Deep truths are not often what crosses your mind when you think “Star Wars prequels.” They are after all infamous for the unforgivably silly Jar Jar and the terribly-written dialogue.
But as I am often a prequels apologist, I will assert that there is some pretty insightful wisdom to be learned from Anakin’s journey. That’s because it’s really a good tragedy, just played out over a long time with lots of light saber battles (and yes, Jar Jar and bad dialogue). And what makes for a good tragedy is what you might refer to as the “Padme effect.”
In the Padme effect, we tragically bring about our own worst fears. Anakin’s fear of Padme’s death causes her to die. Yoda warned him, but he didn’t listen: his fear turns to anger turns to hate, and ultimately his violent turn to the dark side. Padme tries to stop him but he attacks her and she dies soon after.
Force-choking pregnant people isn’t too common (thankfully), but that effect isn’t hard to find. Crossing over into musical theater, in Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour could have easily had a romantic relationship with Audrey – she likes him from the beginning. But he is so full of self doubt that he overuses the vicious plant, giving it so much power that it eventually separates them by eating her. In the stage play, that’s it, and in the movie, it requires a deux ex machina to force a happy ending. But either way, Seymour made things so much more difficult than they had to be.
In a way, the Last Jedi also turned Luke’s journey into a tragedy that makes sense. His unbridled ambition is in a way irresponsible. He mopes to Leia when her planet has just blown up, he defies Yoda. It kind of makes sense he would aim high with a new Jedi school, then get disillusioned and desperate after things get hard. After all, anyone who has been parent to a tween or teenager knows that fear leads to anger leads to Whining & Moping, too.
Such stories have always appealed to us. There’s a reason why theater is divided into comedies and tragedies, with both having universal popularity. People like tragedies too, especially since life doesn’t have a whole lot of deux ex machinas. Sh*t happens and it’s not always random. Quite often we have brought that sh*t down on our own heads.
After all, Romeo and Juliet had a bad situation, but did it have to go that south that quickly? They made it happen, with their fear of being kept apart keeping them apart forever. It’s really exquisitely painful to watch, but watch we do, and we enjoy it enough to pay for theater tickets and Baz Lurhmann film adaptations. For while comedies delight us, tragedies ring true.
This Padme effect happens to us in big ways and small ways. My fear of being overweight causes me to overinflate the importance of cookies, so I succumb to them in excess. I fear driving so I drive erratically.
Even worse, we love someone so much we suffocate them. We protect our children so much they can’t protect themselves. We fret so much about what we “should” do that we don’t do anything.
It would be nice to have the answer to all that. If we did, it would keep us all from a world of hurt. But surely it helps to know about the Padme effect and to be self aware enough to see it in ourselves.
What would have happened if Anakin had listened to Yoda? What if he had said “huh, perhaps my fear IS leading to anger?! I should really look into that!”
Wonderful deux ex machinas do happen, but we won’t need them as much if we listen to our Yodas, the wise ones who knows us. Maybe we discover our inner Yoda through yoga or meditation, maybe we listen to our pastor or our parents for insight. Or it might just mean just watching Yoda himself in Star Wars – even and maybe especially the prequels.