The limited redemption of Anakin Skywalker

I was listening to an episode of the Skytalkers podcast (which I recommend) from back in February, wherein the hosts are discussing the theory that Rey is a Kenobi. I am skeptical of this theory and I do not have much to say about it. However, at one point early on in the episode, the discussion turns briefly to Obi-Wan's somewhat tragic story arc and his failure to redeem Anakin.

A question that has nagged me over the years is to what degree (if any) Anakin Skywalker is actually redeemed by the end of Episode 6. Yes, the sight of Palpatine frying Luke with force lightning finally triggers a crisis of conscience in Darth Vader and leads him to (SPOILER ALERT!) toss the emperor down the reactor shaft, thereby saving his son. And yes, he then sheds the Sith identity in which he has been encased for twenty years and looks upon Luke with his own eyes. Yay! The Death Star explodes, the good guys win, the Ewoks dance, the Force ghosts smile at one another, cue closing credits.

That's all fine, but has Anakin really changed?

He finally turns on the Emperor and kills him not because of some realization that he has chosen the wrong side or that Palpatine is evil, but to save Luke—his son. In other words, Anakin’s motivation is exactly the same as it was in Episode 3, when he finally decides to join Palpatine. Then, it was that he hoped to be able to save Padme. Now he turns against Palpatine, but still only because it is in his familial interest. Is that redemption? Maybe, but it is a pretty limited one, especially given the depth and scale of the havoc Darth Vader has wreaked on behalf of the dark side of the Force over the intervening years.

Then again, one of the core themes of Star Wars is the question of how individuals fit into the larger cycles of history. Maybe one of the answers to that question is that it is always personal and that a person caught up in the larger tides of galactic events sinks or swims depending on the specific human connections to which she or he is able to hang on. Anakin had none—he was taken from his mother by a Jedi order that had little interest in him as a person, and the Emperor was able to exploit that loss by stepping into the gap. Luke might have suffered a fate similar to that of his father had it not been for Obi-Wan and he connection he provided.

So maybe the answer her is that Anakin does find redemption to the extent that it was possible, given the events of his life and the sort of person he is. Does it make him a good person, or compensate for all the stuff he has done? Not really—but then, what could?

Show Comments