the effect of classical tragedy on the prequels really can’t be overstated ok, like the setting was deliberately set up by george lucas so that the actors in the narrative couldn’t possibly defeat palpatine unless they either a) did a complete 180 of their morals and just went apeshit, or b) were saved by a Literal Act of God
I’m not exagerating when i say that this is one of my favourite things about the prequels, just the way they were constructed
The entire narrative of the unknown evil manipulating the hero into isolation. The tragic end of the hero and the good guys, the complete overtaking of the “darkness” leaving both the viewer and the characters in a spot of helplessly watching everything fall apart.
Cause what could they have done? None of the options are logical (or good storytelling in my opinion)
It’s a tragedy and the bad guys win and that’s just not something we’re used to
They have a certain gravitas. “So this is how liberty dies: with thunderous applause,” is the quote that really summarizes the whole shebang, from the Palpatine’s coup to the Separatists to Order 66. Politically speaking, the the tragedy of the prequels is brilliant.
Anakin’s psychology on the other hand? *scratches head* At times it seems plausible. Other times it doesn’t. From attacking Mace Windu to killing younglings! Because of bad dreams and distrusting the council, and desiring to save Padme?!!! Urgh. No matter how confused and upset he was about that, I don’t. Quite. Get it. (Maybe you had to be in his head?) I do believe Anakin could get there. But there are some in-between steps that I think we are expected to infer or something….. Such as the bulk of Anakin’s experiences in the Clone Wars. That’s theater; by reason of production time, stuff gets left out. It doesn’t ring true enough to learn from, or to say definitively that Anakin’s story couldn’t have ended any other way. Especially going by RotS alone.
i don’t pretend to be a psychologist by any means, but there’s several good meta pieces floating around that argue that anakin has some kind of bpd (that i oh so conveniently can’t find now, of course) which could help explain how he goes from 0 to 100 so fast
with regards to the Theatricality, you’re right; plot and characterization are heavily streamlined just due to time constraints, so character motivations tend to be… singular. they’re not flat or underdeveloped characters, and a lot of the time these classic plays will come out with some frighteningly modern insights (which is why they’re constantly in repertory! they’re timeless, babey!) but the hero’s Fatal Flaw, whatever it is (usually stubbornness + [flaw], in anakin’s case, inability to let go) is generally designed to be the exact opposite of what the situation needs.
like, for example, if you swapped hamlet and othello as the protagonists of their respective plays, hamlet would have sussed out iago as a traitor within minutes, and othello would have taken out claudius without a moment’s hesitation, and the rest of the plays’ tragic deaths would have been avoided. but hamlet’s indecision works in tandem with claudius’ moral waffling, and othello’s jealousy makes him easy prey for the equally jealous iago. by the same token, i think, anakin’s inability to let go makes him fearful to take action, which leaves him wide open for palpatine, who has been systematically cutting off any and all other possible avenues for anakin (and the jedi) to take… imo, anyway
honestly i don’t struggle too much with anakin’s characterization at a story level —rage is a kind of fire that burns through better judgement; fear chills personality down to base instinct—but i also think that the almost gravitational momentum of anakin’s downfall is a part of what makes it feel capital-t Tragic. tragedies have a pace as well as a trajectory; they’re inescapable, inevitable, simply because they’re tragedies. “but why” is an essential part of it. the forces working on anakin are narrative. (forgive me, but: “things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have gotten about as bad as they can reasonably get.”) miasma spirals. there’s a claustrophobic quality to events as the plot closes on katastrophe. possibilities wither not just by the design of the antagonist but by the nature of the genre. it’s not that it couldn’t have ended another way but that it can’t now? if that makes sense. (“there must have been a moment…”)
there’s something synecdochic going on with anakin / the republic, of course, but there’s also maybe something about the force / the narrative? the force needs balance; the narrative needs bodies. so stuff happens. roll out the ekkyklema.
(i think that’s part of…what you just said? sorry.)
a lot of Tragedy just honestly boils down to bad timing, like if only character a had done action x at point m! but part of the tragedy is that, by the time you realize what you’ve done, it’s too late to turn back, and you are forced to see it through to the terrible, terrible end. there’s echoes of this in the vader comics in his mega sith vision on mustafar, when he is presented with a scenario in which he could have done something different, but waves it away, stating “no. this is all there is”
and i agree that the Demands of the Narrative are probably overriding dynamic characterization here, too. it’s definitely possible to break the rules of Tragedy not just through DEM via deconstruction (i personally can’t think of a good example, but i’m sure someone will chime in with something) but george lucas just clearly didn’t… want to do that. which is valid asf
Watch me vibrate so fast I could fly out of my seat because someone mentioned the prequels as tragedy and also brought anakin’s role as a tragic character into a single post and Hi! My name’s Elizabeth and you have triggered my Never Shut Up About This Ever button. Forgive me.
