Friday, April 6, 2018

Revenge of the Sith: The Subverter

This is, without a doubt, one of the best scenes in Star Wars, period, and the left to right and right to left rule plays out in a really creepy way here; characters facing right turn left and vice versa, throwing the whole scene into a game of shadows. And it's here I have to start talking about Palpatine, a character that I've avoided talking about like the plague. I'll have to admit it's due to my own personal experiences that I've had to avoid this talk, because this is where the prequels reveal all the evil lurking right under their surface.

For ten years Palpatine has been doing what is called "grooming", a process that involves building an emotional connection in a spot where a child is hurting and cultivating it so that you can leverage that person for your own ends. It's subtle, awful, and usually ends with explosive results as the child realizes too late that he's caught in a web that he can't get out of, isolating him further and, even if he should survive whatever trap is laid for him by the groomer, will possibly be crippled by the guilt of being won over by a monster in human clothes. Campbell called this type of person the Shapeshifter, the one who appears to be the hero's friend but changes on him in an instant. This being preys on our Shadows, getting them to create disassociation within ourselves, getting Shadow/Underworld to hate Ego/Overworld. Once he's wreaked enough havoc on our Shadow this being engineers situations where this poor and wretched part of ourselves can get out, wrecking all before it in a bid to make its imagined oppressors stop the torment. But it never ends well. The people around us are not the source of our torment, no matter how many times they may do us wrong. This being is the one who engineers the whole thing.We know him as Satan, The Devil. Palpatine is a demonic figure par excellance.

For most of Anakin's life he has been hurting for his mother and the type of love only a mother (not a wife!) can give. The Jedi Order, the blockheads that they are, have completely missed this need and, assuming that Anakin mostly adapted to their system, feel that they can treat him as any other child they took from its own home at an early age. Unfortunately Palpatine sees what they don't: not freeing his mother had created a huge rift within Anakin's soul, a need for affection that could have been filled by Qui-Gon but never by Obi-Wan, who never understood Anakin. Being a Jedi was enough for him, brainwashed as he was by the Order. Unfortunately for Anakin, however, Palpatine could see this weakness and slowly exploited it over ten years while he played the rest of his games for control of the Senate and Republic alike, taking every opportunity to poison Anakin against those who were never really going to help him anyway. So long as the Jedi failed to notice Anakin's problems Palpatine had an in. And the Jedi were trained not to see the problems that Anakin had, so Palpatine had free reign. Eventually an abuser will "cash in" all the loyalty and angst he's built up in his mark, creating a huge change in personality that would be a surprise to anyone around him, but only because they hadn't seen the slow and subtle progression over time.

Palpatine is a master abuser. Anakin never stood a chance, not alone.

But he has no support.  Even to the woman that he fears to lose Anakin can't relate because of Palpatine's meddling, which has been going on for longer than Anakin's and Padme's actual relationship. Anakin's reasons for being good have rested upon fantasies of his mother and Padme, but Palpatine has had an entire decade of "real" friendship with Anakin, giving him far more emotional credit with Anakin than anything Padme can pull. Which is why Padme's plea to Anakin doesn't work. Even though she sees the evil of what Palpatine has become she can't break through the very real and long-gestating issues that Palpatine has made inside of Anakin. Heck, she uses almost the exact same words that he said to her in Episode II (yeah, she took him seriously as it turns out) and it still doesn't get through. That's how far gone Anakin is.

Which is why this scene is included in as part of the subverter: Anakin still has enough self-control to turn against Palpatine. He's still altruistic enough to realize that, despite whatever this man may mean to him, he must resist him. Palpatine, for his part, tells him nothing but the truth, but lets it slip that he knows about Anakin's visions. No male in Star Wars who has a vision has it on camera, so that begs the question: did Palpatine put the visions in Anakin's head? I'd say yes, yes he did. Palpatine has been controlling Anakin by using the best of his qualities against him, and he's closing his trap right here. He lets Anakin go because he knows that it's best to let Anakin hang himself with the rope that's been in the making for ten long years.

And the creepiest thing about this? It's completely and utterly true to reality. This is how the evil work, through and through. Hiding in plain sight, even from some of the wisest, they turn us against those who could have been our friends (had they not been idiots about it), using our inherent tendency to good against us. Regardless of whether you believe in the devil or not, this scene is exactly how evil has always worked. It's not a force in and of itself, but a twist of the mind, doubling us back in on ourselves and causing us to look at that great big void that we all have within, forcing us to ask ourselves "What would I do if it was nothing but me and that void, which I try to fill at every last opportunity with electronics, sex, alcohol, or whatever else lets me forget for two seconds that I'm desperately alone?"

Most of us don't ask that question outside of 3 AM when we wake up, wondering if life is really what we think it is. We usually ignore it as a passing fancy. It wasn't however, and anyone who's an abuser knows it. It's not even a fight at that point, but merely one person finding the weak spot and wondering aloud what would happen if someone were to hit that spot with a hammer. They keep asking that question in various ways until we, convinced that someone is actually coming after us, get up and destroy the threats that we perceive, only to find out far, far, far too late that our abuser knew a really awful truth:

The only person who can destroy you is you; the abuser can't. They get you to do it instead.

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