Although the journeys of Luke and Anakin Skywalker fit the frameworks of the Hero’s Journey and Greek tragedy, respectively, a deeper reading of the Star Wars saga explores the concept of masculinity as it relates to the journey Luke takes to manhood, and his relationship with his father. This paper intends an in-universe study of the Skywalker epoch it relates to gender roles and identity, as opposed to discussing “real world” considerations, such as director George Lucas’ choices in scripting, casting, and directorial choices (though some deviations may be made into such territory, it is not the focus of this paper). By studying the six films, as well as the recent television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, one will come to recognize the role gender expectations play in the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the subsequent rise of his son, Luke Skywalker, as well as Luke’s own search for identity.
Gender roles in the Star Wars universe are not clearly defined, though the viewer brings his or her own values to what is being seen. Princess Leia, for instance, is termed as a “strong female,” while Anakin Skywalker is not regarded so flatteringly. He is the only character in the Star Wars saga to be diagnosed with a personality disorder, implying that there must be something wrong in his psyche for not behaving in the proscribed manner. Of course, this is the same young man who becomes Darth Vader, but the dialogue regarding societal norms and Anakin’s disregard for them is based on his pre-Vader incarnation (Dotinga, 2007). Anakin’s behavior and inability to temper his emotions make him automatically weak, and damaged – society’s response to a man who does not act the way a man “should.” As the viewer considers Anakin, so too do they consider what Anakin could have been.
Luke Skywalker, in the Call to Action (to steal a phrase from Campbell), is told the “true” story if his father. Throughout his life, Luke has been under the impression that Anakin Skywalker is an example of “hegemonic masculinity,” being told by his Uncle Owen that Anakin was a “navigator on a spice freighter,” arguably a high-risk, mechanically skilled position, on par with men like Han Solo (Lucas, 1977). The “truth” he is told by Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin’s former mentor, is slightly different, but still paints Anakin in a decidedly masculine light. From Obi-Wan’s “certain point of view” (Lucas, 1983), Anakin was “the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior… and he was a good friend” (Lucas, 1977). With these words, and the presentation of Anakin’s lightsaber – his legacy, a symbol of his masculinity and strength – Obi-Wan begins Luke’s journey towards trying to live up to the expectations set for him, to become the man he believes his father once was. Luke does not realize that Anakin’s legacy is something of a lie: Obi-Wan has not been completely truthful in regards to Anakin’s transformation to Darth Vader, nor was he overly descriptive of the reality of Anakin. Yes, the Skywalker patriarch was a pilot, a warrior, a friend, and a lover, but physically and emotionally, he was not expressive of a masculine ideal. Without this knowledge, Luke feels the strain of living in the long shadow of his father. Even when he learns, from Darth Vader – imposing masculinity embodied – the truth, the pressure remains, more intense than before, to emulate Anakin Skywalker’s masculine strength, a masculine strength that did not exist the way Luke imagined it, a strength gained only by the creation of Darth Vader.
Anakin Skywalker was, in fact, a skilled pilot and a gifted warrior. During the Clone Wars, he took the rank of General, and the Jedi Council granted him his own student (much to his chagrin) (Filoni, 2008). He married, secretly, Padmé Amidala, and demonstrated, at least on paper, many of the traits of hegemonic masculinity, which is “defined by physical strength and bravado, exclusive heterosexuality, authority over women and other men, suppression of vulnerable emotions such as remorse and uncertainty, and intense interest in sexual conquest” (Trigiani, 1999). To be sure, Anakin Skywalker certainly meets some of these criteria. However, much of his meeting of such criteria, as with much of Anakin himself, is a mask. His “physical strength and bravado” are well celebrated throughout the Clone Wars, and that bravado, specifically, earns him the distinction of being “Hero With No Fear” (Stover, 2005). Despite the title, Anakin does feel fear, very acutely, for those around him. His fear often leads to bad decisions and emotional outbursts: from physically torturing a prisoner to obtain information to save his apprentice (Filoni, 2010), to turning to the dark side to save his wife (Lucas, 2005). He did not express remorse for these actions, a trait of hegemonic masculinity, but he was considered too emotional to be a proper Jedi; he was frequently scolded by his mentor Obi-Wan to “be mindful of [his] thoughts” lest they “betray [him]” (Lucas, 2001). Anakin’s lack of remorse certainly play a role in his fall, but he is not without emotions – his actions that would otherwise require remorse are, in fact, fueled by overwhelming and overpowering emotions and feelings of uncertainty that he does not have the tools to deal with. He would usually confess such emotions to Padmé or to Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (soon to be Emperor Palpatine), as he felt he could not confide in others in the Jedi Order.
