I love Star Wars and the prequel trilogy because I grew up with them. But I also saw A New Hope well before I saw A Phantom Menace. And it was on that big screen that I first saw Darth Vader.
And so began my haphazard journey through the Star Wars Saga. Because of this, I see both trilogies as one complete story. The prequel trilogy informs us of how it all began before Luke piloted his first X-Wing. Before Yoda showed Luke the power of the Force by raising that same X-Wing out a lake. Before Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon outwitted an Imperial Star Destroyer.
Before the Death Star terrified the Rebellion into near-submission; before a handful of bold and defiant guerrillas, led by a determined and strong woman, delivered its demise at the cost of their own lives.
Before Darth Vader lifted the Emperor and threw him into the abyss.
They tell us of the tragic tale of Anakin Skywalker. And when viewed as one overarching journey for the boy named Ani, the prequels complete the narrative when Luke takes off Vader’s helm to see his father’s kind but tired smile.
Now he is an old and broken man; no longer is he the young and powerful Jedi, or the wrathful Sith he later became.
Just how could a man with such kind eyes become the monstrous Darth Vader, one who often butchered a room of defenceless rebels without mercy?
From his journey of desperate longing and betrayal to turmoil and redemption, let’s explore one of the great tragic figures of modern storytelling, one responsible for turning George Lucas’s magnum opus into the series that enthralled millions, if not hundreds of millions, of fans around the world for many years.
The Tragic Tale of Darth Vader.
The Tale of Ani, The Slave
John Williams orchestrates here what will come to define Anakin Skywalker; he is a kind boy with so much potential, one who acts selflessly to help those around him. When we first meet Anakin, or Ani as his mother lovingly calls him, he is a slave on a forbidding planet. It is a hard place of hagglers and smugglers, where the good and honest struggle to etch out an existence under the hardship of labour and greed.
It is telling that we find him here, on Tatooine, as we will one day find his son. Despite the unforgiving environment, the young Anakin Skywalker is as close to the Light side as he will ever be. His young and inquisitive mind is tempered by innovation and technical genius. His prowess in the Force was already strong by this point. Competent in the super-high speed event of Podracing, Anakin displayed abilities unheard of for non-Jedi humans.
And he sensed things were amiss with Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé Amidala, the latter of whom he was instantly smitten by.
But Padmé can only offer him kind friendship; this begins a cycle of half-realised opportunities that will always plague him. Anakin’s life is determined by how far he reaches out and fails to grasp his true desires. And that is what Williams’ score highlights at the close of this piece, where all the triumphant flourishes of the entire string arrangement pulls into the soft, ominous and drawn out expressions of what we know will happen to our happy hero; he will know pain and suffering.
And suffering leads to the Dark Side.
Without his beloved mother’s guiding hand, the only force in his life that has tempered his ambitious reach, Ani will reach out too far. He has always been a brilliant and capable boy, one with greatness in him. But Yoda points out that he is too old. His indoctrination into the Jedi Order will be a disaster without a strong influence to balance out his need for a parent figure.
Thus, Qui-Gon’s tragic death robbed Anakin of more than just a mentor. It robbed him of a surrogate father, one entrusted by his mother to look after her beloved son. It would be the first of the Sith’s victories against Anakin and the Jedi; the first in their slow mission to turn this ambitious but good-hearted boy into the vengeful and ruthless villain.
But for a while, there was hope. Obi-Wan initially had reservations of his charge, but he trusted in his Master Qui-Gon’s judgement. The young Jedi Knight took it upon himself to train the young Anakin. The boy had saved the day the for the Jedi Order, but crucially, they rejected him.
And as the boy grew into a young man, Obi-Wan began to see him as more than his student. They became brothers, both in arms and affection, both having had the same man as their adoptive father. They bonded in their mutual loss. But for Obi-Wan, Anakin’s destiny as the Chosen One marked their relationship with the hard strain of fate and duty.
As for Anakin, his inquisitive and obsessive nature guided his passionate learnings and actions as a boy. But that same nature enabled an obsessive attachment with Padmé. And attachments are deeply forbidden by the Jedi Order.
