onto Anakin: “Your anger and your lust for power have already done that.”
The tragic irony of Revenge of the Sith is that Anakin, like the Republic at large, becomes the very thing he seeks to destroy, but Lucas counterbalances this tragedy with another, more reassuring irony: evil is self-defeating, and its attempts to secure control are precisely what allow it to slip away.
Part II: The Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise
The entire arc of Revenge of the Sith was laid out, in its broad strokes, by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) in the original film, released almost thirty years prior: “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic, before the dark times, before the Empire… A young Jedi named Darth Vader, who was a pupil of mine before he turned to evil, helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights. He betrayed and murdered your father.”
In this scene, Obi-Wan spurs Luke’s desire to become a Jedi by telling him a story – a legend of a bygone time. In an analogous scene from Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s journey to become a Sith is precipitated by a similar act of storytelling. This time the tale is told by Palpatine.
“Did you ever hear the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you. It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying… he became so powerful, the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew. Then his apprentice killed him in his sleep. It’s ironic. He could save others from death, but not himself.”
The parallels between the scenes are striking. In both stories, pupils turn against masters and commit acts of betrayal and murder. Even more striking, though, is Palpatine’s description of his tale as a tragedy, with an ironic conclusion. More than any of the other Star Wars films, Episode III has its roots in classical tragedy. Tragedy is built on irony, the audience’s awareness of an inevitable fate to which the characters themselves remain blind. As Oedipus searches for the king’s murderer, the tragic irony arises from our knowledge that he is the king’s murderer. Revenge of the Sith is one of the most richly ironic works of modern fiction because when it came out, the whole world knew how it would end. When Obi-Wan told it to Luke, he told it to us all.
Tragic irony is often tied closely to hubris, a prideful blindness towards one’s faults. Throughout the prequels, characters have been marked by hubris, overconfidence, and blindness; in Episode III, those flaws reach their furthest extreme. “Your arrogance blinds you, Master Yoda,” exults Palpatine as the film approaches its conclusion. The Jedi are indeed blinded to the immanence of their own destruction, but Palpatine is similarly blind to the seeds of his own downfall being sown simultaneously as he rises to power. Because we know how the story ends, everything that happens in Revenge of the Sith feels preordained, like the events of a Greek tragedy, in which humans’ fates had already been decided by the gods and writhed futilely in attempts to escape their destinies. The audience knows the fates of Anakin, Obi-Wan, and the rest long before they do, and the irony derives from knowledge of this foreordained inevitability.
In his attempts to cast as wide a net as possible, Lucas in the prequels cannily draws influence from the Oedipus myth as the meeting ground between classical tragedy and modern psychology. Sophocles’ Oedipus the King is a key reference point for Revenge of the Sith in particular, just as Freud’s notion of the Oedipus complex is integral to Anakin’s development in the three films. Oedipus the King is the story of a man whose relentless search for forbidden knowledge dooms him; it is the story of a man whose hubristic determination to avoid prophesied misfortunes is precisely what brings those misfortunes upon him – a man who realizes that he is exactly what he promised to destroy. Sound familiar?“Now you have become the very thing you sought to destroy.”
Lucas also directs his gaze to another meeting point between art and philosophy, classicism and modernity – Goethe’s Faust, which Jung draws heavily from in his psychological theory. Taken together, these two works of tragedy furnish many of the key elements that will form the dramatic backbone of Revenge of the Sith – blindness and a pact with evil to obtain forbidden knowledge. Moreover, both tragedies involve recurring discussion of dreams, just as the prequel films do; Jocasta, trying to reassure Oedipus, says that “many a man/in his dreams has lain with his own mother./But he to whom such things are nothing bears/his life most easily.” But in Oedipus, as in Star Wars, dreams are disregarded at the dreamer’s peril.
Additionally, there is a methodological similarity between the three works. Sophocles, Goethe, and Lucas all present tragedies with both personal and political dimensions, but in each case the political is expressed through the personal. “My spirit groans for city and myself and you at once,” Oedipus says; he is a microcosm of the city of Thebes, just as Anakin is a microcosm of the galaxy.
Both Oedipus the King and Faust emphasize blindness and darkness that renders men unable to see. “How needlessly your riddles darken everything,” Oedipus complains to the blind prophet Teiresias, who – though physically unable to see – is nevertheless much more perceptive than the hubristic king. At the end of his life, Faust is blinded when the personification of Care breathes on him, while Oedipus blinds himself in horror upon realizing that he has killed his father and married his mother. However, Sophocles’ work revolves more centrally upon the concept of blindness than Goethe’s; as Oedipus investigates the king’s murder, he is blind to the truth that he, himself, is the culprit. Faust, more generally speaking, derives irony from the futility of man’s efforts to predict the future – an impossible task, for “Blessing or ill on man/Unexpectedly befalls;/Even forewarned we believe it not.”
