May. 18th, 2017

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Along with duality, another crucial motif of the Star Wars saga is the concept of identity and how it can be formed and altered. Visually, this motif plays out with symbols like masks (and unmasking), uniforms and other evocative costumes, and even the environments that represent characters or races. But there is a verbal component as well, and that is the use of names.

"I'm a person, and my name is Anakin!"

On the surface, this line might seem nothing more than a clumsy way to let us know what this boy's name is. But I've always found it highly appropriate that we're shown from the very beginning how Anakin dislikes being identified as a slave, takes his personhood very seriously, and believes that said personhood is tied directly to his name. It's heartrending, because we know that he will ultimately become enslaved far more tragically to the Emperor. And that enslavement will be symbolized by a new name, that of Vader.

This flash of anger, this insistence on being identified by the correct term, strike me as very similar to the moment Luke speaks his father's former name and Vader snaps, "That name no longer has any meaning for me." His furious reaction makes it patently obvious that the word Anakin is, in fact, painfully meaningful for him. Any reference to his former self must be shoved away, denied and spurned. But that only proves how powerful a force his original identity remains, somewhere deep inside him.

Anakin will bear many identities throughout his life -- slave, celebrated podracer, Jedi Padawan and Jedi Knight (and how he bristles at the notion of not attaining the rank of Master -- kind of gives new meaning to Vader's boast to Obi-Wan -- "Now I am the Master"), secret husband, Sith Lord, aspiring (but never attained) ruler of the Empire. In the end, however, the identity that saves him is not one defined by his abilities or his social status or how others view him. It is an identity based upon the ability to act with complete unselfishness and sacrifice -- that of father. It is only when his love for his son overcomes his need for power and control that he regains his personhood at last and becomes Anakin once more.

Next time, something from Anakin's mother....


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