Skywalker Esteem

And now, dearest of readers, we arrive at the riveting conclusion to this three part examination of fictitious self-esteem. In case you missed them, you can catch up here and here.

Anakin Skywalker was the product of immaculate conception. There has never been an example of this in which the child was not incredibly special; they are often gods or demigods of some kind. It is essentially mythological shorthand ensuring that everyone is aware that the child will be important in some way or another.

Anakin was a gifted and intelligent child who had the ability to sense things before they happened. Upon meeting him, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn found that Anakin had an extremely high number of midi-chlorians. For the less dorky among us, midi-chlorians are what give Jedi the ability to tap into The Force and do all their cool Jedi stuff.

It is assumed at this point that Anakin is the prophesized chosen one who will forever bring balance to The Force. Much the same as immaculate conception, anybody who is the subject of a prophecy is probably objectively special.

Essentially everyone is aware of the story from here. As he ages, Anakin becomes an incredibly powerful Jedi Knight. He is seduced by the dark side, the chosen envoy of which is a creepy old senator for some reason. His anger is exploited. His power becomes arrogance. He ultimately becomes Darth Vader, but only after being chopped to bits by Obi Wan Kenobi on the side of a volcano. The high ground, it seems, is the key to winning a lightsaber duel.

That is the story as it is told to us, but the underlying factors that potentially contributed to his Luciferian fall from grace are much more interesting.

Anakin Skywalker began his life as a slave, but was aware that he was special even then. He knows of his miraculous birth, and is aware that other people cannot see into the future. His mother reinforces these feelings of specialness, as mothers are wont to do, especially when there is something actually making their child special.

Enter the Jedi. Suddenly, Anakin is so special that there may be a prophecy about him. He has the potential to be one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy, and may be special enough to save everyone and everything in said galaxy.

This is a lot of information for a nine-year-old to process.

As Anakin grows and becomes more powerful, his confidence also grows. He has certainly internalized the idea that his power and success have been prophesized, and are therefore an unquestionable guarantee. Slowly, he begins to feel that the rulings of the Jedi Council should have no bearing on his actions. He feels justified in anything he does, including murdering an entire village of sand people.

He is special, and is aware of exactly how special he is. He is entitled to respect and demands it from anyone he meets, including the Jedi Masters responsible for his training. Anakin will not be denied anything, and refuses to compromise. It does not take long for his confidence to fester into arrogance.

The reason that it was easy for young Anakin to succumb to the dark side can be boiled down to one very simple reason: the Jedi stopped validating his feelings of specialness. He spent the entirety of his childhood hearing about how special he was. How he was the chosen one. How he might one day save the galaxy. Once it became clear that this was most likely not the case, the Jedi significantly reduced how much they reinforced his (extremely inflated) self-esteem. His future became clouded once he stopped feeling so special. They began to reprimand his actions and caution him against acting out of anger or arrogance.

Predictably, this only served to make him angrier and more arrogant than he already was.

Agents of the dark side seized this opportunity to sway Anakin. Palpatine befriends him, and begins to exploit the young Jedi’s need for validation. He assures Anakin that he is special and that the rules should not apply to him as they do to others. He reminds Anakin of how powerful he can become and suggests that the Jedi Council is fearful of his potential.

Over time, he convinces Anakin that the council is plotting against him and planning to take over the republic, which served as his primary motivation for turning to the dark side in the original draft of the prequel films.

Anakin believed himself to be better than his peers (and his masters), and Palpatine took advantage of every opportunity to reinforce this idea. Because the dark side was validating Anakin’s truths and the Jedi were challenging them, he chose to spare Palpatine and kill Samuel L. Jackson instead, which is a completely unforgiveable decision.

Anakin Skywalker was an extremely special person, even if he was not the subject of a prophecy. His downfall was hubris and nothing more. Qui-Gon hoped that Anakin would bring balance to the force. Ironically, the teachings Anakin received as a child was anything but balanced.

I suppose one could say the same about George Lucas.

Lucas was met with much praise in his early career, all of which he deserved. Until the release of Episode I in 1999, he was held in the highest regard by nerds across the world. For two decades, he was told without question that he was special because he had made this wonderful thing for the world to enjoy. The problem began once he started making the prequels, which I never completely understood, since I don’t think the prequels are actually that bad. Sure, they are muddled and clumsy in places, but they could have easily been good movies.

By the time that Lucas made the prequels he had already internalized the idea that he was incapable of failure. Success was a guarantee. He knew this because for twenty years the entire world had showered him with praise. Nobody stood up to Lucas during the making of the films, or if they did, he was apparently not receptive to it. Like Anakin, George began his career being extremely special, which was the ultimate cause of his undoing.

Luke Skywalker bears mentioning as more than just Anakin’s son. Luke is factually more important than his father, because the prophecy actually was about him (unless, of course, Episode VII retcons this). Despite gaining this knowledge, Luke never behaves arrogantly. This is in part because Obi-Wan and Yoda had years to learn from their mistakes with Anakin prior to their interactions with Luke.

Luke is told he is special, but not better than others. They are much more realistic with him than they had been with his father. By exercising moderation in their training and communication with Luke, he becomes a more self-aware and authentic person who is not as easily swayed to the dark side as his father had been.

Life imitates art, but art also imitates life. Both statements are painfully applicable in this argument. As the Self-Esteem Movement gained ground, the portrayal of humanity on television and in film has changed. With the exception of Luke Skywalker, each character discussed in this series of posts was conceptualized and given life after we had succumbed to self-esteem. They are all (potentially) unintentional caricatures of our society, and there is an unfortunate amount of truth in any caricature.

Impulsive, arrogant, and entitled people watching impulsive, arrogant, and entitled characters will only perpetuate the existence of both.

And there we have it, folks kind enough to have made it this far. For more misanthropic popcultural analysis, check out The Snowflake Effect.

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