By: Bryan Ricardo Marini Quintana
A Bridging Of The Story: The Skywalker Tragedy
In behind the scenes footage of Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace (1999), George Lucas summarized The Hero’s Journey and The Family Tragedy of The Skywalkers by saying that the story was about:
“… Anakin… duplicating the Luke Skywalker role, but you see the echo of where it’s all gonna go… it’s like poetry… they rhyme… every stanza kind of rhymes with the last one, hopefully it’ll work.”
The Hero’s Journey of father and son parallel each other in Episode I The Phantom Menace and Episode IV A New Hope, with Anakin and Luke Skywalker abandoning the familiar to embark on an adventure into the unknown, becoming Jedi Knights that overcome challenges by carrying the burden of responsibility to fulfill Destiny and embrace their Doom. Through The Family Tragedy, the story of a father falling to the Dark Side and turning into a Sith echoes with that of his son embracing the Light Side and becoming a Jedi, as they confront each other to complete their journey. Although Anakin and Luke Skywalker tread along the same path in the first chapter of their journey, in the latter episodes their choices lead them towards a different Doom but a similar Destiny.
On one side, the journey of Luke Skywalker continues in Episode V The Empire Strikes Back and ends in Episode VI Return of the Jedi, with the hero becoming a fully realized Jedi Knight who rejects the temptations of the Dark Side and saves the galaxy from the tyrannical Galactic Empire. Through the guidance of mentor figures such as Yoda and Obi-Wan, Luke learns the ways of the Force and becomes a Jedi. Alongside, with supporting characters such as Leia Organa, Han Solo and Chewbacca, the hero forms bonds of friendship and finds meaning in the cause of the Rebellion. However, when Luke has a vision of his friends in danger, he rushes in to be the hero without finishing his training. Attempting to dissuade him, Yoda and Obi-Wan warn Luke of acting rashly over an uncertain future that could place him in peril as well. Disregarding their wisdom, the hero falls to his impulses and is beaten by Darth Vader, who cuts off Luke’s hand, revealing that he is his father. Fortunately, the hero survives and recognizes his mistake, opting to patiently finish his training to then embark on a rescue mission of his friends. With newly gained wisdom, Luke saves his friends from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt. Later on, he returns to Yoda and Obi-Wan, who advise him on confronting The Emperor, with the hero convinced that he can redeem his father. At the height of the climactic battle in the forest moon of Endor, Luke fights Vader in an attempt to save him from The Emperor’s chains. Clashing in a lightsaber duel, the hero is tempted by The Emperor to give in to his hatred and strike down his father to replace him. When Vader discovers Luke has a twin sister, he uses this against him by saying that Leia will fall to the Dark Side. This triggers the hero’s anger as he beats his father and upon striking the death blow he halts, refusing to become Vader. Throwing away his lightsaber, Luke stands against The Emperor unveiling the white underneath his black suit, with the hero becoming a Jedi who chooses to reject the Dark Side and fulfills Destiny by embracing his Doom. Climactically, The Emperor strikes the Jedi Knight with lightning, killing him slowly and agonizingly, with The Hero’s Journey being completed when Vader redeems himself by overthrowing his master and saving his son. Hence, Luke’s purpose is accomplished, not to defeat The Emperor by himself, but to save his father, who seizes to be Sith Lord Darth Vader and returns to be Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker.