The blindness of the Jedi has been emphasized throughout the prequels, but here, almost everyone except Palpatine is flying blind, so to speak. “Just as Count Dooku predicted,” exclaims General Grievous, upon learning that the Jedi Knights have boarded his ship – but Count Dooku’s power of foresight does not extend to his own betrayal by his master Palpatine, and his demise at the hands of Anakin. During one romantic interlude, Padmé jokingly asks Anakin, “So love has blinded you?” – as if to eliminate any doubt of their relationship’s Oedipal undercurrents. During a crucial interview with Yoda, Lucas frames Anakin’s face in shadow, communicating his blindness visually. “Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin,” Yoda says, counseling him not to be led by his attachments. At the end of the scene, Yoda exhorts him: “Let go of everything you fear to lose.” This is advice Anakin cannot follow, and his rejection of it, accompanied by blindness, is signified visually, as he bows his head and his eyes are shrouded in darkness. (When Anakin, about to turn to the Dark Side, goes to stop Mace Windu, Lucas lights his face similarly in the cockpit of his ship.)
In Oedipus the King, Creon explains why the mystery of the king’s murder went unsolved for years: “The riddling Sphinx induced us to neglect/mysterious crimes and rather seek solution/of troubles at our feet.” As in the prequels – recall how the riddle of Sifo-Dyas and the creation of the Clone Army is swept under the rug at the end of Attack of the Clones – larger mysteries are neglected in favor of pressing issues, leaving the deeper problems to fester in the background. In his hubris, Oedipus vows that those who are complicit in the king’s murder will be banished from Thebes, unknowingly dooming himself. Similarly, the surviving Jedi, who have been complicit in the travails of the Republic, depart into banishment at the end of Revenge of the Sith. “Failed I have,” Yoda laments. “Into exile I must go.”
The Faust legend revolves around the titular character’s pact with the devil. In Goethe’s version, Faust is frustrated in his search for unobtainable knowledge, and this frustration is what leads him to sign away his soul. Jung interprets the character of Mephistopheles, the demon Faust bargains with, thus: “Mephistopheles is the diabolical aspect of every psychic function that has broken loose from the hierarchy of the total psyche and now enjoys independence and absolute power.” This is an apt description of Palpatine’s role in Star Wars; he subverts the hierarchy of the Republic’s government and leverages it to gain independence and unlimited power. Just as Mephistopheles seduces Faust, Palpatine seduces Anakin to the Dark Side with the promise of knowledge that the Jedi will not give him. The scenes of Anakin’s seduction recall Goethe’s Faust and Genesis’ account of mankind’s fall from grace. Adam and Eve were tempted by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and by Satan’s promise that knowledge leads to godlikeness.
As Goethe’s Faust begins, Faust – like Anakin and the Jedi – is shut up away from the world, living in a realm of reason and ideas. In his isolation, Faust believes that reason is strongest when man is alone – but as we saw in Attack of the Clones, this tendency towards extreme introversion causes immense inner turmoil. Faust laments:
“Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And either would be severed from its brother;
The one holds fast with joyous earthy lust
Onto the world of man with organs clinging;
The other soars impassioned from the dust,
To realms of lofty forebears winging.”
Faust, like Anakin, is torn between his appetites and his reason, and seems unable to find a middle ground; instead, he alternately pursues the two extremes. At Mephistopheles’ urging, he throws away his reason and career as a professor in order to pursue hedonism. Per Jung, “if he wanted to come down to earth again there would have to be a pact with evil.” Faust, an introvert, is frustrated by reality’s failure to conform to his wishes; “He cannot alter anything external./Existence seems a burden to detest,/Death to be wished for, life a hateful jest.” Like Anakin, Faust is unable to accept reality when it is not on his terms. His inability to control himself properly leads him to seek means of magical control, commanding Mephistopheles to indulge his wishes. Goethe writes, “For he who has not learnt to rule/His inner self, is only too intent to rule/His neighbor’s will to suit his own imperious mind.” The childish Faust, aided by Mephistopheles, begins to impose himself on others like a tyrant.
On the other hand, by swinging to the extreme of extraversion, Faust falls prey to what Jung calls the “extravert’s danger” – “he gets sucked into objects and wholly loses himself in them.” Faust, like Anakin, is obsessed with the feminine; he, too, dreams of vague female forms, and is overcome with lust. This lust is first directed to the young Gretchen; in a reversal of Anakin’s relationship with the older Padmé, the aging Faust becomes infatuated with a young girl, who he describes as an “angel,” recalling Anakin’s famous inquiry from The Phantom Menace, “Are you an angel?” When urged along by Mephistopheles to court Gretchen, Faust claims he has no choice but to assent, recalling Anakin’s denial of responsibility when returning to Tatooine in Attack of the Clones. Later, trying to summon a vision of beauty for the Emperor, Faust calls upon “The Mothers” with an incantation involving “encircling” – reminiscent of Jung’s description of the passive Eros’ wish to be encircled by the maternal feminine. The beauty Faust summons here is the classical Helen, subject of the Trojan War, who he retrieves from the “realm of mothers” – a dark realm which could recall imagery of the unconscious, the womb, or both. When Paris tries to abduct and rape Helen (recalling Shmi’s treatment by the Tusken Raiders), Faust reacts with a mixture of horror and jealousy, undergirded by a distinct possessiveness: “She will be doubly mine if rescued here.”
