The Clone Wars Season 3 Episode 17: Ghosts of Mortis
As the finale of a trilogy that has generated more confusion and controversy than any prior TCW story, Ghosts of Mortis was a high-stakes episode for which many people had extremely high expectations. If you were hoping for answers to a lot of Mortis questions, you might have been disappointed with this episode, as it left many confusing story elements up in the air and managed to raise a few new questions along the way. Even so, I personally thought this was a really good episode. The Mortis trilogy is certainly one of the most epic stories in the history of The Clone Wars, and there was no way this 22-minute finale could satisfy everyone. The issue at hand, namely the balance of the Force in the universe, was too big in scope to completely address. Given the impossibility of a truly "satisfying" conclusion to the Mortis story, I am surprised to see so much backlash against this episode. Ghosts of Mortis had a number of very impressive scenes, and there were a few moments that really made me step back and appreciate how well The Clone Wars is weaving its stories into the six films.
Let's start with the sights and sounds. The stormy effects in the beginning of the episode were a great way to start things off, because they nearly made me forget that I was watching an animated series. From the facial expressions to the terrain and weather, everything on this show is starting to feel so realistic -- major kudos to the folks at Lucasfilm for that. I also liked the echo effect that we heard with Ahsoka's voice when she was in the shuttle's maintenance bay. That's a nice touch that lent another dimension of authenticity to the episode. Two musical cues at the end of the second act are definitely worth mentioning. The first cue is the faint strain of the Imperial March that starts when Dark Side Anakin walks up the shuttle ramp and ends when Ahsoka creeps out of the ship to escape. The second musical cue starts a few seconds later when Anakin storms out of the shuttle and ends when the scene fades to black. I really liked the final note that plays while Anakin watches Ahsoka speed away in the distance.
This episode featured another great sweeping landscape shot, giving us a glimpse of a new part of Mortis as Father entered his daughter's tomb. I also really liked the Well of the Force, which naturally foreshadowed Mustafar in its appearance. The camera angles complemented the scope of the chamber nicely, with a few nice shots of Anakin descending into its depths and great dramatic music as he arrived. As a side note, "the Well of the Force" is a great name for a vacation spot. "You'll feel as good as new when you relax in our mud baths and see a glimpse into your terrifying future!"
The subtitle of this episode might as well have been, "It's hard out there for a Chosen One." Anakin Skywalker's issues with attachment and stubbornness were clear from the very beginning of the episode, when he disregarded Obi-Wan's advice and dashed off to stop Son. Before he left, he told Obi-Wan that if Father didn't approve their escape from Mortis, "It'll haunt me forever." This was the first of many lines that held significant meaning given Anakin's eventual fall to the Dark Side. It could have been taken as a random dramatic statement, but in reality it was a seed planted to demonstrate Anakin's complex emotional battle with his destiny and the way he grappled with the Force itself.
When Anakin saw the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn, he wasn't sure what the deceased Jedi Master was asking him to do. He presented two black-and-white actions (leave Mortis or kill the Son), but Qui-Gon told him to look beyond these polar opposites at the gray area in between them. Even when Qui-Gon told him to trust his instincts, Anakin asked, "How can I know?" Ultimately this is an indication of Anakin's lack of confidence, which has been brought about by his anxiety over being the Chosen One. Before Qui-Gon leaves, he tells Anakin to, "Face your demons." In this case, Anakin must confront Son, but eventually, of course, he embraces his biggest demon when he joins Palpatine as a Sith.
There is some debate as to whether Qui-Gon really appeared to Anakin, or if it was actually Father tricking him into confronting his deviant offspring. My guess is that it was truly Qui-Gon, and here's why. We need to consider Father's motives in all this. He wants to stop his Son, which he isn't sure he can do alone, and he also wants to keep Anakin from falling to the Dark Side. In the scene, the image of Qui-Gon advocates neither escape nor confrontation. He tells Anakin to trust his feelings, which is exactly what the living Qui-Gon would have said. Father, as a conduit of the Force, knows that Anakin is going to become corrupted by the Dark Side. If he wanted to do everything in his power to save the all-important Chosen One, then why would he not tell Anakin to flee Mortis immediately when he took the form of Qui-Gon? The apparition of Qui-Gon didn't give Anakin a clear task. If it had really been Father, I think he would have been clearer about his instructions, given the urgency of the situation.
