fialleril (fialleril) wrote,
  • Mood: geeky
  • Music: The Wrong Side - Abney Park

Skywalker the Trickster (or, Thoughts on Norse Mythology and Star Wars)

Or, step one in my evil plan to convince my Star Wars nerds they should get on this Norse myth thing already.

So, some clever soul over on tumblr has already posted a link to the "Luke Skywalker as a take on Loki (who was called the Skywalker)" meta. (Yes, Loki was a Skywalker first. I have a cross-mythos theory that he stole Hermes' winged sandals once, and - that's a story for another day.)

Thus:

i was reading this and the comment that luke skywalker was "luke s. - lucas" caught my eye because i always thought that luke skywalker was a take on loki sky-traveler, the norse god of mischief who was born to an evil giant farbauti ("cruel striker") and was associated with magic (the force) and had tried on several occasions to overthrow the aesir (evil empire) by forming an alliance with the giants (who had been previously overthrown and condemned by the aesir and would be analogous to the rebel alliance) in norse mythology he was also directly responsible for the death of balder, the god of light (death star?) who was completely impervious to everything as a result of the other gods making everything in existence promise never to harm him, save one plant, the mistletoe. loki then tricked one of the other gods into throwing a mistletoe dart directly into balder's heart thus killing him. this is somewhat similar to luke having to fire his missile into exactly the right spot in the death star which caused it to explode.

the only difference being, while loki was then caught and tortured for the rest of eternity, luke lived happily ever after.

(source)


It will come as a surprise to no one that I kind of adore this theory, not least because it turns the Norse myths on their heads, and I do love a story that reverses its source material in many ways.* (Also Balder as the Death Star will never be anything but hilarious.)

That said, I think that Anakin Skywalker may actually play closer to the Loki role as we have it in the myths and as it is commonly understood.

Now, at first glance Anakin might not seem like much of a trickster, especially not if we expect a trickster to be a largely comic figure. Anakin is...not that funny. He's far too desperate to be taken seriously to ever really achieve the kind of self-effacing, laugh-in-the-face-of-anything cleverness of tricksters like Hermes. But he is someone who defies boundaries, crosses between groups that are taken to be mutually exclusive, exists as an outsider to his society who nevertheless is also (or is hoped to be) a culture-bringer and even a savior figure. All of these things are common traits of the trickster.

Anakin is a liminal character from the start. He's not one of the Jedi, not really, but he's numbered among them. He's too old for the training but he's taken on anyway. He's a slave but potentially the most powerful being in the galaxy.

Like Loki, Anakin comes to the Jedi (the Aesir) from well outside their usual boundaries. Loki is a Jotun**; he has Aesir blood only insofar as he's mingled his blood with Odin's, and for all the lip-service paid to bloodbrothers being as close as brothers-by-blood, it's pretty clear that all of Asgard is constantly aware of the difference. Anakin is not only born a slave, he's born a slave on a world outside the Republic, making him completely outside the boundaries not only of the Jedi Order but of the galactic government which they serve. He's allowed to enter the Jedi Order in spite of being both an outsider and too old, but it seems that, like Loki, his status as Outsider Other is never entirely lost. Anakin seems to vacillate on what exactly this means to him: sometimes he seems to want to be truly accepted by the Jedi (particularly in ROTS), and sometimes he seems to want to be afforded special treatment as the Chosen One, or at least as a particularly advanced student. Whichever way he's feeling at a given time, though, it's clear that Anakin is never quite a Jedi in the same way that Obi-Wan or Kit Fisto or Barriss Offee is a Jedi.

Part of this difference, I suspect, is that the Jedi continue to understand Anakin as someone with divided loyalties. He is a Jedi, yes, but before that he lived on Tatooine with his mother, and the Jedi seem every bit as aware of Anakin's loyalty to her as Anakin is himself (although, of course, in very different ways). Anakin belongs to two worlds, and his continuing ties to his mother on Tatooine are considered deeply problematic by the Jedi, just as the Aesir find Loki's continued ties to Jotunheim (and in particular his ties to Angrboda and their three monster children) deeply disturbing. Both the Aesir and the Jedi make efforts to sever those ties (the Aesir by means of brutal imprisonment, the Jedi by means of continually encouraging detachment and denying requests to visit Tatooine).

