Most of my fellow Star Wars fans are counting the days, or even hours until the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The opening day can’t come soon enough. While some of us may be familiar with at least some of the new characters we are going to see in Episode VII, we are for the most part still in the dark about how this film will unfold.
In gearing up for this film (while also holding back the tears of excitement), I wanted to talk about one of the leading villains of the original trilogy – Darth Vader. The first two films, A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back depict Vader as a ruthless tormentor who would stop at nothing to serve the dark side. Heck, he even cut off his own son’s hand.
However, upon a closer inspection it seems that Vader attempts to protect his son from Emperor Palpatine on a number of occasions. He insists to the Emperor that he will be able to turn Luke to the dark side, likely trying to ensure Luke’s survival. At the end of Return of the Jedi, we see that Vader still has some humanity left in him when he sacrifices himself to save his son’s life.
From the prequels we learn of Darth Vader’s life before he ever joins the dark side. Born as Anakin Skywalker, a slave, on a distant planet, Tatooine, he is recruited to join the Jedi Order at the age of nine. He is taken out of slavery and separated from his mother, Shmi. Most children get extremely distressed when taken away from their parents. In fact attachment to one’s parent starts as early as nine months of age, which possibly can explain why the Jedi Council elected to train children at a very early age.
Anakin understandably misses his mother and is saddened about this separation and fears for her wellbeing. However, the Council informs him that such fears and attachments are a sure way to the dark side and must be controlled. Yet at no point (that we see on the screen anyway), do any of the Jedi explain to Anakin how he is supposed to control his emotions and attachments. In addition, Anakin is told that he is too old to be trained to be a Jedi and that his midichlorian counts suggest that he is going to become quite powerful and thus, possibly should not be trained.
I believe that these messages may have caused Anakin to experience shame about who he is and how he feels at a time when what he really needs is compassion and support. He does not receive such warmth or support from the Jedi. Rather, the only person who is kind to him is Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine. By providing the apparent non-judgmental and unconditional warm regard for Anakin, Palpatine ensures his loyalty. In fact, according to some novelizations, the more the Jedi Council infuriates Anakin, the kinder Palpatine is to him.
Although Palpatine knows of Anakin’s relationship with Padmé, he does not appear to judge him. Rather, as he always does, he appears to support him. And when Anakin begins to have nightmares of Padmé’s passing, it is Palpatine that assures him that she can be saved. Of course, all of this (or at the very least, most of it) is a ploy to get Anakin to switch to the dark side. Palpatine’s diabolical plan works. Anakin has learned to trust him because of all the times that Palpatine supported him. Anakin is also desperate to save the woman that he loves and is ready to do anything to save her, including killing an unarmed prisoner (Count Dooku) and later slaughtering thousands of innocent people, among them, children.
According to some novelizations, it is Palpatine that causes Anakin to start having the nightmares of Padmé dying in the first place. It is also Palpatine that purposely selected and trained Count Dooku as his apprentice to ensure that he is a good enough challenge for Anakin Skywalker.
Anakin has a number of factors that lead to him becoming a Sith:
- Being taken away from one’s parent at an early age, like Anakin was, can lead to a great number of psychological distress, which can affect the person’s psychological and developmental upbringing. For Anakin, being separated from his mother, a woman he was really attached to, may have in turn caused him to form an even stronger attachment with Padmé, an older woman and his love interest. It is understandable that he would be scared to lose Padmé too.
- Controlling one’s emotions, especially grief and fear, is not helpful and can often lead to anger, frustration, or mental or physical health problems. Anakin was visibly shamed for experiencing emotions but was never told anything about how to properly express or handle them. This possibly leads to him feeling ashamed about who he is. When people experience such levels of shame, they are likely to try to become different people to try to distance themselves from the shamed persona.
- Most people need a compassionate mentor figure in their lives, although it is true that not everyone finds one. Anakin does not find such a figure in the Jedi but he does in Palpatine. It is understandable that all the times that Palpatine appears to support Anakin encourage Anakin to become loyal to him, making it less likely that he would give him up to the Jedi.
- When people are desperate to save the ones they love, they might be willing to do anything it takes, including going against their moral values. This is especially common in people that are more impulsive, like Anakin. Anakin loves his wife and is ready to do anything to save her. Unfortunately, in his own pride and suspiciousness he ultimately becomes responsible for her demise.
Sure, if Anakin did not switch over to the dark side, we would not have Darth Vader and the series we know and love. However, if we were to ponder on what the Jedi could have done to prevent Anakin’s switch to the dark side, it seems like they could have paid more attention to the very Padawan they said is “the chosen one.”
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theatres on December 18, 2015 and we at the Legion of Leia are going to have a plethora of posts about it for your entertainment.