We had a string of family nights here at Chez Babble recently. We took a break from watching Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on repeat (it’s our grown-up Finding Nemo, the Felix Felicis scene cracks me up every time) for a few, and watched the Star Wars saga straight through (yes, we watched in story order, and suffered through Episode I, why do you ask?). The Kid is in love with Jar Jar, despite our best efforts, but R2-D2 (or “Artoo” as it is in the book I am reading) is her favorite character, so she has some redeeming qualities. I think we’ll keep her.
I remember reading somewhere recently, I can’t remember where, perhaps one of you gentle readers could help me out, that kids nowadays seem obsessed with bad guys, and that they are So Cool. The writer opined about her son and how he loved to dress up as Darth Vader, and how he had a certain degree of hero-worship for him, and she wondered if it was a “boy thing”. I have an inkling that it goes beyond that for the kids whose parents grew up, like I did, with parents who loved the original Star Wars trilogy, Episodes IV, V, and VI, and who not only tolerated but encouraged us to watch them over and over and over.
Those of us whose parents cheered with us when the Death Star II blew up and sang the Ewok victory song, and those of us whose parents reassured us when we cried when Han Solo was frozen in cabonite, and those of us who held us at the end of Empire when Luke and Leia seemed to feel that all hope was lost (and then tucked us in on our hand-me-down Empire bed sheets! w00t!) and told us it would all be OK. Those of us whose parents chuckled with amusement when we held out breaths when Luke turned off his computer locking device and used the Force to target the Death Star I. We grew up with the knowledge that Darth Vader was a Bad Guy who eventually would be forgiven, but that idea was reinforced to us, that he was Bad. A megalomaniac these movies seemed to want us to believe it, who killed people for fun or just whenever he was irritated, a dictator who abused the Force. Star Wars was about Luke (and vaguely about Leia if you paid close attention but I’ll save that for maybe tomorrow), and how he saved Darth Vader, and made him see that what he was doing was wrong, and that is the classic story of good triumphing over EEEVIL.
But with the release of Episodes I, II, and III, no matter how you feel about them as stand-alone works, we saw that Darth Vader was actually this boy, this child who grew up with a good heart, good intentions, desires, wants and ever unfulfilled needs. He was a child, just like our children, and our children relate to that. They see him, someone like them. Over the movies they watch him grow, we watch him grow.
We see that Darth Vader wasn’t just this More Machine That Man evildoer, but a young man, who was once an incredibly gifted Jedi, strong with the Force, headstrong for sure, but kind and good. He was flawed, but it endeared him to us. He was a bit goofy and fool hearty at times. If anything the looming presence of what was to come made us suck in our collective breath whenever we saw him interact with Senator Palpatine. Whenever John Williams orchestrated strands of the Imperial March into the score we got goosebumps, but Anakin was not evil.
He was never trusted. The prophecy that Qui-gon laid upon him laid heavy, and set high expectations and fear, however unspoken, into the Jedi council. Despite their big words, they didn’t trust Anakin, and despite his abilities they held him back. Or maybe they didn’t, we never really saw, but we did see a frustrated young man who was eager yet crushed. His mentor being the only person who truly believed in him and even he was yet held back by the demands of his own superiors for the crime of insisting on training this boy. We as youth and later as parents of youth related to that relationship. We were able to see that Anakin, the young man who was so frustrated, was caught in a power struggle that was not his own. But Anakin was not evil. He was just never trusted. He was watched closely, warily, and with much doubt. The Jedi council failed to heed even Master Yoda’s own words “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Anakin’s own blood betrayed him as we watched with bated breath because it seemed, that the Council feared his power despite their own creed, but the would be Emperor moved to exploit it. He pushed subtly to find Anakin at his side and hold his ear as he knew by bending the Dark Side to his own will that the Council would never fully trust Anakin for his gifts, and he exploited a frustrated young teenager (or young adult, for I was never really sure how old he was supposed to be at this point).
Anakin Skywalker’s greatest flaw was that he loved. That emotion forbidden by the those who study the ways of the Force because it causes attachment. He loved and created children and wanted to protect all those that he loved. Straying so far from the narrative of the woman who will sacrifice all she knows to protect the child within her womb, we find Padmé calm and trusting. It is Anakin who goes to extreme measures to sheath his family in sacrificial love. His fear of that loss is what allows him to be seduced by the Emperor and the Dark Side, fooling him into believing that he will ever help him. And he pays the ultimate price. He loses everything because of the fear embedded in him by both sides, Palpatine and the Jedi Council(although, once again the mother is the throw away character here, so I can’t give Lucas too many points…) body, and almost soul. Also, absolutely everyone he strove to protect. The confusion that is caused by those around him engaging in a literal pissing match over who can mistrust Anakin the most causes Anakin to mistrust everyone around him. He clings to the only thing he knows to be powerful enough to push him past all of it; himself and his own powerful command of the Dark Side.
All of this is a not-concise way of saying that once the beginning of the Saga was displayed to us it was more obvious that this was indeed to be Anakin’s story, that Darth Vader was not indeed a truly Evil character, but rather a sympathetic player whom we were supposed to empathize with, possibly on many levels. It is why I often find The Kid wanting to be Vader when playing pretend. It is why I think that children today have a fascination with Vader. They find him good inside in the way that most children try to see the good in everything. I see children looking at their world creatively and I see them finding things for what they could be and not what they are presented as. This hero-worship of Darth Vader, just as one example of Bad Guys, could be one of those things, that children see what can be redeemed, and not the rough exterior.
Being lucky enough to grown up with all six pieces of the arch of Anakin’s life I can see it too. So now, gentle readers, I turn it to you.