Friday, February 22, 2013

Workin' Them Angels

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

I need to ask a question.


What’s wrong with angels? Specifically the mentioning of them in movies? I really want to know, because I can’t fathom how much hate and mockery gets heaped on a pretty plot-important line of dialogue in The Phantom Menace.

Upon seeing the woman he will one day marry, despite being nine years old, Anakin Skywalker asks “Are you an angel?”

Now…Anakin doesn’t mean the Judeo-Christian winged humanoids, but an alien creature from the moons of Iego (he thinks). Still, if space pirates are to be believed, they’re the most beautiful creatures in the universe. So that’s quite a compliment to Padmé.

Okay, all semantics aside, we all know Lucas meant the former definition of angel and made up the latter to justify using the word. Either way, it doesn’t matter. This line of dialogue gets mercilessly ridiculed for all aspects of it. But…why? I don’t get it.

Is it because it’s corny? Yeah, comparing things to angels (of any kind) is kind of corny, but you know what? That’s fine. We’ve got a child in a movie primarily aimed at 7-12-year-olds, so it’s fine. Plus, this is Star Wars, we’re talking about. A bag of Cheetos has less corn and cheese than a Star Wars movie. It’s allowed. Frankly, I’d be more upset if they didn’t stray into this territory. It’s such a 30’s line, which is vintage Lucas.

Is it the performance? Jake Lloyd gets way more flak than he deserves. I do admit he gives some bad line readings. I counted about four. Really, aside from the approximately four (depending on whether you count sentences or passages as “lines”), he gives a good performance on par with his co-stars. That’s not bad at all for a child actor, and it certainly could have been so much worse (for example, the other kids in the movie). As for the line in question, it’s actually one of the readings he absolutely nails. I could understand having problem with a totally gushy four-year-old’s reading when Anakin is almost double-digits. Lloyd doesn’t go that route. He’s very matter-of-fact about it, like he’s curious if it’s going to rain later. That bluntness is not only perfect for a boy his age, but it’s strangely also very Vader-like. I could imagine that tone from the James Earl Jones voice box, if not necessarily the subject matter.

It seems to be the subject matter, since a lot of other angel-centric lines from other things get blasted, most notably in the first Spider-Man movie (which was an old lady telling an embarrassing childhood story; what’s wrong with that?). Yes, angels can sometimes be a touchy subject because of their association with Christianity, but many other religions and mythologies have some form of angel and even contemporary interpretations use them quite loosely. I don’t hear people complaining about a cardset in Magic the Gathering featuring a whole army of angels (in fact they were the sleeper hit faction in that storyline).

So why does Anakin Skywalker comparing Padmé to an angel seem so horrible to a lot of people? This isn’t a rhetorical question, I really want to know. I can’t think of any logical reason, and it does not make sense to me. Can somebody help me out here?


  1. They actually show an Angel from Iego in Season 1 of Star Wars The Clone Wars. The episode is Mystery of a Thousand Moons. If you ever have time, check that and the previous episode out.

  2. One of these days I am getting the whole series on DVD.

  3. One of these days I am getting the whole series on DVD.

  4. To me it's mostly the fact that casting Anakin as a young kid in the first film was a bad idea from a storytelling and practical perspective (as it stunts his arc in the first film and also results in a kid performance, which are rarely ever great), and how much it bluntly telegraphs the romance to the audience.

    It's also incredibly precocious.

    1. How does seeing Anakin's childhood do anything but add to his characterization? It's incredibly important.

      Also, why is precociousness a bad thing?

    2. Because in a trilogy that's ostensibly centered around his character, not introducing him until halfway through the first film and relegating his role to a side character isn't exactly a smart decision. I can understand what they were trying to accomplish with Ep. I, but in terms of the goals of the prequels as a whole it's not the best approach to take (plus, his character as it is in the film isn't quite developed enough to make showing that part of him worthwhile).

      And I suppose precociousness is more of a subjective matter than anything else.

    3. The side character thing works I think if you take into account Lucas wanting the film to work equally well as the first SW one would see. If TPM is shown first, Anakin becomes a stealth protagonist, with Qui-Gon set up as a decoy (Qui-Gon is still technically the main character in TPM, but Anakin slowly becomes more of the focus as the film wears on. It's quite brilliant).

      Also, I looked up the meaning of "Precocious" just to make sure we're using it right, and it means "referring to a child who is unusually talented or prodigious for his/her age." Fits Anakin to a T, doesn't it?

    4. Well, okay, the exact wording points to early maturity in an area as opposed to prodigal talent, but still.

    5. Why was casting Anakin as a kid a bad idea? A great part of the reason why he falls to the dark side has to do with his childhood you know.

    6. I don't really see Anakin ever becoming the focus of Phantom Menace- maybe it's the intent, but the film is very clearly centered around Qui-Gon until his death, and then shifts to Obi-Wan at the end. Anakin only really becomes the focus maybe in the last 5 minutes, and really not until his entrance in Attack of the Clones.

      As for casting him as a kid, I think it really stunts his growth as a character, primarily because it necessitates him being a child actor at some point- and though I actually don't mind Jake Lloyd, the fact is that you could count the number of truly great child actors on one hand- and most of them are girls (even Citizen Kane did away with the child actor like two scenes into the film). So the film is already hampered by a limited performance (and let's remember Lucas is by his own admission not an actor's director), and then the actual amount of influence the events of the film have on Anakin as a character is close to none- yes, we have the obvious point of not being able to save his mother (though that brings up several problems logistically), but we don't actually see a large amount of growth or development occur through his actions and interactions throughout Phantom Menace.

      Taken on its own merits as a film, Anakin's detachment isn't necessarily a bad thing, but as the first part of a trilogy whose intended goal is to be a character study of Anakin Skywalker, it poses just a bit of a problem.

    7. He becomes central to the plot as a possible Chosen One. I will grant that, within the scope of TPM alone, his importance is more in line with an artifact or MacGuffin, but seen as part of the whole saga the characterization introduced here is instrumental in understanding him as he grows into a complex character in his own right.

    8. Central to the plot isn't the same as being central to the film, particularly when you're talking about characters.

      And again, I don't really see much in terms of characterization here- part of that is due to the limited performance (again, not that Jake Lloyd is that bad in terms of child actors, just that I can only think of maybe 2 child actors that could be capable of the kind of complexity you would need to achieve here), but also in that he doesn't have much of a progression or an arc through this film- apart from losing his mother, which I've already said brings its own logistical problems to the sequel.

    9. The fact that after a decade Anakin or the Jedi Order don't appear to go back to Tatooine and free his mother, or even try to keep tabs on what's going on.

      There are certainly plenty of reasons to explain that, and even a couple interesting angles to go with that fact, but it's never explained satisfactorily within the movie itself, and it leaves a hole in the emotional development of that arc.

    10. It's explained well enough by the hammering in of the Jedi Order's code of nonattatchment as well as the implication that they're out of touch.

    11. Not to mention the fact that the Order's inaction probably helped sour Anakin to them, in addition to his self-guilt.

    12. That requires implication, though- we're never directly told they deliberately kept out of it, nor does their inactivity appear to have a direct influence on Anakin's behavior.

      What we should have had for that to work would be a scene early on where Anakin complains about being forced to stay away from his mother, and a following scene where we can actually see him blaming the Council in part for that decision.

    13. It was said implicitly in TPM that becoming a Jedi would mean never seeing his mother again. We have the scenes in AotC talking about non-attachment.

      And it's also said implicitly in TPM that the Republic has no jurisdiction on Tattooine and thus nothing can be done about Shmi (Qui-Gon was stepping out of bounds already with Anakin).

    14. Again, it's all implicit and we never actually see these events directly influence Anakin. And given that this trilogy is a character study, failing to provide the proper impetus for a major emotional beat and how that affects his development is a bit of a loose end.

    15. We do see them directly affect Anakin. The moment he has to leave without her, he carries it through most of the rest of the film. He's cold and unsure until he's in the Naboo cockpit. It affects him in AotC so much he has to take matters into his own hands. Who could forget how that turned out.

      It is subtle, which isn't a bad thing. but it's there.

    16. Elaborate- when you say he "carries it" through the rest of the movie, what do you mean? And how is this communicated effectively to the audience? Because I get a lot of things from Lloyd's performance, but "cold and unsure" isn't one of them.