Considering his wife, Anakin is presumably exclusively heterosexual, though the Jedi Order he is a part of quashes sexuality in general with its policy of no attachments (Lucas, 2001), which also ties in to “intense interest in sexual conquest.” To be sure, Anakin is interested in the conquest of Padmé Amidala, but has to do so in secret, and at great risk to both of their careers – and lives. Anakin proclaims Padmé to be “his life,” but their pairing is that of two very different people in a very strained relationship (Filoni, 2009). Padmé herself is a representation of motherhood: she is the archetypal mother, giving birth to Luke and Leia, and even going so far as to being a mother figure to Anakin; six years his senior, she takes the place of his mother as most important woman in his life when his mother dies (Lucas, 2001). Anakin’s lack of nurturing, yet wisely guiding figures in his life stunt his development, leaving him with an unbalanced, haphazard set of behavioral tendencies, many of which fly in the face of “typical” masculinity.
Producer Dave Filoni’s animated series The Clone Wars fills in the gaps between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and paints a portrait of a young man very much at war with both himself and the supposed enemy, much along the lines of Director George Lucas’ intentions with his decision to cast Hayden Christensen as the adolescent Anakin Skywalker. Christensen, for all the critical backlash regarding his casting, does come across as conflicted, and Matt Lanter, the voice actor for Anakin in The Clone Wars adds a certain level of emotion that many feel was lacking from Christensen’s performance. Taken together, both Christensen and Lanter form a cohesive whole, a manifestation of a young man struggling to find his identity.
A result of the Jedi going to war during the Clone Wars is the eschewing of many of the tenants of the Order in favor of victory for the Republic, the governing body in the galaxy, ruled by the soon-to-be Emperor Palpatine. Anakin, in particular, is fashioned into a “poster boy” for the war effort, given increasingly difficult and violent tasks to carry out in the name of democracy (Lucas, 2005, Filoni, 2010). In their essay “Anakin Skywalker, Star Wars and the Trouble with Boys,” Pamela Bettis and Brandon Sternod term Anakin a “solider victim, who symbolizes the recent and ongoing crisis of masculinity” (2009, p. 22). Positing further, and opposite from Bettis and Sternod’s assumption of Anakin’s crisis being one of repressed masculinity, it can be shown that Anakin, while certainly a masculine figure, is in fact play-acting his masculinity and his confidence and comfort level with himself. He often expresses a desire to impress both Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council, but in the same breath worries he is being “held back” (Lucas, 2001). He desires to become “the most powerful Jedi ever” in an attempt to “learn to keep people from dying” – his desire for more power, a hallmark of masculinity, is due to his fear and his emotions, commonly considered more “feminine” traits (Lucas, 2001). Additionally, Anakin’s reliance on phallic symbols and tools is a means of bolstering his identity and providing him with a level of masculinity he is otherwise lacking without them. On several occasions, Anakin misplaces his lightsaber, which while not the source of his power, gives him a weapon to hide behind and wield in order to command control of a situation. In one such circumstance, he is weaponless against a ruthless enemy. Instead of using his other strengths, Anakin panics without his lightsaber and ends up getting wounded and captured, the bounty hunter responsible taunting, “Not so impressive without your lightsaber, are you?” (Filoni, 2009). The truth of the matter is, Anakin Skywalker without his lightsaber is Anakin Skywalker emasculated. During this encounter, he is weaponless because he gave his lightsaber to his wife as proof of his devotion to her: “This weapon is my life,” he tells her as he puts it in her hands, “you are my life.” Anakin hands over his symbolic masculinity to his wife and suffers for it (Filoni, 2009).
