We Need to Talk About Kylo
The last of the Freud material is on the site and I see the supermarkets are full of The Force Awakens DVDs. That means, it's time. If you haven't seen the new Star Wars film yet, then you're clearly not going to and I'm not going to be your enabler any longer by skirting around SPOILERS. You're just being weird. For the rest of us, we can finally address what's being going on in Star Wars from the beginning. Yes. The OEDIPUS COMPLEX!
An ordinary tale of farmboys and scoundrels who want to kill their family...
I must say, when I first learned about the Oedipus Complex is struck me as deeply weird. But Star Wars makes it all seem straightforward enough.
So we start with Episode IV (as they call it now), back in 1977. Luke Skywalker is the innocent farmboy orphan, working for his gruff Uncle Owen. Luke's your typical '70s narcissist, all funky hairstyles and long evenings spent watching the sunsets and thinking wistful thoughts.
No. You can't sneer. Not with THAT amazing John Williams score going on in the background.
Before long, Luke meets the first of his father-figures - former Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi who tells him about his true father, Anakin Skywalker.
Mercifully, the scene cuts out before the old man can start going on about the Force
So, Luke learns the truth about his father's death (or so we think) at the same time as he is given a giant phallic symbol in the form of a light saber. Resolve your father's death and gain a giant glowing penis? Freud would be so proud. But more than that: hot on the tail of the revelation about Dead Dad comes a bunch of stuff about a "civilised age" and "the guardians of peace and justice". Yes, that's the Super-Ego knocking. Remember what Freud believed? The Super-Ego is the voice of conscience that emerges when the young boy comes to terms with the idea of his father dying and his dread of having his penis cut off.
OK, right, the Oedipus Complex is supposed to happen to boys when they're 4 or 5, and Luke is clearly (what?) 18 or so. But this is symbolism, get it?
Now that he's got a glowing laser penis, Luke wrestles with his conscience about following crazy old Obi-Wan on a space crusade or going back to work on the farm. The Id says "Adventure!" but the Super-Ego wins and back to the farm we go.
I'm tempted to point out that Luke has a string of father-figures and (with one notable exception), they all get roasted, sliced, evaporated or electrocuted. Being Luke Skywalker's father-figure is not a job with a pension plan. Uncle Owen is the first of these doomed father-figures. It's almost as if, on some unconscious level, Luke wants people to die who represent his father to him...
You're not convinced? Well, Obi-Wan Kenobi is Luke's father figure now. I wonder what happens to him?
Then there's Yoda, the little green muppet who becomes Luke's next father-figure...
In fact, if the original trilogy of films traces Luke's development from callow youth into grown adult, marked by his growing mastery of the Force and his phallic light saber, then this growing up process is also marked by the death of a string of father-figures.
Finally, we have the awesome showdown with Luke's actual father - Darth Vader himself.
Well, THAT didn't work out very well, did it?
Yes. All Luke's fears come true. His father's light saber IS bigger than Luke's and Darth uses it to chop off Luke's penis.
Wait - what?
OK, OK, it's symbolic. Luke's father cuts off Luke's hand, but the hand is HOLDING the phallic light saber. Plus, Freud himself made the same link - not with Star Wars of course, but with his case study of Little Hans. Little Hans was a boy who was frightened of horses because he thought one of them would bite his hand. Freud explains this as castration anxiety. Little Hans is really frightened that his father will chop off his penis, but defence mechanisms twist this into a fear that a horse will bite off his hand.
Horse = Father.
Hand = Penis.
You don't give up with psychoanalysis though. Luke gets a robot hand, rather like Little Hans fantasised about having his penis replaced by a larger, a metal penis.
You still need convincing that Star Wars is a psychodynamic sci-fi movie? Well, in Episode V (The Empire Strikes Back), father-figure Yoda subjects Luke to psychoanalysis, sort of. Luke has to go into a cave under a tree (hello, it's the unconscious mind, right?) and confront his repressed fears.
I'm not making this up. It's there in the script!
YODA: That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.
So what does Luke take in there with him?
Darth Vader has Luke's face - on an unconscious level, Luke knows the truth about his father
Of course, the unconscious mind isn't really a "domain of evil" - it's the Id, but it often feels like evil, especially if you're the Voice of the Super-Ego, which is what Yoda is. But Luke represents the Ego and he has to find a way of balancing the demands of the Id and the Super-Ego. He has to break his father's power over him, without ceasing to love his father, and he believes that there's still good in Darth Vader.
And this is what Luke does at the end of the trilogy, in Episode VI (Return of the Jedi)
Ah yes - the 1993 "eyebrows" version
I could have even more fun arguing for Freudian motifs in Star Wars. Let's not even get STARTED on Luke's incestuous feelings for Leia who turns out to be, not his mother (thank goodness!), but his sister (i.e. the closest woman there is to his dead mother).
