Prior to the release of the prequel trilogy, the central question fans wanted the new films to explore was: why and how does Anakin turn into Darth Vader? And, while the prequels and subsequently The Clone Wars, offer valuable insights into this question, the answer is not directly, explicitly provided to fans on a platter. For better or worse, and to the dismay of many fans, the answer to this question requires more inference and extrapolation. On the surface, and as many Star Wars fans have argued, Anakin’s turn to the dark side may come across as weakly written in that the prequels, in particular Revenge of the Sith, fail to truly demonstrate how a seemingly good-hearted young Jedi very quickly progressed into a slaughterer of younglings and remained allied with Darth Sidious, despite an abundant failure to keep Padme alive. This is why we thought this would be an interesting topic to explore in this week’s blog post.
Reason #1: Palpatine manipulated Anakin to turn to the dark side.
This is perhaps the most clear explanation as to why Anakin lapsed into the dark side and evolved into Darth Vader. As has been demonstrated in his extremely detail-oriented, calculated plans to instigate The Clone Wars as a means to eventually gain more power and his similarly calculated, longitudinal plans to manipulate Ben Solo into becoming Kylo Ren, Palpatine is clearly extremely intelligent and plans everything out meticulously. If and the extent to which Palpatine was involved in Anakin’s birth remains a mystery, but, from his concluding line in The Phantom Menace in which he states to young Anakin, “We’ll watch your career with great interest,” Palpatine clearly exhibited an early interest in the prophesized Chosen One. Palpatine capitalized on the insecurities of Anakin losing his wife Padme, as he lost his mother Shmi, and, with the now infamous opera house scene, planted the seed in Anakin’s mind that the dark side of the force is home to a number of abilities “some consider to be unnatural.” Anakin’s attachment to and debilitating fear of losing Padme is the central motivation for his eventual fall to the dark side. He knows that the atrocities he will have to commit, including killing Mace and younglings and maybe even Obi-Wan, are necessary steps to delving deeper into the dark side, aligning himself closer to Palpatine, and learning these abilities from Palpatine in order to save Padme. Anakin explicitly states as much in Revenge of the Sith when he says, “Just help me save Padme’s life. I can’t live without her.” Many take issue, however, with the fact that Anakin remains as Darth Vader and, therefore, remains evil after killing Padme. In other terms, it may make sense that he turned evil in order to turn learn abilities to save Padme’s life, but why would he stay evil if this very pursuit led to her death? That’s where the other reasons to come in…
Reason #2: Anakin’s impulsive, unstable, aggressive personality.
There are shards of anger that shine through Anakin’s personality throughout the prequel era. From his outbursts about Obi-Wan to his vocal disapproval of the Jedi’s perceptions of attachment to his slaughter of Tusken Raiders to his brutal interaction with Clovis, Anakin often reacts to situations with aggression. And, like his son Luke, also reacts to situations with impulsivity, a failure to take a measured approach to calculating the benefits and pitfalls of actions. All of this is important to understand Anakin’s fall to the dark side as it’s not that these personality traits alone led to his transformation into Vader and betrayal of the Jedi order, but, rather, these personality traits make Anakin vulnerable to falling into Palpatine’s trap and poorly reacting to negative his events in his life. Without these underlying vulnerabilities in his personality, maybe Anakin would have been able to see through Palpatine’s lies and deal with his dismay over the Jedi’s values and his fears about losing Padme more productively. This is a core difference between Anakin and Ahsoka. On paper, Ahsoka has every right to turn to the dark side, or at least against the Jedi, as they swiftly cast her aside with little consideration for her perspective on things and tried to repair the relationship when it was too little too late. Unlike Anakin, Ahsoka did not react to the Jedi’s ways with aggression, but, rather, still stayed on the side of light, just not aligned with the Jedi. It’s the fact that she doesn’t have these underlying personality traits that she doesn’t respond to the Jedi’s actions with violence and aggression, like Anakin did. So, overall, Anakin’s aggressive and impulsive personality played an integral, underlying role in his path to the dark side.
Reason #3: A wish for a more just world
Coupled with these underlying personality vulnerabilities are core events in Anakin’s life that he reacts to in negative ways, none more evident than the enslavement and death of his mother. Anakin tells Padme in Attack of the Clones that he disapproves of the constant deliberation of a democracy, that someone intelligent should be able to unilaterally make good decisions on behalf of the galaxy to swiftly and sufficiently bring justice. When Padme says this is like a dictatorship, Anakin disagrees, almost viewing such control as necessary to bring justice to an unjust galaxy. An unjust galaxy that led to the enslavement of his beloved mother and eventual torturous death. Uniquely, Palpatine also shares these values, but for different reasons. This is a core component of their alliance – the belief that a “just” or “good” world can only be achieved through the unilateral control of one person.