Meanwhile, the journey of Anakin Skywalker continues in Episode II Attack Of The Clones and ends in Episode III Revenge Of The Sith, as the hero becomes a Sith by falling into the temptation of the Dark Side and damns the galaxy with the birth of The Galactic Empire. Due to the loss of Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin stumbles to learn the ways of the Force by being deprived of a father figure to call him on his wrongdoings. Occupied with the Jedi Order, Yoda doesn’t watch over the hero’s development, entrusting Obi-Wan to train him, who has a brotherly bond with his apprentice, leaving none to regulate Anakin’s recklessness or impulses. This leads to the hero forming bonds of friendship with supporting characters such as Padme Amidala and Obi-Wan, who give him meaning with the ideals of The Galactic Republic and Jedi Order. However, when Anakin has a vision of his loved ones in peril, he rushes in to avoid these from becoming a reality. Overwhelmed by pressure of being the prophesied chosen one, burdened with the demands or neglects of the Jedi Order and lacking the proper guidance, the hero doesn’t seek wisdom, instead placing himself and those he loves in danger by acting rashly. Thrusting himself to save Shmi Skywalker, Anakin fails and watches his mother die, with no one to console him, the hero lashes out in anger, slaughtering the tribe of Tusken Raiders. Later on, in a duel with Sith Lord Count Dooku, Anakin hastily strikes and loses his hand. Thereafter, the hero marries in secret with Padme Amidala, violating the ideals of the Jedi Order, forbidding intimacy. Further on, Anakin shows a lack of patience by being frustrated with becoming a member of the Jedi Council, but not granted the rank of master. Ultimately, this unchecked erratic behavior that none have cautioned against, leaves the hero learning nothing from his failings, leading Anakin to find solace and validation through Chancellor Palpatine, a Sith who steers the hero astray to damnation. Through Palpatine, Anakin forms a fatherly bond, with a Sith Lord being the mentor figure of a Jedi Knight. Playing both sides of the war, the Sith Lord plots the demise of the Jedi using two personas, leading The Galactic Republic as Chancellor Palpatine, whilst puppeteering The Separatist Alliance as Darth Sidious, grooming the hero to be his new apprentice. Once again haunted by visions, Anakin sees an uncertain future in which his pregnant wife dies along with their unborn children, as the hero desperately acts to save their lives by bargaining with the Dark Side. Since the Jedi provide no comfort or solution to Anakin’s worries, the hero seeks Chancellor Palpatine, who unveils himself as Sith Lord Darth Sidious, promising the Jedi Knight that together they will unlock the secret to avoid death. Fooled by his wicked promise of acquiring great power to cheat death through the Dark Side, Anakin abandons the Light Side and becomes a slave to Darth Sidious’ will. Seizing to be Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, the hero is granted a new identity by his master, reborn into the villain Sith Lord Darth Vader. Alongside, Chancellor Palpatine ignites a false crisis by accusing the Jedi of attempting a coup, proclaiming himself as The Emperor. Meanwhile, Vader is sent to eradicate the Jedi Order, as concurrently the democratic institutions of the Republic are dissolved, reborn with the tyrannical regime of the Empire. Thereafter, in the climactic duel between Vader and Obi-Wan amidst the volcano planet of Mustafar, the master defeats his former apprentice, leaving him mutilated and burnt by lava. Consequently, Vader is imprisoned within a suit of armor that keeps him alive, whilst his wife gives birth to Luke and Leia, as The Emperor fulfills his bargain by draining the life of Padme and granting it to his apprentice. Hence, struggling to thwart Destiny, Anakin turns into a Sith and allows his vision to become reality, as the hero born a slave becomes a servant to Darth Sidious, forever haunted by his choice that lead to his Doom.
