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Gender bending in the Skywalker family - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Gender bending in the Skywalker family
I was re-reading D. Trull's (aka, The Lard Biscuit's) marvelous, multi-part essay on Attack of the Clones, The Shroud of the Dark Side, and while I agree with quite a lot of what he said, he seemed to miss one factor that I think is key: Luke, for all his superficial similarities to Anakin, is a great deal more like Padmé. Leia, on the other hand, for her superficial resemblances to Padmé, is more like Anakin. I don't think this is accidental--I think it bears on the balance that is brought to the Force.

This is a thought I've had many times since Anakin's podracer dove the same way Leia's speeder bike would many years later, but I so far haven't been able to put it into a a really coherent essay. Between Biscuit's foray into symbolism and another great surprise piece of art from angel_gidget, I find myself wanting to update my site again (twice... in a month... I think it's a sign of the apocalypse or something), and wanting to address this issue in particular.

This is the part of the Biscuit's essay that got me thinking:

The setting deliberately echoes the iconic "binary sunset" scene from Episode IV, with Luke gazing to the horizon and wishing for something to happen to him. The difference here is that Anakin has already experienced his departure from home and his first initiations into adulthood, and instead of passively staring into the distance, he decisively streaks away and actually touches the distant horizon in the blink of an eye.

This is all well and good, but my eye kept going forward, expecting the corollary: The iconic pose is repeated.

By Padmé.

She watches Anakin ride off into the sunset, her heart full of her secret desires, feeling bound by duty not to act on them.

By the same token, Anakin's action in speeding off on a motorbike-like contraption to face danger is also mirrored iconically in Return of the Jedi, when one of the twins jumps on a speeder and heads off into the woods to chase stormtroopers... only this time, instead of just standing by, the other shouts, "Wait, Leia!" and jumps on after her.

And of course, the first hint I saw also comes from the Endor speeder chase--at one point in the race, Leia, trying to get an advantage over her adversary, takes advantage of the third dimension of flight, disorienting the trooper by seeming to disappear and then coming down from above. Anakin uses this exact strategy in the podrace on Tatooine, and it is filmed in very much the same way.

Finally, in The Phantom Menace, Padmé and her troops, in re-taking Theed Palace, use ascension guns to raise themselves up the wall to a high window. In a less planned way, Luke does precisely the same thing in the battle of Hoth, using a tow cable to ascend to the belly of the AT-AT Walker to planet a grenade and attempt (futilely) to save the Rebel base.

Right. Four minor screen-shots, against all the similarities that have been so carefully built... but I think that's the point.

A running motif in Star Wars is that things are not what they seem to be. When we meet Anakin, he's a dusty, hopeful young boy from Tatooine who's a good flyer. He's got blonde hair and blue eyes. Padmé is an apparently wealthy aristocrat--and a brown-eyed brunette--who serves in high level political circles. Anakin will eventually be trained as a Jedi, even though he's considered too old. Padmé will join the physical battles after years of living in the rarefied atmosphere of politics.

These are very obvious cues about roles that are being played (another subject which Biscuit addresses). Padmé is playing the role Leia will later play (or vice versa, if you're going by the release of the movies), while Anakin is playing the role Luke will later play.

But to what different effect!

Those little screen-shots, possibly even accidental similarities (though I find myself doubting it), set me to thinking, and there are other levels, more subtle levels, at which these surface comparisons don't work at all.

First, I will make one admission: I believe that everyone in the Star Wars saga--including Padmé--is ultimately one emanation of Anakin or another. That hasn't changed. He's the ego of the piece. But the way those facets interact with one another makes for character dynamics which interest me a great deal. So in the interest of clarity (and some brevity), I'll leave out the fact that at some point, everyone in the saga, from Han to Lando to Obi-Wan to Jango, takes on aspects of Anakin, and keep my analysis to the Skywalker family itself.