I absolutely adore looking at the PT through the lens of a classic tragedy, because that’s what it is. And I think this, too, can really help explain why Anakin’s Fall seems so sudden but isn’t, especially if we also take into account SW lore (which we must, of course).
When we watch RotS, Anakin going from “dashing, tortured hero” to “I Shall Kill The Children This Day” within only, like, an hour movie-time definitely can feel like whiplash for a lot of people. I have honestly never seen it this way however, even if we take out any definitive look at his psychology (i.e. him having BPD). I don’t think it’s necessary at all to look to TCW show to have a “better understanding” of his fall, or even infer on what happened between movies.
Now, I do think there were tons of limitations to the story because they’re not just movies, but movies that need a lot of cool effects and fights and explosions. It’s one of the reasons why I think so many people misinterpret George’s intentions with certain things (like the Jedi), and so I admit that it might play into people’s confusion too.
But we have to keep in mind what we know about Anakin, from what the movies straight up tell/show us. We know he was a slave as a child, with a chip in his head, possessions he built himself from scraps, and most of his life being defined by his mother. We go to AotC and see that Anakin has not only become a bit more emotionally turbulent, but he suffers from constant nightmares of his mother in pain or dying. We also see his mother die in his arms after being tortured, to which his response is revenge.
It’s easy to kinda forget how traumatizing that must have been because Anakin immediately goes ahead and murders an entire village, but it most certainly was. It doesn’t take great leaps of logic to imagine how horrifying that was for him, especially when we see that played out by Hayden. But also… he murders an entire village. He’s already killed tons of people, including the women, and the children too.
By RotS, we know he’s already capable of killing kids, if his emotional volatility is reaching critical levels. In RotS, he’s reliving his trauma with prophetic nightmares, only now with both his wife and child(ren). It’s very natural that his fear is skyrocketing because of it. We can also see how easily Palpatine not only manipulates everyone, but Anakin too, and how Anakin often ends up listening to him.
The scene where he helps murder Windu reads 100% like an action taken from high emotional response rather than something premeditated. He is absolutely terrified about having to stand by and watch the same thing happen to Padmé that happened to his mother. He has been given a way out, a way to alleviate that fear, from a man who has been a “good friend and mentor” to him. He emotionally lashes out at Windu because fear is clouding everything in his mind.
And then we see how horrified he is of himself and his actions. Hayden sells Anakin’s emotional turmoil so well. He did not want to kill Mace Windu, he did not want to do anything bad, but he does, and then, because Palpatine is still promising him a way to save Padmé and alleviate his fears, because he believes it all to be inevitable, he gets up to go commit mass murder.
This is also where we gotta take SW lore into account. We know that the Dark Side corrupts, and the more evil one does, the more it grows. Anakin has already slaughtered his way through the Temple by the time he reaches the kids, and he’s already killed children before. His actions aren’t out of the left field – he’s capable of doing it, he’s already fallen far and been corrupted, and he’s determined to save his wife.
And now we tie back into the tragic aspect of it, because it’s true that Anakin’s story didn’t have to end with him being evil for a while and dying in Luke’s arms. It’s true that a good chunk of the problem lies only in bad timing. But Anakin’s actions weren’t written in because they had to be (though they did, as we already knew his ending as Vader), but because they were a natural conclusion to his character’s PT arc. The movies already give us all the information we need to understand how he ended up there, what drove him to that position, and the only other thing needed to truly understand it was the acting, which we got.
The tragedy is in every aspect of the PT. Anakin did have choices, and while partly his actions seem sudden, they’re not entirely. He is a character driven a lot by emotion (which was set up to us in TPM), by shitty circumstance, by his Fatal Flaw, and because all the cards were stacked against him (and the Jedi) from the beginning. Only, Anakin’s situation was an inverse of what lesbiandarthmaul said in the OP for the Jedi: if he didn’t do a complete 180 of his morals and go apeshit, Padmé would have lived, and he would have won, so to speak.
It was inevitable, and it could have gone another way even right up to Anakin storming the office and beyond. Anakin simply needed to choose otherwise, but didn’t.
Man I love the prequels.