One day everyone will look back on this and laugh. Perhaps.
The real point of all this is that Freud makes for great storytelling. When you strip away all the complicated terminology and weird stuff, Freud's Oedipus Complex is pretty simple.
We have mixed feelings about our parents.
We love them, but we need to become free from them. This is painful to admit. It feels like "killing" them, if our parents are kind and loving; if our parents are cruel or controlling, we might literally fantasise about them being dead. But whether it's just breaking the family ties by growing up or darker, more agonising feelings of resentment and powerlessness, we have a strange mixture of love, guilt, anger and shame directed towards our parents. This is, perhaps, all the Oedipus Complex really boils down to. Growing up involves a sort of death.
I think this is why George Lucas' prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III) from the early 2000s don't have the same pa-zazz as the original trilogy. Yes, there's an orphan (Anakin Skywalker) whose mother dies. Yes, there are prickly relationships with two father-figures, a younger Obi-Wan Kenobi and the evil Chancellor Palpatine. There's some youthful angst about growing up and a light saber fight between the grown-up Anakin and his former mentor Obi-Wan. But none of it sizzles. There's no Freudian subtext, no love triangle, no psychodynamic dream sequences or penises being cut off.
No, wait, I'm wrong about that. Anakin's penis is quite literally cut off. He gets chopped up and replaced by machine bits when he turns into Darth Vader.
"He's more machine now than man"
But I think that's the whole problem. The Oedipus Complex isn't about people LITERALLY getting their penises chopped off. It's about a young boy's anxiety that he'll never become a man, that his father will take something away from him or stop him getting something, something important, something without which he will be doomed to stay a child forever. It's the fear you will never be able to outgrow your parents. The fear that you'll always be weak, ashamed and dependent on their approval. Having your penis chopped off is symbolic of that deeper fear. As soon as somebody actually gets their penis chopped off, it all looks a bit silly.
This is why the new film, Episode VII (The Force Awakens) gets it right, by putting Freud right back into the heart of the story.
This time round, the Oedipal hero is an Oedipal Anti-hero: Kylo Ren, the child of space scoundrel Han Solo and Princess (now General) Leia - Luke Skywalker's nephew and Darth Vader's grandson. Kylo Ren quite explicitly wants power and autonomy, but feels held back by the influence of his father. If only his father was dead, then Kylo would be free to explore the Dark Side of the Force (i.e. his Id) and completely master his phallic light saber.
A triple light saber? Do you think he's over-compensating?
So Ren has "issues". He's like the Ego, caught between the tug of the Light Side (Super-Ego) and Dark Side (Id). Unlike Luke Skywalker, he doesn't want to find a balance between the two. He wants to indulge the Id and abolish the Super-Ego - so Dad must die.
Father and son tussle for mastery of the phallic light saber...
I mentioned earlier that all-but-one of Luke Skywalker's father-figures met a grisly end. The exception was Han Solo. The younger Han Solo was a father-figure in many ways, teaching Luke to fire weapons and be manly. What's more, he was part of a love-triangle with Leia, the sister/mother-figure. But he doesn't meet an Oedipal Doom in the original trilogy. Why not?
The answer seems to be that Han Solo is amoral. He's a selfish scoundrel without strong ethical values. He shoots Greedo under the table. He laughs at Jedi Knights. He's in it for the money.
To be a proper father-figure, you need to impart ethical values to your son - good values like Obi-Wan (all that "peace" and "order" stuff) or bad values like Darth Vader (all that "join me and we will rule the galaxy!" business). You have to be the voice of the Super-Ego.
Han Solo doesn't do this. He stays a scoundrel until he is reunited with Leia and resolves to redeem his son. When he goes up against Kylo Ren and begs him to come home, he's not a scoundrel any more. He's a father-figure. Then the iron law of Star Wars kicks in and - BZZZZZTT!!! - he has to die, so that his son get resolve his Oedipus Complex.
Of course, there's another father-figure waiting in the wings: Kylo Ren's new daddy, the mysterious Lord Snoke.
Based on the Star Wars formula, now that Snoke is a father-figure, he's basically doomed
Of course, there's a lot of stuff still to be revealed in Episode VIII - like who is Snoke and who is Rey and what Luke Skywalker has been up to. But now that Freud is reinstalled in the plot, I feel pretty confident that the franchise in on the right tracks.
May the Force be with you
10/11/2020 09:26:51 am
Jonathan Rowe is a nonce
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The Psychology Wizard is Jonathan Rowe. I'm a teacher and writer, living in the Fens of Lincolnshire. It sure is flat here. I'm writing a Roman Horror Novel at the moment. Check out Tinderspark and The Thief Of Faces if you fancy a good read.