The Normalization of Domestic Violence in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’

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I’m working on a series for GeekMom about the positive emotional/social concepts the new spate of Star Wars comics has helped me introduce to my younglings. I’m excited about both the sharing of the comics and the writing of said bloggy bits.

I’m interrupting myself, however, because the evil Spock mirror lessons (yup, mixing my fandoms) are important as well, perhaps even more so. Because the other night, I was finishing up the last season of The Clone Wars and was presented with a chilling reality (figurative reality): Even a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, domestic violence is present and accepted by the majority.

Herein lie spoilers for the final season of The Clone Wars.

Herein, far more importantly, lies a discussion of domestic abuse and the cycle of abuse.  Please proceed according to your own limits and level of comfort with the subject.

Earlier this year, we showed I and Z the original trilogy (known in our house as “The Only Three Star Wars Movies to This Point”). They were immediately enamored and wanted more. Neither the hubs nor myself had watched The Clone Wars, scarred as we were by “Those Movies That Don’t Exist,” the last of which I have only ever consumed with the accompanying RiffTrax, but we decided to give it a go because what Geek Parents says “no” when their children beg for more Star Wars.

The Clone Wars is decent. It is, perhaps, more violent than the few other programs our kids watch at the ripe ages of three and six but it is, for the most part, bloodless and non-personal and very science-fictiony. It also fostered a really, really good conversation about peaceful problem solving and conflict resolution so something positive did emerge.

We chugged happily along until the end of season four when a certain Sith Lord, thought long dead, turns out to be not so dead. In his exile, he has gone completely off his rocker and he is terrifying. The girl asked us to turn the episode off, which she has never, ever, ever done with an episode of anything ever in her life. I pre-screened the next few, as did the hubs, and we decided that it was time to switch over to Rebels so as to avoid nightmares and the transformation of something the kids love into something they fear.

I decided to persevere on my own because I was still digging the show’s vibe.  Because it was giving me some Obi-Wan I hadn’t had before and redeemed Anakin as a character to some extent, because it was adding some subtlety to both the Jedi and Sith sides of things. And because I was enjoying it.

Come season six.

The first half of season six has a really interesting storyline involving a clone’s malfunctioning inhibitor chip, inducing him to Execute Order Sixty-Six, and thus a Jedi general, before the appointed time. That story line wraps up and things are awkward for a few episodes. I don’t know if the writers knew they were cancelled and surrendered the effort or what, but by episode seven or eight, I was watching because I was almost done and I have a thing about not finishing what I’ve started.

Enter “The Lost Missions.”

Padmé is sent to Scipio to discuss the Republic’s loans with the banking clan.  While there, she encounters Clovis, who was once her friend, perhaps more, and who betrayed the Republic. He has uncovered discrepancies in the banking clan’s accounts that are damaging to the Republic and, claiming he wants to make amends, shares this information with Padmé and returns to Coruscant with her to initiate Operation: Get Our Money Back. Anakin is displeased about this development, less because Clovis is a traitor and more because Clovis once had a thing with his wife.

Stuff happens, and more stuff. Come to an evening where Clovis and Padmé are in her apartments planning the next step of their investigation. Clovis leans in, Padmé backs up. Awkward. They talk for a while, he makes another play, grabbing her and trying to kiss her.

Which, by the way, is far beyond awkward.

It’s assault.

Anakin, of course, chooses this moment to walk in, ostensibly to check on his wife. In her own home. Uninvited (culture note: Jedi aren’t supposed to form emotional attachments to people. They’re certainly not supposed to be married.  Anakin and Padmé’s marriage is a “secret;” her Senate apartments are hers, not theirs). He sees Clovis and Padmé and he completely loses his mind.  He beats the crap out of Clovis despite Padmé begging him repeatedly not to.

In her home.

There is no doubt that Clovis is a jerk. He’s smarmy and gross and he’s a liar.  He’s a traitor and he is a sexual predator.

Anakin, however, doesn’t wail on him for being smarmy or a liar or a traitor.  Anakin doesn’t even wail on him for grabbing Padmé which, while still uncool, would maybe satisfy a part of my brain I’m not always real proud of.

No. Anakin attacks Clovis because Clovis made a play for his property.

And yes, I am still talking about Padmé. His wife.

This is not a grand love story. This is not a man defending his lady’s honor (which is a trope I’m not terribly fond of but hey, we all need help sometimes, right?). This is the story of one man putting his hands were they oughtn’t to be and another getting rage-y because that place is someone who’s supposed to be his. This fight isn’t about Padmé; it’s two Alphas playing dominance games.