Elsewhere in Faust, a homunculus plays a key role. The homunculus is created by Faust’s colleague, Wagner, who is proud of his unnatural ability to procreate artificially: “Begetting in the former fashion,” he exults, “We laugh to scorn beside the new.” Wagner’s homunculus recalls the prevalence of artificial beings droids and clones throughout the prequels. Additionally, in Faust, as in Attack of the Clones, characters probe into bodies of water seeking answers. The ocean in Faust is initially depicted as a source of revival, where the four elements, usually opposite, are unified – “Of life’s renewal, you are the fountain” – but Faust ultimately finds himself dissatisfied with it, seeing the waves’ ceaseless beating against the shore as a symbol of eternal dissatisfaction. Goethe also deploys cloud effects frequently, to signify the foggy, nebulous nature of his characters’ journeys. Faust even seems to travel in a cloud at one point.
Moreover, several key scenes in Faust take place on “Classical Walpurgis Night.” The supernatural festivities, in which witches and demons intermingle with other mythological creatures, are held on the site of the battle between Caesar and Pompey that cemented Caesar’s rule over the Roman Empire. As such, the celebration commemorates the anniversary of the loss of an old world and the beginning of a new one – the transition from the ancient to the modern, from Republic to Empire. Elsewhere in Faust, to point out a few more connections, an Emperor is overthrown by a Rebellion. The Emperor, it is emphasized, acts as the head of the body – a bit of imagery recalling the tripartite soul as political allegory. In an early scene, Faust, trying to translate the beginning of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word,” runs through various alternatives. One, which will cause any Star Wars scholar to sit up and take notice, reads, “In the beginning was the Force!”
Goethe describes God as the “All-Unity,” a description that Lucas would likely be very interested in. Indeed, the idea of wholeness, as opposed to separation or fragmentation, lies at the heart of Faust, according to Jung’s interpretation of the text. When Faust makes his initial bargain with Mephistopheles, he adds a wager to the terms of the deal. The wager runs thus: if Faust ever desires to stay in one moment forever, he will die in that moment. According to Jung, “Wholeness is realized for a moment only – the moment that Faust was seeking all his life.”
Yet in Goethe’s version of the legend, Faust loses the wager but does not lose his soul. The feminine he sought after, personified by Gretchen and the Virgin Mary, pleads for Faust’s salvation by grace. Faust, like Anakin, is paradoxically saved by the very catalyst of his downfall. As convention demands, Sophocles ends Oedipus with the utter destruction and despair of its protagonist, but in Revenge of the Sith, and Star Wars as a whole, Lucas throws his lot in with Goethe. Just as Goethe could not condemn Faust in the end, Lucas imbues this tragedy of Anakin’s fall with foreknowledge of his ultimate redemption.
Part III: From My Point of View…
In my previous essay on Attack of the Clones, I emphasized the way that film conflated Star Wars iconography to convey an atmosphere of uncertainty and moral uneasiness. This kind of confusion pervades Revenge of the Sith, from the very opening shot, with its emphasis on a “good guy” Star Destroyer giving way to the chaos of a space battle – continuing the prequels’ overarching progression from clarity to obfuscation. “Have you ever considered that we may be on the wrong side?” Padmé asks, contributing to Anakin’s confusion. “What if the democracy we thought we were serving no longer exists, and the Republic has become the very evil we’ve been fighting to destroy?” The morality of the galaxy is more clouded than ever. Revenge of the Sith is pervaded by a decay that is not merely physical; the opening crawl states that the Republic is crumbling, but it is doing so on a moral and spiritual level, and Lucas orchestrates this collapse in the most far-reaching of ways. No one is exempt. Taken on its own, Revenge of the Sith would be a profoundly cynical film, and many critics have complained that it completely foregoes the mythically simple “good vs. evil” quality of the original trilogy and its fairy tale roots. Lucas, however, is no postmodernist, and even as the characters of Episode III descend into relativism and lose their faith in their ideals, I believe the Star Wars saga as a whole maintains its moral worldview without giving into despair. But more on that later.
The color symbolism throughout is muddled to match the pervasive confusion of categories: Obi-Wan, ordinarily a paragon of virtue and reason, flies a red spaceship in the opening scene. (After it is destroyed, he gets a blue one.) Indeed, the forces of the Republic have many red highlights. The décor of the Jedi Temple is more purple in this film than others, corresponding to the increased prominence of Mace Windu, who wields a purple lightsaber. In fact, a cursory glance at the color palette suggests that purple is used more prominently in Revenge of the Sith than any other Star Wars film. (For instance, Grievous’ droid bodyguards have staffs that emit purple lightning.) The designs of the spacecraft, placed in comparison to those of the original films, yield disturbing similarities: the Jedi Starfighters have the silhouette and window of a TIE Fighter, yet they fly alongside six-winged ARC-170 Fighters that recall the iconic silhouette of the X-Wing. (Anakin’s starfighter, of course, is yellow, the latest in a series of yellow vehicles.)
