This is the final installment of a three-part series on the characterization of Anakin Skywalker in the Prequel Trilogy.
Critics say that we never saw Anakin during his “normal” Jedi Knight years. If I may put it bluntly, that’s not the story Lucas chose to tell. I have encountered numerous criticism of the prequel trilogy over the years, and almost all of it has to do with the trilogy not conforming to “headcanon.” What is headcanon? It is a phenomenon in which a person develops personal beliefs over how a work of fiction should be told … its plot, characterizations, etc. Due to its immense popularity worldwide from 1977 until The Phantom Menace‘s release in 1999, Star Wars has suffered from a great dose of headcanon. There was simply no way for the Prequel Trilogy to live up to the expectations of fans who “knew” how the story should be told. Darth Vader was never “supposed” to be depicted as a a child. He was “supposed” to be a cookie-cutter Jedi who suppressed his emotions, forsook his attachments, and simply succumbed to the power of the Dark Side at some point. Powerful? Yes. Interesting? No. No, Darth Vader was never to be an emotional teenager. He was never supposed to carry the haunting memory of his mother with him throughout his life, and he was never supposed to turn to the Dark Side because of love. Sorry to break it to you, but headcanon would have ruined Darth Vader. What George Lucas gave us was so much better.
The Anakin of Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith is a natural result of the young man we saw in Episode I and Episode II. Attachment. Fear of loss. A Jedi Order that didn’t know how to deal with him. The Dark Side provided the only outlet for his emotions. This is the story that Lucas chose to tell. And it’s a phenomenal one.
The first three (chronologically) Star Wars films depict three pivotal points in the life of Anakin Skywalker. While many fans have a problem with how Anakin is depicted in these films, it is the story that George Lucas chose to tell. As we’ve seen in this series of posts, each time period serves a purpose. Each provides a critical snapshot into what made Anakin succumb to the Dark Side in Episode III.
By the time Anakin falls to his knees and pledges himself to the Dark Side, I get it. I don’t need to see an entire movie devoted to his “normal” Jedi years; we have the Clone Wars series for that. We see a man, brought to the end of himself, terrified by the thought of losing his wife. It feels powerful because the first two films built towards this moment. He had lost his mother in a similar fashion, accompanied also by foreboding dreams. He couldn’t count on the Jedi; all they had ever done was tell him to suppress his feelings, forget his past. Early on in Episode III, Yoda tells him essentially to let her die…
Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.
It all comes to a head. Palpatine plays him perfectly. It is a believable, tragic fall from grace.
Someone critical of Episode III once told me, “Completely unrealistic. He turned to the Dark Side too quickly.” On the contrary, it was a slow burn, the seeds of which were sown in Episode I. Yoda’s comments to Anakin in that film give me chills:
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering… I sense much fear in you.
For someone who has followed Anakin’s “attachment” arc throughout the trilogy, Episode III is so tragic, so devastating, that one cannot look at the masked, deep-voiced villain in A New Hope the same ever again. By watching the series in its proper chronological order, Vader is given a greater depth and a sense of sympathy, because we know him. We know what he has suffered. We know how the Jedi Order has failed him. We know the choices that he made that, while they seemed right to him, brought him into the darkness.
Like many movie goers, I was ecstatic that James Earl Jones returned to voice Vader in the final scenes of Revenge of the Sith. Once again, however, this scene has been met with unfair criticism. “Why is Vader whining about Padme?” “That scream of ‘No!’ ruined Vader for me forever.” Once again, all I can say, quite frankly, is that those who voice these gripes don’t understand the story of Anakin Skywalker.
To me, the Star Wars saga will always be the story of Anakin Skywalker. Lucas even said as such. I remember one time a fan told me, “I don’t care what Lucas says, the saga is not about Anakin.” At that point I just threw up my hands. If I sound defensive, it’s because I am. The Prequel Trilogy is brilliant and powerful. It’s flawed just like the Original Trilogy. But what a story it tells. Through the six films and the Clone Wars series, Anakin is the most developed, complex character in the entire saga. It will always be his.
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!
*You can find Adam on Twitter @adamcs83. You can also find him on the Topps Star Wars Card Trader app using the same handle!