Now THIS is an inferiority complex!

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K: Today we tackle a subject I have a lot of feelings about–Anakin Skywalker’s mental/emotional health (or lack thereof). Specifically, the crippling amount of self-doubt our favorite Chosen One has. For someone who is so often chided for reckless arrogance, Anakin has one heck of an inferiority complex. But, if you look at it another way, it’s really not that surprising.

M: Just think of all of his cocky moments and translate them as cries for help. More often than not, Anakin’s hubris is a front to mask his self-doubt.

K: I mean, he definitely acts arrogant sometimes. But the guy is seriously powerful, so his claims about his abilities aren’t usually that far off. And yet, he spends a lot of his painfully short time as a Jedi worrying that he’s not good enough.

M: It’s this cycle of: “Oh no, I’m not powerful enough, everyone in the galaxy will die because of me,” to “OMG the Jedi Council/Obi-Wan just doesn’t understand how amazing I am, they’re such idiots,” to “BUT WHAT IF THEY’RE RIGHT.”

K: *radio announcer voice* This has been a brief insight into the brain of Anakin Skywalker. But seriously, that is so accurate. And Palpatine, master of manipulation, depends on this cycle in his plans for Anakin.

M: He feeds into both of those ideas– that the Jedi council are idiots and that Anakin needs more power– constantly.

K: It’s so awful. One minute, he’s stroking Anakin’s ego and the next he’s destroying Anakin’s self-confidence with some casual lament about the Jedi Council’s lack of faith in him. And it’s pretty clear that he also orders his henchmen to pour on the criticism whenever possible.

M: Hmmmm. Example?

K: Ok, you know the “Obi-Wan goes undercover” arc in Clone Wars season 4?

M: You mean, the “Obi-Wan finally gets his own arc but his beautiful voice and dashing good looks are rudely taken away” arc? Why yes, I do.

K: Hahaha, well, in the last episode of that arc, Dooku shows up and “kidnaps” the Chancellor. Anakin takes on the Sith Lord and three MagnaGuards in a long, involved duel. At the very end, Obi-Wan shows up to help, and he snatches the Chancellor off Dooku’s ship while Anakin keeps Dooku occupied for a little longer. Pretty standard Anakin and Obi-Wan adventure.

M: Yes, as I remember it, there’s plenty of Anakin’s typical flashiness and general awesomeness.

K: Indeed. Well, as Dooku’s ship pulls away, he calls “Well done, Master Kenobi. You are a worthy adversary. I cannot say the same for your young apprentice.” And Anakin just seethes.

M: Hey, yeah! It’s super unfair of Dooku to say that. Anakin just took out all the MagnaGuards and all Obi-Wan does is hop up onto the ship and drag Palpatine off.

K: Not only that, but during their duel, Anakin is doing much better against Dooku than he has at any point prior to this. Even though before the fight starts, Dooku claims that defeating Anakin is going to be easy, there are a couple of moments where Dooku’s usual calm sneer almost turns into a panicked look. He only gets away by pulling out the ol’ Sith lightning. In short, Anakin did a great job in that fight only to have Dooku just dismiss all of it and praise Obi-Wan (who, of course, Anakin already has a competitive problem with).

M: (that’s putting it mildly) Fascinating idea! We know that Dooku is the only one of Palpatine’s minions who has an inkling as to what Sidious has in store for Anakin. You almost wonder if they staged the fake kidnapping in such a way that Obi-Wan would get credit for the rescue rather than Anakin. They could have flown away a lot faster.

K: There was definitely some strategy to the encounter. Especially since Palpatine, galaxy’s worst Space-Dad, is there once Dooku flies away to tell Anakin he did a good job.

M: Well, and even then Palpatine only says he’s safe “thanks again to the heroics of the Jedi.” Palpatine was kriffing sitting there throughout the entirety of the duel. He knows that Anakin is the one doing the heroics, and intentionally does not thank him directly.

