Star Wars: The Clone Wars recap: A Visit from Vader
Lord Vader, this is an unexpected pleasure. We are honored by your presence.
Moff Jerjerrod’s nervous, stammering greeting to Darth Vader aboard the second Death Star pretty much captures how I felt last night. You were probably as shocked as I. Not only did Anakin, in the single greatest sequence The Clone Wars has given us, receive a vision of his helmeted future self, but he actually turned to the Dark Side! Okay, so it was only temporary. But, however brief, he became Darth Vader, glowing yellow eyes and all.
Honestly, I need to slow down or I’ll end up hyperventilating Vader-style myself.
Let’s back up to the beginning. “Ghosts of Mortis” wrapped up this richest, most mythologically-resonant of Clone Wars story arcs, which supervising director Dave Filoni told me is meant to be seen as a “mythic retelling of all six Star Wars films in three thirty-minute episodes.” Filoni sees the Mortis arc as an internal journey for Anakin, as if, like Luke, he were facing himself and his demons in that mossy, Dark Side-riddled cave on Dagobah. Other than that, he’s pretty tight-lipped regarding specific plot points, because, to his credit, he wants to maintain an air of mystery to these episodes.
The idea that this arc is Anakin’s journey of self-discovery was hammered home from the beginning of “Ghosts of Mortis” with Tom Kane announcing in his typical bombast, “A great weight has been placed on Anakin’s shoulders, for it is now that he must face who he really is.” We re-joined our heroes at the crash site of their shuttle craft. Ahsoka was initiating repairs. Actually, when did Little Miss Togruta become such a techie? Seriously, with her welder’s goggles, gymnastic maneuvering in Jeffries-Tube-tight spaces, and grasp of brain-frying technobabble, she could be that Galaxy Far, Far Away’s Geordi La Forge. Hey, at least if that Jedi gig doesn’t work out, she’ll have a guaranteed job in a swoop bike garage.
NEXT: Why Revenge of the Sith is a film of Shakespearean complexity. Also, Sam Witwer calls out the Jedi on their hypocrisy.Anakin decided to pout rather than help out, and he sped off—on a swoop bike!—to talk to the Father one last time. He feared that if he didn’t get Big Daddy’s permission to leave the Mortis nest, it’d haunt him forever. Meanwhile, the Paterfamilias himself sealed his Daughter’s cold, white body in her stone tomb. (Hey Ani, she is an angel now!) He whispered to her in his grief that he had become “an old fool who believed he could control the future.”
One of the great themes of Star Wars is the necessity of accepting Fate. It’s Anakin’s Fate to become Darth Vader because he can’t accept his Fate. It’s the classic Macbeth causation paradox. By trying so hard to prevent Padmé’s death, he actually kills her himself. By trying to rid the galaxy of tyranny, he becomes the ultimate tyrant. (I’m telling you, Revenge of the Sith really is a film of Shakespearean complexity.) If one seeks to impose one’s will on Fate, it’s not only foolish, it’s a malign arrogance born of the Dark Side.
The Father has fallen into the same trap. By trying so hard to maintain balance, he’s created imbalance. Sam Witwer, the voice of the Son, with whom I also spoke this week, extrapolates that out to include the Jedi. “The Jedi are tainted by darkness too, just by continuing to fight this war,” he says. “They’ve really convinced themselves that destroying the Dark Side will bring balance to the Force, when in fact that would create imbalance. The Dark is essential.” The Jedi do try to impose their will on the future, almost as fervently as Palpatine. Maybe they are not making declarations like “Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen,” followed by maniacal cackling, but they are pretty close.
After sealing up his Daughter’s tomb, the Father tells Anakin he has to journey to the Well of the Dark Side, to confront not only the Son, but himself. Along the way, the Force Ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn, voiced by Liam Neeson yet again, appeared to guide his would-be apprentice. Anakin could only view his dilemma on Mortis in terms of Sith-like absolutes: do I leave, or do I stay and kill the Son? Qui-Gon, believing that Anakin would bring balance, suggested he would find another way. This really was Qui-Gon Jinn. This wasn’t some Smoke Monster-style manifestation of the Son. Clearly, Mortis’ nature as a conduit for the Force facilitated his return.
NEXT: Lord Vader….Rise.Steering his swoop bike into the Well of the Dark Side, Anakin encountered a precursor to his greatest testing ground— Mustafar. The lava pit on Mortis, brilliantly rendered with scorching embers floating around the screen, would also hold the key to his destiny. The Son decided to show Anakin the undiscovered country: his future. In a smoke-shrouded vision Anakin saw not only what he would become but in what horrific events he would participate: the Emperor hurling Force Lightning; a youngling cowering in terror for his life; Padmé clutching her throat as he Force Choked the life out of her; Obi-Wan shouting “You were my brother, Anakin!”; and, above all, the destruction of Alderaan from the emerald superlaser of the first Death Star. It was nearly a complete repertoire of traumatic events in Anakin’s future life as Vader, culminating with a fleeting glimpse of Darth’s iconic helmet. Filoni told me that there were “endless debates” about how long the image of Vader’s headpiece should remain onscreen. Honestly, the only thing that could possibly have made this sequence better would have been a vision, however brief, of Luke or Leia. I know, maybe when Vader cuts off Luke’s hand! Well, maybe Cartoon Network would object to dismemberment. Then at least Vader telling his son, “I am your father.” Though I suppose that might spoil a few things for our younger viewers.
Anakin’s vision of his future life as a suit disturbed him. Disturbed him so much that he decided to make the exact same choices that would ultimately lead him down that path. Causation paradoxes, man. His thinking this time was that if he were to join the Son, together they could destroy the Emperor and end the Clone War, bringing peace to the galaxy—pretty much the goal of Anakin in later becoming Vader, though he intended to hold off on the Emperor-cide until he could save Padmé.
In reality, Anakin doesn’t care about a peaceful galaxy. He cares about an ordered galaxy. At first, I was thinking that Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side in the lava pit of Mortis would be like Ahsoka’s, something involuntary. But Sam Witwer brought up a great point to me during our interview. “Look at Ahsoka when she’s been turned to the Dark Side,” he says. “She looks sick, like the Son is controlling her outright, and it’s having a devastating effect on her. It’s clear his control over her can only be temporary, which is fine by him, because he’ll just dispose of her when he’s finished with her. Look at Anakin, though. He doesn’t look sick. Because he willingly chose to embrace the Dark Side.”
NEXT: I promise, my last comparison of Lost to the Clone Wars.When Obi-Wan came upon Dark Side Anakin in the lava pit, the proto-Vader immediately flicked his swoop in the lava and announced, “You will not understand what I have to do to end the Clone War…I have seen that it is the Jedi who will stand in the way of peace.” Amazing how, though the circumstances leading to this were different, the outcome was the same: Anakin turning against his friends and loved ones when, ostensibly, acting on their behalf.
The past couple weeks I’ve drawn comparisons between The Clone Wars and Lost. To me, it seems like the circle is now complete. Star Wars was clearly the single most prominent pop cultural influence on ABC’s dazzling series about an Island Far, Far Away, and now Lost, in a sense, gets to return the favor. No wonder! Clone Wars writer Christian Taylor worked on Lost as a supervising producer in its first season.
Actually, the arc on Lost that I think has the greatest relevance to the Mortis storyline is the whole season six mythology about Jacob and the Man in Black. Two brothers. Two opponents. One Light. One Dark. I honestly don’t think Clone Wars is intentionally referencing Lost, but both franchises certainly do draw from the same mythological well. The Daughter, personification of the Light Side of the Force, is like Mortis’ Jacob, a protector given to cryptic declarations that tend to baffle more than enlighten. And The Son, the embodiment of the Dark Side, is like Smokey the Monster, capable of assuming the forms of dead loved ones to manipulate his way into achieving his ultimate objective: leaving Mortis behind, so that he can ply his dark trade upon the rest of the galaxy. Remember, Smokey’s biggest objective was to leave the island, but, unleashed upon the world, he would be capable of untold destruction. Think of the Jedi shuttle as the Ajira Flight 316 that the Son hopes to use to escape his prison planet. And like Smokey, the Son is capable (or soon will be) of drawing other ships to his realm for his possible use. That makes the Father Allison Janney’s primordial mother character, whose favoritism-based approach to parenting ultimately doomed her children (and almost the world). It’s an interesting parallel to draw, because, if the events on Mortis have repercussions throughout the rest of the galaxy, as presumably the events on the Island would have had an effect on the rest of the world, both The Clone Wars and Lost I think are metaphorically illustrating the power of myth to condense reality and, for that matter, make reality more comprehensible. Pretty heady stuff.
NEXT: What does “balance” mean anyway? And we catch a whiff of a foul stench…Of course, the Father almost immediately wiped Anakin’s memory, because he couldn’t very well achieve balance knowing what he knew of his future. That’s very interesting, though. It means that the Father knew that Anakin will become Vader, will destroy the Jedi, will literally annihilate whole worlds….and is okay with it. Because it’s about balance between light and dark, not the triumph of light over dark. And that’s what Anakin achieves. By the time of A New Hope, there are basically just two Jedi and two Sith. Balance. Did I just blow your mind into little shards of Alderaan?
Anyway, the Son became a grave robber, stole the mythical dagger from his sister’s tomb, said she was the only one he truly loved and set off for a showdown. However, the Father pulled an ace out of the sleeve of his flowing robes. He grabbed the dagger and impaled himself. This caused the Son to lose his powers, allowing Anakin to stab him in the back with his saber. Again, Anakin’s presence resulted in everybody’s deaths. Balance.
Witwer has a nice addition to the idea that this arc is largely a metaphorical battle within Anakin’s psyche. He believes that if Anakin and the Son had succeeded in flying away, when they crossed the barrier between Mortis and the rest of the Galaxy, the Son would physically disappear but now spiritually be a part of Anakin, a part of his soul. Of course, this will all happen eventually, but Anakin’s ultimate, if somewhat coerced, rejection of the Dark Side here spared the galaxy his wrath a little bit longer.
I’m honestly a little sad to be saying goodbye to Mortis. I found that these episodes tapped into the primal mythmaking that first made Star Wars great some 34 years ago. Did you feel the same? The nostalgia fest continues next week with the appearance of possibly my all time favorite Star Wars character, Wilhuff Tarkin, future Grand Moff and Death Star commander, now captain in the Republic navy. Can you smell his foul stench already?
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Before the Dark Times, before the Empire, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker fight to restore peace and justice to a galaxy far, far away…