Revenge Of The Sith: Fear And Darkness

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“Yourself you speak of, or someone you know?” — Master Yoda

“Someone.” — Anakin Skywalker

“Close to you?” — Master Yoda

“Yes.” –Anakin Skywalker

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Three years have passed since nightmares of his mother’s unceasing pain and death tortured young Padawan Anakin Skywalker, heralding the death of the only person who truly knew him in the galaxy and setting him on the path that would lead him to the darkest part of his destiny. Blood and death, the nightmares brought only blood and death and hatred in their wake. Time has passed since the devastation and loss of Episode II and Anakin is now a Jedi Knight, a loving yet secret husband, and a General in the Galactic Civil War, but inside he is still the little boy who had to leave his mother behind to live the life they both dreamed for him and then held her as she died in his arms and promised her grave he wouldn’t fail again. Years have passed since that night, since Ani tasted blood and death in the desert air, years have passed…but now the nightmares have started again — and this time the person dying in them is the one person Anakin Skywalker cannot survive losing… his wife Padme.

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Desperate to save her from his prophetic dreams, Anakin makes one last attempt to reach out to his fellow Jedi, putting aside his wounded pride and the sting of their mistreatment to beg for help protecting the one he loves most. He seeks council from the greatest of Masters, the epitome of the Jedi Order itself: Yoda, and tells him of his fears, of the death he sees looming on the horizon.

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Visually, Anakin is emotionally upset, shaken. He’d endured these dreams only a few years ago, dreams that lead him to find his mother only moments before her death. He’d cradled her broken body as she drew her last breath, unable to save her himself… so he made her a promise. He would not fail again. But now the dreams have returned, sent from the Force itself or Palpatine, to torture Anakin into madness and still his first innate instinct is to turn to what should be the light and ask for help. His mother’s teachings ring true in him, and in his darkest fears he reaches for the light, despite it’s snubs. In truth, he has no reason to trust the Jedi, their contempt of him is and has always been glaringly obvious, but he has sworn his life to their humanitarian cause and has asked for nothing from them in return until now. He will not let his wife die the way his mother had… he promised. And so he looks to Yoda – to save him, to save Padme, to save the Jedi Oder from the fate it is bringing down upon itself…and is met with no more than placating children’s rhetoric. You fear losing something… well don’t, you shouldn’t be attached to it in the first place. Let it go.

“Attachment leads to jealousy… the shadow of greed that it… Train yourself to let go… of everything you fear to lose.” –Master Yoda

Watching the saga as a while, this is the moment the Jedi unapologetically and irrevocably seal their own fate. They have had countless opportunities to practice what they preach in terms of compassion and at every turn they fail to do so. They failed Padme in the Phantom Menace, they failed Anakin from the very moment they met him, and now when not only the fate of another innocent is on the line, but the entire galaxy itself, they fail themselves and those who look to them for Light.

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For all his strengths, Anakin is not a good liar, Shmi did not raise him to be, so he’s about as subtle as a flashing neon sign. And let’s not forget that Yoda himself was present when Padme ran to Ani at the end of Attack of the Clones and threw her arms around him, embracing him without conscious or shame for all the world to see. It doesn’t take a genius to realize something is going on between them… and Yoda is far from unintelligent — so there is no conceivable way he did not know that Anakin and Padme were at the very least, lovers. Even Obi-Wan knew (a fact we learn from a deleted ROTS scene). And his response to Anakin’s plea highlights the stark contrast between simple, common decency and the unbending Jedi morality: Yoda offers no help or reassurance, merely passive-aggressive judgment and we call him the hero for it, for withholding empathy from someone in need — empathy, the link that connects all living beings.

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How easy would it have been to drop the pretense and reach out to the boy that’s clearly terrified in front of him – even if he had no real advice for how to help – and just say: I am here for you. The Jedi – your family – is here for you. 

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Common decency, not dogma — that’s all that was being asked for here. You can speak platitudes and hold your actions and thoughts as superior to everyone around you but if you cannot act with the basest of humane kindnesses in the face of abject terror and suffering then how good can you possibly be? Tears streamed down Anakin’s face. He was shaking. He was terrified. But still Yoda remained unmoved. A Jedi feels no fear… a Jedi feels nothing, just as stone feels nothing. And stone men cannot know balance, they cannot lead, because they cannot feel the difference between right and wrong, they only think they know it. Anakin was mature enough to let go of his pride and ask for help from those he knew hated him. He knew pride, understood it for its complexities, and chose to set it aside for the greater good. But someone who’s never admitted pride, or fear, or anger, or love, or joy, never taken the time to understand them, cannot put them aside for any cause. Because these emotions that encompass both good and bad, light and dark, are nothing more than a fairy story, a rhetoric that can be learned but never understood. Any emotion can be a fault and a virtue, it can save or it can destroy, but only those capable of expressing empathy, of understanding emotions, can understand their importance.

