Friday, March 03, 2006

Were no mothers

Even though the OT would ultimately become a "family affair" (and almost literally did, save for the intervention of a certain brash smuggler!), what is interesting is that Ep IV ANH began with an absence of parents and even made quick work of the stand-ins with the death of the guardians Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Maybe I was a morose kid on some level but I always felt there was something liberating in Luke's situation. It seemed the perfect springboard for adventure, with no one tying you down, no family commitments, no one asking you to be home for dinner on time, no chores, nothing mundane and no one making any decisions for you. Just you and a galaxy of possibilities.

More telling, still, is the fact that the mother-figure is almost absent even when the story becomes more overtly concerned with family ties. We are given the evil father and the twin sister, but the mother is only whispered about and only in one scene in which there is an admission of a vague, wispy memory of her on Leia's behalf, and that's it. Lucas is clearly saying that the fantasy of the boy-hero is to be free of the mother, that it is only in her absence and even the absence of her memorial presence, that the adventure can unfold and the quest be fulfilled. I've read just enough Joseph Campbell to know that the leaving of "mother" and transcending the boundaries of the nursery are at the heart of many myths, so the fact that it turns up in Star Wars should not be surprising I suppose, especially given Lucas' use of Campbell's work and expertise in creating the SW saga.

It would not be until the prequel films were released that we would meet this absent mother figure. If only the prequels had been accomplished with some storytelling skill then perhaps we may be able to judge the role of the mother in the SW universe. Unfortunately, since the prequel films are weak and the characters poorly constructed, it is difficult to distinguish an indifference to all the characters in general from a feeling of indifference to Padme Amidala-as-mother-of-the-Skywalker-twins specifically. One thing we can say, and again it is hard to tell if this is due to bad storytelling or some inability for the SW universe to handle mothers, is that she does tend to play a very small role as mother, she hardly looks pregnant, she is an unconvincing lover and her sudden concern for the twins seems to come out of nowhere, almost as an afterthought.

The sense I had as a child of this prehistory of the OT was sufficient because it could be held in the mind in a very archetypical way: it was enough to know there had been a mother, that she had most likely died tragically, perhaps even at the hands of or due to some fault in the character of the Father and that she had given birth to Luke (and as we would learn later, Leia). There was never anything more to her that was necessary to know; unfortunately her story was not one that needed to be told or known in cinematic detail because she is the unconscious, she is the pre-verbal, the pre-self, the beginning from which all life springs but from which it must move away if it is to distinguish itself as unique and heroic.