Anakin then travels to the Well of the Force, where he is confronted by the Son. Anakin isn't comforted by Son's promise to show Anakin his future; rather, he's afraid of doing it. Has he already experienced premonitions about possibly becoming a monster? Have the dreams that plagued him in Revenge of the Sith already begun? Perhaps Anakin's hesitation was a result of some natural fear of seeing what mortals shouldn't see, but I think it's bigger than that. In any event, Son breaks the laws of time and shows Anakin what will come to pass, "A Christmas Carol"-style.
If there was one scene that made Ghosts of Mortis an instant success, it had to be this one. From "lightning Sidious" to "choking Padmé", from "anguished Obi-Wan" to "exploding Alderaan", and from "I hate you" to "You were my brother, Anakin!", there has never been a scene this chilling and powerful in the history of the series. And to top it all off, we got an image of Anakin reaching out in despair in front of the smoky image of Darth Vader's mask. It was all fantastic foreshadowing, even if I can't figure out who that Jedi Padawan was -- maybe it was just an omen of the Purge.
By revealing Anakin's destiny, Son's goal was to enhance the Chosen One's fears about his destiny and win him over with the promise of preventing it. Presumably Anakin saw more imagery than we did, or else he couldn't know that he would help oversee Alderaan's destruction. Of course, no such scene would be complete without the obligatory Sith dialog. "Join me and together" has become the stock phrase of Dark Side conversions. By offering to help Anakin destroy "this Emperor you see in your visions" and the great darkness that Palpatine represents, he is unknowingly giving young Skywalker the very words that Vader will later use in his attempt to sway Luke. Unlike his son, however, Anakin is at this point susceptible to such tactics. He naively asks Son if they will bring peace -- this seems to be the buzzword in convincing Anakin to turn to the Dark Side, given how Palpatine promises the same thing in his office in Revenge of the Sith.
"Dark Side Anakin" was a bit different from Ahsoka in her poisoned state. While both had Sith eyes and twisted faces, Anakin seemed to be more in control of himself than Ahsoka was. He didn't seem to hate Obi-Wan when his former Master showed up in the Well, despite the fact that Dark Side Ahsoka hated both male Jedi in the previous episode. Perhaps his brainwashing was more willful than Ahsoka's, because Son's encouragement struck him more profoundly than was the case with the young Togruta. Plus, when Anakin said that he knew how he had to end the Clone Wars, he sounded distinctly like pre-armor Vader in ROTS -- another excellent foreshadowing technique.
I found it interesting that Anakin later accepted not remembering what he once knew about the future. It's a reminder of his earlier resistance to seeing his fate when Son promised to show him. When Father tells Anakin that he erased his memory of the future, Anakin almost looked scared at the very thought of once knowing. He also seemed worried that Father found it so important to perform the erasure, as if the fact that he must not know his fate means that it is something of extreme consequence. It is nature to be afraid of a future that must happen without your foreknowledge, especially if your nickname is "the Chosen One." This worry about the future reminds us of how Anakin's fear transforms him into Vader in ROTS.
After Ghosts of Mortis, I'm more convinced than ever that Son was a living, breathing omen of Anakin's fate. He told Anakin, "We really don't have to be enemies," foretelling young Skywalker's eventual allegiance with the Dark Side. When Anakin responded that "the Force is out of balance," Son correctly replied that Anakin didn't have to kill him. After all, it wasn't Anakin's destiny to destroy the Dark Side (or defeat any supreme example of it) just yet. Even though Son spent most of the episode playing the villain, he had a rare moment of "humanity" when he visited his sister's tomb. It was interesting to see Son feel sad, regretful, and almost guilty about his sister's death -- he's not "pure" evil in the sense we normally mean. Son's mournful remark in the tomb really illuminated the similarities between him and Anakin: "It's ironic, my sister. You were the only one I truly loved." Sound familiar? Yes, it's yet another indication that Anakin will see his loved ones dying on his path to darkness.
