Concerning Mortis and the Symbology of the Force

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Within the films, Star Wars has given audiences the Force — the mysterious energy field that binds all living things together. Those who can tap into that energy field either serve benevolent purposes (the Jedi), or they embody the selfish and deleterious evil of the dark side (the Sith)…“The Mortis Trilogy,” from Season 3 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is a story in which the anti-hero, Anakin Skywalker, may learn that maintaining the muddiness of the ethereal waters is essential to preventing the galaxy from ripping itself apart — rather than engaging in a sojourn of purification aligned with what the Jedi believe to be destined for the “Chosen One.”

The Anthropomorphic Moral Dilemma

Within the films, Star Wars has given audiences the Force — the mysterious energy field that binds all living things together. Those who can tap into that energy field either serve benevolent purposes (the Jedi), or they embody the selfish and deleterious evil of the dark side (the Sith). From the original film, it appears that the goal of those who follow the light endeavor to destroy the darkness, thus achieving peace in the galaxy. It seems a rather simple conceit, until the proverbial waters are muddied, as the audience finds out the driving force for what is good in our protagonist, Luke, is also the face of evil — Darth Vader.

Daughter
Daughter

“The Mortis Trilogy,” from Season 3 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is a story in which the anti-hero in question, Anakin Skywalker, may learn that maintaining the muddiness of those waters is essential to preventing the galaxy from ripping itself apart, rather than engaging in a sojourn of purification. Lucas continues to draw upon the mythology of Earth civilizations to forge that galaxy far, far away. In an effort to explain the great campaign between good and evil, every culture, every civilization, every religion known to man has documented the concept anthropomorphically, the essence of each personified in corporeal form – be it human or animal. For Lucas, the nature of the good side is embodied by the Daughter, the first of the entities exhibited on the strange interior of Mortis’ octahedronous form. The dark side later materializes as the Son, the crimson-eyed, clean-shaven, ancient Sith-looking being who causes great danger for the trio.

Son
Son

Later, Anakin finds their father, the Star Wars equivalent of Tehuti, the Kemetic deity responsible for maintaining Ma’at, the principle of balance and reciprocity – often symbolized by a scale throughout the temples and pyramids of Northeastern Africa. Sitting upon a throne that balances the manifestations of the light side and the dark side of the force, the Father declares his neutrality in this epic struggle, perennially maintaining a firm hand on the leash that separates the two warring siblings, and begs Anakin to replace him in this task upon his death. As the two discuss the prophesy of the “Chosen One,” Obi-Wan and Ahsoka witness first-hand the continuing titanic skirmish. Even the world itself appears to play a role in the cyclic nature of this war, as the day brings forth rebirth and light, while the night signifies death and dangerous storms. If it is permissible to use the Nile Valley story of Ausar (whom the Greeks called Osiris), and given the Father might represent Tehuti, then the Daughter denotes Heru, the symbol of good, while the Son could signify Set, the symbol of evil and jealousy. Indeed, people of the Nile often used the diurnal movement of the sun as an allegory for the constant clash between good and evil, the cyclical nature of life and death. When Heru would win, the day came. Once Set regained the upper hand, night would fall. It is no coincidence, then, that the Jedi arrive in the day to the greeting of the Daughter, yet only spot the Son after the darkness prevails.

Father
Father

Concerning Animals

Both the Son and the Daughter undergo deliberate permutations in the story, to that of a gargoyle and a griffin respectively — effigies of each appear to the left and right of the father’s throne in equal proportions. It’s rather interesting that Lucas, and the Clone Wars creative team, chose these two representations to typify the extremes of the Force. The griffin, half eagle, half lion, often are essential creatures in the mythic struggle of good and evil throughout human civilizations. In “The Griffin,” an article which appeared in The World & I, author Rachel Hajar writes that these creatures were, “…fabled to be the offspring of the lion and the eagle…,” the ultimate royalty of the animal kingdom. Throughout the ages, both animals have come to represent universal principles of royalty, strength, honor, bravery, ferocity, and valor. Their marriage represents the best of both worlds, and often, “…because of its ferocity, the griffin was also used as a talisman to ward off evil.” “As a guardian beast,” Hajar writes, “it protected sacred or symbolic objects by frightening those who would steal or desecrate them.” Some griffins, however, could also come to embody “fear and evil,” and many Mesopotamian societies would symbolize the victory over bestial forces as a humanoid god standing between two griffins — essentially acting as the, Master of the Griffins. The Daughter, who takes the form of the griffin, does essentially protect what is good about the Force from those who might corrupt its power. She continually battles her sibling for hegemony over its celestial powers, and she also demonstrates her frightening faculties in the kidnapping and restraint of Obi-Wan within the arena.

The Son transforms into the gargoyle, a rather curious choice for Lucas. Obviously, the crimson-eyed creature successfully characterizes the consuming darkness that befalls one who turns to the dark side of the Force — outwardly. This gargoyle, however, closely resembles the form of a bat — a rather controversial symbol for humanity, as its inherent nature meanders from that of good fortune to demonic witch familiar the further one travels. It is true that Western culture discerns the bat with satanic regard, consorting with witches and demons. Often, as angelic figures are afforded the wings of birds, demons take up the wings of bats within the void of night. Among Native Americans, in contrast, the bat is often depicted as the icon of rebirth, swarming out of the dark caves of Mother Earth, to live again among the creatures of the surface.