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Yoda condemns fear as darkness, but he had known fear since the moment he met Anakin Skywalker all those years ago, but instead of expressing it, understanding and moving past it, he feigns ignorance of its presence and is therefore consumed by it. He sits as unmoved  in the presence of anguish, fear, and love, watches as a ward of his Order cries for the life that may be lost and is stone. Fear can break a man, twist him into something he is not, but he can rise again with empathy in his heart, but eventually all stone crumbles into dust and is scattered by the wind — eroded by all things.

Revenge Of The Sith: A Mind At War

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

“Something’s happening…”

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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.

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The Journey Continues: Revenge Of The Sith

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It was an epic year of high school firsts and personal discoveries, of big victories and small failures, and over-all great change in the weeks and months leading up to the release of Star Wars Episode III Revenge of the Sith. And throughout it all, my house was chock-full of minutely detailed fan-theories and wide-eyed conspiracy theories regarding the final fate our galactic heroes and supposed villains. I remember having countless detailed conversations with my dad as to what exactly was going to make Anakin turn to the darkside and become Darth Vader. We all figured it had something to do with Padme dying since we’d all seen what happened with his mother and the rage that lurked beneath the surface, especially considering he loved her so intensely and she definitely wasn’t in the originals. so as sad as it was, it was a safe bet that our badass Queen turned Senator was going to be taken from us somehow. But by whom? How? And why? These were the million-dollar questions and dear god did we have some crazy ideas.

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Looking back at it all, the entire lead-up to the release was completely nerve-wracking and thrilling – the stakes had never been so high for me before with regards to a movie franchise. The only thing that came close was waiting for each new Harry Potter book (and let me tell you was a whole-other level of stress, especially after The Goblet of Fire), but Star Wars was something I had literally been born into, I had lived and breathed with theses character and their stories my entire life, and now with this final episode on the horizon, we were going to be given the answers to every question we as fans had ever asked ourselves. What were we going to do with ourselves once it was all over?!

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I remember when the Sunday paper released the first detailed images of Episode III and Anakin, I was eating breakfast with my family at one of our favorite diners and I just couldn’t take my eyes off the haunting image of Ani surrounded by the black and red of Mustafar. This was it… it was actually finally happening. The Anakin I had fallen in love with over the last two films was about to face the thing that was going to break him, that was going to turn him from the bright happy boy who loved an amazing woman, to the black-clad mechanical monster that terrorized the galaxy. I was going to be with him every step of the way, but this was a perilous journey and I knew we weren’t all going to make it through to the other side. I was almost 16, and this was the first time I had to let a character go. I’d known going in that there was no saving him, but over the course of two films and six years, I had forgotten somehow that Anakin was not mine to keep. That I had to give him back to fate so that he could become the villain he was meant to be. Because the end of his story had already been told, it was the cliffhanger of a middle that was about to be revealed.

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When the film finally soared into theaters May 19th 2005 my parents, my little brother, and I took our seats and I held my breath. This was the last time we wouldn’t know the whole story…or so we thought. It didn’t surprise me to learn that I had been right, that it was the loss of Padme, or rather the fear of losing her, that lead Anakin down the darkest of paths, but I was blown away by how intense every second of the film was. I cried in anguish as Anakin made that fatal decision to leave the Jedi temple to stop Mace Windu from arresting Palpatine, and then again in horror as he marched back into the temple to wreck the destruction of Darth Vader. That scene shocked me more than any other. My Anakin was gone, I had watched him leave, watched him blur into Darth Vader before my very eyes, and no amount of begging and pleading from either Padme or myself could get him to stop and come back to the light. I left the theater stunned and absolutely amazed, telling those waiting in line for the next showing that they were in for a heck of an emotional roller-coaster!

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Fourteen years later and I still feel utter shock and devastation every time I watch Revenge of the Sith. Every time Anakin stands alone in the temple, feeling the weight of Padme’s life on his shoulders I want to scream at him not to leave, not to make this horrible decision. Even as I’ve gotten older and my love of the Jedi Order has faded into a much harsher viewpoint, I still find myself wishing that Anakin could have found another way, that he had just waited for Obi-Wan or something, I don’t even know what really! But his fate was sealed long before his birth, and this was the path the Force set him upon and no amount of tears or wishes was going to keep him from bring balance to the galaxy in the most brutal way possible.

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And in the end that’s what makes this film so epic and timeless. No matter how much time has passed since its original release, fans still find themselves interacting with the moments playing out onscreen, hoping time and again that this time the story changes, that this time Anakin makes a different choice. We sit there entranced as the events unfold before us, the way that they always have ever since 2005 and still we can’t help but have hope. Hope that this time, we can rewrite the story, that we can defy fate. Hope that this time, maybe if we’re strong enough, we can reach through the Force and save the characters we’ve come to love.

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