His feelings for Padmé grew into something more than a desire for friendship. Padmé Amidala would be unaware of these impassioned feelings until many years later. And by then, the boy’s unrequited love would come to define the young man he grew into.
This is a young man desperately in need of the embrace of a loving mother, and the guidance of a sympathetic father. But as always, he was a young man who found his world wanting.
The Tale of Anakin Skywalker, the would-be Jedi Master
Anakin Skywalker grew up as a young person without the power to determine his own fate. And that has always been his downfall. His desire for power, not born of evil and lust but of desperation, manifests itself in his deep-rooted desire to become a Jedi Master. He is desperate to find the means of controlling death to save his beloved Padmé.
After all, he did fail to save his mother. And Anakin is the Chosen One. The Chosen One should have the power to stop his mother’s death, to even bring her back to life. Thus, he takes the blame for her death, internalising the moral dilemma. And with a heavy wrath, Anakin Skywalker slaughters an entire camp of Tusken Raiders in his bloody revenge. He butchers all of them without mercy and in the darkness, we know the truth – The shadow of Vader, once vague on the dunes of Tatooine and the grasslands of Naboo, now hangs over everything he touches. He holds Padmé close to him, and the shadow grows ever larger.
His path leading away from the Jedi is becoming absolute. However, one man is responsible for that deviation. Anakin, who never found comfort in the impassive and morally rigid Jedi Order, found it in the soothing words of his new friend and father-figure, Sheev Palpatine, whom we would later know as Darth Sidious.
The Jedi Order were unable to see the Sith hiding in plain sight, thanks to how dysfunctional it had become over the thousands of years. The Council’s stern and authoritative dogma had rendered its members with an unquestioning stoicism. And this stoicism blinded them to the Sith, as their enemy operated within their emotions and passions.
They could never have offered the kind of guidance that Anakin Skywalker needed to negotiate his dangerous feelings for Padmé, nor the inferiority complex inherited from his time as a slave. Not even Obi-Wan Kenobi, the great future Jedi Master, could provide solace for his anguishes. Obi-Wan himself was a youth when he took Anakin as his ward. Both men grew together in their journeys, eventually seeing each other as brothers who shared a great deal of affection and respect, even though Obi-Wan was his master.
With no one to turn to, it was always going to be Palpatine who would prey on the young and confused emotions of this young Jedi. The Sith Lord began his slow work to turn Anakin into his apprentice. And he did so having masterfully dispatched the one man who could have prevented the coming disaster – Qui-Gon Jinn.Only Qui-Gon had the critical insight needed to see the failures of the Jedi; insight needed to help Anakin turn away from the Dark Side of the Force.
Only Qui-Gon had the critical insight needed to see the failures of the Jedi’s stoicism; the insight needed to help Anakin turn away from the Dark Side of the Force.
And so it is Palpatine who feeds into Anakin’s insecurities and manipulates them to his will. He subtly convinces Anakin that he can be better than the Jedi themselves, that they are deliberately slowing him down on his assured path to greatness. And it is the Sith Lord who finally turns Anakin’s obsession with Padmé into his final manipulation.
He recounts the tale of Darth Plagueis the Wise, the Sith with the power to stop death itself and to create life. And to Anakin, who had never had the power to control his life prior to this moment, seizes the chance. He is desperate to save Padmé from his vision.
Anakin fears repeating his failure to save his mother’s life. And fear leads to the Dark Side.
And in this moment of desperation, he kills Master Windu, the very man who had denied his ascendency to the Jedi Masterdom. He kills him to save Palpatine, the man who promises to save his beloved wife with his knowledge of the Force. This action of killing Master Windu now closes him off to the Jedi. He now commits to the Sith Order. And so begins his long list of committing atrocities as Palpatine’s servant.
He destroys the Jedi Order he both loved and despised, ending the Qui-Gon’s dream for him. And in his vaulting desire to escape his worst fears in Padmé’s death, the woman he once innocently loved but grew to obsess over, he alienated her and his best friend, Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Anakin was always susceptible to his ambitious desires. The Jedi Order failed to help him become what greatly desired. He turned away from it and followed a man he believed was his friend, instead of turning to the one friend who could have saved him.