The conflation of iconography comes to a head in the character of General Grievous, who – after Count Dooku’s death – initially seems to be Revenge of the Sith’s main villain. Grievous is allied with the Separatists and commands the droid armies our heroes fight against, and he is undoubtedly a bad guy, even cartoonishly so; if he had a mustache, he would twirl it with glee. Yet he is not a Sith Lord, and does not wear black or wield red lightsabers. Instead, he is a white cyborg who hijacks Jedi iconography, stealing and wielding their green and blue lightsabers – “A fine addition to my collection,” he gloats upon briefly capturing Anakin and Obi-Wan’s sabers. Later, preparing to duel Obi-Wan, he declares, “I have been trained in your Jedi arts.” (Emphasis mine.) Grievous is the ultimate embodiment of the prequels’ proxy war, a distraction from the true villain working behind the scenes. Instead of fighting the Sith, the Jedi are fighting against themselves.
With his cyborg body (more machine now than man) and wheezing cough, General Grievous acts as a mirror image of the saga’s most iconic villain, Darth Vader. Their color schemes are reversed, and Grievous fulfills the role Obi-Wan attributes to Vader in A New Hope, hunting down and destroying the Jedi Knights. His fate foreshadows Anakin’s; he bursts into flames, which flare up through his eye sockets in another bit of the film’s obsession with blindness imagery. Notably, Grievous is defeated when Obi-Wan exposes his heart (a red organ in a green sac) and then destroys it. (The control screens on the Invisible Hand are also prominently green, but with red in the middle.) Elsewhere in the film, Anakin will become Darth Vader when his marriage to Padmé is brought to light and subsequently shattered – an event in which Obi-Wan will play a similarly crucial part.
While the designs, imagery and color symbolism continue the trend towards confusion that marked Attack of the Clones’ third act, the dialogue and plot in Revenge of the Sith make the descent into relativism more explicit, as rational discourse is undermined and overwhelmed. Anakin’s arc throughout Episode III is one of almost total disillusionment, as his faith in the Jedi Council – already on a shaky foundation in Episode II – is tested and found wanting. With Anakin’s convictions already weakened by powerful and unacknowledged impulses, Palpatine chips away at his ideals by casting dispersions on his previous teachers and leading him on with the promise of greater knowledge and power. “If one is to understand the great mystery,” he explains, “One must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi.” Elsewhere, with the appearance of a kindly old sage, he counsels Anakin to “break through the fog of lies the Jedi have created around [him].” Palpatine equivocates, blurring the line between Jedi and Sith: “All who gain power are afraid to lose it… The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way, including their quest for greater power.” When Anakin counters that the Jedi use their power for good, Palpatine responds, with the evasive slyness of a moral relativist, “Good is a point of view” – a turn of phrase that Anakin will later use in a heated exchange with Obi-Wan, exclaiming, “From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!” Obi-Wan replies: “Then you are lost!”
In the end, Anakin is lost, because his reason has been imperceptibly coopted by his appetites. Throughout his scenes with Palpatine, he is guided not by a search for truth but because he is looking for a way to save Padmé. One senses that he goes to Palpatine because the Jedi have failed to listen to him. “Remember what you told me about your mother and the Sand People,” Palpatine says early on, implying that Anakin is much more honest with the Chancellor than his own Jedi Master. Yoda’s advice regarding Padmé’s impending death – to practice detachment – proves unsatisfactory to Anakin, leading him right into Palpatine’s path. In the end, Anakin’s choice to join the Dark Side is motivated not by a change in ideals, but by his passionate attachment: “You do know, don’t you,” Palpatine whispers, “if the Jedi destroy me, any chance of saving her will be lost.” The decision comes in one of Lucas’ finest moments – a sustained wordless sequence where he plays to his strengths, telling this story not with dialogue but with images and faces.
Unfortunately, Anakin’s disillusionment with the Jedi is not without cause. Its two predecessors suggested significant flaws in the Jedi Order, but in Revenge of the Sith, those flaws are pursued to outright failure. “I do not fear the Dark Side as you do,” Anakin says, accusing Obi-Wan of the very fear the Jedi claim to eradicate. Palpatine’s machinations are underhanded, to say the least, but at a crucial turning point, the Council proves similarly deceitful, ordering Anakin to spy on him as an “off the record” assignment. Mace Windu views Anakin with mistrust and seems jaded and worryingly pragmatic for a leading member of the Jedi Council. He speaks about the prophecy of the Chosen One bringing balance to the Force in dismissive and contemptuous tones. Yoda, for his part, says that the prophecy could have been misread; in a show of epistemic humility that the others lack, he does not commit to their interpretation.