At its core, The Skywalker Tragedy is about the story of Anakin Skywalker falling into temptation by turning into a Sith who damns the galaxy to tyranny, whilst Luke Skywalker rejects the Dark Side by becoming a Jedi who redeems Darth Vader, together fulfilling Destiny. The story echoes profoundly in Episode III Revenge Of The Sith and Episode VI Return Of The Jedi, in the moments Anakin falls to the Dark Side and when he is redeemed to the Light Side. In the final chapter of each trilogy, Anakin is faced with a choice that can lead the galaxy to perdition or salvation, standing in between Luke and The Emperor in Return Of The Jedi, while being in between Mace Windu and Darth Sidious in Revenge Of The Sith. By the end of their duel, the Sith Lord lies beaten, as Anakin intervenes and Darth Sidious pleads him to spare his life, promising the power to save the one he loves. Standing triumphantly the Jedi Master doesn’t want to spare his life for a trial of his crimes, instead yearning to kill Darth Sidious, casting away any mercy and nobility. Previously, the chosen one faced a similar dilemma when rescuing Chancellor Palpatine, beating Count Dooku and intending to imprison him for a trial, but being encouraged to strike down the Sith Lord. Although hesitant at first, Anakin is swayed by Palpatine to kill him, as the chosen one expresses regret of the deed by saying it didn’t abide to how a Jedi should behave, with the Sith Lord responding in Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith (2005): “He was too dangerous to be kept alive.” Echoing these words, as Darth Sidious lies defeated, Mace Windu counters Anakin by saying in Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith (2005): “He’s too dangerous to be left alive.” On one side, the cowardice and wickedness of the Sith are unveiled, with Darth Sidious begging to be saved while being in the same position Dooku was in. Meanwhile, the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the Jedi are unmasked, as Mace Windu utters the same words of Darth Sidious, with the codes of these religious creeds being bent at their behest, leading to Anakin’s reality being broken by concluding that there’s no difference between noble knights and power-hungry sorcerers. Without hesitation, Mace Windu raises his arm to strike down the Sith Lord, with Anakin instinctively igniting his lightsaber, disillusioned by the Jedi he looked up to, as the chosen one intercedes by opting to acquire the power to cheat death. Decisively, Anakin cuts off Mace Windu’s hand and damns the galaxy by sparing the life of Darth Sidious, as the Sith Lord drops his weak act to strike lightning at the defenseless Jedi, turning the hero into his apprentice who overthrows the noble knights along with democracy.
In a poetic juxtaposition, at the end of Return Of The Jedi, Vader witnesses The Emperor torture a defeated Luke, who agonizingly looks at his father, begging to save him. Beholding his son’s triumph over the temptation of the Dark Side, Vader realizes that Luke prevailed where he failed, with Anakin being renewed, liberating the galaxy and saving his child by overthrowing The Emperor. With this final heroic deed, Vader’s chains are broken, reborn as Anakin Skywalker, who chooses freely to fulfill Destiny by embracing his Doom. Dying from his injuries, the father pleads to be unmasked, gazing triumphantly and peacefully at his son, as he passes away to be one with the Force. At the end of The Skywalker Tragedy, father and son bear the burden of responsibility, completing The Mythical Hero’s Journey by becoming Jedi who defeat the Sith, saving the galaxy through their sacrifice.
Overall, myths, mystery and the unknown, found within the infinity of space sparked the imagination of George Lucas as he lived at home in California from an early age. At that moment, the soon-to-be filmmaker wondered as soon-to-be Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker did, with both yearning for adventure to escape the confines around them by gazing on the horizon at the binary sunset for Destiny to call them. Reminiscing on The Story of Star Wars, in an article titled: Mythic Discovery Within The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Joseph Campbell Meets George Lucas, Part 2, by Lucas Seastrom, from the official Star Wars Website, The Filmmaker said in 1997:
“When I was in college, for two years I studied anthropology […] myths, stories from other cultures. It seemed to me that there was no longer a lot of mythology in our society, the kind of stories we tell ourselves and our children, which is the way our heritage is passed down. Westerns used to provide that, but there weren’t Westerns anymore. I wanted to find a new form. So I looked around, and tried to figure out where myths come from. It comes from the borders of society, from out there, from places of mystery […] And I thought, space. Because back then space was a great source of mystery.”
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Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope.
Directed by George Lucas, 20th Century Fox, 1977.
Star Wars Episode II Attack Of The Clones.
Directed by George Lucas, 20th Century Fox, 2002.
Star Wars Episode VI Return Of The Jedi.
Directed by Richard Marquand, 20th Century Fox, 1983.
Star Wars Episode III Revenge Of The Sith.
Directed by George Lucas, 20th Century Fox, 2005.
Star Wars Episode V The Empire Strikes Back.
Directed by Irvin Kershner, 20th Century Fox, 1980.
Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace.
Directed by George Lucas, 20th Century Fox, 1999.
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