Father's role in this episode was perhaps the most intriguing. He started things off with an emotional visit to Daughter's tomb. Before he left, he told her, "Sleep well, my child. Sleep free." To me, this symbolized his relief that Daughter no longer had to play a role in maintaining the Force. It was clear that the strain of balancing the universe was taking its toll on Father. When Dark Side Anakin confronted him, Father realized that Skywalker was in danger of falling irredeemably to the Dark Side. His last piece of advice before undoing Son's corruption was, "Your destiny can change as quickly as the love in one's heart can fade."
Even though I've already praised the foreshadowing scene as my favorite part of this episode, I also want to say that the line I just quoted about the fluid nature of destiny was my single favorite piece of dialog from Ghosts of Mortis. It was a great summary of the nature of one's destiny: namely, that Anakin should not let his preoccupation with the future overwhelm his focus on the present. It was a warning to, as Qui-Gon would say, "Keep your concentration here and now, where it belongs." At the same time, Father's statement foreshadowed a point where Anakin would ignore this advice and lose everything, thanks to the fading of Padmé's love and the cessation of her heartbeat.
Between this advice and the earlier foreshadowing, you wouldn't blame Anakin for being enormously freaked out when he confronts Father. Not to worry, though, because deus ex machina was there to save him! To be fair, Father partially erasing Anakin's mind was not all bad from storytelling perspective. -- it allowed us to see Anakin reacting to his future without forcing him to continue living in that state of mind. However, the same explanation could be rephrased as follows: "It was a cheap excuse to give us that epic scene without any meaningful ramifications." I prefer to look at it from the former perspective. No one can say that the foreshadowing scene itself ceased to be impressive (from an animation and presentation perspective) after Anakin forgot what he saw. Plus, it was only a partial erasure; they still remembered everything else when they returned to reality. Judging from my Twitter feed, some people thought the Jedi would forget all about Mortis by the end of the episode. I'd say this was a better outcome than that.
But now, back to my discussion of Father's role. When he killed himself, he eliminated Son's powers, allowing Anakin to defeat Son like a regular mortal. Symbolically, this meant that the balance in the Force itself gave life to the energy of both sides. In other words, two halves of the same picture instantly become meaningless without the entity that makes them one picture. As Father told Son, "Your strength runs through me." In the same way, it seems like the strength of the Jedi and the Sith both flow through the balance that connects them to the overall Force. I do have to wonder, though: If Father's death rendered Son mortal, why was that Son's goal in Altar of Mortis? Is it possible that Son would have remained immortal if Father had died but Daughter hadn't (thus the real reason for his grief at her loss)? We'll probably never find out, but I don't think that diminishes the impact of Father's sacrifice and Son's defeat.
With his dying breath, Father warned Anakin that he would do terrible things, but he also advised him to try his best to stick to the Light. "My heart is broken knowing the role you will play," Father said, indicating that Anakin will eventually fulfill his role as the Chosen One but that he should beware his heart in the meantime. This reminder about the danger of his "heart" is, of course, another indication that Padmé will be his undoing. Then Father died, and all around Mortis, rocks and other topographical features started falling apart. With the death of the Force's guardians, the environment on Mortis, just like the climate of reality, began to unravel.
Just like most of us assumed, everything "on Mortis" occurred in the span of a moment. I was half expecting Ahsoka to look around the cabin and say, "You were there, Skyguy! And you, Master Kenobi, you were there too!" Even so, despite this predictable ending, I really liked Ghosts of Mortis. Anakin's temporary poisoning after seeing the future symbolized his real-world descent into darkness as a result of his anxiety. Even though he forgot his future, he understood (from Father) that he used to know it. The nagging anxiety about what will happen next and how powerless he is to avoid it will inevitably compound his worries about following the wrong path as a Jedi. All of this, coupled with his aforementioned attachment to Padmé, makes him more susceptible to Palpatine's promises to put him on the so-called right path.
In closing, I would like to present a quote from The Phantom Menace that I believe summarizes the meaning of the Mortis story arc. Just before Anakin left Tatooine with Qui-Gon, Shmi told him, "You can't stop change any more than you can stop the suns from setting." Anakin's single most tragic flaw is that he doesn't listen to these words of wisdom.