Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Revenge of the Sith pt. 1: The Personal Fall

(Big time spoilers. You've been warned!)

Anakin Skywalker's personal fall to the dark side and the effect it has on his loved ones, namely his secret wife and her unborn children and his partner and "brother" in the Jedi Order, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is the centerpiece of Revenge of the Sith. In Episode I, we see Anakin as a young slave boy who wants to do what ever he can to help strangers, a Jedi and a young girl, stranded on his home planet, Tatooine. The "teaser poster" for that movie, a picture of young Anakin walking through the desert, casting the shadow of Darth Vader ominously on the wall behind him, sums up the film for me. How does a young and decent kid grow up to be a mass murder, the fantasy equivalent of a Machiavelli or a Hitler? In Episode II, we don't really get the answer yet. Anakin is portrayed as a rather whiny and bratty teenager who spends lots of time blaming everyone else for his problems. He is plagued by dreams of his mother's death (he was taken from her ten years earlier in Episode I when rescued from slavery) and in love with Senator Padmé Amidala, the girl from Episode I. As a Jedi, he is forbidden "attachment," so neither his love and later secret marriage to Padmé nor his return to his mother are allowed. When he finally goes home to Tatooine to try and save his mother, defying orders from the Jedi Council, he finds her too late, just before she dies, and in his rage slaughters the entire tribe of "Sand People" who killed her.

In Episode III, we finally start to see all the pieces come together. Anakin doesn't fall to the dark side because he was taken from his mother, or because he was a slave, or because he was a bratty kid who whines and blames other people for his problems. Anakin falls to the dark side for one reason: love. He loves too much. He loves so much he can't let go. From the very beginning of the film, we see Anakin saving people. He saves Obi-Wan Kenobi during a dogfight. He tries to save the clone troopers backing them up, but is admonished by Kenobi to focus on his own mission. He saves Chancellor Palpatine, the as-yet-unknown (to the characters) villain of the piece. He saves Obi-Wan again, even at risk to the Chancellor, whom he is charged to protect. "His fate will be the same as ours," he tells Palpatine matter-of-factly. He is virtually obsessed with saving people, something not ordinarily considered a character flaw. However, he then starts having dreams about a now pregnant Padmé similar to the ones he had about his mother. Over and over he dreams of her dying in childbirth, screaming his name out in agony. Now the only thing that matters in his life is saving Padmé and he will stop at nothing to do this. Palpatine, brilliant and manipulative, uses this to his advantage, claiming that he has power over death. Many times Anakin tries to do the right thing, but the dogmatic Jedi don't understand him and offer no useful advice and his need to control everything, even the life and death of his wife, leads to his fall. Of course, this being a tragedy, the dreams are self-fulfilling prophecy and Anakin is responsible for Padmé's death.

This is a radical oversimplification of all the things that lead to Anakin's fall, but it is compelling and tragic in that Anakin does all the wrong things for all the right reasons. He loves. He wants to save people. He doesn't want his wife to die. But his love his selfish and demanding and easily twisted. It isn't the kind of love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13: patient, kind, not envious, or boastful, or arrogant, or rude, or demanding its own way, or irritable or resentful. On the contrary, his "love" is clearly impatient, selfish, envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, demanding, irritable, and resentful; in every way possible he is the exact opposite of the kind of love Paul describes. This is why Palpatine is able to twist his love into hatred with such ease, because possessive, obsessive love isn't really love at all. Still, it's tragic because Anakin falls for the same reason so many people "fall to the dark side" in real life, with the best intentions but the tragically wrong execution and with a twisted and selfish definition of love.


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