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Episode 8: Unforgivable Sinner

[🎵 Accessing] Hello! I’m Anika AKA Pixie and you are listening to the Endless Anakin Playlist Podcast, in which I use popular music as a frame to discuss anything and everything Star Wars and Star Wars adjacent.

Today’s episode is inspired by the song “Unforgivable Sinner” by Lene Marlin.

First, an apology. I am very late bringing this episode to you. My podcast went on an unexpected and extended hiatus, and now I’m scrambling to complete my first quote unquote season of nine episodes before the end of the year. I know I’m not alone saying that this year has been a struggle, but it really, really was. For me, the word of the day, for the whole year, was instability. There was not a single part of my life that was stable, by any definition of the word. Again, I know it wasn’t just me. The pandemic and the crippling effects of climate change are global problems that have created instability for everyone everywhere. But also for me personally. And in the middle of all that, Disney Plus put out Loki. And it had a big impact, even people who hated the series won’t stop talking about it. But again, also on me personally.

The other day I was out doing errands with my child, and we were talking about some event or appointment, something that required me to rely on other people to do their part. I was complaining about it, about having to trust people, and my kid called me on it a particularly brutal but also perfect way. They said “I know you like to be in control of everything, Mom, like Loki.”

And then just to really drive it home, they added, as an afterthought to the “like Loki,” they said “and like Anakin.”

Seriously, I’ve never felt so called out, or so seen. Yes, I’m a control freak, but so are a lot of people. It’s the ‘like Loki, like Anakin’, that really gets to the heart of it, to the heart of me. Because Loki is a control freak, and a villain, for a reason.

So let’s talk about Loki and Anakin and Sylvie and Rey and me. 

Towards the end of the first episode of the Loki series, “Glorious Purpose”, Loki explains:  

“I don’t enjoy hurting people. I don’t enjoy it. I do it because I have to, because I’ve had to. Because it’s part of the illusion.” he tells Mobius, “It’s the cruel, elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear.” Mobius then infers that it is “A desperate play for control.”  

‘The cruel elaborate trick conjured by the weak to inspire fear’ is a beautiful image. Tom Hiddleston delivers the line with the perfect amount of poetry and weariness.

Loki is a very specific kind of villain. There are villains who are presented as simply evil: Sauron, Voldemort, Palpatine, President Snow. They want power and authority over everybody else. That’s it. And then there are villains who pretend to be that kind of villain. The ones who choose the role. Magneto and Daenerys seek power through violence in order to build a better world than the one they grew up in. Darth Vader and Kylo Ren and Loki, particularly the one we see in the first Avengers movie, choose to embody the villain, to put on a mask and hurt people, because they think they have to. These characters are scared that they’re actually that first kind of villain. Because they are powerful. Because they are needy. Because they have bad blood. Because others perceive them as monsters. Because they want control. They start to question if they have a choice, or if they ever did, to be the villain or not. And then it’s too late. The Dark Side won. The illusion is the only thing left to hide all that anxiety behind, and the villain is the only thing left to be.

And then they get stuck there, because every villainous thing they do reasserts their villainy. And in each case their turn back requires someone else saying you do have a choice. Even now, after all you’ve done, you have a capacity for good. Luke says it to Anakin. Rey says it to Ben. Thor says it to Loki. And none of them change right away. That’s not how it works. They have to make the choice themselves.

That telling though, that’s important. External validation is important. It’s needed to combat the external negation they have internalized. Loki episode four, “The Nexus Event”, makes this explicit. Mobius tells Loki “You could be whoever, whatever you wanna be, even someone good.” It’s the same message Thor gave Loki in Ragnarok. But Mobius adds “just in case anyone ever told you different.” 

I am consistently hard on the Jedi for their treatment of Anakin, starting from that very first council meeting when they tell a traumatized nine year old that his love and fear for his mother will lead directly to suffering. Because we know the outcome, Yoda’s line is prophetic. I have seen a hundred different artistic takes of the words overlaid on the stages of Anakin’s life. They are all heartbreaking. It is devastating, but inevitable, that the cute little nine year old street racer turns into the destructive cyborg who murders people across space zoom on a whim. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

But think about it from Anakin’s point of view. He’s a child with no formal education whatsoever. He’d never been off planet because he would literally blow up if he tried. I absolutely believe he saw this happen, probably more than once. He was indoctrinated to feel fear at all times so he would do whatever Watto asked. They take that kid, a precocious but uneducated, compassionate, daredevil slave who loves his mom, and they put him in a room at the top of a tower, in the middle of a city that covers an entire planet and is the center of galactic politics. They surround him with a group of reserved scholar monks who are literally called Masters and put him through a bunch of weird tests to prove he’s worthy of their magic school. And they shame him for being scared. 

Being scared on Tatooine keeps you alive! You can’t turn that off without therapy.

And then, they reject him for being too old. And they are correct. Anakin does not have the youngling foundation required to become a successful Jedi and Obi-Wan, who graduates about five minutes before taking on Anakin’s training, is not in a position to provide it. But they don’t tell Anakin any of that, they don’t tell him why he’s too old. They don’t actually tell Anakin anything. They tell Qui-Gon, and then they all get into an argument about Anakin’s future while he stands there feeling rejected and afraid.

I know I sound like a broken record about this, but it’s important to me. The goal of trauma-informed care is to avoid retraumatzing the victim. The Jedi completely fail to do that with Anakin, and with Ahsoka, and with Boba Fett, and even with Luke. Instead of meeting them where they are — in distress — the Jedi tell them, through words and actions, that their feelings are a failing. That they lead to anger, hate, and suffering. Ahsoka and Luke reject that teaching but Anakin and Boba internalize the message that they are flawed, that they are bad, that they are villains.

Loki and Ben Solo are brought up with love, but also with lies. Loki is raised to hate frost giants and then finds out he is one. And the truth about Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker is kept from Ben, and the whole rest of the galaxy, so no one can learn from it. In both cases, the secret and the secrecy, affect their relationships with their parents, their family, despite everyone’s best intentions. Loki and Ben are related to monsters and it colors the interactions they have with Odin, Frigga, Han, Leia, and Luke. Loki is also given the mantle ‘god of mischief’ and trained in deception, while Palpatine invades Ben’s mind under the guise of various evil doers. All of this is traumatic and while not an excuse for villainy, it is a reason.

Rey and Sylvie are different. First of all, neither is presented as a villain in their story. The TVA calls Sylvie a villain, but the story does not. And Rey is the hero of the sequel trilogy. However, both are related to monsters in the same way Loki and Ben are, and both are depicted, deliberately, as angry. Rey and Sylvie embody, and gain power from, quote unquote negative or dark emotions.

I recently retweeted a question from at-cis-het-coded, and I liked the question and my answer so much I made it the pinned tweet on my profile for a while. They asked “Why do people hate characters that react to trauma realistically” and I answered “Because it goes against the ingrained social norms of having a stiff upper lip, building resilience, and being a survivor.” Sylvie and Rey and Ben and Loki and especially Anakin are not supposed to react with anger. They are not supposed to cry, the way Anakin does, in the council and on Mustafar. They are not supposed to want revenge the way Sylvie does. They are not supposed to have a tantrum like Ben or seek power like Loki. They are supposed to respond to their trauma with acceptance through connection to the Force, like Rey does, eventually, in The Rise of Skywalker.

I absolutely consider my own resilience, my perseverance, to be one of my core qualities. And one of my most positive. And I absolutely credit my traumatic childhood with building that resilience. However, I reject completely the idea that I should be grateful for my trauma or proud that I got through it without becoming a supervillain. I reject completely the idea that I should suppress my anger or my tears, and frankly, I hate the idea of polite society. I’m not a villain. But I am loud. I am demanding. I wear my damage with defiance.

I don’t like Rey at the end of The Rise of Skywalker because she’s turned into someone I’m not. Someone who fits into the Jedi box. In contrast I love Sylvie at the end of Loki. She’s a destructive mess, I wouldn’t like it if that was the last we’d see of her. But I see so much of me in Sylvie. And I want to keep it.

Healing trauma, moving past it, is vitally important. Anakin and Ben get stuck. Post Return of the Jedi Luke and Leia get stuck. And it’s destructive for the whole galaxy. If Rey is happy, I’m happy for Rey. I want Loki and Sylvie to find happiness, too. But happiness isn’t the erasure of trauma. It is in many ways that acceptance that the Jedi preach. And that’s why Rey’s end, her end so far, is a good one if you consider the Jedi to be pure. If you, like me, have more in common with Anakin, the resolution is too glib. 

“Unforgivable Sinner” was released by Norwegian singer Lene Marlin more than two decades ago, but it’s stuck with me and made it onto more than one playlist. Because I love sinners. And I don’t think any of them are unforgivable. That first kind of villain, the ones who don’t want to be forgiven, who don’t care about anyone else… They bore me. My sinners are the ones who care too much.

My favorite episode of Loki is the penultimate, episode five, “Journey Into Mystery” where we meet all the Lokis and they ultimately conspire to go on the offense. I start crying whenever I hear Classic Loki’s theme music, his storyline is so beautiful. And he has this line that stays with me and also makes me cry: “We’re broken, every version of us. Forever. And whenever one of us dares try to fix themselves, they’re sent here to die.” 

It’s that word try. Yoda doesn’t like it but I’m the anti-Yoda. The universe is stacked against every Loki, and every Skywalker, and there are so many days, especially this last year, it felt impossible to me, too. Like I was a Loki, unforgivable and unfixable. But our Loki, and Sylvie, and Classic Loki and Kid Loki and Mobius and Hunter B-15, all people the multiverse considers too dangerous to even exist, they all keep trying anyway. They care too much. I can’t, I can’t see that as bad.

Follow my playlists on YouTube and Spotify and after the episode, the song I’ve discussed will immediately play. Links can be found at anakin.me. That’s A-N-A-K-I-N-dot-M-E. Please follow, like, subscribe and tell all of your friends to do the same. [🎵Accessing] See you next time and may the Force be with you. [ 🎵]

My single “Robots Don’t Cry” is still available on itunes, Amazon, Spotify and more. To celebrate the release, I commissioned the artist Danielle Balanqua, who you can find at  b-a-l-a-n-g-a-w-a,  balangawa, on instagram, to create a series of ten artworks featuring droids and their best friends.

Today’s droid is D-O with Rey.

I have a lot of conflicting emotions about The Rise of Skywalker but D-O is a cutie and I will always, always love Rey’s connection to broken things. Rey understands that nothing and no one is unfixable. And I love her for it. 

 Enjoy the art, and please, give “Robots Don’t Cry” a listen.

Endless Anakin is a Manic Pixie Dust production. Song: “Robots Don’t Cry”, Anika Dane

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