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.