“I’m a Jedi… I know I’m better than this…” — Anakin Skywalker
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones is beginning of the dark fall for the Force’s Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker. No longer the sweet, eager child that we first met on Tattooine, restrictive and emotionally suffocating dogma paired with constant suspicion and unrelenting correction have left our once-happy Ani with tattered nerves, shaken confidence, and the overwhelming will to prove himself. Often coming across as grandiose or whiney, Anakin’s dramatic shift in mood and temperament is a cry for help that remains unheard. The ground beneath his feet is crumbling, he knows something is wrong and everyone casts the blame in his direction. No one hears him save for Obi-Wan, who’s terrified and misunderstood help only exacerbates the problem, and Padme, the woman and influence he is not permitted to have. The Jedi don’t care if Anakin is floundering, they’ve built up an army to protect themselves against him, and Palpatine knows his best time to strike is when Anakin is at his lowest point.
“Young Skywalker is in pain. Terrible pain.” — Master Yoda
Empathic by nature, Anakin is struggling right from the beginning of the film, with nerves, anxiety, and even nightmares – reoccurring dreams centered around the one person who he loves most in the galaxy, the person whose guidance and wisdom he is struggling to hold onto… his mother. Are the dreams a message from his own consciousness, alert to the fact that his mother is in peril, or are they sent by the darkside, by Palpatine to terrorize a child with the one thing he fears the absolute most? I’m not sure myself, but both instances have merit and either way, no matter their source, Anakin is being slowly and methodically tortured, every night, every day with the possibility that the person who loves him most might be taken from him more than she already has been. And having lived ten years surrounded by people who don’t trust him and blatantly do not want him amongst them, Shmi is one of the only people in Anakin’s young life who he truly feels safe with, who he knows truly loves him. Either he abandons her to her fate and must live with the knowledge that he has done so or he must go to her and in doing so prove himself unworthy of being a Jedi. The fact that he chooses his mother over the Jedi goes to show just how loving and pure Ani is at his heart, and how twisted and dangerous the Jedi mentality is when love is turned into an enemy.
“I know I’m disobeying my mandate to protect you Senator, but I have to go. I have to help her!”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have a choice.” — Anakin Skywalker
In the end, Anakin spends the length of AOTC apologizing for his actions, to Obi-Wan, to Padme, his mother… everyone he holds dear and cares about. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s an endless stream of apologies and the desperate need for forgiveness. He is drowning in the unceasing waves of fate, reaching out for some sort of lifeline and the only person who reaches back is Padme, and she keeps him above water…for a time. Because no matter how romantic the notion, one person is not strong enough to bear the weight of another for a lifetime unaided. Had Yoda and the other Jedi put aside their fear and rallied around Anakin, determined to at least let him know that they were there for him, that they appreciated him, Anakin might have survived. They all might have survived. But they didn’t. And that’s why they had to fall, why the Force sent Anakin to live this unbelievably hard and unfairly painful life, because the Jedi were not as they should be. The balance was skewed.
And with the last episode of the Skywalker saga looming on the horizon, we find ourselves back on similar ground…with a boy, a girl, and a choice. Even before his birth Ben Solo was being hunted, his mind invaded by Snoke (a fact we learn from the Aftermath trilogy), and with our knowledge of Snoke’s maniacal cruelty, it is safe to assume that in one fashion or another, Ben was being tortured from the inside out… just like his grandfather. There has been little released regarding Ben as a child and no doubt that is purposeful, but we do know is that his parents sent him away to Luke because “there was too much Vader in him” and they kept the truth of his heritage a secret (Bloodline) which leads to the loneliness, isolation, and fear that Anakin endured at the same age.
It’s little wonder that Ben became Kylo, that after enduring the same things his grandfather did, that they shared the same fate. If anything that teaches us that how you treat someone has a direct correlation to how they treat themselves and the world around them. Ben and Anakin were made to feel dangerous, they were treated with suspicion by those who should have loved them most and that isolation and fear of am I am bad person? drove them to disaster. And much like Padme before her, we now have Rey, a beacon of love and hope standing in Kylo’s path, the only one who hears the cries of help in the darkness. And valiantly, she does try to save him, but this time our heroine has some darkness of her own that she has to face, this time the journey is not completely one-sided. Rey and Kylo both need to be saved to some extent, they have reached out to each other, across time, the galaxy, and a war, but like Anakin and Padme they are not enough to save the other alone.
This is where I hope the story of Star Wars has been leading us, to the lesson that still hasn’t been learned yet… that it isn’t enough to call yourself a hero. You have to actually be one. Poe, Finn, Rose, the Resistance itself needs to do what the Jedi failed to do which is show compassion, forgiveness, and the determination to let go of their own fears and prejudices in the effort to help someone they perceive to be an enemy. They need to be real heroes, not battle victors, and act with the qualities they so loudly proclaim to defend. This time if the lightside is going to win the day they need to deserve it, they need to have earned it, and do what the Council of Jedi Masters failed to do: act with decency and love. This time, they need to be worthy.