Anakin is simultaneously emasculated and empowered by the various factors and people in his life, which leads to a significant confusion of identity. The Jedi Order, representing the ideal of masculinity with its emphasis on emotional detachment and physical prowess, encourages him to stifle expression and attachment to others, a mandate that chafes Anakin. His wife, Padmé, tends to see him as a little boy (Lucas, 2001), not as a man who routinely risks his life not only to save her, but countless others. His relationship with Padmé, though touted as the heart of his betrayal of the Jedi, is not particularly healthy for his emotional development. They see each other rarely, and when they do, their job duties are often at odds with their communication with each other. “Duty comes first,” is something they find themselves saying, and Anakin often is put in a position where his masculine authority – for better or worse – is challenged (Filoni, 2009). Anakin’s duty, of course is as a General in the war. His physical strength in this arena is an asset, one the Jedi are all too happy to exploit and encourage. To go back to the “victim soldier” analogy, Anakin is a tool of the Republic, encouraged to be fearless and emotionless, without thought to the consequences this shoehorning of roles would have on Anakin’s psyche. Anakin’s identity is being slowly stripped away by both the Jedi and the lie he has undertaken to stay married to Padmé; by the time he turns to the dark side, he has been worn down. There is little left of Anakin Skywalker, a result of possible Post Traumatic Stress caused by his experiences during the war and before (slavery, his mother dying in his arms, losing his arm), which cause severe insomnia, as well as nightmares playing out his greatest fears (Lucas, 2005). Anakin’s Jedi upbringing makes him unable to express his fears, instead being told to “rejoice for those around [him] who transform into the Force,” and that “attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is,” by Grandmaster Yoda, which serves only to shame Anakin into burying his feelings in an attempt to be the masculine ideal the Jedi want him to be (Lucas, 2005).
The Jedi Order serves as an organization very much based on the ideas of hegemonic masculinity, even in regards to its female members. Jedi serving in the Order are expected to be physically powerful, and are expected to suppress their emotions as well as their attachments to others (Lucas, 1999). However, “Jedi were permitted to have sex.” George Lucas is quoted as stating, “Jedi Knights aren’t celibate – the thing that is forbidden is attachments – and possessive relationships” (Rohrer, 2002). On this basis, the Jedi Order becomes even more a symbol of hegemonic masculinity: being able to sow one’s wild oats as much as one pleases, without that pesky “relationship” stuff getting in the way. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin’s mentor, is the perfect example of a Jedi-sanctioned man. He is reserved, but strong. He has had at least one instance of sexual conquest (Filoni, 2010), and lectures Anakin frequently on the subject of attachment. Obi-Wan is considered “the Negotiator”, in sharp contrast to Anakin’s hardened “Hero With No Fear” moniker, and his approach is softer, more measured, than Anakin’s roughshod trampling of the rules and regulations put before him (Stover, 2005). Simply put, Obi-Wan is more comfortable with himself and his identity and does not feel the need to “act out” the way Anakin does. As he puts it, when Anakin angrily demands if Obi-Wan feels the same kind of emotions he does, “I’m just better at hiding it” (Filoni, 2009). Obi-Wan hides his emotions so deeply that he no longer seems to possess them, but he also does not seem embittered by this ability the way Anakin is. Obi-Wan has discovered a balance to his masculinity that, ultimately is mirrored in Anakin’s son. In the meantime, Obi-Wan attempts to provide balance for Anakin in a time of upheaval.
