What causes someone to turn evil? The writers of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars and Cassandra in Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventure had to ask themselves this complex question when creating their characters’ life journeys. Both characters were to begin their quests as heroes but cross the finish line as villains. The writers’ goals were to have you sympathize with the characters and understand why they turned evil. But Anakin’s character arc spectacularly fails whereas Cassandra’s triumphs. Why is this? It is due to these three major differences between them: the subtlety of their arcs, the realism of characters around them, and the relatability of their desires.
From the get-go, Anakin’s story is dramatic. He was born a slave and had no father. He was separated as a child from his mother. She later dies in his arms – murdered. He lashes out by slaughtering the village of the people who were responsible – including the women and the children. Years later, Anakin feels as though the peace-keeping warriors he’s working with don’t trust him. He’s passed up for a promotion and is excluded from an important mission. He fears the deaths of his loved ones. In the end, he turns to the Dark Side, enticed by the promise of recognition and safety of his family. He begins by murdering his former comrades and their pupils – even killing dozens of children. Anakin’s arc has no subtlety and reeks of tragedy and drama.
Cassandra’s arc, however, is subtle. Her beginnings are sad, but not tragic. She was adopted as a baby by a single man. She never had a mother. She helps her friend, Princess Rapunzel, on her quest to find a powerful object called the Moonstone. A member is added to the traveling party and Cassandra feels this person is squeezing her out of her rightful role. Rapunzel begins to repeatedly ignore Cassandra’s advice, even resulting in Cassandra’s hand being accidently burned and becoming permanently damaged. Cassandra feels overlooked and a bit ignored but pushes on as if none of it bothers her. When they arrive at their destination, Rapunzel reaches out to grab the Moonstone, but Cassandra snatches it away from her. She taunts Rapunzel by telling her, “I tried to warn you, Rapunzel. Be careful of who you trust.” The journey of Cassandra’s character is a soft, sympathetic one, so subtle that viewers were shocked but not surprised when Cassandra betrayed Rapunzel.
The other difference between Anakin and Cassandra is the ability to understand the perspectives of the other characters in their respective stories. In Anakin’s narrative, we don’t understand the Jedi Council. According to Jedi regulations, attachments and possessions were forbidden. They believed that the potential fear of loss and jealousy could lead to the Dark Side. However, it is humanly impossible to not have any attachments or possessions, regardless of how meager the belongings may be. It is strange that the Jedi, previously depicted as upright and wise, would have these two outlandish rules with such vague explanations. Anakin and the Jedi both appear to be unreasonable.
In Cassandra’s story, though, we see something quite different. We get why there was tension between Rapunzel and Cassandra. We can more easily sympathize with Cassandra, but we don’t think any less of Rapunzel. We understood the decisions Rapunzel made even though we may have done things differently. Writers tend to make the good guys look bad for a time, thinking that it’ll more easily explain why the affected character turned evil. In Cassandra’s journey though, the writers made it so that neither Cassandra nor Rapunzel appear unreasonable. This is extremely rare.
Anakin’s desires are also quite different from Cassandra’s. Like most villains, Anakin lusts for power – over the galaxy and death itself. After his mother died, he vowed he would find a way to keep people from dying. This feeling was intensified after he began having visions of his wife dying in childbirth. He desired to put himself in God’s place.
Cassandra is ambitious but not power hungry. She never once wanted Rapunzel’s title. Cassandra merely wishes to be the Captain of the Guard someday – just like her father. Cassandra knows her talents far exceed that of being a lady in waiting. She’s craving for a moment to shine but feels as though she’s being unfairly overlooked. Every time there’s a chance she’ll finally get her moment, it always ends up being someone else. So, Cassandra waits – until she runs out of patience. She takes it upon herself to snatch what she believes to be rightfully hers: the Moonstone.
Putting this all together, Cassandra’s story is far and away more relatable than Anakin’s. Her arc is less dramatic, we understand both her and Rapunzel, and her desires are only human. Everyone wishes to shine at some point in his or hers lives, but not everyone wants ultimate power. Anakin’s personal life swirled with soap opera drama; Cassandra’s own tale had normal life problems. Cassandra, as an ordinary human with common yearnings, can be taken as a stern warning to all of us. What started Cassandra on her path to villainy were just normal human desires. Therefore, we all have the capability of becoming just like Cassandra. Selfishness is a deadly sin. It is often the root of our malevolent actions. So, watch out and be wary: your soul can slowly dissolve away before you realize it.