Posts Tagged ‘Self’

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Cargo of Doom

October 11, 2009

The second episode of the season 2 premiere of The Clone Wars sees Anakin Skywalker and his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, pursue the cunning bounty hunter Cad Bane in an attempt to regain the stolen Jedi holocron. Meanwhile, Bane tortures General Bolla Ropal in the hopes of getting him to unlock the holocron, thereby meeting Bane’s objectives.

The most talked-about aspect of this episode must surely be the zero-G battle sequence. It truly is a thing of beauty, and director Rob Coleman should be commended for how adeptly he pulls it off. (This is not surprising; his episodes are always stunningly cinematic.) But from a writing standpoint, the real drawcard here is the thematic continuity between this episode and the previous one, Holocron Heist.

Anakin battles Bane in a zero-G environment

Anakin battles Bane in a zero-G environment

“Overconfidence is the most dangerous form of carelessness” declares the fortune cookie for Cargo of Doom — a core theme throughout the entire Star Wars saga. Overconfidence was the downfall of the Jedi Order, the Achilles heel of the Empire and the one thing Yoda warned Luke against when confronting the Emperor. In Holocron Heist, Ahsoka’s overconfidence manifested in her disobeying orders on the battlefield: there, it resulted in her being moved to guard duties; in Cargo of Doom, however, it almost costs her her life.

It’s one of those paradoxes of life that the more we learn, the more aware we become of just how much we don’t actually know. This is far too scary an idea for some people to face: they latch onto religious dogma, political ideologies… anything to provide the illusion of certainty. These are the people who refuse the call to adventure, instead holing themselves up inside their personal comfort zones.

Then there are those who embrace the call. They are willing to “let go” and let the Force guide them, so-to-speak.

In Cargo of Doom we have a moment of great irony, as Ahsoka follows in her Master’s footsteps as she impulsively pursues Bane just as Anakin did with Dooku in Attack of the Clones. “I’m not impressed,” she quips to Bane, believing she has bested him. Yet soon the tables are turned, and she becomes Bane’s captive.

Ahsoka, captured by Bane

Ahsoka, captured by Bane

Here, once again, we see the price paid by those not fully willing to surrender to the Force. The Ego, the seat of consciousness, is throwing its weight around while the Self, that which speaks to us when we quiet our mind, hardly gets a look-in. This is the real crux of the tension between knowledge and wisdom. Ahsoka has been well-trained — she has knowledge to spare — but her wisdom is solely lacking. She has yet to fully embrace the Force on its own terms.

By the end of the episode, however, Ahsoka herself is reminding Anakin to be patient — in other words, to listen to the Force, the Self — as he runs off in pursuit of Bane. He claims to be determined to retrieve the holocron, but is it a noble cause driving him, or is it really just a personal vendetta against Bane, now that he has hurt someone Anakin feels close to (i.e. Ahsoka)? Yoda observed as far back as the Clone Wars feature that having a Padawan would force Anakin to confront his issues with attachment. And attachment, of course, is all about the Ego.

If Ahsoka is slowly learning the truly Ego-less intent of the Jedi, Anakin’s still not listening to his higher Self. And it will cost him more than he could possibly imagine.

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Identity Crises

October 2, 2009

Legend has it that knowing the true name of a demon gives you power over it; the most famous example of this in folklore is the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, but the idea of names having power exists in many cultures and contexts, such as the name of God in Judaism or name of a nix (say) in Scandinavian folklore.

In the everyday world, too, names have power. A surname for a man symbolises an unbroken lineage; for a woman, it represents that transformation in identity that comes with marriage.

More importantly, the name is the first stamp of society upon the individual. It’s the little tag attached to your persona, that mask you wear that functions as your interface to the society at large. In fact, the word persona itself is Latin for the mask worn by an actor in ancient plays.

This is where Star Wars comes in. The role of the persona is a prominent theme in the saga, where both masks and names conceal and comment upon the true nature of various characters.

Chronologically, our first introduction to this idea is the Padme/Amidala dichotomy presented in The Phantom Menace. Here, the mask is in the form of her kabuki-style make-up, symbolising the fact that the Queen is a role, not an individual. Positions of power and authority must, to some extent, erase the individual personality of the person holding that office — the ego must surrender to the persona, else you have a tyrant in place of a leader.

Queen Amidala: Padme as leader

Queen Amidala: Padme as leader

In A New Hope, however, we have a different situation: General Kenobi, exiled on the desert planet of Tatooine, has foregone his Jedi name “Obi-Wan” for the less assuming alias “Ben”. To him, “Obi-Wan” symbolises a time in his life when things were very different, and it carries with it much baggage: sadness, loss and regret — things he’d just as soon forget.

In both cases, the question that arises is, what is the relationship between persona and Self? Is Padme the handmaiden or the Queen? Is Kenobi a Jedi Knight or an old hermit?

With The Clone Wars, this question is placed in a new light: if you’re a clone bred as cannon-fodder, whither your identity? This is the problem we all face to some extent as we define ourselves as individuals despite the claims of society, but when you’re literally a product created on a factory floor, how can you possibly assert your unique existence?

The linchpin of the saga in regards to this theme, however, is Revenge of the Sith. Anakin surrenders his humanity (both figuratively and literally), adopts a new name and crafts a new identity for himself. He bristles at the persona required of a Jedi, wishing instead to serve his own ego. But by falling to the impulses of his ego, he has (ironically) been fully consumed by a new persona: that of a Sith Lord.

Anakin as the villainous Darth Vader

Anakin as the villainous Darth Vader

What is the solution, then? If the battle is between ego and persona, is there ever truly a winner? Anakin/Vader, Ben/Obi-Wan and Padme/Amidala all learn a valuable lesson in their own ways: transcend the dichotomy and instead embrace the Self.