K: Also, friendly reminder, Anakin is like 22-23 at this point, which is younger than Obi-Wan was when he killed Maul in TPM (a feat that earns Obi-Wan no small amount of fame among the Jedi). Anakin is dueling Sith Lords/apprentices (and surviving) on a regular basis. But everyone acts like “eh, no more than we expected, no big deal.” Probably because he’s The Chosen One.

M: Well, it’s like in AotC when Anakin’s complaining that Obi-Wan won’t recommend him for the trials because Anakin is “too unpredictable.” While misguided, it is a true statement. Anakin is too unpredictable– the Jedi are terrified of his power being untamed! But because of that fear, the council constantly undervalues him. (I’m sounding like Anakin, haha)

K: (I would make a joke about whining but I’m kind of on Anakin’s side at the moment.) AotC has another moment that nicely illustrates just how much everyone casually expects of Anakin. After Obi-Wan jumps out of a who-knows-how-many-stories-high window to grab the assassin droid, Anakin has to get to a speeder, pilot said unfamiliar speeder through insane Coruscant traffic, find his master using the Force in said traffic, and then manage to get to him before Obi-Wan hits a vehicle or the side of a building. Anakin does all that and the first thing Obi-Wan says to him is “What took you so long?!” Which is banter, and Anakin responds in kind, but deep down that sort of thing has to have an effect on his psyche.

M: Ooooooooh the complications of Obi-Wan’s sarcasm with Anakin’s style of communication, a huge topic we’ll discuss in depth another day. Yeah, Anakin just wants a simple “good job” (although probably not the one he does get later in AotC). He’s just a kid. And because he hasn’t lived in the Temple his whole life, emotionally he really is just a kid compared to the rest of the Jedi.

K: The Jedi do show appreciation when appropriate, but they kind of frown on outright praise. They’re definitely never effusive in their compliments. And Obi-Wan, in particular, is not very good at making Anakin (or, to be fair, anyone else) feel validated.

M: Hence when Padme actually does get a *slight* compliment she responds by saying “A compliment? You should warn me next time, Obi-Wan. Give me a chance to sit down first” (Clone Wars: Wild Space by Karen Miller, pg. 135). You can see Anakin sort of making up for this lack of appreciation/praise in how he deals with Ahsoka. It’s not like he’s raining compliments on her, but “Good job, Snips,” is a very common utterance throughout Clone Wars.

K: Ooh good point. He’s determined to make sure Ahsoka doesn’t feel as unappreciated as he sometimes does. Although Ahsoka isn’t facing quite the same level of pressure as Anakin.

M: The poor guy was told when he was nine– NINE– that he was the Chosen One and that he has this huge destiny with the Force. That has to loom over him like stormclouds… I mean, what if he’s not prepared? What if he can’t do it?

K: It can’t help that no one can even tell him what said enormous destiny is. The Jedi are in the dark just as much as Anakin is about this whole prophecy thing, and so no one can guide him on what he’s supposed to do–if he’s even supposed to do anything. He just knows he has this power, which he doesn’t even know the full extent of, and that the other Jedi are slightly in awe, but mostly really worried about it.

M: He has no clue what to expect, or what to prepare for. It makes his future a void that feeds on anxiety.

K: Which Anakin has plenty of. And we haven’t even talked about what losing his mother did to this inferiority complex. Like, Anakin is complaining about feeling underestimated by Obi-Wan and the Council in AotC, and then he decides that Shmi’s death is entirely his fault because he wasn’t “strong enough” to save her. He switches from seeming arrogance to crippling inferiority so fast I get whiplash.

M: His introduction to the Jedi council probably had a lasting effect too. There’s this part in the EU novel Cloak of Deception by James Luceno where Obi-Padawan mentions that, because he nearly didn’t become a padawan at all, he’s always trying to prove himself and do more and be better, which Qui-Gon “Living Force” Jinn scolds him about constantly.. But this moment really sticks with me because Anakin’s beginning is 1138 times more traumatic. He was told by all of the most powerful Jedi that he was too old for training, that he’d never be able to do it. And the poor kid is just standing there, wondering if after everything that has happened he won’t even be able to fulfill his purpose. You’d constantly feel the need to prove yourself after that.