It is clear that Obi-Wan knew about Anakin and Padmé. True to their brotherly love, the great Jedi Master turned to Padmé to help save Anakin, willing to put aside the dogmatic teachings of the now dead Jedi Order to help his beloved friend.
And when Obi-Wan offers him one more chance, Anakin answers him with absolute Sith fury.
The Jedi were never prepared to deal with the anomaly of Anakin Skywalker. And Palpatine was more than willing to bide his time to gain his ultimate apprentice.
And in Anakin’s blind rushing to save Padmé from his vision, he is tragically responsible for that vision coming true; he does so in the most destructive manner possible. And with him, the Force has been balanced. Of the Jedi and the Sith, there now remains only two per side.
And as he stepped from the operating table in his imposing suit, the man named Anakin disappeared into the dark depths of his new cage. Emperor Palpatine, the architect of the tragedy, informs him that Padmé had indeed died by his hands. Palpatine smiles as Anakin cries out in anguish; he has completed his long mission of turning the Chosen One to the Dark Side.
Anakin, devastated by the tragedy, turns away from being the man and embraces being the monstrous Sith. He stands by the Emperor as Darth Vader, overseeing his Master’s vast Empire.
The Tale of Darth Vader, the Slave once more
It is strange that Palpatine knows of Padmé’s death at the moment of Vader’s construction. He would have only discovered this at her funeral, well after the events in the fires of Mustafar.
So how did Emperor Palpatine know of Padmé’s passing? And how did he already have a suit ready made for his new apprentice?
Unless of course, Palpatine controlled everything from the start. Darth Plagueis died at the hands of his apprentice, an apprentice seeking to master the secrets of life and death in the Force. Anakin was born by the will of the Living Force. Could it be that Padmé was killed by Palpatine by him severing her link to the Living Force? If so, then Anakin Skywalker was also reborn into Darth Vader by the machinations of that same Living Force.
Emperor Palpatine has his Sith Empire realised in Darth Vader. And Vader has once again become a powerless slave, now killing at his master’s will.
The suit that Darth Vader wears is not just a mask and a breathing aid. It insulates his ragged and disfigured body, encasing him in a literal walking prison. Obi-Wan himself says that Vader is now more machine than man. And as we observe Darth Vader in the later episodes, it is clear there is little remaining of the young hero we loved, or the obsessive lover we worried for.There is only the menace behind the dark phantom now.
There is only the menace behind the dark phantom now.
And there may be no turning back for Anakin Skywalker now.
Until the day R2D2 and C3PO find a young Luke Skywalker. And the family’s story beings anew with hope.
The Tale of the Skywalker Family Redeemed
Luke: Master Yoda… is Darth Vader my father?
Yoda: Rest I need. Yes. Rest.
Luke: Yoda, I must know. If you know, tell me.
Yoda: Your father he is.
Yoda: Told you, did he?
Yoda: Unexpected this is. And unfortunate.
Luke: Unfortunate that I know the truth?
Yoda: No! Unfortunate that you rushed to face him… that incomplete was your training. That… not ready for the burden were you.
In my own helter-skelter manner, I watched in horror as my young writing mind connected that Senator Palpatine was the Emperor I feared in the Empire Strikes Back. And then after seeing the Return of the Jedi, I gawped at the journey of how Palpatine became the subtle dictator of the Galactic Republic, commanding his own pre-Imperial army in the Attack of the Clones. And in that last sweeping moment, I saw the Jedi and the Republic crumble and fail, as Palpatine became Emperor supreme, and the Revenge of the Sith was completed.
But because of this haphazard manner of seeing the films, I also witnessed the enthralling story of the Skywalkers, and in particular, the tragedy of the boy who at the hands of the Jedi’s neglect and and the Sith’s seduction, became the Chosen One to bring an end to both orders, thereby balancing the age-old conflict of the Force.
