Scene it? – Anakin and the Sandpeople

scene it 2Scene It? is a feature we’re hoping to do frequently, if maybe not each week. As the title may suggest, we’ll be looking at different scenes within the Star Wars-canon and analyse how they can be interpreted.

Today I want to look at a scene that I believe is crucial to the development of Anakin Skywalker and sets him on the path to the Dark Side. This is the scene between Anakin and his mother, followed by the slaughter of the Sandpeople and Anakin dealing with the consequences of his actions. In the second prequel film The Attack of the Clones (2002) Anakin Skywalker goes through an enormous amount of development. The last time we see him he was a child, who had left home behind and was about to start training as a Jedi-padawan. In TAoC, Anakin has grown into a young man who is struggling with being mature at all times. He is torn between following his emotions and his high expectations of himself.

The scenes on Tatooine are truly tragic and, for the first time, we see Anakin take a conscious step towards the Dark Side. Shortly after finding his mother, she dies in his arms before being able to say she loves him. George Lucas and Hayden Christensen show us an Anakin who is already conflicted between what he knows is right and what he feels. I want to spend some time analysing what happens in this moment to show how delicate the film is in showing us Anakin’s development. The two scenes in the video above are the ones I will be looking at.

“My son. My grown-up son. I’m so proud of you, Ani.”
“I missed you.”

Christensen’s acting in this scene is very precise. Anakin’s happiness at finding his mother, his shock at her dying when he tried so hard to save her, and then his almost uncontrollable anger can all be found in his face. Anakin is a character that starts out utterly pure of heart and this pureness comes largely from his mother. In The Phantom Menace we constantly see him putting others before himself and we see the same behaviour in Shmi. In a surrounding as harsh and dangerous as Tattooine, the mother-son relationship between Anakin and Shmi is incredibly loving. In The Attack of the Clones Anakin has gone without this affirmation and Shmi’s immediate recognition of him as her son makes him feel complete, like seeing him does for her.

The conversation between Shmi and Anakin is one filled with reassurance and love. Shmi’s pride of her son is expressed unequivocally. His happiness at seeing her again is equally clear. John Williams’ stripped back, simple melody adds to making this moment a very sobering and calming one. Shmi’s importance to Anakin is one of grounding and her death, one which Anakin tried so hard to avoid, is painful, especially since it occurs before she can confirm her love for him. With her dies a part of Anakin that was innocent and Williams’ music almost immediately speeds up and becomes chaotic, different instrument coming together to build up to the sound of his lightsaber. There is loss and sadness, but predominantly anger within Anakin in this moment. In his anger he lashes out at the closest thing to him, which are the Sandpeople.

What is fascinating about Anakin’s rampage in the village is the way that he goes about it. Rather than showing him stalk from hut to hut with body parts flying everywhere, Lucas frames him in a calculated and silent way. He kills the two guards to the hut in which he found his mother as if it was an execution, with clean and quick cuts. It is methodical and sharp, filled with rage but not imprecision. We see the Sandpeople responding to this, but rather than Anakin storming towards them, they approach him while he waits for them. Rather than have the camera remain with Anakin, it is placed in the position of the Sandpeople rushing in. He doesn’t doubt his abilities here and his rage makes him emotionless, essentially stripping Anakin of what makes him himself.

Anakin’s swordplay isn’t elegant or quick, but seems to fall in heavy strokes. The third victim we see falling is quite literally hewn down. Light-sabers are elegant weapons of a more civilised time, which cut through flesh and bone like they’re nothing. This one of the Sandpeople seems to drop at the weight of Anakin’s stroke. We hardly see anything of his attack on the Sandpeople because it is a deeply personal moment which forever changes something in Anakin. He takes a wrong step, goes enormously off the rails, and he knows it. He also knows there is only one person to blame: himself.

“Why did she have to die? Why couldn’t I save her? I know I could have.”

This line reveals what Anakin is most upset about. His whole attention was focused on saving his mother and he failed. Anakin grew up idolizing the Jedi, thinking of Qui-Gon Jinn as something close to a superhero and he now has very high expectations of himself and his abilities. He cannot accept that a Jedi cannot prevent death and therefore assumes that the fault lies with him. He failed, not once but twice. First he could not save his mother and then he could not control himself and killed all the Sandpeople.

“You’re not all-powerful, Ani.”
“Well I should be. Some day I will be. I will be the most powerful Jedi ever.”

Padme’s response to Anakin is very interesting. She is a highly opinionated character who has a strong sense of wrong and right. I believe this is a moment which is fundamental to their relationship. Padme seems to be able to understand Anakin when he doesn’t. As Queen she also had responsibility on her shoulders, responsible for the lives of all her subjects. The need to be strong and powerful is nothing new to her. Padme sees the internal struggle within him between his confidence in his abilities and his fear of failing, and doesn’t judge him in this scene. Despite her shock at his actions, she gives him comfort. This completely changes in The Revenge of the Sith when he completely turns to the Dark Side.

They’re like animals and I slaughtered them like animals! I hate them!”

The full revelation of what Anakin has done makes this scene very dramatic. Lucas trains the camera unrelentingly on Anakin, meaning the audience has no option but to face what he has done, the same way he does. A similar thing happens in RoTS, when Anakin kills the younglings. Lucas allows his hero to do things that are unforgivable which is what makes Anakin such a singular character in modern cinema. He goes utterly wrong and Anakin himself becomes a monster in this scene. The hatred he feels towards the Sandpeople was one which came from his disappointment in himself and as a consequence he now feels a similar hatred for himself. Significant is that Christensen wears a black vest in this scene. In RotS there is a clear colour divide between Anakin and the other Jedi, with him mainly wearing black. After this moment in his life, Anakin cannot escape the darkness within himself and he starts wearing it on the outside as well.

I’m a Jedi. I know I’m better than this.”

Arguably that is the first time he lies to Padme, since I am convinced that this is the moment Anakin starts doubting his own worth. Throughout The Revenge of the Sith we see Anakin questioning whether he is doing and feeling the right things, and he is haunted by his actions in this scene. His emotions are his greatest weakness because he is a slave to them. In The Attack of the Clones we see Anakin starting to fear himself and the scene(s) discussed above majorly add to that.

What do you think about this scene? How do you see Anakin developing throughout this film and the prequels?

3 thoughts on “Scene it? – Anakin and the Sandpeople

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