This is also not the first time Anakin’s behavior has frightened Padmé.

This is the cycle of abuse.

In the aftermath, Padmé tells a contrite (but aren’t they always) Anakin that he needs to leave her home because, “I don’t feel safe.” She says she doesn’t want to see him for a while. That she’s afraid of this rage in him and she isn’t going to tolerate it.

Property of Disney/Lucasfilm
Property of Disney/Lucasfilm

Good for her. That is the hardest part, as we are all well aware.

To his credit, Anakin does leave when asked.

Not long after, however, Padmé is captured (damn it, who put this refrigerator here) and, rather than honoring her request to keep his anger out of her life, Anakin accepts Yoda’s order to go after Padmé because Anakin supposedly loves her and because he thinks he’ll be redeemed in her eyes if he saves her from Clovis and the danger into which Clovis has put her.

There are plenty of other Jedi who could go on this mission. There are, in fact, always a ton of them hanging out at the Temple training and plotting. But Anakin says nothing, and his compatriots, who it is implied know a great deal, if not all of what is going on send him anyway.

Anakin saves the day and restores his nobility by attempting to save Clovis. He, of course, saves Padmé. And as the couple sits amidst the ruins of their mission, they embrace and Padmé apologizes for being wrong about Clovis. Anakin magnanimously accepts her apology.

Wait, what?

How does saving her life change anything? How does it erase him terrifying her with his violent behavior? Why does it make her beholden to him?

Why is she the one apologizing?

This isn’t a love story.

It isn’t romantic.

It is the cycle of abuse.

And the aforementioned compatriots who know what’s going on? Some of whom even claim to be Padmé’s friends? All of whom know exactly what Anakin is capable of, who could intervene but who remain silent because, of course (*sarcasm font*) Anakin must be allowed to make his own decisions, to show that he is worthy of the Jedi mantle, never mind that someone else may be hurt, or killed, in the process?

Obi-Wan approaches Anakin about the possibility of his going too far in the abstract, spouting cryptic BS instead of doing anything, and then wanders away. Yoda gives Anakin a lot of significant looks but, worse even than Obi-Wan, doesn’t say anything let alone take any action. Because clearly, testing Anakin is more important than stepping in to keep him from crossing any sort of line. A line that may very well involve him snapping and killing someone.

Oh, wait. He does kill people.

He kills the younglings.

And then he kills his pregnant wife.

This is not a tragic love story.

This is the cycle of abuse and it should never be something men use to prove their point or carry their own story forward.

I don’t care how long ago or how far away.

This should never be okay.  It should never be normal. Neither in beloved fiction nor in life.

Take note, padawans.

Speak up.

Do something.

Be better than Obi-Wan. Be better than Yoda. Be better than your heroes.

It is within your power to save a life or, at the very least, to try.

Thus endeth the lesson.

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4 thoughts on “The Normalization of Domestic Violence in ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’

  1. Amen!

    The Anakin – Padmé story is horrific in every way, and she is diminished in it.

    I get it. He’s evil.

    But making her weak just to promote his evil story is terrible writing and storytelling.

    It’s also not made clear just how bad it is.

  2. Yeah. I don’t know why you’re surprised that former slave and future mass murder Anakin doesn’t have a handle on relationships. Or that someone who spent her teens as an elected queen doesn’t know a lot about good personal decisions. The show is not normalizing anything it is showing a story about messed up people and the consequences. Even if Lucas intended their story to be some sort of tragic love story, the writing and acting of their story is creepy and disturbing throughout the prequels making them seem like damaged people grasping at each other for some sort of human contact.

    In fact, the show and the prequel movies are basically one long demonstration of the bad decisions the main characters make. There are no positive lessons to be taken from anything that happens in that era. The Jedi are arrogant and blind and everyone in the entire show is being manipulated by evil forces. That’s not exactly a recipie for the typical lessons you find in a nice kids cartoon.

  3. I think that it is a show of how far down the path of the dark side Anakin went. How he struggled from the beginning. It is not a surprise to me how he is aggressive about Padme and how he does these things. I mean look at the person he turned into later. But does that mean that Padme should have apologized to him? Absolutely not! She should have been stronger and continued to push Anakin away, you don’t forget something like that and also what he did to “save” her.

  4. well said and well taken. we have to expect better of our fiction. not that i know how to write fiction. but. i know it is possible to do better.

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