I know I said this earlier this week you guys but I just have to repeat myself, I cannot believe we’re already in the third month of our countdown to Episode IX!!! I don’t know about you, but it’s been a hell of a lot of fun exploring these films one at a time, and Revenge of the Sith is one of my all-time favorites — because let’s be honest, it’s dramatic as hell and I live for that kind of over-the-top madness in my mythic lore! What really drives home the tone and emotion of this prequel finale is our fallen hero: Anakin Skywalker himself. The little boy who escaped slavery and devoted his life to the people of the galaxy and became the the young Jedi we’ve come to love and care for now has to die so that Vader can be born in his stead. His ultimate fate was known since the very beginning but now it’s time for him to finally fall beyond our outstretched fingers and plunge into the place where only true villains dwell. And dear god, does Hayden Christensen deliver an emotionally devastating performance.
The Anakin we meet in the beginning of Revenge of the Sith is definitely not the same as the reckless, eager-to-prove-himself-but-often-to-his-own-detriment one we left behind at the end of Attack of the Clones. A few years have passed and with the assurance of Padme’s love and support and a more confident and sedate maturity borne of experience and lessons learned, Anakin has settled in his role as a Jedi Knight despite the continued spite of the Masters of the Order. Within the first twenty minutes of the film we see Anakin calmly and resiliently save Obi-Wan’s life twice, council patience while urging greater kindness for those around him (specifically the clones and R2), and engage in combat with a previous enemy with far more control and level-headedness than was previously displayed. For all intents and purposes, Anakin has grown up into a kind, intelligent, compassionate human being and Star Wars goes to great lengths to establish that fact as soon as possible. So many fans and viewers identify Anakin as whiney, immature, and power-hungry but that’s not the character we’re given at all. That’s the Jedi’s tainted version of him, the propaganda slogan that’s hardwired into our perceptions as we watch our supposed heroes fall from grace. Yes, Anakin’s personality changes over the course of ROTS, and it’s important that we see it, but not for the reason so many of us think.
“I sense great fear in you, Skywalker. You have hate. You have anger. But you don’t use them.” — Count Dooku
As I said, Anakin’s introduction in this film is as an unmistakable hero — he saves his former Master from not only buzz-droids and a failing personal space-craft, but from being left behind unconscious on an enemy vessel, is willing to risk his own life and his Jedi-mandated mission to save the lives of his Clone troops, and even urges Obi-Wan to be kinder and more considerate to their droid companion and fan-favorite badass: R2-D2. This is a stark and immediate change from the nervous, uncomfortable-in-his-skin teenager we last saw — this is an adult and a leader taking charge to save lives. Lucas even goes so far as to show Anakin advocating patience instead of action, urging that they wait for help instead of surging ahead blindly fighting their way out of a situation… a far leap from the boy who rushed headlong into a fight against an unknown enemy and had the lower half of his arm sliced off within seconds. This is the man Anakin truly is, or is as close to that person as we’ll ever get without Jedi or fate involvement. This is Shmi’s son, the boy who thinks only of others, who knows nothing of greed, and who faced down almost certain death to help complete strangers stranded on a desert planet. This is the Anakin we mourn for when he makes that final fatal choice, and this is the Anakin that is stolen from us and from Padme by the Force itself.
“Something’s happening. I’m not the Jedi I should be.” — Anakin Skywalker
But alongside this new maturity and growth is the sense that something is very wrong with our hero. We see it in brief flashes of unexplainable violence and even sense it in the quiet moments between he and Padme. The boy who spoke the truth of his feelings at every turn is suddenly more subdued, more uneasy with his thoughts and actions and words and doesn’t know what is happening to himself and the world around him. With each new outburst Anakin slowly begins shutting down, spiraling into himself, unsure of how to communicate what is happening inside of himself and no matter how he explains it to those around him, no one understands enough to actually help. Ultimately he is older, he is wiser, and sadly for him and everyone around him, he is closer than ever to succumbing to his fate.
Moments after his defeat of Count Dooku, something unexplainable comes over our hero and in a fatal flash he beheads his unarmed opponent — to the urging of Chancellor Palpatine. It’s easy to dismiss this as evidence of Anakin’s already submissive state to his future Master of the darkside of the Force, but this shocking lack of control is shown directly after Dooku comments on Anakin’s refusal to connect to his darker and more human instincts. If Anakin was nothing more than a walking monster waiting to happen then there is no point in stating that he doesn’t fight with the most dangerous and effective aspects of himself, the audience would be all-too ready to watch Vader come out to play, but that’s the whole point. Vader is not wholly Anakin. Vader is the representation of the darkest part of Ani’s human nature and despite himself, his beliefs, and his own choices, that dark energy is being forced to manifest not only by the actions of those around him, but also by the Force itself. Anakin is destiny and fate made real. The Force has watched as it’s users misused it’s energy for thousands of years, as even the good fell prey to corruption and power-mongering and it has finally said enough… and sent Anakin to wipe clean the slate. These flashes are only the beginning of the Force making it’s will known.
For Anakin, the small glimpse of happiness and peace that was granted to him is over. The Sith are taking over the government of the galaxy and the Jedi have proven complicit to their crimes, allying themselves with their mortal enemies to stave off the Force’s judgement, ultimately justifying the Force’s need to cleanse itself. Both the Jedi and the Sith are morally corrupt, tipping the scales towards intolerance, hostility, and even death. There is no balance to be found in the Force any longer, so Anakin must create it anew. But in doing so he will lose himself in the process because he is the balance. To wipe away the tarnished light, he will become darkness and death incarnate, and only when it’s time to destroy the dark will he find the light inside himself again. Until his fated task is complete, Anakin’s cries for help will go unheard and ultimately unanswered, even by the audience themselves. We can only watch, and suffer along with him, as he slowly descends into madness and step by painful step loses himself completely to the will of the Force.