Reason #4: The Jedi’s mistrust and conflicting values
With Palpatine pulling the strings, underlying personality traits, and a distorted view of how to bring justice to the galaxy, Anakin’s transformation still doesn’t fully make sense. That’s why his perceptions of the ways in which the Jedi order treated him is a key final step to his transformation to Vader and why he continues to be evil long after their destruction. First, there are the conflicting values between Anakin and the order. Anakin values attachment, to Shmi as a mother, to Obi-Wan as a brother and father-like figure, to Palpatine as a mentor and father-like figure, and most of all to Padme as a wife and future mother of his child. However, as he stated in Attack of the Clones, attachment is forbidden by the Jedi as they believe it will lead to the fear, anger, frustration and suffering associated with the Sith and the dark side. And while, in the case of Anakin, this is true, future information about the Jedi from Luke in The Last Jedi, Rey in The Rise of Skywalker, Palpatine in the Darth Vader comics and other canon sources show that, perhaps, the Jedi were misguided in how bluntly and definitively they rejected attachment. Perhaps, there was a healthy middle ground for Jedi to experience attachment without being all-consumed by it. But Anakin suffering under this discrepancy between his values and the Jedi’s. He desperately wants to be a Jedi and progress in the order, but at the same time desperately wants to be with and take care of his wife and his future family. Ultimately, this became a choice for Anakin and a choice that, ultimately, led him to the dark side. And, while well intentioned, the Jedi were arrogant – assuming they had all the right answers, that their rules were perfectly constructed and thus not up for debate, and, in their hubris, assuming they had a right to everything related to the Force. This is key to Anakin’s journey as he feels as if they are hiding secrets related to the Force and potential ways to save Padme from “certain death,” as he states to Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. These things about the Force they’re not telling him is one of the core reasons Anakin turns to the dark side. If Anakin is endlessly devoted to saving Padme, the Jedi are apparently depriving him of ways to save Padme, and Palpatine is offering him a definitive way to save Padme, then it makes sense why Anakin would turn to the dark side, sacrificing his allegiance to the Jedi and doing the necessary evil in order to turn to the dark side and learn the abilities to save Padme.
Explaining why he continues to remain evil after Padme dies is the fact that Anakin feels as if he could’ve saved Padme if the Jedi had told him how to save her initially, making his allegiance with Palpatine pointless. If they divulged their secrets, he could’ve saved Padme, prevented her death and it would never have led to the destruction of the Jedi order. However, Anakin believes the Jedi did not trust him. Mace often acts antagonistically toward Anakin, Yoda and others questioned his Chosen One status and Anakin doesn’t take kindly to some of Obi-Wan’s overreaching mentoring style. Their growing distrust of Anakin and his relationship to Palpatine once again puts Anakin at odds with himself internally, caught in the balance between his loyalty to the Jedi and his loyalty to Palpatine, much like he is caught between his dedication to saving Padme and dedication to the Jedi Order. These conflicting values and sentiments directed toward Anakin from the Jedi further emphasize how he turned to the dark side.
Overall, Anakin’s turn to the dark side is a multilayered process that requires a lot of inference and interpretation. While the prequels could have done a better job fleshing out Anakin’s reasoning, fan interpretation and a wealth of canon materials since the prequels, including The Clone Wars, have added to his character substantially and made his transformation more logical and reasonable. Ultimately, Palpatine identified Anakin from a young age as a boy powerful in the Force and one he could manipulate into being his apprentice when he eventually took over the galaxy. Palpatine preyed on Anakin’s deepest vulnerability, his fear of loss, and this, coupled with already inherently aggressive and impulsitivity, set the stage for his transformation. On the other side of things, Anakin’s allegiance to the Jedi was dwindling as he thought they stood in his way of saving Padme and were wrong in their beliefs about attachment, in addition to their visible distrust of and doubt in Anakin. This culminated in Anakin siding with Palpatine in a desperate effort to save his wife, sacrificing many Jedi in the process in order to ensure Padme’s safety. When she died, Anakin’s personality traits and sentiments toward the Jedi did not go away. He was still fearful, angry, impulsive and he still hated the Jedi for forbidding his relationship, never truly trusting him, failing to intervene with Shmi, and preventing him from learning abilities that would’ve saved Padme. In the end, this culminated in Anakin’s transformation into Vader. Anakin’s arc is central to the Skywalker saga and one that is really interesting to explore and interpret. This is just one interpretation of his journey. There are many more that could shed light on arguably the most interesting character in Star Wars. Thanks for reading and may the Force be with you!
[All images courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm]