People’s failings don’t surprise me anymore.
I’m no less disturbed or upset when spiritual giants commit apostasy, motivational speakers confess depression, or friends contend with shameful desires. But people being broken simply isn’t news. A biblically venerated figure like King David had a harem of wives yet plotted to murder a man so he could take his wife (2 Sam. 11). Peter was called by Jesus to be the “rock” of the church yet denied knowing Him three times (Matt. 16:18; 26:34). In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke tells Rey that “the Jedi are romanticized, deified. But if you strip away the myth and look at their deeds, the legacy of the Jedi is failure. Hypocrisy, hubris.”
The fall of Anakin in Revenge of the Sith demonstrates how and why this happens to the best of us.
The seed for his pull to the Dark side is planted in Attack of the Clones with his marriage to Padmé, despite Anakin knowing that romantic attachments are forbidden for Jedi. When the Force gives him visions of her dying in childbirth, Anakin seeks counsel from Yoda, who tells him that attachment and the fear of loss are paths to the Dark side, so Anakin must “let go of that which [he fears] to lose.” Obi-Wan and Yoda tell him the same thing with his insistence to save his mother and Padmé in Attack of the Clones, who go on to give similar advice to Luke in regard to his friends in The Empire Strikes Back.The Jedi…fail to recognize that relationships coincide with respect and love for the Force itself, as it exists because of and flows through all living things.
When the Emperor smiles in Revenge of the Sith after Vader discovers he murdered Padmé in rage, the comic Darth Vader #001 extends this scene with the Emperor saying, “In her death, she has given you a gift. Pain.” In the book Lords of the Sith, Vader tells him that he has accepted this outlook: “My memories feed my anger and my anger feeds my strength and so am I able to serve you, and the Force, better.”
So what is it? Do relationships lead to the Dark or Light side?
The Sith may embrace the power of emotions like anger and jealousy, but gain greater strength in denying themselves of relationships, best purposed as means to ends since lovers and friends would make a Sith lord vulnerable, exploitable, and even weak to the Light side as seen with Kylo Ren. The Jedi believe in the same effects, but fail to recognize that relationships coincide with respect and love for the Force itself, as it exists because of and flows through all living things. Strong, healthy friendships and romance could make a Jedi truly selfless and caring.
But the Jedi don’t understand and properly deal with the nuance of emotions like jealousy and fear. They can be righteous, as advocated by the Wisdom literature with fear as the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 9:19) and jealousy as a sign of devoted love and care (2 Cor. 11:2). Yes, they are paths to evil that can stoke arrogance, pride, fury, and the like when left unchecked, but they aren’t evil in themselves.We wage war within ourselves, and understanding that this is a common battlefield grants us more empathy toward those who need someone most in their darkest moments.
All of Anakin’s friends and mentors show shocking indifference toward Anakin caring about his mother in Attack of the Clones, Ahsoka in The Clone Wars, and Padmé in Revenge of the Sith. In so doing, Anakin has no one to confide in, making his fall to the Dark side all the more understandable since he did “see through the lies of the Jedi” to an extent. The Order’s good intentions resulted in untold emotional suffering for thousands of generations that lashed back through Anakin, which we can see in contemporary examples like Quinlan Vos, Count Dooku, and even Obi-Wan.
The only person who lent an ear to his concerns and emotions seriously is the Emperor; however, the dark lord never knew how or intended to save Padmé. He corrupts Anakin’s emotions and concerns into an all-consuming desire for control. Backed into a corner, Anakin is willing to do anything and everything to save his wife.
We, too, are capable of great evil when what we desire is stronger than our faith or moral compass, as seen with David and Peter. Some will swiftly turn from it while others may not. Some may already know what they are doing is wrong while others may not. Either way, we wage war within ourselves, and understanding that this is a common battlefield grants us more empathy toward those who need someone most in their darkest moments.
Anakin is attacked with doubt and distrust throughout Revenge of the Sith, illustrating how we must talk with and not to those who carry grief or flaws. Not until Return of the Jedi does someone so fully commit themselves to believing in Anakin as Luke does. Obi-Wan or Leia couldn’t do the same. Even when someone is as far gone as Vader, there is always good in people, and so we must meet them where they are by humbly sharing in our brokenness. That is when true, impossible change can occur because we fight together and support each other.
The Emperor tells Luke that his hate makes him powerful, but in the end, it’s his love that makes him powerful. He did what no other Jedi could have done for Anakin, and even though this couldn’t have come soon enough, we see characters like Rey indirectly learning from the tragedy in the revenge of the Sith.