That Most Crucial Pawn – An Ongoing Rumination on Anakin Skywalker – Part I

In recent months, I have found myself more fully invested in George Lucas’s Star Wars saga, particularly the stories that take place before the rise of the Galactic Empire, than I had for years thought possible. After years of hiding within the bandwagon of hatred for the prequel trilogy, as well as downplaying my own love for Lucas’s universe and characters, I have finally begun to give these stories a fair shake. And I am extremely happy to say that I like the prequel trilogy as a whole, and love Revenge of the Sith (2005) in particular, as not only an adult looking back on the interests of his childhood self but also as the person I am today.

I have far more respect for George Lucas as a creative today than I had for years. This is in no small part because he is one of the few filmmakers to actually challenge child audiences with stories directed at them. His six Star Wars films and the two Clone Wars television series he produced may be intended for children, but that did not stop him from creating deeply complex narratives. This guy actually committed to dedicating his children’s film to a depiction of the rise of a fascist state. What other filmmaker is going to do that?

More than this, dedicated his entire prequel trilogy – the set of stories intended to explain how the universe got to the point it was at the beginning of the original film – to humanizing the original trilogy’s face evil, to showing how the systems and people that were meant to protect him were the very things that turned him into the monster we knew.

I think this is quite possibly the primary reason there is still so much unwillingness to engage with these films on their own terms, to consider their ideas and their craft more carefully than just “This ruined Star Wars!”

It is uncomfortable, and (perhaps alarmingly) disappointing, to have to reckon with the idea that the super scary and powerful villain that destroyed so many lives was once not only an innocent child but also a whiny teenager, a spiteful brat, an arrogant student, a pawn.

It is oddly disappointing to realize that Darth Vader is actually kind of pathetic.

But… this is a reality that we have to accept. The real world monsters that Vader and Sidious are modeled after (fascist dictators and perpetrators of genocide) were also pathetic, whiny, ridiculous little bastards. The fascists of today’s world are just as pathetic, whiny, and ridiculous, and it would be a massive mistake to pretend that they are much more than that.

This is a large part of why I find the character of Anakin Skywalker so fascinating nowadays. Another significant factor is my own personal identification with him when I was a child. I felt, and in some ways still feel, in tune with his anger, his frustration with the ways of the world around him. I think I get more than others might why he would be so vulnerable to Sidious’s manipulations because I recognize that, had I been born a little later or grown up in an environment less caring for my wellbeing than I did, I might have been just as vulnerable to similar manipulations at the hands of figures not at all unlike Sidious.

This is in part why I am somewhat ambivalent to the characterization of Anakin in the 2008 Dave Filoni Clone Wars series. I have only just started Season 3 (and I’ve been watching in chronological order, so I have not seen every episode in Seasons 1 or 2 yet) so I am going to reserve full judgment until I have finished the whole show. But I am still unsure of what the writers doing with the character.

While I like this version of him a lot, while I enjoy his presence on screen and his interactions with other characters, I think this in some ways flies in the face of the characterization in the prequel films.

In my interpretation, Anakin Skywalker is the fool who got played, the kid so emotionally stunted by the teachings of his incredibly flawed mentors, so desperately incapable of dealing with the idea of death, that he fell easy prey to the indoctrination of a fascist.

It is very much possible that I am just impatient at this time, that I just need to accept how remarkably slowly paced this show is for an action series and wait for the little inklings of Vader the character has exhibited thus far grow very gradually.

I’m hoping that this is the case, and that I am simply a little biased in favor of the 2005 series because that was what I grew up with. I am going to keep watching the show (not that I really have to try to keep up with it, it’s seriously addictive, I’ve watched two seasons worth within just three days!) but I will also return to this topic in the future to talk about my interpretation of Anakin Skywalker and my relationship with these various depictions (I’m looking forward to also drawing upon Matthew Stover’s impeccable novelization of Revenge of the Sith).

This character means a great deal to me and I just want to get my thoughts on these depictions down while my love and fascination for Star Wars is still at this height.

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