      Plus, it still remains that the actual scenes of conflict are left out- we still needed a scene where these things were directly explained to Anakin and where it's clear he blames the Council in part for what happens (as is it feels like he blames himself, and then everyone else in a very general sense).

    17. He's really not digging being in strange new places, which is a natural feeling, but the Council pinpoints that his mother is the issue, which he doesn't deny. He misses his mother, he doesn't know what everyone around him will think of him, he's mostly left by himself except for Jar Jar who's just as lost and probably not much company.

      As for the other thing, you're right in that it's not as explicit as far as his mother is concerned, but it's obvious that having to hide his emotions for anyone he loves helps to cause the major rift. It's not just one reason, and they trust us to be able to see it without hammering it in (perhaps they overestimated).

    18. Again, you're providing an external analysis. What within the film supports your reading- be it performance, direction, whatever.

    19. Anakin: "I'm cold."


      Yoda: "How feel you?"
      Anakin: *timid* "Cold, sir"
      Yoda: "See through you, we can."
      Ki-Aid Mundi: "Your thoughts dwell on your mother."
      Anakin: "I miss her." *read like well, yeah*
      Yoda: "Afraid to lose her, I think."
      Anakin: *annoyed* "What's that got to do with it?"
      Yoda: "EVERYTHING! Fear is a path to the dark side! Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate...leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you..."


      To put it bluntly, Anakin on Tattooine is happy-go-lucky and Anakin on Coruscant is sad and afraid. It's obvious in his body language, his demeanor, and the fact that it's flat-out stated.

      In Clones, he's a jittery mess because he has all these FEELS for Padme and his mother and he's shot down any time he begins to express them.

      Obi-Wan: "Be careful of your feelings, young padawan, they betray you."

      Obi-Wan: "Dreams fade in time..."

      Obi-Wan: "You've made a commitment to the Jedi Order. A commitment not easily broken."

      This is later reinforced when Padme asks Anakin if the Jedi are allowed to love.

      Anakin: "Attachment is forbidden, possession is forbidden..."

      He then tries to turn it into a loophole abuse to woo her, but you can hear the venom dripping from him during that first part. Given the situation, it's mostly for Padme. However, the fact that it's stated multiple times that he can't see his mother due to Jedi training and that the Jedi are telling him to ignore obviously prophetic dreams of her torture and imminent death show that Shmi is also very much part of this.

      Thus it is strongly implied (yes, not flat-out stated, but it doesn't have to be) that Anakin's frustrations about having to hide his feelings about anyone he cares about, mother included, in addition the fact that he can't leave well enough alone, was one of many factors that contributed in no small part to the mutual distrust between him and the Order by the time Revenge of the Sith rolls around.

      Okay, your turn. Tell me in great detail, supported only by what's in the film proper with no supplemental material or conjecture of any kind: How did Leia fall for Han in Empire? Because just from the lines and direction with no conjecture, it seems she respects but dislikes him. Then she kisses him but goes right back to disliking him, then suddenly bursts out that she loves him. It seems to come out of nowhere.

      (For the record, I know full well the idea behind Leia/Han. I just want you to know how hard it was to explain the seemingly obvious without using common sense conjecture).

    20. In case you're wondering why it's taking me so long to reply, I found that a good discussion of the Leia/Han relationship required a bit of a pull back and a larger analysis of the film and its objectives as a whole.

      So I've decided to go ahead and make it an essay discussing the film as a whole (something I've been meaning to do for a while anyways), which I'll post on my blog once I've finished. I can post a link here as a reply, if you want.

    21. Ah, but my challenge requires absolutely no conjecture or sources outside the film. This sounds like it'll be full of personal interpretations and "word of god" from the filmmakers.

      Which would be awesome, except you refused to let me use it in this case, hence my challenge to you. I would look forward to reading it in any case, but my challenge was for you to give me what you demanded I give you, and if you try to sidestep that, well that's just bad form.

    22. Well, I'm using mostly textual analysis, with little to no personal conjectures- or rather, I make a few, but it's backed up pretty solidly by examples from the film.

      I mean, that's ideally what I'm doing. I may not end up being perfect, but I'm still trying to set myself by the same limitations I gave you.