K: Which Anakin clearly does. Every stunt, every boast, every claim that he’s got everything under control–if you look at it in the light of a kid desperately trying to be what he thinks he’s supposed to be (unstoppable super-Jedi), it starts being more heartbreaking than amusing.

M: Look, space-dad! I CAN throw a lightsaber!

K: No hands!

M: (Literally, no hand.) Ok, sorry to keep bringing up novels but I’ve been doing a lot of reading.

K: No please, bring up the novels, I have a lot to say about them too.

M: In Clone Wars: Wild Space, Obi-Wan tells Anakin that he’s been given his first real command as a Jedi Knight (this is pgs. 105-111). He gets his own flagship and everything. Anakin’s immediately excited, and also immediately terrified. Then Obi-Wan tries to give him some advice… and it doesn’t go over well. Anakin’s response is: “You don’t think I can do this, do you? [ …] you still see me as a kid, your apprentice. Snot-nosed Anakin who can’t be trusted to get the job done.” I mean, Obi-Wan doesn’t think that– he just thinks Anakin is going to do normal Anakin things (and to be fair, he does). But what this exchange makes clear is that those words are Anakin’s. He’s saying those kinds of things to himself.

K: Exactly! He takes any sort of advice or warning as a direct criticism of his abilities, even when it’s usually not intended that way. Because that’s the only kind of advice or warning he gives himself. In the excellent novelization of the Clone Wars movie by Karen Traviss, there are an insane number of moments where Anakin, while doing his job to the absolute best of his ability, just beats himself up mentally. “[Anakin] wondered how long it would be before this numbness wore off and reality slammed him against the wall, screaming: Why didn’t you save Rex? Why can’t you save anyone who matters? What’s the point of being the Chosen One if you can’t save people you care about?” (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, pg. 148). That’s what “reality” means to Anakin–his brain screaming at him that he’s useless and a failure.

M: Again, textbook anxiety/depression. And probably a personality disorder or two, but I’m not a psychologist. Also, that book is MAJOR Anakin feels, sheesh.

K: ALL the Anakin feels and then some. I could keep pulling out examples like this all day, but it’s getting too kriffing depressing.

M: Yeah. *sniffles*

K: Honestly, if I see one more person saying that “Kylo Ren is everything Anakin Skywalker should have been” (implying that he has a deeper, more complex characterization) I will throw all of these examples and more at their heads.

M: You have to at least give Anakin credit for being seriously messed up. And yet he still manages to be the best villain in cinema history AND bring balance to the Force.

K: Proving that he really did have enough power to save the galaxy after all.

 

duh duh duh DUN DA DUN, DUN DA DUN

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K: The only Star Wars score John Williams has won an Oscar for is the original 1977 Star Wars. (ESB, RotJ, and TFA were all nominated, but none of the prequels were, which is a travesty we can talk about another day.) I love the ANH soundtrack, as I love all Star Wars music, but it’s missing something the other Star Wars scores have–The Imperial March.

M: Certainly the absolute most iconic bit of Star Wars music, one identifiable within a few notes. However, given that it’s woven so deep into the fabric of popular culture, it’s easy to overlook not only its individual brilliance but also how skillfully John Williams incorporates the theme as a leitmotif throughout the rest of the soundtracks.

K: Although it’s called “The Imperial March,” its subtitle is “Darth Vader’s Theme,” and that’s how most people know it: the stirring and evil-sounding music that blasts every time Vader makes an entrance. But if we follow the story chronologically, starting with the prequels, that’s not how it first appears.

M: No, it first appears in “Anakin’s Theme,” arguably one of the best pieces of Star Wars music EVER, given what we’re about to talk about. And to clarify, I don’t know music very well… I’m sure there’s a lot more here than we’ll discuss.

