Years ago, I wrote and posted on a now-gone fan site about Anakin Skywalker in AOTC and what he endures in his process of “initiation.” In fact, it was recalling this essay that kind of inspired me to do this series in the first place!
In TPM, Anakin begins his journey on mostly a triumphant note. He wins the podrace and helps win the battle of Naboo, saving the day for his new friends. He leaves the slavery and poverty on Tatooine behind to begin on the path to becoming a Jedi. But in AOTC, Anakin is tested emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The simplicity in which his story ends in TPM gives way to confusion and turmoil in the second film of the prequel trilogy.
Anakin’s son Luke goes through something similar in TESB; after scoring the big win against the Empire, Luke starts getting his butt kicked literally from the beginning of the film and it doesn’t stop until Darth Vader maims him and drops the bomb on the real story of his parentage. But with Anakin, it’s everything Luke endures along with the surging hormones of young man in his late teens who wants what he cannot have.
The original essay I wrote 13-14 years ago focused on how Anakin is emasculated throughout the film. Instead of getting attacked by a wampa, Anakin’s first suffering onscreen is meeting with Padmé again after a decade. He hasn’t forgotten about her and the puppy love of his childhood has a new layer of sexual attraction. Anakin at this point is likely still a virgin; the Jedi might not be celibate per Lucas’s comments on the issue but I somehow doubt Obi-Wan took his padawan to the galactic Bunny Ranch as soon as he was legal. Obi-Wan was busy giving Anakin tips on the Force, not on his “game” with women. So in his nervousness and inexperience, Anakin doesn’t know how else to express his attraction other than to just blurt out what he’s feeling. The first thing he does is fumble in complimenting Padmé’s beauty. Luke got a big hairy paw to the face; Anakin gets shot down immediately when Padmé tells him, “You’re still that little boy I knew on Tatooine.” As earthlings would say, he got friendzoned. Anakin’s manhood is flat out dismissed by the woman he desires.
But it doesn’t stop there. Anakin tries to impress and reassure Padmé at the same time that he and Obi-Wan will track down those responsible for her near-asssassination. Obi-Wan reminds him that he’s overstepping the authority given to them. When Anakin rebelliously blurts out, “Why?” Obi-Wan, right in front of Padmé, sharply rebukes Anakin like he’s a young child. This is followed by a really awkward silence that even makes Jar Jar uncomfortable. We’re not even 15 minutes into the film and Anakin is emasculated twice already.
Anakin’s next emasculating moment is when he and Padmé visit the Queen upon their arrival on Naboo. Up until this point, Anakin and Padmé start to develop a rapport of equals in spite of Anakin yet again awkwardly trying to flirt with her on the trip over. Then they go see the current queen of Naboo. Padme starts discussing where she’s going into hiding with the queen and apparently this is the first Anakin’s heard of this. Worse yet, Padmé tells the queen Anakin’s just a learner. He interjects with great annoyance that he’s in charge of security. He tries to assert his dominance and authority but Padmé has none of it. She tells Anakin she knows Naboo better than he does and if he was smart, he’d listen to her. You can literally watch Anakin swallow his pride even though Padmé has basically cut him off at the knees in front of everybody. Why doesn’t Anakin fight back any further? Is it because he knows she’s right, is it because he is in love with her, or maybe a little bit of both?
When Anakin and Padmé share their first kiss, it’s Padmé who stops him mid-kiss (in a funny side note, the score literally droops as this happens). After Anakin declares his feelings for her, she insists that kind of relationship isn’t possible.
If that wasn’t enough, Anakin is too late to save his mother. All of his powers and skills can do no other good than to get revenge on the Sand People.
The more obvious symbolisms of emasculation takes place on Geonosis. First, Anakin’s lightsaber is cut in half and destroyed. (Anakin almost loses his lightsaber earlier in the film, another emasculation symbol.) Later on, Anakin loses his forearm in a lightsaber battle with Dooku. The “symbolic castration” he later delivers on Luke is done unto him first by an older man who was both a more powerful Jedi and a more powerful Sith. Anakin returns the humiliation in a more fatal way in ROTS.
Is Lucas doing this just to be mean to poor Anakin? No. Emasculation and symbolic castration have long been part of rituals in many societies visited upon teenage and pre-pubescent boys designed to initiate them into manhood. They are not considered men unless they have faced their fears, including that of injury and mutilation. It is also a part of mythology throughout many cultures. It is what Anakin has to endure—the trials if you will—before he is worthy of becoming a man.
A good portion of the film shows Anakin as daring, fearless, and ruthless in pursuing his duties but he doesn’t want to believe he still needs help. It’s interesting to note that Anakin has three primary mentors in this film: Palpatine, who is of course evil and is giving him nothing but bad advice to manipulate him; Obi-Wan; and Padmé. The first thing Padmé tries to teach him is not to grow up too fast and to not chafe at having to listen to someone with more experience but Anakin believes he’s “already there.” The movie is supposed to teach him that he isn’t but as Anakin says to Dooku in a surprising moment of honesty, he’s a slow learner.
Of course where Padmé guides him next is in matters of love. She is resisting on her own part but because of her age (she’s the older one), her wisdom, and unlike Anakin, being of the world, she is the one who sets the pace of the relationship. Anakin gets close when she allows him to and he backs off when that is what she wants. It isn’t until she is faced with her own mortality on Geonosis and after sharing moments of joy and utter horror with Anakin that she is ready to take things further. If Anakin succeeds at anything in AOTC, he proves to Padmé not only of his own devotion to her but that his potential as a man is enough for her to leap into a secret marriage. Regardless of her own experience, Padmé is in all likelihood the one who “made a man” out of Anakin. He grows into a lover and a husband in their marriage bed.
It’s interesting to note that in AOTC, Anakin kind of slouches. The way he walks and gestures is that of a teenage boy. In ROTS, Anakin stands tall and looks more assured which also reflects his character on The Clone Wars for the most part. It seems that whatever success he has as a Jedi owes of course to Obi-Wan’s tutelage but also to having Padmé’s emotional support.