Though sometimes frightening creatures, gargoyles are not meant to signify evil. According to “The Mysterious World of Gargoyles,” found in a 1999 issue of Renaissance, author Cristina Pelayo writes that, “the word ‘gargoyle’ from the French ‘gargouille’, meaning throat, seems to reproduce the gurgling sound of water and air passing through the throat and, not surprisingly, it was used to refer to the sculptures affixed to rooftop drains and gutters.” One can often find many of these beastly manifestations adorning the great cathedrals and religious centers of Christianity, continuing to act as the “givers of water.” One can dig further into French mythology and find the medieval tale of La Gargouille, the fearsome dragon which emerged from the River Seine to spread its waters across the countryside, causing destructive floods.

Water is a universal symbol of life – without it, nothing exists as we currently know it. How curious, given that every discussion of physical life in Star Wars, the selfish protection of it, the creation of it through the manipulation of midi-chlorians, or magic, or cloning, the prevention of death, the rebirth, seems to revolve around the dark side — and the Sith. How curious that the anthropomorphic dark side recomposes into such a creature!

In Part 2 of this post next month, I’ll look at the relationship of this cosmic trinity to the path of the “Chosen One,” Anakin Skywalker. 

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I am a high school history teacher with a Master’s in Technology Use in Education, and I have also spent time teaching CompTIA A+ and Network+ courses to high school students. Recently, for five years, I coordinated my school’s AVID chapter, training students for the rigors of college.

I am also a commercial-rated and instrument-rated pilot, for single and multi-engine aircraft, and I have been flying since 2008. Presently, I am working on flight instructor ratings in my spare time.

Finally, I am a fitness enthusiast and a former teenage division bodybuilder. I’ve been conditioning since age 7, and I also hold a dan ranking in Yoseikan Aikido and Kobudo.

9 thoughts on “Concerning Mortis and the Symbology of the Force”

  1. Well said. I was never particularly fond of “Personifying” the Force with a triumvirate of entities. It felt a bit too simple to sum up the Force in this manner. I have been very much used to the Force being a noncorporeal part of the galaxy, coexisting with the physical traits of the cosmos, shaped by the will of the user, be they Jedi or Sith.

    Your examination has finally put this in perspective, because for the longest time, I have wondered about the significance of Mortis in terms of Jedi Prophecy (prophecies being muddied enough in their interpretations as it is)

    The Mortis episodes never seemed to have any significance that I could ascertain in terms of “the bigger picture”, never played into anything after Season 3, but I am looking forward to your next installment.

  2. Awesome entry, Adjua!

    Must admit, the Mortis Arc is my second favorite arc in TCW series. Loved your symbolic tie in(s), positively perfect 🙂

  3. Loved the Mortis Arc. I’ve watched it several times, just to let different parts sink in a bit better.

    You’ve really shed some light on the intricacies of the symbolism and underlying meaning of specific elements! I admit – I had to read this a couple of times before I followed you completely, and still not sure I grasp it all LOL!! Deep stuff…

    I still have trouble wrapping my head around the bigger picture of this whole thing. Perhaps because I still have trouble “letting go” of my attachment to Expanded Universe lore, but I still equate the essence of the story with Abeloth, as well as “The Ones”, the celestial beings mentioned in “Darth Plagueis”. To me, the fact that Mortis is canon, should automatically make these elements of the EU canon. But…that’s not your focus here (which I see you have carefully avoided….), and is perhaps a topic of debate for another time!

  4. Thanks for sharing your in-depth points with us. I enjoyed this first part very much, and look forward to the second part (which I’m going to read in just a few moments; I’m far behind on reading the CWK posts! In one regard, that isn’t such a bad thing since it enables me to go directly from part 1 to part 2. 🙂 ).

    I must admit that I don’t really agree with your hypothesis that Anakin strove to “learn that maintaining the muddiness of the ethereal waters is essential to preventing the galaxy from ripping itself apart.” Why settle for the muddiness? While I believe that much of what we see in life is gray rather than black or white, too often people (or characters) will let their own selfish desires lead them closer to the dark side. While few of us are truly saint-like, we can strive to walk as close to the Light Side as possible. The fact that Anakin succumbed to his own selfish desires shows he was not the Chosen One he was purported to be.

  5. Great analysis of this controversial arc!

    My only concern is that you attribute much of the creative decision-making with George Lucas, but in all my travels I’ve seen wide consensus that the Clone Wars and Rebels creative and story direction was headed by Dave Filoni. While Filoni has given interviews lauding GL’s involvement, i think it’s apparent to anyone who has suffered through the prequel trilogy that while GL has great ideas, when he is actively involved in directing or writing, his skills are not nearly as visionary. Apart from possibly hand picking elements included in the CW movie and first seasons, based on interviews with Filoni, it mostly sounds like GL was called in to OK episodes others had written and scripted.

    Lastly, Filoni has been promoted to oversee all Star Wars Animation, another testament to his obvious skill and excellence producing a remarkable salvage effort of Clone Wars, and the increasingly outstanding follow-up Rebels.

    Again, great analysis, just thought I’d put in my two cents.

    https://www.scifinow.co.uk/blog/the-clone-wars-how-involved-is-george-lucas-with-the-show-now/

    https://www.google.com/amp/io9.gizmodo.com/clone-wars-and-rebels-dave-filoni-is-now-in-charge-of-a-1787134065/amp

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