K: Oh for sure. I bet there have been Masters theses written about the themes of Star Wars and all of the brilliant things John Williams does. I don’t have the technical knowledge to write one, but I do appreciate what I have learned and noticed while listening to the soundtracks. So, “Anakin’s Theme.” It’s a beautiful, hopeful sounding piece of music, full of the promise and potential of this sweet kid from Tatooine. But there’s something darker lurking both in the child and in the song.

M: I love the sort of unsettled nature of the tune. Despite how intensely melodic the song is,  it’s hard to break up into segments. The notes carry into each other, rather impressionistically (Think Debussy). But at the very end of the melody, those notes tumble into the notes of “The Imperial March.”

K: Not, it should be noted, as sinisterly as the theme appears throughout the OT. It’s a lot gentler, easier to miss. But it’s a reminder of the approaching inevitable.

M: Once you hear those last few notes and make the connection to “The Imperial March,” it’s hard not to have that mood flavor the entirety of the song. Its unsettled nature, as well as the struggle between the upwardly moving melody and the melody’s inevitable fall  at the end of the tune… it all comes down to those last few notes.

K: It mirrors Anakin in the prequels as well–trying to rise but eventually being dragged down to the Dark Side.

M: But it doesn’t stop there. We get to hear the Imperial March throughout Anakin’s fall, as well as in The Clone Wars.

K: I was surprised, listening to the prequel soundtracks, at how sparingly John Williams actually uses the Imperial March. It pops up only at the darkest points in Anakin’s fall, highlighting the big turns in his journey to darkness. And even then, it’s usually pretty subtle. For example, when Anakin slaughters the Tusken Raiders in revenge for his mother’s death, the Imperial March plays not over the shots of Anakin slashing with his lightsaber, but over the scene where Yoda feels his rage and distress in the Force. It also appears in AotC in its less-widely-used function as the theme of the Galactic Empire–as Chancellor Palpatine and select senators look out over the gathered clone troopers and the new battleships of the Republic (so eerily reminiscent of stormtroopers and Star Destroyers respectively) we get that melody again.

M: I love that it isn’t used blatantly in the prequels for two reasons: First, I think it’s important that Anakin is not yet Vader. They’re not one and the same person, hence Obi-Wan insisting that Anakin Skywalker was killed when Vader was created. Not using it oppressively gives Anakin the constant chance for redemption–it’s really not until the end of RotS, when he rises as Lord Vader, that he has completely become that character. Second, it is used so liberally in ESB and RotJ when Vader’s presence and power is a constant. This in contrast to RotS, when Anakin potentially could have avoided becoming Vader. By the time the OT rolls around, the March is unavoidable, drowning out many of the other themes once it arrives.

K: The OT Imperial March is so great. It can be bombastic and in-your-face as it comes striding down a corridor, or it can jump out and surprise you.Going back to your point about using it sparingly in order to emphasize that Anakin isn’t Vader, let’s talk about Clone Wars!

M: GAH, literally my (and I think your) favorite moment in The Clone Wars is in the episode “Voyage of Temptation” (S2 E13). Obi-Wan and Satine are caught in a pickle… this crazy senator dude, Tal Merrick, is holding a detonator that will explode the ship they’re on, but neither Obi-Wan or Satine can bring themselves to kill the man. Merrick says “Who’ll strike first and brand themselves a cold-blooded killer?” Obi-Wan and Satine both hesitate… and BAM, the guy gets stabbed in the back by Anakin, who seems completely unaware of the implications of the situation. And in the background…

K: Duh duh duh DUN DA DUN, DUN DA DUN. We could write a whole other post about that moment, because it is my favorite of all time, but the use of the Imperial March there…gosh. Painful. The same sort of thing happens a few times throughout the show–any time Anakin drifts toward the Dark Side, that theme lurks in the background, reminding us of what’s to come.

M: Honestly, it’s a bit of a killjoy in that it’s this little reminder of the tragedy to come… Anakin will cease to be himself and will turn into Vader instead.