I find the casting of the Skywalker family quite interesting. Again, superficially, the two Anakins have resembled Luke--they are blonde, blue-eyed, and male. And Carrie Fisher and Natalie Portman are both brunette, brown-eyed, and female. (Fisher, Portman, and Hamill are all relatively short, so I guess the old height gene didn't pass on anywhere.) But at the close level of detail, you can see that, like Carrie Fisher, Hayden Christensen and Jake Lloyd have rather round features and a rounded sense of musculature, while Natalie Portman and Mark Hamill have rather sharp, delicate features and are more lithe and willowy. I don't know if it was deliberate, but it's interesting. Working in PaintShop, you can merge Hamill's face with Portman's without much difficulty at all. I did this before I'd gotten much practice (you can tell by the low quality of the images), but you can still see how their features fit together. These are untweaked except for blending at the hairline and going from skintone to skintone in the middle.

Duty vs. Self
In Part 2 of "The Shroud of the Dark Side," Trull notes that,

Padmé keeps her emotions and her personal desires in check, putting duty first. She may have shed the kabuki makeup and aloof demeanor of the Naboo throne, but Padmé retains an internalized defensive wall that shields her inner self from the outside world. Anakin, on the other hand, is possessed by a demanding and impatient sense of self. He wants to do his own thing and follow his impulses, despite being matriculated into an order that frowns on emotion and individuality. Anakin and Padmé each possess qualities that the other lacks, and they gain a sense that together they form a complete personality.

Padmé, through her relentless costume changes and decoys, is in search of an identity but very much in touch with her sense of duty. Anakin is relentlessly himself rarely donning more than the most superficial of disguises, most involving the addition of a robe or the remove of an outer shirt. She seeks identity, he seeks maturity. I think Trull is right about this.

To return to the parallels, though, in the Classic Trilogy, it is Leia who remains largely in a single costume, or single variations on a costume, only changing once during a brief moment on Cloud City. She later is masked and disguised on Tatooine (Return of the Jedi), but in a very specific order--the reverse order of Anakin's changes. She enters fully masked and frightening, with a respirator and a false voice, unmasks herself for love, and is then reduce to the role of slave. After she has done that, she becomes a bit freer to experiment, though she certainly spends the majority of the movie in the same camouflage as everyone else. (She "unmasks" a second time with the Ewok.)

Luke, on the other hand, changes identities rather frequently. He begins as a fresh-faced farmer, goes on to don the armor of a stormtrooper, returns to his farmclothes briefly, then switches to the uniform of a fighter pilot. We next see him in goggles and winter clothing, in the role of a military leader, quickly swapped for no clothes at all as an infirmary patient, then again he ends up in pilot's clothes... but not for long. He soon enters his new role as an initiate on Dagobah, with a Marine boot-camp look--sweaty hair, T-shirt, baggy pants, military boots. He later takes on a new costume altogether for his confrontation on Bespin. In RotJ, he begins with a cloak whose drape is similar in shape to Vader's--the resemblance is eerie--but is also almost identical, except in color, to the hooded cloak Padmé wears over her midriff-baring outfit in AotC. He later covers up with another cloak, but it doesn't last particularly long--like Padmé, when he makes a decision about his relationship with Anakin, his identity stabilizes and so does his costume.

Leia, meanwhile, has been generally averse to playing roles, even in her role as a politician. She is relentlessly herself as a captive and as a leader and as Han's lover. They aren't separate realms, and whatever reasons she gives for rejecting Han's affections, not a single one of them is, "I have duties, and I can't have you interfering with them." Her reasons are "I" and "mine"--"I happen to like nice men," "My hands are dirty," "Being held by you isn't quite enough to get me excited." It's not difficult to imagine young Leia answering someone who said, "You're a princess?" with "I'm a person, and my name is Leia!" Like Anakin, she is in a phase of adolescent Rebellion, chafing against authority. That she has more right to do this goes without saying, but when Luke comes to her with the question of his duty as a son to his father, she responds with absolutism: "Don't do it, he's evil, if he can sense you, leave," and so on. Her mother was "Beautiful and kind, but sad" (words that could describe Luke throughout the movie). Her quest has been for growth, which she achieves at the end.

