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Oedipus the Sith

June 14, 2009

The archetypes of the collective unconscious are vessels into which we pour our most formative experiences. The Ego: that with which we begin to self-identify. The Shadow: that which threatens our self-identity. The Persona: the mask that society imposes upon us. The Self: totality, wholeness, completion. We each build our own personalised images of these primordial forms, but the universal qualities remain underneath, like hidden treasure buried under the sand.

For men, the gateway to the unconscious is the Anima, encapsulating femininity in the male psyche. She represents all that he is not, in terms of a masculine/feminine dichotomy: if he is logical, she is emotive; if he is active, she is passive. The Anima is forged from the raw materials of early feminine presence: the mother, the sister, the young female teacher. And so the man is then forever in search of that perfect woman who embodies this idealised image. But who could possibly compete with Mother? It is an eternal quest to find a woman able to live in Mother’s shadow.

Father, meanwhile, is the competitor for Mother’s affections. He is the lover who threatens the harmony of relationship between mother and son, standing for patriarchal rule and law. He is a cruel and merciless tyrant, offering shoulds and oughts over the child as he grows into a man.

We find the young boy trapped in this Freudian nightmare, wishing to kill his father and marry his mother. He is locked into the ancient myth of Oedipus the King.

The two trilogies of Star Wars play out this Greek tragedy beautifully. Anakin is haunted by the image of his mother, turning to Padme Amidala when he can no longer find solace in his mother’s arms. Is he looking for an equal partner? No, he’s in search of a mother, and Padme, it seems, is a suitable substitute.

Anakin, gripped by the tragedy of his mother's fate

Anakin, gripped by the tragedy of his mother's fate

Who is the father? As in so many great mythic traditions, Anakin has no father. But “Father”, in psychological terms, is a relationship, not a biological fact; here, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin’s Master and mentor, is the father-figure. Anakin sees Obi-Wan as a threat, both to his ability to save his mother and to his attempt to connect with Padme. Obi-Wan represents the Jedi Order and all the rules and restrictions contained in their code.

Naturally, then, Anakin marries Padme and tries to kill Obi-Wan. The tragedy of Oedipus reaches its terrible conclusion.

Fast-forward some 20 years later and Luke, Anakin’s son, finds himself in a similar predicament. Luke is captivated by the hologram of Princess Leia Organa, dressed in a virginally white gown and begging for assistance. Here we have a very literal case of Anima projection, with the maiden being held captive by the demonic father-figure of Darth Vader.

Luke's first glimpse of Leia, his Anima, embodied

Luke's first glimpse of Leia, his Anima, embodied

Luke, of course, learns over the course of two more movies that Vader is his father and Leia is his sister. Furthermore, she is his only connection to Mother — Anakin was the boy without a father; Luke, the boy without a mother. Lightsabers clash once more between father and son, again over the affections of the mother-figure.

Yet Luke succeeds where Anakin failed. Anakin’s vice was attachment: the proclivity not to love the other person but to own them; Luke, on the other hand, was a man of compassion, loving the other person out of respect for their humanity, not out of a selfish desire to have them love him back.

In the end, Luke is able to both accept and grow beyond his Oedipal fixations. He recognises Leia not as a object of desire but as his female counterpart. Once we own the Anima as a part of our own psyches, it turns from a jealous desire into the creative force of life itself. It is that which connects us to the larger spiritual world.

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