K: Thanks a lot, show–can’t just let us pretend that it’s all going to turn out fine, oh no. Interestingly, when Anakin really does fully commit to becoming Vader in RotS, the Imperial March still isn’t used nearly as heavily as it is in the OT. Probably because RotS is meant to show the absolute tragedy that is Anakin’s Fall, and the Imperial March is so entwined with this idea of Vader as a terrifyingly powerful force of evil.

M: I mean, it’s a march. It has this confidence and ruthlessness and drive to it that isn’t yet appropriate for Anakin. He’s not at ease with that level of evil until his transformation is complete and he leaves behind all traces of his former life.

K: But by the time we reach the era of the OT, the music fits perfectly with Vader’s persona. He is completely relentless and unstoppable, just like the rhythm of the march.

M: OOOH, which is why I love the little snippet of the March we get in RO. We don’t really hear it until the very end, when Vader has boarded the Rebel Cruiser and is watching the Tantive IV fly away, cape billowing in the “wind” (wind doesn’t exist in Space, obvs a bit of Vader using the Force to be extra), the literal definition of BADASS.

K: Dang, that Vader scene is still the coolest, most breath-taking (in the literal sense) 45 seconds I have ever seen on a theater screen.

M: *SHINK* Red lightsaber glows in the darkness as we listen to the same alarm sound from ANH… I DIE, we must change subjects before I talk about this all night. Back to the March in RO, I love that we only hear it, really, at the very end. We hear a few bars of it in the “Do not choke on your aspirations” scene, but using it in its full glory only at the end lets the audience know that the best/worst is yet to come… Vader is just getting started (additionally, this reflects the absence of the March in ANH). Also, I feel I must insert a word for Rebels here, which uses the March in a more Rogue One fashion (except for when they make it major during the Empire day celebrations?! Weird?!). He’s a mystery… scary, but not yet a direct threat to the entire galaxy.

K: I also like that, I think it works best to give the March its biggest and best incarnations during the movie that features everything going Vader’s way (well, until his son jumps down a death shaft rather than join him in ruling the galaxy): The Empire Strikes Back.

M: Exactly. And in ESB the March is kriffing everywhere. Every time we see an Imperial ship, every time we see Vader. I love how larger than life this makes Vader feel. And honestly, at this point, the gang don’t know what exactly they’re facing. They’re only now realizing how big of a problem he is.

K: And once they realize it, there’s no escaping it. Suddenly, Vader is everywhere: hunting the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field, appearing to Luke in a creepy tunnel on Dagobah, even sitting casually in a dining room in Cloud City. And his theme comes everywhere with him.

M: I especially love it in “The Battle of Hoth,” mostly because that’s one of my favorite tracks, but also because even amidst the thrumming of the AT-AT’s theme, the March STILL manages to be the scariest and most bombastic tune in the suite.

K: Gah so good. But, if the March manages to completely take over ESB, it has a much more complicated life in RotJ. It starts out as the same powerful theme, playing over Vader’s and later the Emperor’s arrival on the Death Star 2.0. But things are less clear to Vader these days. And his theme doesn’t always pound out confidently the way it used to. In particular, I’m thinking of the scene where Luke is brought to Vader on Endor. The Imperial March as we usually think of it IS present in the scene, but there’s this whole other section where bits and pieces of the March try to assert themselves only to disappear into the other melodies.

M: I think it’s a signal… Vader isn’t going to be Vader for much longer. It has less surety, more hesitance.

K: VADER isn’t sure anymore. Not sure about the Emperor, not sure about his decision to embrace the Dark Side, not sure what to think about his son–his son, who is insisting that there is still good somewhere inside of that black shell. It’s the Emperor’s theme, not the Imperial March, that takes center stage when Luke and Vader duel–it’s the Emperor Luke truly has to defeat, not his father. Which brings us to the last, really beautiful use of the Imperial March, during Anakin and Luke’s final conversation. As Luke helps his father take off his mask (literally and figuratively shedding Vader), a really high, haunting version of the March plays.

