The second entry in this trilogy of Skywalker tragedies continues to explore Star Wars’ first family, their greatest strengths and how those strengths become the vehicle for their own personal tragedy. Last time around, we took a look at Luke Skwalker who bore the heavy burden of knowledge — or knowing just enough. In the future, we’ll examine Leia’s tragedy, which is never being allowed to grieve. And now, this latest entry (And I do mean “late.” It’s been awhile between posts.) explores the tragic rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker whose great capacity for love is ultimately turned against him.
The Tragedy of Anakin Skywalker: When Love is Weaponized
The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is defined by love. Unlike most Star Wars universe protagonists, Anakin had a healthy, uncomplicated relationship with his mother. Sure, his immaculate conception was the result of a manipulation of midichlorians that miraculously impregnated his mother without a dude ever sticking his pee-pee in her, but she was devoted to her son and he didn’t have the blatantly obvious daddy issues that plagued Luke, Leia, Rey, and Kylo Ren.
Darth Vader: Sith Lord. Hand of the Emperor. Mama’s Boy.
Anakin is gifted with the capacity to love and love fiercely. He loves his mother, Shmi Skywalker, who is utterly selfless in her devotion to her son. She is willing to allow her beloved Anakin to leave with strangers she knows will give him a better life, even though she herself is confined to a life of slavery.
Anakin never forgets this and visits her whenever his Jedi training permits. (Best. Son. Ever.) And when the Tusken Raiders take his mother, Anakin rushes to her rescue. He arrives too late and his mother dies in his arms. In retaliation, Anakin massacres every last Tusken Raider. Although I can understand (and defend!) going apeshit on the village that stood by and watched your mother get tortured to death, this act signals Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side.
What Makes a Good Jedi Go Bad?
With his mother gone, Anakin is vulnerable. He feels he wasn’t there for her. But he also points a finger of blame at the Jedi Order due to their rule that since Padawans are not allowed to see their families during training. His feelings of responsibility for his mother’s death also informs Anakin’s protectiveness around his (secret) wife, Padme, and later their unborn children when he learns she’s pregnant.
It’s this almost overbearing love and protectiveness that leaves Anakin open to be turned by the sneaky Senator Palpatine — who is actually a Sith Lord trolling for a new apprentice. He notices Anakin is tired of the Jedi Council lightsaber-blocking him in not only his personal life, but also denying him the rank of Master despite his seat on the Council. He intends to turn him to the Dark Side.
Palpatine implants Anakin with a series of bad dreams that show him Padme dying and Anakin being powerless to stop it. After inviting him to a night out at the opera, Palpatine drops some knowledge on him, asking him, “Did you ever hear of the tragedy of Darth Plageuis the Wise?” Recounting the Sith legend to him, he tells Anakin Skywalker that:
Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise he could use the Force to influence the midichlorians to create life… He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying. The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.
Now, tell this to a guy who’s afraid of losing his wife and child — much less to a guy who is being shafted by the Order he already blames for separating him from his mother and forcing him to keep his marriage secret. This all sounds very appealing to Anakin and his temptation to the Dark Side is almost complete.
A few murders later and after going all Ike Turner on his pregnant wife, Anakin’s Jedi master, Obi-Wan Kenobi tries to bring his pupil back from this lapse in judgement and fails. In the process, Anakin loses all of his limbs and gets roasted like a campfire weenie on Mustafar — only to have his new Sith master, Palpatine, swoop in and save his life by placing him in a cybernetic suit that’s essentially a walking iron lung.
All the better to manipulate you and use your powers for my own end, my dear.
Fatherly Love and a Return to the Light
When Anakin finally awoke to a world of pain, his first thought was about the safety of his wife. Palpatine, arguably the biggest piece of shit in the Star Wars universe, tells him his wife is dead. This shuts down Anakin for good and his transformation to Darth Vader is now complete.
Fast forward nearly 20 years later and Vader learns that his child is alive — later finding out he has twins who survived before Padme died. It’s this “new hope” that makes him consider toppling the man who had manipulated him for decades. When Palpatine decides he will either turn Luke to the Dark Side or kill him, Vader dads up when the Emperor strikes Luke with Force lightning. Vader intervenes and stops Palpatine’s onslaught and hurls him down a shaft to his death.
This act took the last of Vader’s strength, however, it demonstrated that Anakin Skywalker and his ability to love fiercely was still inside that cybernetic suit. Luke was proven right that his father was still a good man capable of redemption.
When Luke refuses to leave his father to die, Vader’s final act is to remove his life-sustaining helmet to look upon his son with his own eyes. His last message to Luke is to “tell your sister you were right.”
Anakin’s Tragic Need for Love
The true tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is that, throughout his entire life, he had wanted to love and to be loved — so much so that his emotions were used as a weapon against him. The Jedi used him to some degree, believing him to be the Chosen One who was supposed to bring balance to the Force. (In a way, he did. Just not in the way they’d expected.) The Emperor malevolently used that trait against him — so much so that he all but obliterated any trace of the man Anakin was before he became Vader.
Yet, in the end, Anakin Skywalker’s love for his family was stronger than any compulsion to the Dark Side. When his son’s life was threatened, he put his own life on the line to save him. The act of him removing his mask did not merely allow him to look at his son without the aid of a machine, but he likely wanted Luke to see the man behind the mask. Anakin wanted Luke to know that he had a father who loved him and to see that love and goodness reflected in Anakin’s eyes. He was a man who was burnt and broken, but a man who wanted to be loved and understood even after decades of darkness.
Anakin’s tale is tragic, but not without his redemption. In the end, he loved and was loved in return.