If Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith proves anything, it is that Anakin’s arc – in the Prequels, at least – was always meant to be a tragedy. Through all of the political debates, Senate meetings, pod races, and bad dialogue the one constant was the downward path Anakin takes from the moment the little innocent slave boy is shown on Tatooine.
When stripped down of all the bad filmmaking techniques and looked at purely as this tragic downfall, the climax of this movie is one of the most emotional sequences in all of Star Wars. For Anakin and Obi-Wan to face off in such a way is truly heartbreaking – it’s the eternal split of a brotherhood, a mentorship, and a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
Due to this, all of the large themes from this film are in conversation with this fateful turn to the Dark Side. So many different things went into the creation of Darth Vader – so many things that could have been done differently, but weren’t.
A Failed System
As Luke Skywalker will eventually come to lament in The Last Jedi, the Jedi Order was largely a failure at this point in time. Without knowing it, they played a major part in the origin of Darth Vader. Beginning with their reluctance to train him, all the way up to granting him a seat on the Council without the rank of Master, the Jedi created immense anger and frustration inside the mind of young Anakin Skywalker.
All Anakin ever wanted to do was help others – especially those who he loved – and keep them safe. He promised his mother that he would come home and free her after he became a Jedi and he sought after extra power because he didn’t want Padmè to die. Even at the beginning of this movie, his first instinct is to go help the Clone Troopers during the rescue mission for the Chancellor. His instinct was selflessness. It is even miraculously still there when he dies, and Padmè is able to recognize that there is still good in Anakin as she is dying. It’s a part of who he is. This is just about the most pure and moral nature that a person can have, yet the Jedi inadvertently stifled it at every corner.
After experiencing great loss, such as the loss of a parent, like in Anakin’s situation, it is human nature to mourn and go through a grieving process. We all grow attached to certain things and it is completely natural to feel immense pain when they are taken away from us for good.
But Yoda tells Anakin matter-of-factly that death is simply a natural part of life that everyone would do best to accept. In and of itself, this is a fine sentiment. There is no use in dwelling on the things we have no power to change. But where Yoda takes it a step too far is when he says not to mourn or miss the people that have passed on, and to let go of what Anakin fears to loose. Yes, fear is the beginning of the path to the Dark Side, but facing fears – not eschewing them – is where we succeed. Anakin again will prove this in RotJ when he destroys the Emperor. It is the rigid code of the Jedi that keeps him from realizing this before it is too late.
It is this very detachment that stirred Anakin’s anger at the Tusken Raiders and that caused frustration to accrue in having to hide his love for Padmè. Obi-Wan specifically may not have been holding him back, as he complained of in Attack of the Clones, but the Jedi Order as a whole certainly was. They appear as hypocrites to Anakin as they exclude him at seemingly every turn.
This all comes to a head when Anakin sees Mace Windu ready to murder the Chancellor. Anakin recognizes the Chancellor’s evil and wants to bring him down (since doing the right thing is always his priority), but he also believes in fairness towards everyone. This goes all the way back to Phantom Menace when he talks about how the biggest problem in the world is how no one helps each other. So when Anakin sees Mace ready to kill Palpatine, his worst fears are realized – he stops Mace and joins the only person who seems to accept him and his desires for who he is: Chancellor Palpatine.
If it wasn’t for the Jedi, there is a great chance that Anakin would have brought balance to the Force long before turning into Darth Vader. There was always the chance for things to go very right. But the Jedi made the wrong decision regarding Anakin in almost every possible situation, thus ensuring their own depletion.
Nature vs. Nurture
What caused Darth Vader? Was Anakin always destined to become a genocidal monster, or did the circumstances outlined above solely cause him to fall into the Darkness? As it turns out, a little of both can be true.
When Qui-Gon originally found Anakin on Tatooine, he was an innocent boy, but he also had lots of fear and an inkling of frustration. He always wanted to help people, but was never in the position to do that on a scale with which he would have been happy. So once his relationship with the Chancellor – who seems to have total and complete control over everything Anakin does – started to blossom, it became clear that the only way to save Padmè was to use the Dark Side of the Force. If kindness and selflessness was his nature, then turning to the Dark Side to save Padmè could almost be seen as a foregone conclusion.
At the same time, there is a repeated reminder to be patient. Obi-Wan says it numerous times in AotC, enough so that Anakin begins to say it himself in RotS. He can choose between rash behavior and patience.
Ultimately, Anakin seemingly exercises his right to choose by cutting off Mace’s hand and submitting himself to a Sith Lord. But since Palpatine is still manipulating Anakin, even when he is Darth Vader, by telling him that Padmè’s death was his doing, it could be said that there was no choice after all. The truth in this case, as in real life, is completely up for debate.
One area where Chancellor Palpatine is correct and not manipulative is when he tells Anakin that the Jedi and Sith are very similar. If not for some ideological differences, they would be one in the same. It is all about the point of view of the person espousing either respective side. In fact, Anakin himself will later say to Obi-Wan that from his point of view, the Jedi are evil. As Palpatine says, good is just a point of view.
Anakin’s thinking is that the Jedi are selfless, while the Sith are selfish by nature. But this isn’t necessarily true. Palpatine says that the entirety of the Force needs to be understood and studied to completely be able to access its powers.
This idea is very true to life. Most times, there isn’t a clear black and white, or right and wrong. Diametrically opposed sides don’t exist nearly as often as it would seem they should. Most people are at war within themselves deciding what is the right or wrong thing to do day to day, or even moment to moment. It’s only when we recognize this that we can more easily talk to and understand the people around us.
Fear is easily Anakin’s greatest motivator in this movie. He lost his mother and now he is deathly afraid of losing Padmè. But as Yoda told him a decade and a half earlier about the path to the Dark Side, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”
This is heartbreaking foresight for Yoda. There are exact moments that can be pinpointed for each one of these in Anakin’s journey. He was afraid when he left home, angry at Obi-Wan and the Council, and hated the Tusken Raiders. These all lead to mass suffering, including his own.
The fear of loss was wholly destructive for Anakin. Other measures could have and should have been taken to avoid such a total breakdown, and it all would have started with a healthier attitude towards loss.
Anakin’s loyalties are always clearly defined. He is loyal to Padmè and to doing the right thing, no matter the cost. This definitely shows the possible downfalls of such an attitude in the real world. It is important to be measured and thoughtful regarding how to approach every situation in life.
Largely, this Prequel Trilogy is about the devastating effects of Anakin’s loyalties, and the evil that came from them being poorly nurtured. The Jedi are not meant to be emulated or praised in these films – they’re meant to be learned from.