M: It sounds full of regret… just an echo of Vader’s evil and, really, the person he used to be. But also, and I’m just going to go ahead and assume John Williams did this on purpose, it sounds like Anakin’s Theme, especially with the harp at the very end.

K: Yes! It’s got that melodic quality again.

M: And because Vader has become Anakin again, Luke finally gets to meet his father.

K: *gross sobbing* Once it plays over Anakin’s death, the theme does not appear again. Instead, when Luke burns his father’s body we get a powerful version of the Force theme, and I cry and cry…

M: Vader is no more! Anakin is one with the Force. *weeps* Praise the space conflicts.

K: And praise John Williams for scoring them.

May the 4th Be With You

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It’s Star Wars Day! To celebrate, we have each made lists of moments that make us happy from each of the Star Wars movies. May the 4th be with you!

K

TPM: I love Obi-Wan’s face at the end because everyone else is smiling and triumphant while Obi-Wan is finishing the movie the way he started it—with a bad feeling about this.

AotC: I love the scene in the droid foundry when Anakin’s arm is stuck and there are blades chopping all around him because it seems like he’s going to lose his hand a la Luke in ESB, but that doesn’t actually happen until later.

RotS: I love the way the music goes away and it’s completely silent right as the mask goes over Anakin’s terrified face and then…the first Vader breath. Chills.

RO: I love the sight and sound of Vader’s lightsaber igniting in the black hallway. I think I stopped breathing in the theater.

ANH: I love Leia saying “Somebody’s got to save our skins,” because she’s supposedly the one being rescued and then she rescues her rescue party. Anyone who says Leia is a damsel in distress is just so, so wrong.

ESB: I love the tiny moment when Lando has to physically drag Leia away from shooting stormtroopers during the escape from Cloud City. She is going to make the Empire pay for taking her boyfriend, so help her Force.

RotJ: I love when Luke does a flip off the execution plank, catches his lightsaber, and just kriffing wrecks Jabba’s henchmen. It’s his biggest Jedi moment in the original trilogy and I cheer through the whole thing.

TFA: I love the way the Force theme swells when the lightsaber goes shooting into Rey’s hand. I about stood up and clapped the first time I saw this scene.

 

M

TPM: Padme: “The Queen will not approve.” Qui-Gon: “The Queen doesn’t need to know.” Padme: “Well I don’t approve.” He’s a troll, she’s a queen, it’s a great moment. Bonus points: the knowing look Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan share just after Padme reveals her identity.

AotC: Obi-Wan getting a drink after the chase on Coruscant. Never fails. I laugh every time.

RotS: So many feels in this movie, almost chose “You were my brother Anakin, I loved you.”  but we’re celebrating so I’m going to go with the moment when Obi-Wan wakes up to find he’s hanging from Anakin in an elevator shaft. I just love how big his eyes get and how he bear hugs Anakin.

RO: UH WHAT ELSE I love Vader igniting his lightsaber in the dark hallway. But, since K already chose that… I’ll have to go with just a few seconds later when Vader force slams the rebel soldier into the ceiling. It’s the most Anakin we’ve seen Vader and it’s beautiful.

ANH: Luke standing beneath the twin suns, the force theme playing… just the most Star Wars Star Wars moment, and a kriffing beautiful shot to boot. It’s where it all began.

ESB: YODA. YODA. YODA. More specifically, Yoda’s Theme is my favorite piece of Star Wars music.

RotJ: This film has the best dolly-in in cinema history. It happens when the Emperor is electrocuting Luke– he’s obviously going to lose or die if something doesn’t happen soon– and it cuts to Vader– and there’s this little dolly in. It’s this perfect moment that, because of the camera movement, projects so much emotion onto Vader’s mask. It’s the moment he returns to the light. The moment he decides to become Anakin again, and do the right thing– save his son! The whole series leads up to this moment, and it’s served, perfectly, by a dolly in.

TFA: Rey adding “and you will drop your weapon!” when she first does a Jedi Mind Trick.