But of course these efforts don't work, because a trickster is fundamentally a boundary-crosser, and any efforts to further define boundaries and throw up walls will only end badly (usually for those building the walls). So in AOTC Anakin crosses the first major boundary and returns to Tatooine without the knowledge or permission of his Jedi masters. This does not directly lead to, but does tie into, the second boundary-crossing in the Tusken camp, and the third in the form of his marriage to Padmé.***

But all of this boundary-crossing only further alienates the trickster from his society. In good vs. evil stories, this is often portrayed as a steady darkening of the trickster figure. So Loki becomes progressively more antithetical to the gods (at least in the traditional reading), and Anakin moves inexorably towards the dark side, until

Ragnarok. Or Revenge of the Sith. For a variety of reasons - partly his own choices, partly the actions and decisions of those around him (and probably partly the general failure of anyone to understand tricksters) - the trickster turns his back on the society he's been part of, joins with their enemies, and burns the world to the ground.****

ROTS Anakin is very much the Loki of Ragnarok, and in more ways than one. The destructive aspect is the most obvious, but I think there's also a comparison in Anakin's fundamental brokenness in this movie. I don't think it would be a stretch to compare Loki coming half-mad out of centuries of torture with Anakin coming back from the war...changed. (It is abundantly unclear what exactly happened between AOTC and ROTS, or what precipitated the change, but clearly something did. The Anakin of AOTC has his problems, to be sure, but he's still willing and able to talk about them to Padmé and Palpatine and, at least initially, Obi-Wan. The Anakin of ROTS seems unwilling or unable to talk to anyone, and imo it makes most sense to read him as a man caught in a nervous breakdown.)

In any case, Loki leads the charge that will destroy the Aesir and see the world go down in flames, and Anakin leads the destruction of the Jedi, the burning of the Temple, and the birth of the Empire.

And here's where it gets interesting. Because Anakin has not one, but two Ragnaroks. He gets to burn it all down twice.

ROTS is the most obvious Ragnarok analogue, the story of Anakin becoming Vader. ROTJ is, I think, a second Ragnarok, and one that (like the take on Luke above), turns the myth on its head.

Anakin's decision in ROTJ to save his son Luke, and coincidentally, in the process, to kill the Emperor, is no less a catastrophic end than was his decision in ROTS to save Palpatine and, coincidentally, help to kill Mace Windu. This is Anakin the trickster once more crossing boundaries, in this case possibly the most insurmountable boundary of all. Yoda and the Jedi speak of the boundary between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force as absolute - so absolute that it is, according to Yoda, literally impossible to turn from Dark to Light.

Anakin, who has spent his entire life crossing back and forth between identities which are supposed to be intractably opposed, does so one final time and once again the old world order (in the living person of Palpatine) goes down in flames. Literally. But Luke survives those flames and, like Balder returning out of the fire, goes on to create an entirely new world.

This is the creative side of Ragnarok, the side that doesn't get talked about as much. But Ragnarok is all about fire - it's a final conflagration that destroys everything and then dies down when there's nothing left to burn. And like all fires, once it's burnt out, it leaves behind enormous potential for new life.

I think there's a definite potential for this reading in Loki's story, but it's much more pronounced in Anakin's. In ROTS we see Anakin as trickster-destroyer, while in ROTJ we see him as trickster-creator (who creates through destruction, in the roundabout way of tricksters). His two Ragnaroks intentionally mirror each other, I think, and in each case Anakin crosses the defining boundary of the saga, the boundary between Light and Dark, which he is not supposed to (and in the final case, not even supposed to be able to) cross.

In conclusion, these are only some initial thoughts, and I'm sure there's more that can be said. And now I have the sudden urge to go back to that trickster!Anakin on Tatooine AU I outlined all those many moons ago....


Notes:

* It should be noted that I do not actually think Norse mythology was literally the source Lucas drew his story from. But to the extent that Lucas had one particular source for Star Wars (and in particular the OT), it was Joseph Campbell's theories about the Hero's Journey and about mythology in general. Given this, I don't think that any mythic resonance between Star Wars and various mythologies should be seen as wholly coincidental, either. But even if you do see it that way, I still think this is an interesting lens through which to think about Anakin and Luke and their role in the GFFA. So. Onward.

** His mother may be of the Vanir, or she may be a Jotun herself, but even so, kinship in Norse society is through the father's line, and there's no doubt that Farbauti was a Jotun.

*** Side note, because I am only beginning to think this part out, but I think this reading might actually make AOTC a bit more coherent than it otherwise is. Seen through the lens of the trickster archetype, all of Anakin's seemingly unrelated actions become of a piece. AOTC is about Anakin, who crossed boundaries unthinkingly simply by being who he was in TPM, in a sense coming into his own as a trickster and intentionally beginning to cross those boundaries. Of course this boundary-crossing has a dark edge to it, as trickster stories often do. (Particularly trickster stories told within a larger universe operating out of a good vs. evil paradigm, which Star Wars very much is.)

**** This, in addition to the name "Skywalker," is why I've chosen to compare Anakin specifically with Loki, rather than tricksters in general. Most other tricksters in world mythologies don't have quite this dark final turn to their stories. Loki is the only one I know of who goes fully "to the dark side."
Tags: all my feelings about tricksters, hopeless geekery, meta, mythology, star wars
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded  

  • 49 comments