Anakin’s instances of extreme masculinity are a mask – first figurative, then literal – that he wears to hide what he considered weakness in himself. He expresses remorse at what the war is turning him into, but only in private, telling Padmé, regretfully, “I used to build ‘droids – now I just take them apart” (Filoni, 2008). Publically, and in front of anyone besides his wife and Palpatine, he displays bravado and arrogance about his part in the war effort. As the war nears an end and Anakin’s fate becomes closer to realization, his shields draw tighter, causing him to put on the airs of White hegemonic masculinity: a desire for control, dismissal of ideas besides his own, authority over others, like his wife. In Revenge of the Sith, the warring factions for Anakin’s identity come together: the Jedi Order, Padmé, and Palpatine, each with a very different goal and each with a very different idea of who Anakin should be. Feeling emasculated by the Jedi Council’s desire to keep him at the Temple, as well as their denial of the rank of Jedi Master (despite appointing him to serve on the High Council in order to spy on Palpatine), and by his wife, whose surprise news of pregnancy have made Anakin fearful of her mortality (and by extension his own), Anakin begins to lose himself. Palpatine, the ultimate mastermind behind Anakin’s fall, offers him a way to restore his perceived masculinity, by offering the power to save those he cares for, dominion over life and death. This, of course, is a lie designed to make Anakin give over his identity to Palpatine, but it is a lie that works. Surrendering his identity as Anakin Skywalker, he becomes Darth Vader – dark father. However, the transformation is not complete. It is not until Anakin fights Obi-Wan on the fiery planet of Mustafar that Anakin’s full surrender is complete. Anakin loses the duel because he allows his emotions to overcome him; he becomes distracted by his anger and forgets his training, allowing Obi-Wan the opportunity to brutally maim him. Anakin’s injuries are so severe that he is put into the iconic life support suit that becomes the embodiment of pure, masculine power (Lucas, 2005).
Darth Vader is a creation of Anakin Skywalker to deal with feelings of emasculation, first figuratively, then literally due to the injuries he has suffered. Instead of the conflicted, confused young man he had been, Darth Vader has a definite identity, an identity that commands immediate respect and immediate obeisance. He has lost his agency and his identity, but from the ashes, has created himself anew, the suit serving as a visual and jarring reminder of his power. Instead of using bravado and phallic symbols, Darth Vader has become a phallic symbol in and of himself, and believes to have quashed any remnants of his former self and his former weakness. He has become the “Other,” so separate from Anakin that Anakin is absolved of any involvement in his subsequent actions (Atkinson & Calafell, 2009), because it is Vader, not Anakin, who possesses the needed masculinity to achieve galactic domination. It is only when his son, Luke Skywalker, appears that Vader begins the journey back to the Anakin.
Luke Skywalker, unlike his father, is not brought up in the strict confines of the Jedi Order. Instead, upon his birth he is taken by Obi-Wan to live with Anakin’s step-family and there grows up, unaware of the path his father’s legacy will lead him down. From his first introduction in A New Hope, Luke is hardly the ideal masculine figure. He is whiny and argumentative, chafing against the structure of the life he lives but not making any effort to change his circumstances, instead proclaiming, “Oh, what’s the use? Biggs is right; I’m nevergonna get out of here!” (Lucas, 1977). Throughout his life, Luke has been told that Anakin Skywalker was “a navigator on a spice freighter,” a necessary subterfuge to keep Luke safe, but one that gave Luke an idea of his father, and an identity to aspire to. Though Luke does have a masculine influence in his life in the form of Owen Lars, Luke is very much his father’s son, in his desire for a “life of significance, of conscience” (Lucas, 2005). Luke idolizes his father, longing for a relationship with a man he has never known (Musoko, 2010). When Luke discovers the truth – or the half-truth told him by Obi-Wan – he realizes that to truly follow in his father’s footsteps, he must leave the familiar and follow Obi-Wan on “some damn idealistic crusade” to perform a quintessentially masculine task: rescue a princess (Lucas, 1977).