Anakin argues that the Sith “think inwards, only about themselves.” Palpatine counters, “And the Jedi don’t?” Both are right; neither side is truly altruistic or wholly virtuous. The Jedi, with their tendency towards isolation and introversion, certainly “think inwards” more often than not. Anakin’s reply that the Jedi are selfless and only care about others rings false; throughout the prequels, we’ve only seen them sit in debate and lead military strikes. There’s little indication that the Jedi are truly concerned with the welfare of the galaxy, or that they practice any kind of charity or active love towards its denizens.
The Jedi’s flaws are pinpointed by the actions and dialogue of Mace Windu. “The Jedi Council would have to take control of the Senate in order to secure a peaceful transition,” he says, after the Jedi suggest removing Palpatine from office. Peace and security are words Palpatine frequently uses to justify his actions; Windu is much closer to the Dark Side than he realizes. He, too, is afraid of losing his power.
Early in the film, Anakin disarms Count Dooku, takes his lightsaber, and holds the two blades to his neck. One is red, one is blue; “He’s too dangerous to be left alive,” Palpatine counsels, and Anakin beheads him. (Revenge of the Sith, like Attack of the Clones before it, has many subtextually charged beheadings. Note how Grievous’ droid guards continue fighting after their heads are cut off.) Later, when Mace Windu defeats Palpatine in a lightsaber duel, he proclaims his intention to kill him while Anakin watches. “He’s too dangerous to be left alive,” Windu says, mirroring Palpatine’s words from earlier and brandishing his purple lightsaber – purple, of course, being a mixture of red and blue. In this moment, the hypocrisy of the Jedi reaches a breaking point, and Anakin throws his lot in with the Sith, passing through a blue atrium to make his critical decision in Palpatine’s red office.
(In light of this, the oft-mocked line, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes,” seems like an intentional underlining of Jedi hypocrisy. After all, Obi-Wan starts dealing in absolutes mere minutes later: “Chancellor Palpatine is evil… then you are lost!”)
Anakin is very literally torn between the two factions of Jedi and Sith, but this splitting has a deeper significance, recalling Faust’s “two souls.” The Jedi represent one extreme, with their overemphasis on the reasoning part of the soul. The Sith represent the other, fixating on the appetitive part. The tragedy of Revenge of the Sith arises because there is no spirited part to balance the two extremes, and Anakin is unable to find the proper middle path. “How did this happen?” Obi-Wan quips during the opening rescue attempt. “We’re smarter than this.” He still places his focus on thinking and reason; Anakin later says, “This whole operation was your idea.” (Emphasis mine.) This is true of the Jedi as a whole; Windu, responding with great hostility to Palpatine’s suggestion that Anakin be placed on the Council, spits, “The Council will make up its own mind.” (Emphasis mine.) Finally, Obi-Wan confronts Anakin with the rebuke, “You have allowed this dark lord to twist your mind…” In true Jedi fashion, Obi-Wan focuses on the twisting of the mind, but fails to see that Anakin’s heart was already twisted, and his mind merely followed suit.
Yoda, on the other hand, continues to be more perceptive than the other Jedi. Early in the film, we learn that he has good relations with the Wookiees, who, like the Gungans, seem to be a tribe of Jungian primitives. Of all the members of the Council, Yoda is the one most in touch with matters of the spirit, as his green lightsaber would suggest. Similarly, Obi-Wan – the only other Jedi balanced enough to survive the purge – seems to form a bond of sorts with the Boga he rides on Utapau – a reptilian creature with green scales. Obi-Wan can only find Anakin with Yoda’s crucial guidance: “Use your feelings, Obi-Wan, and find him you will.” Obi-Wan’s feelings lead him to Padmé, and his feelings are likely what allow him to intuit that Anakin is the father of her children.
The trilogy concludes with two climactic lightsaber duels that play out in parallel, again demonstrating Lucas’ knack for constructing action sequences with multiple threads progressing in sync. Yoda confronts the newly appointed Emperor Palpatine on Coruscant, while Obi-Wan and Anakin battle on the lava planet Mustafar. As always, the duels’ significance is communicated through the symbolism of colors and geography. Between the two fights, all three primary lightsaber colors are represented; Yoda wields a green lightsaber against Palpatine’s red one, while Anakin and Obi-Wan – intriguingly – both have blue sabers. In this instance, tragically, green is unable to triumph over red. While the climactic battle of Episode I ended when Obi-Wan used Qui-Gon’s green lightsaber to bisect Darth Maul, Yoda’s loss of his green sword midway through this fight presages his defeat and exile. The duel between Yoda and Palpatine takes place in the Emperor’s purple office and the Senate chamber – the heart and stomach clashing in the seat of reason, which the colors indicate has already been tainted by the appetites.
Anakin and Obi-Wan, meanwhile, have a battle of ideals, clashing against each other in a raging sea of passion – an apt conclusion to the prequels’ arc. Neither combatant particularly wants to kill the other, but both are willing to do so because of their ironclad devotion to their principles. Their dialogue throughout the fight is primarily of an argumentative nature; they make claims about truths and points of view. “I see through the lies of the Jedi,” Anakin asserts. “My allegiance is to the Republic,” Obi-Wan replies – “To democracy!” Their fighting styles are formal and dancelike, almost reserved. They move in sync. Notice how the structure is protected from the red lava by blue energy fields. When Anakin accidentally hits a control panel and deactivates these shields, the screen displays a reversal of his podracer’s color sequence: green turns into flashing blue outlines, which are quickly filled by red energy that proceeds to overwhelm the entire display. And of course, the duel ends when Anakin, blinded by his appetites, loses his blue saber and is consumed by the flames of the passions. “I hate you!” he screams. Only when his friend lies burning can Obi-Wan express his own emotions, not in the terms of a master-apprentice relationship, but a familial one: “You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!”
The conflict between idealism and materialism hinges on their differing approaches to the inevitability of death. Death looms over Revenge of the Sith from the beginning, like an ominous specter: “General Grievous’ ship is directly ahead,” Anakin says, the film’s first spoken line. “The one crawling with vulture droids.” Vultures, of course, are carrion birds, and carcasses are the only things they crawl over. As with most sets of opposites in the prequel films, both approaches from extremes lack something. As Padmé lays dying, Lucas places red and blue tubes in the background of the scene. “Medically, she is completely healthy,” says a droid. “For reasons we can’t explain, we are losing her.” There is no physical explanation for Padmé’s death, nor does her head seem to be affected; “I know there is still good in him,” she says of Anakin with her dying breath. (Emphasis mine.) The problem is with her heart, or her spirit; “She has lost the will to live,” says the droid.
Yoda and Palpatine make conflicting claims about the nature of life and death. After Anakin kills Dooku, Palpatine assuages his guilt by assuring him, “It is only natural. He cut off your arm, you wanted revenge.” Taking vengeance may not be the Jedi way, but it is the natural way. The appetites are the brutish part of man, and Palpatine’s idea of nature involves giving free reign to these animalistic impulses. Yoda, on the other hand, has an idea of nature that allows him to respond to death with stoic detachment: “Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not.” Yet when Yoda returns to the Jedi Temple and finds the results of Anakin’s slaughter, he cannot abide by his teachings perfectly.
The conclusion of Yoda’s duel with Palpatine encapsulates the difference between the Jedi and Sith in their responses to death. Yoda falls from one of the Senate pods and his empty cloak falls through the air, fluttering in the wind – a metaphorical death foreshadowing the disappearance of Obi-Wan’s body when Vader strikes him down. “There’s no sign of his body, sir,” a Clone Trooper informs Palpatine. “Then he is not dead,” Palpatine says. “Double your search.” The Sith, with their materialistic view of the world, cannot conceive of anything beyond the physical.
Explaining the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, Palpatine becomes the only person other than Qui-Gon to discuss midi-chlorians. Yet where Qui-Gon saw midi-chlorians as a means by which to commune with the Force, viewing the material as a mediator to something transcendent, Palpatine presents them quite differently. The scene takes place in a purple opera house with red highlights; it is the first appearance of Palpatine’s red-robed royal guards. At the beginning of the scene, Anakin enters and kneels next to Palpatine – a servile position he will resume multiple times as the film progresses. The opera they are watching is quite strange – it consists of several spherical, purple bubbles undulating in mid-air, as red dancers of some kind, with long trails, jump between them. The imagery suggests some kind of activity on the cellular level – perhaps binary fission, the means by which one cell splits into two halves as a kind of asexual reproduction. Palpatine describes the midi-chlorians as any materialist scientist might; the Force is not something spiritual and ineffable, merely something used to influence cells to create life. “The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some would consider to be unnatural,” Palpatine smiles, a contrast to Yoda’s view that death is a natural part of life. In their materialism, the Sith wish to avoid physical death at all costs. “Life,” as Palpatine describes it, may not have any spiritual component at all; it may be nothing more than the production of bodies. The end result is that one can keep those one cares about from dying, and it is the promise of this power that tempts Anakin – who cannot let go of the physical as the Jedi do – to the dark side. He is torn between the Jedi, with their ineffectual ideals, forbidding attachment to the physical, and the Sith, who promise the prolonging of physical life, preying on his attachment to Padmé. If I may cheat a little by referencing material outside the six films, allow me to refer to the Clone Wars television series, in which Sith clarify their belief systems by asserting definitely, “There is no life after death. Only nothingness awaits you.” The Jedi, on the other hand, deny the possibility that an individual can continue to exist after death; instead, they hold the pantheistic belief that he is “transformed into the Force.”
“It’s ironic,” Palpatine says in conclusion to the tragedy of Darth Plagueis. “He could save others from death, but not himself.” This line recalls the Pharisees’ taunts at the foot of the cross – “He saved others; he cannot save himself.” Christ defeated death, but paradoxically, he did so by dying. In the final moments of Revenge of the Sith, the dead Qui-Gon makes his crucial reappearance, returning from the grave to suggest a third path beyond the Sith’s oblivion and the Jedi’s loss of self. “An old friend has learned the path to immortality,” Yoda tells Obi-Wan, speaking of Qui-Gon. “One who has returned from the netherworld of the Force… how to commune with him I will teach you.” Communion, of course, is a word that holds specifically Christian connotations, and of all the characters in Star Wars, Qui-Gon is one of those who comes closest to demonstrating truly Christlike love. Here, at the saga’s lowest point, he makes his presence felt again, to foreshadow ultimate hope beyond the grave.
But more on that later.
Part IV: You Die in Childbirth
Anakin’s desire to prevent Padmé’s death is one of the guiding forces in Revenge of the Sith, but the specific manner of that death is what ties this new stage of his development back to the previous ones. He does not merely fear that Padmé will die; in his visions, she dies in childbirth, with Obi-Wan watching over her. One of these visions suggests not only fear, but jealousy. This is not a dream that Anakin wakes from – Lucas cuts from the vision to Anakin sitting and glowering. Padmé enters the room and he says, “Obi-Wan’s been here, hasn’t he?”
Anakin’s Oedipal aggression towards his father figure Obi-Wan reaches its peak in Revenge of the Sith. In keeping with the myth, Anakin will later kill this surrogate father, and he certainly competes with him for Padmé’s attention. Throughout both Episode II and Episode III, Anakin is consistently frightened or threatened when Padmé mentions that she’s spoken to or otherwise interacted with Obi-Wan. “Do you think Obi-Wan might be able to help us?” she suggests, but he is firm: “We don’t need his help.” When she pleads with him to turn back to the light, she cries, “You’re going down a path I can’t follow.” His reply – “Because of Obi-Wan.” To the end, Anakin fixates on Obi-Wan as an obstacle to the continuation of his and Padmé’s love. During their final conversation, he only becomes hostile when she brings up Obi-Wan – “I don’t want to hear anymore about Obi-Wan” – and lashes out at his surrogate mother with violence only when his surrogate father arrives.
Yet Anakin’s aggression to Obi-Wan does not stem solely from psychosexual rivalry, but also from the ideals he embodies – ideals Anakin cannot live up to. Obi-Wan models a kind of detached, monastic masculinity that Anakin, with his fervent attachment to the feminine, cannot attain. He is not only Anakin’s father, but his big brother of sorts; Anakin views himself as inferior to Obi-Wan, but Obi-Wan does not seem to think of himself as superior to Anakin, based on his anguished cry, “You were my brother.” He thinks of them as equals.
There is another father figure in Anakin’s life – Palpatine, who often refers to him as “son.” While Obi-Wan, as a representative of the Jedi, is a restricting influence, Palpatine is an enabler. He embodies the opposite masculine extreme of selfish, controlling materialism, seeking to preserve a legacy not of children, who are unpredictable, born from union with the other, but of action and achievements. In the end, Anakin rejects and kills both these paternal figures and their influences.
Throughout Oedipus the King, the ruler addresses his subjects as “children,” and an emphasis is placed on progeny and legacy throughout. After the final revelation, Oedipus’ anguish extends to the tainted nature of his children, products of an unnatural union. He is horrified by the taunts he imagines them enduring: “Your father killed his father/and sowed the seed where he had sprung himself/and begot you out of the womb that held him.” In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s interactions with children are charged with anxiety and significance – not only his own, but the Jedi younglings he slaughters.
Freud locates the Oedipus complex early in the stages of development – the third stage, fittingly enough, though perhaps it would be overreaching to see a deliberate connection to this third episode there. Although Anakin has matured when we meet him at the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, he is still failing to truly move past his mother’s death, and he clings to Padmé, her surrogate, with renewed fervor, continuing to hope for a return to the now-untenable security of childhood. “I remember when I gave this to you,” he says, looking at the talisman he carved for Padmé when he was nine years old – a totem of childhood that she still wears around her neck.
As one who longs to remain in a childlike state, Anakin is naturally threatened by the idea of fatherhood. When Padmé informs him of her pregnancy, his reaction is hardly an enthusiastic one; “That’s wonderful,” he seems to force himself to reply. His dreams of Padmé’s death juxtapose her screams of pain with the sounds of childbirth, and he awakens from them the way he did when he dreamt of his mother in Attack of the Clones. “You die in childbirth,” he tells her, and even if this weren’t literally true, the birth of their children would mean an end. It would mean an end to their secret marriage, an end to his dreams of becoming a Jedi Master and, it seems, an end to her political career. Yet it also threatens his ingrained childness and his Freudian fixation with Padmé as mother – his mother, not the mother of his children. The birth of Anakin’s children threatens to supplant him from his role as child. It would force him to grow up. Fatherhood is the final stage in man’s archetypal maturation, but Anakin refuses this, and will continue to refuse it, as his battles with his son Luke will show. Anakin’s arc over the course of the saga is the most archetypal progression there is: man’s progression from child to father. Anakin will grow from a child, who would kill his own surrogate father in a desperate bid to control the universe around him, to a father who is redeemed by his willingness to let go of it all and sacrifice himself for his son. That is the way of things.