Luke, on the other hand, is beset with duties, and he feels them keenly. He may not be the young elected King of a planet, but Uncle Owen isn't holding him on the farm with a blaster, he's holding him there with a sense of familial duty, and it's only when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are actually killed that this lets him go, at which point, he adopts the duty of the avenging son. While the landmarks in Anakin's journey are tests of his control, the landmarks of Luke's are tests of his identity, the most chilling of which comes in his failed test in the tree cave on Dagobah. Luke, totally unsure of his identity without the markers of his role--his weapons--descends and faces a Shadow he can't handle, but must.

Anakin's self, meanwhile, is trapped and buried in the Vader persona--the projection of Anakin's worst attributes--but he has asserted himself over the years. Vader is no one's roleplayer. But he has not yet accepted the burden of his birth, his duty, his maturity.

Why this is important
It's here that I want to return to those surface similarities, because they are also symbolic. Luke and Anakin represent the Jedi, the spiritual Force in the galaxy, while Leia and Padmé represent the political, the day-to-day running of the galaxy.

At the time of the Fall of the Republic, the Jedi were pretty smug in their identity, and sheltered from a lot of things that might shake them. The government is fragmented and deceptive, having lost its sense of self and of direction. Luke's earnest search for his identity puts him in a more humble position to re-form the Jedi Order, while Leia's exposure to the world away from the towers has forced her to look beyond her assertive self, which will stand her in good stead to actually repair the government. (This is why I actually oppose Leia being trained as a Jedi; she is more desperately needed as a politician, and as we see in the prequels, the two don't mix all that well.)

I feel a bit...: nerdy nerdy

12 comments or Leave a comment
redonethegreat From: redonethegreat Date: April 9th, 2004 10:56 pm (UTC) (Link)


I've always had this idea niggling at the back of my mind that the similarity goes Padme-Luke and Anakin-Leia, ever since I saw some images of Anakin, Padme, and the twins. Only, you have put it all very beautifully. Nice. (And nice to see I'm not the only one who thinks this way...) :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 10th, 2004 10:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: YES!

It's pretty much been the root of all of my fanfic in the GFFA. :)

alphabet26 From: alphabet26 Date: April 9th, 2004 11:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow. I am only nominally involved in SW (and not in the fandom at all) but that was an amazing essay, and so right. I love how you're all insightful, though it makes me feel pretty inadequate. ;)

This is going to prove my point. Have you ever seen the SW parody Thumb Wars? When you said

it's only when Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are actually killed that this lets him go, at which point, he adopts the duty of the avenging son

it reminded me of the scene in Thumb Wars where Loke's Aunt and Uncle (their names were "Soondead" and "Gonnabiteit," but I don't remember which was which) were killed. Loke said he would go and fight and Oobedoob Scooby-Dooby Benubi (he has the silliest name in the galaxy) said, "Oh, big sacrifice; everyone you knew is dead! Glad you could tear yourself away!"

See, you are insightful, I talk about thumbs. But it's okay. The world needs people like me, too, right? Right? ;P
ivylore From: ivylore Date: April 10th, 2004 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree completely. While Leia bears a striking physical likeness to her mother, in terms of personality she is more like Anakin. Luke is just the opposite.

I hadn't caught on to all of these parallels before. Very nice. Very cool!

Like Anakin, she is in a phase of adolescent Rebellion, chafing against authority.

This is the one point I guess I view differently. To me (grievous losses aside) Leia is pragmatic not rebellious. Luke's final confrontation with Vader is personal. Yes, it's the final step toward fulfilling his training and yet, and yet... he jettisons all of his other duties in that moment on the bridge. The Rebellion needed him alive. The team on Endor could have used his help. To any observer, that confrontation was nearly certain to end with his death.

Thus, I've never seen that decision as truly a 'duty,' but more of an ideological and emotional choice. Luke abandoned the battle to confront his father when he was sorely needed elsewhere. On the other hand, even at that pivotal moment when Leia stared at Alderaan from Death Star's bridge and was asked yet again for the location of the Rebel Base, she lied. Defiant? Absolutely, but bound by her sense of duty above all else.