We see the story of Anakin Skywalker turn in on itself in the later episodes, where he is now the story’s villain, having been its great hero. But still, he remains the focus of the story. It is his tragic legacy that Luke must deal with. And it is up to his son to save him, as he finally does in his final moments.
It is not Darth Vader whom Luke pulls out of the second Death Star.
It is his father, pulled back from the ravages of time and misery.
Darth Vader: Luke… help me take this mask off.
Luke: But you’ll die.
Darth Vader: Nothing… can stop that now. Just for once… let me… look on you with my eyes.
[Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask one piece at a time. Underneath, Luke sees the face of a pale, scarred, bald-headed, old man – his father, Anakin. Anakin sadly looks at Luke but then gives him a tired smile]
Anakin: Now… go, my son. Leave me.
Luke: No. You’re coming with me. I’ll not leave you here, I’ve got to save you.
Anakin: You already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister… you were right.
And so ends the tale of Darth Vader, the man we once knew as Anakin Skywalker; the man who dies peacefully in his son’s arms. And with that, John Williams reminds us once more of who he could have been, with the solemn rendering of Anakin’s Theme plucking the strings.
The Tale of the Sith and the Jedi
Lawrence Kasdan deserves credit for setting out this twisty and tragic tale. Under Lucas’s guidance, he brought Anakin Skywalker the man and Darth Vader the monster together with that iconic line. This single dramatic moment defined the entire series and countless other tales in the Star Wars universe. It’s hard to tell if Lucas himself predicted the consequences of this moment, but it ultimately shaped the series he brought to the world. And the legacy of this moment breathes in Rogue One, where the Jedi we once knew now ruminates in the place that made him the Sith we fear – Mustafar.
Mustafar is now Lord Vader’s home. His dark and forbidding castle overlooks the lava lakes and rivers that burned and scarred him when Obi-Wan, his beloved brother, struck him down. This deep and perhaps eternal conflict seethes deep within Darth Vader. The monster he has become is at constant war with what he once was. He bears the shadow and the memory of the Jedi, of the good man he was, and the father he could have been.
Gone is the slave boy we started off with on Tatooine.
He rests in the banta-tank in his solitude, ever ruminating in his moral turmoil.
Just Mustafar is a reminder of the good man he once was, it is also a reminder of how by his own actions, he destroyed everything he loved.
And it is that same man who finally destroys the Sith, protecting the son who has reawakened the good in him.
Thus, Anakin Skywalker fulfils his destiny and brings balance to the Force, ending the saga of the Jedi and the Sith.
The new films reflect this finality. Kylo Ren and Rey are not Sith and Jedi themselves. Both orders are now near-forgotten legends in the new story. Even Luke himself is not truly a Jedi of the old Order, and now he is seemingly bent on wiping out their problematic legacy.
But the Jedi and the Sith truly ended with Anakin Skywalker. He was the best of both, and so he was their demise.
And that is why the tale of Darth Vader is tragic. It is in Anakin’s actions that the Star Wars universe has its most heroic moments. And ultimately, it is in Vader’s actions that Star Wars has found its most villainous moments.
And so it’s terrifying to see Vader unsheath his red lightsaber at the end of Rogue One. His turmoil may be definite but his actions have always been absolute. His cold, methodical and merciless slaughtering of the rebels is efficient and brutal.
It is a reminder that while Anakin found redemption, the horrors he unleashed upon the galaxy will continue to have long-lasting consequences.
And for just under a minute in Rogue One, Vader reminds us that he has become that which ends worlds.
Behold the Sith in his glory. Behold the Jedi who had fallen. He has become Death, and his wrath is now great and terrible.
That is why we find him in his castle on Mustafar. He was reborn in that terrible and hellish place. And now it is his home.
And so, as with the Death Star, we fear Darth Vader once more.
We fear him, remembering the boy who sat alone in space, wishing he was home with his mother.
Star Wars; Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace; Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones; Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith; Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope; Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back; Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi; Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens; Star Wars: Episode VIII The Force Awakens; Star Wars: Rogue One; the Star Wars Expanded Universe; and all logos, characters, artwork, stories, information, names, and other elements associated thereto, are the sole and exclusive property of Lucasfilm Limited.
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