Palpatine suggested that the Jedi and the Sith were similar in their lust for power, but they are also similar in their denial of attachments. Palpatine seduces Anakin by promising to prolong Padmé’s life, but Anakin’s turn to the dark side actually rids him of his wife and children, isolating him. “Don’t shut me out,” Padmé pleads, early in the film, but her plea falls on deaf ears. Obi-Wan and Palpatine both urge pragmatism and letting go. During the opening space battle, Obi-Wan’s ship is damaged. He urges Anakin to go on without him, but Anakin refuses: “I’m not leaving without you, Master.” Minutes later, when Obi-Wan is again imperiled, Palpatine urges Anakin to leave him behind; “There’s no time,” he says. “We’ll never make it.” Anakin, however, insists: “His fate will be the same as ours.” Anakin’s attachment to Obi-Wan is something the Jedi and the Sith discourage, but it is exactly what sets the stage for his eventual redemption. It is Obi-Wan, after all, who will preserve the children Anakin sought to destroy – the children who will be instrumental in bringing him back to the light.
“I believe you are redeemed by your children,” George Lucas said in a 1999 interview with Bill Moyers. This ethos is borne out by the familial dynamics of the Star Wars saga. Faust destroyed Gretchen by seducing and wrongfully impregnating her, but by unconditional love and unmerited grace, she saved him by interceding on his behalf. Similarly, Anakin’s attempts to prevent Padmé’s death are, in true Sophoclean fashion, precisely what bring it about. “I’m afraid, in your anger, you killed her,” Palpatine says, the final touch of tragic irony. Yet despite his sins, Padmé intercedes to Obi-Wan on Anakin’s behalf – “There’s good in him” – and saves him by bearing the children who will redeem him. The way Lucas intercuts Anakin’s transformation into Vader with Padmé’s giving birth to Luke and Leia is incredible, the entire central drama of Star Wars in microcosm. The two events take place in completely separate locations, but the sounds of the two scenes overlap – father, mother, son and daughter all screaming and breathing together, intimating a deep unity of the Skywalker family even as it is split apart. Obi-Wan, watching, temporarily fills the father role that Anakin cannot yet accept; he cradles the babies and comforts Padmé in her dying moments.
In his description of the ill-adjusted person confronted by difficult reality, Jung presents two alternatives: one can infantilize, regressing into a childhood state, or one can adopt a persona or mask, concealing one’s true self in order to better control the impressions one makes on others. In his tortured journey to maturity, Anakin infantilized first. Here, at the end of this trilogy, halfway upon his life’s journey, he is forced to become Darth Vader, the most iconic persona of them all. As Obi-Wan puts it, “He ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your father was destroyed.” Yet Obi-Wan is wrong, as he underestimates the extent to which good and evil can coexist inside a person. Anakin takes on the evil persona of Darth Vader (or Dark Father), but somewhere within him, there remains a seed of true goodness.
As Lucas approaches the center of the ring and ties the two trilogies together, bringing his saga full circle, he uses a series of circular transitions to take us through the four members of the Skywalker family. The circle is a symbol of wholeness and unity, and four, according to Jung, is the number of completion.
Padmé’s body is returned to Naboo, cementing that planet’s role as the crucial location of the prequel trilogy – a place of balance, where Naboo and Gungans come together in harmony to mourn the loss of their former queen, who carries a totem of Anakin’s innocence to her grave.
Anakin, enclosed in his black armor, oversees the construction of the Death Star. He sought to control death, and now he views the tragic, ironic results of his Faustian bargain – he could not keep death from affecting those he loved, but he can now direct its power against those he does not.
Leia is taken to Alderaan, adopted by Bail Organa and his wife. “She will be loved with us,” he tells the Jedi. You would expect the sentence to run “She will be safe with us,” but we have already seen what horrors can be perpetrated in the name of safety, and Organa’s emphasis on love is deliberate.
Leia, the female, will live by a lake, but Luke, the male, will live on a desert planet with no water. Obi-Wan takes him to the Lars homestead, where Anakin lost his mother. Luke has already lost his mother, but Lucas assures us that he will not follow the same painful path as his father. The film, and the prequel trilogy, concludes on an image of tremendous hope: Owen and Beru Lars, a pair of surrogate parents, holding Anakin’s infant son and looking to the twin suns – one light and one dark. In nineteen years, those same suns will herald Luke’s acceptance of the path his father rejected – the path to reconciliation.
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