And that's enough from me. :)

I quite enjoyed the post Fern.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 10th, 2004 11:28 am (UTC) (Link)
On the other hand, even at that pivotal moment when Leia stared at Alderaan from Death Star's bridge and was asked yet again for the location of the Rebel Base, she lied. Defiant? Absolutely, but bound by her sense of duty above all else.

Duty to whom, though? She is the princess of and senator for Alderaan, not the princess of and senator for the Rebellion. Her duty is to Alderaan and the people who elected her and in whose name she speaks.
ivylore From: ivylore Date: April 10th, 2004 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Considering how integral Alderaan's role was in founding the Rebellion, her allegiances need not be considered mutually exclusive. Even if at that moment we can find fault with her for choosing one over the other, it in no way, IMHO, diminishes her sense of her own responsibilities.

Luke, on the other hand, may be grounded to Tatooine by a familial sense of obligation but he never internalizes or truly accepts it (which is to me, half the point). From what's revealed to us about his home life, he sincerely resents his position. As Yoda said; his mind was never on "where he was or what he was doing." I've always interpreted that to not so much reflect on his un-Jedi-like craving for adventure and excitement, but on his inability to take the 'here and now' seriously - to demonstrate his capacity for commitment. Later, at a pivotal moment in his training, he runs away to save his friends rather than fulfill his promise to Yoda.

I really do enjoy seeing the similarities between the twins and their parents illustrated - I just think the molds are not exactly to form when we get down to it.
thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: April 15th, 2004 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
But Leia does try to fulfil both the duties, as soon as she's put into the position of having to choose between them. And of course it makes no difference. That evil skeletor git Tarkin...grr...

I don't know what that point I just made was, but in general I would agree that Leia is more like Anakin and Luke more like Padmé, though of course both twins are their own persons and have charactaristics of both their parents.

Luke doesn't change costume on Bespin, though--it's his Dagobah gear with the outer jacket back on. You can see it beneath the pilot suit when he's dressing on Hoth.
ivylore From: ivylore Date: April 16th, 2004 03:28 am (UTC) (Link)

But Leia does try to fulfil both the duties,

I agree with what I think you were trying to say. :)

thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: April 16th, 2004 12:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: But Leia does try to fulfil both the duties,

I did post it at about 2am, so my coherence may have been impaired. I think what I was trying to say was that Leia isn't as irresponsible as Anakin is, she has some of Padmé in her too (and conversely Luke can behave in an Anakin-rivalling spectacularly stupid way. Much as I love him :-D). I think Leia sees things as personal to her on a level Padmé and Luke don't.
ivylore From: ivylore Date: April 16th, 2004 05:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: But Leia does try to fulfil both the duties,

That's what I figured. ;) I agree that innately each has aspects of both parents.

I'm in agreement. I mean, IMO, Leia is living a life unknowingly fashioned after her mother's own. She grows up at the the knee of the political set, runs for the Senate at 17, then serves both Alderaan and the Alliance. At the end of the saga, her character's growth is completed by her personal quest for happiness.

On the other hand, when we meet Luke he's hanging out at Tosche station with his friends, grumbling about his chores and not joining the Academy. In a way he's the opposite of his sister, immature and painfully galactically naive. Ultimately he comes to sacrifice almost everything. I DO love that he's so imperfect - shall we say 'perfectly imperfect' when we first meet him.

lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: April 10th, 2004 04:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great essay with lots of good points. Ever since I saw TPM, I came to the conclusion that Leia and Luke are products of both of their parents. Luke isn't merely a replicant of Anakin; he has his mother's heart and spirit too. Leia isn't just Padmé Jr., she has her father's fire in her belly as well.
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 10th, 2004 06:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

And another thing...

Sorry to be all rude and anonymous but I've noticed in RotJ that Luke bears a strong resemblance to Shmi, both physically and mentally.
12 comments or Leave a comment