Luke, conversely, is not interested in sexual conquest, nor is he particularly physically powerful, especially initially. He allows himself to express his emotions, including grief at the murder of his aunt and uncle. However, he still wishes to embody the same kind of person he believes his father to have been, and sets off to be trained in the ways of the Jedi, first by Obi-Wan, then by Master Yoda (Lucas, 1980). With Yoda, Luke learns that the path to the Dark Side is one that is “faster, more seductive” than the path of the Light. However, unlike with Anakin, Yoda does not once mention the dangers of attachment, nor does he implore Luke to release his emotions into the Force. He does, however, send Luke into a cave as a training exercise, telling him that all that is in there is “only what [Luke] takes with [him]” (Lucas, 1980). Luke takes his father’s lightsaber, but the trial that lays before him is not a physical encounter, but rather a manifestation of his own fears. Darth Vader, who at this point Luke believes to have “betrayed and murdered” Anakin Skywalker, stands as a specter, and when Luke chops off the Dark Lord’s head, Luke’s own face is revealed beneath the mask. Luke’s fear is that he will not only fail at becoming the man he believes his father to be, but that in doing so he will become that which destroyed his father. Luke’s training with Yoda is significant, as this is where much of Luke’s development occurs. He learns to accept the unexplainable, to revel in the connection to the Universe he has by birthright. Slowly, Luke comes to understand that in order to become a great Jedi, as he believes Anakin was, he must stay balanced. For Luke, this is difficult, but achievable, as the messages he receives from Yoda and Obi-Wan are straightforward, not conflicting with any other feelings, or beliefs, as what happened with Anakin. Though he is initially skeptical, he deems himself ready to face down Darth Vader when the Dark Lord takes his friends hostage. Obi-Wan and Yoda are against him leaving, but not because it proved Luke had attachments, or was too emotional; they simply believed his training was not yet complete (Lucas, 1980).
On Cloud City, during a lightsaber battle with Vader, Luke learns the truth: Darth Vader is his father, and was once Anakin Skywalker. Vader, who no longer possesses the same panache or grace Anakin once did, nonetheless maims his own son, then, strangely, requests that Luke join him to bring down Palpatine and rule the galaxy. This confusion of priorities is typical of Anakin, but not Vader. Though Luke is in shock, he refuses Vader’s invitation, taking his first step towards autonomy from the memory of his father, one more step towards becoming a man in his own right.
Confronting Yoda, he learns the truth: “Your father he is. Told you did he?” Upon further questioning, Obi-Wan reveals a little more, telling Luke that “[his] father was seduced by the dark side of the Force,” upon which time he “ceased to be Anakin Skywalker and became Darth Vader.” Talk is made of Anakin’s impulsiveness, anger, aggressiveness, and fear: no talk of the true reasoning behind his fall: crisis of identity brought about by lack of tools needed to handle his innate “flaws”. Luke, on the other hand, is lauded as being more level-headed, and in fact has become so. Luke is well on his way to becoming a Jedi, and a man, but there is one obstacle in his way: Darth Vader. Darth Vader presents a problem, because while the galaxy will be under the thumb of the Empire as long as Vader is alive, Luke, too, does not wish to kill his own father. In this, he displays a level of compassion and forgiveness that, had Anakin been in a similar situation 20 years earlier, he would have been harshly chastised for. Obi-Wan is convinced that Vader cannot be turned back to Anakin Skywalker, but he does not attempt to dissuade Luke in the way he might have tried to dissuade Anakin. Luke, it is clear by this point in the films, is his own man. He looks to Obi-Wan for guidance, but he is confident in himself and his abilities, enough that he is able to firmly stand by what he believes in: the goodness that remains in Darth Vader (Lucas, 1983).
Despite Obi-Wan’s protestations that Vader is beyond saving, Luke allows himself to be captured by Vader and Palpatine, knowing full well that the two Sith Lords will attempt to convert him to the dark side. Palpatine taunts him that Luke’s “faith in [his] friends will be [his] undoing,” and that Luke will fall as surely as Anakin did. Vader, through this, is not particularly involved in the exchange, playing “a role equivalent to a third party passing the salt during a dinner conversation between two rivals” (Atkinson & Calafell, 2009). Vader, like Luke, is weighing his options, though his allegiance appears to remain with Palpatine. He tries to offer Luke the same bait Palpatine had offered him, telling Luke that by joining the dark side, he will be able to save his friends. Luke, however, refuses, fully confident of the fact he himself is capable of saving his friends, without betraying them. He and Vader duel, and while Luke does begin to call on the dark side, he is able to pull himself back from the edge before completely sliding over.
Luke Skywalker is able to love without shame, without conflict and in fact, his love for his friends is what makes him strong. Luke’s balanced masculinity – emotional availability combined with physical strength and a confidence in self that Anakin lacked – saves him from destruction, and also saves Vader, who is able to turn away from the dark side at the very end of his life. Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the dark side was rooted in a lack of identity, and a feeling of conflict, particularly in regards to his masculinity. On the one hand, he is applauded for the masculine traits his does show, but on the other is shamed and chastised. This conflict led to a split from self and the creation of a new, fully masculine and authoritative identity. In the name of his new master, Vader commits atrocities, but the redemptive power of awareness brought about by Luke’s calm balance brings him back to the light. Luke begins his journey uncertain and weak, by most standards of gender norms. However, as he learns to reconcile his own identity with that of his fathers, he grows into a man fully capable of balancing the intricacies of masculinity, without becoming overwhelmed by it. Luke presents the well-rounded man: strong, sure, and calm, comfortable in his identity as the son of Anakin Skywalker, and as a Jedi in his own right – like his father before him. By developing a sense of identity, and by surrounding himself with positive influences in the form of Han and Leia, Luke succeeds in becoming not only a Jedi like his father, but more of a man than his father had the capacity to be. Though Luke does not demonstrate the classic traits of hegemonic masculinity, he remains an important example of what manhood can, and should, be.
Like my father before me powerpoint
“Like My Father Before Me”<br />The Myth of the Masculine in Star Wars<br />
Introduction<br />Hero’s Journey? Greek Tragedy? You bet! <br />Moreso, the story of two young men in crises of masculine identity. One falls to the dark side, and the other flourishes in the light. <br />This presentation seeks to examine the Skywalker epoch as it relates to gender roles and identity, exploring the role gender expectations play in the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the subsequent rise of his son.<br />
Anakin Skywalker: The only Star Wars character to have an official psychiatric diagnosis. <br />
Call to Action: Luke is presented with not only his father’s weapon, the symbol of his masculinity, but also with the myth of Anakin Skywalker. <br />
Anakin during the Clone Wars: Soldier, pilot, teacher, and friend. <br />Displays of physical strength and bravado are a mask to hide the fact the “Hero With No Fear” is actually quite fearful.<br />
Padmé the nurturing mother archetype, gives birth to Luke and Leia and serves as Anakin’s maternal figure when his own dies. <br />
Hayden Christensen and Matt Lanter as Anakin Skywalker<br />The combination of their portrayals produces a distinct portrait of a young man in crisis.<br />
Anakin presents Padmé with his lightsaber…<br />… And then proceeds to get in trouble without it, mistakenly assuming that punching a robot in the face is a viable alternative.<br />
Anakin seeks Master Yoda’s council after a series of nightmares, and is told to bury his emotions and “Rejoice for those around [him] who transform into the Force” – not exactly the guidance Anakin needs.<br />
Anakin and Obi-Wan near the end of the Clone Wars. <br />Obi-Wan personifies the Jedi ideal of masculinity, despite not being as physically imposing as Anakin. <br />
Anakin sacrifices any chance of a solid identity in exchange for the supposed power to save his pregnant wife from his belief she will die in childbirth. <br />Not Anakin anymore, but not quite fully Vader yet. <br />
“Rise, Lord Vader”<br />Anakin Skywalker goes from reliance on phallic symbols to a phallic symbol himself, the manifestation of pure imposing masculinity. <br />
Luke, like his father, dreams of a “life of significance, of conscience.” In Luke’s case, it involved looking “to the future, to the horizon – never his mind on where he [is], what he [is] doing.”<br />
Luke fights the manifestation of his fears about his own identity during his Jedi training. He fears he will become the man who destroyed his father, while not living up to the man his father once was. <br />
“Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.”<br />Darth Vader reveals the truth and implores Luke to join him on the dark side. <br />
“You’ll discover that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”<br />Luke and Obi-Wan disagree on a fundamental point: whether or not there is anything redeemable in Darth Vader. <br />
Darth Vader and Luke stand before Emperor Palpatine. Luke is comfortable enough in his identity and masculinity that he does not give in to taunts and promises to be given the power to save his friends; Luke knows he is capable of saving his friends himself, no need for dark side intervention. <br />
Luke’s balanced masculinity saves, in the end, not only himself, but the soul of his father, whose legacy Luke no longer feels the need to live up to. Luke will go on to create his own destiny, and live his own life, an example of what manhood can, and should, be. <br />