Four Defenses of Anakin Skywalker
People love Darth Vader. They hate Anakin Skywalker. But why is that? After all, (ancient spoiler alert) the two are one and the same. Well, Darth Vader was a strong, menacing villain who had a heart buried beneath layers of metal. Anakin Skywalker cries and doesn't like sand.
Or so many fans seem to think. While I respect their opinion, and agree in many instances, I believe that Anakin receives more criticism than necessary and supplemental materials to the movies reveal he's more complex than we know. So, today we'll examine some likable things about Anakin Skywalker!
1. His Kindness
Though I'll admit that the directing of many scenes in the prequels were botched, Anakin's kindness shined bright ever since Phantom Menace. Even as a young boy he's already an incredible mechanic and pilot, but he hasn't (yet) let that develop into arrogance. He's also unusally optimistic and compassionate for a boy raised without a father and living in a harsh, poor, desert planet. Oh, and he's a slave with a bomb inside him that'll blow up if he tries to escape.
But despite all his hardships, Anakin dreams of a better future and offers to help complete strangers just because he believes it's right. He risks his life in a dangerous podrace (and later, spacebattle) just to aid others.
2. His Loyalty
Okay, this point is pretty strange considering Anakin's eventual betrayal. However, his betrayal can be seen as him having to make what he perceives to be an impossible decision between loyalties; his wife or all his Jedi comrades.
On many occasions, we witness Anakin's devotion to others. Despite the friction between him and his mentor Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones, he speaks well of his master and refers to him twice as being like a father. Additionally, he reveals that he's thought of Padme every day for ten years after only knowing her for a few weeks because of their bond. Anakin rushes to his mother when he feels her distress, he is heartbroken when he arrives too late. And he narrowly saves Obi-Wan from death at the hands of Count Dooku.
In Revenge of the Sith, Anakin refuses to leave an unconscious Ob-Wan behind, despite Palpatine's urges. He also attempts to aid his clone trooper allies in the space battle, begrudgingly allowing Obi-Wan to persuade him otherwise. And though he betrays his Jedi allies, he first tells them of Palpatine's double life as Darth Sidious, and offers to help them bring him in. He only turns against the Jedi when Mace Windu almost murders Palpatine, telling Windu that "it's not the Jedi way."
3. His Motivations
Fans debate on the quality of the prequel trilogy. While I enjoyed them, I'd recommend the novel of Revenge of the Sith to any fan. It's well-written and fleshes out characters more as it isn't constrained by the time limits that the film suffers from. Also, it helps explain the motivations of the cast, especially Anakin.
For instance, in the film version of Revenge of the Sith, Anakin lashes out in anger when he isn't granted the rank of Jedi Master despite being on the Jedi Council. This came across as selfish and immature; who cares if you're not quite given the title yet, Anakin? Thankfully, the novel explains his reaction.
As both versions show, he had been dreaming of his wife Padme perishing, and was desperate to find a countermeasure. Certain texts buried deep in the Jedi Archives may have contained secret Force techniques that could aid him, but only Jedi Masters can access such files. When Palpatine appoints Anakin to the Council, Anakin believes he'll finally be able to review those files and thus save his beloved. His hopes are dashed when was he denied his rank. Hey, I'd be pretty peeved too.
4. His Regret
Look, to be frank, feeling bad about a sin doesn't make it okay. You can't go massacre people and then mope around and expect total forgiveness.
That said, Anakin truly detests himself for his part in the slaughter of the Jedi, revealing that he still has compassion within him. At the end of the novel of Revenge of the Sith, he hates Palpatine, realizing how the man has manipulated and harmed him. The only reason he stays with Palpatine is, well, who else does he have left? The Jedi are murdered and his wife is dead (and so are, as Anakin believes, his two children.) What else can he do? Anakin, filled with self-loathing, accepts that the Emperor has won and resolves to at least help the galaxy by serving as an efficient right-hand man to the new regime.
Now, I'm not saying Darth Vader was kind. He committed many atrocious acts over several years. But as certain documents left behind reveal, he at least tried to act for the galaxy's sake, and wasn't afraid to risk his life despite having legions of troops under his command. Unlike Palpatine, who was reviled by Rebels and Empire supporters alike, Vader at least amassed a reputation of respect and admiration for his courage and eventual redemption.
Anakin Skywalker's portrayal in the prequel trilogy was shaky due to both time constraints and directive misguidance. He's still a complex, intriguing character who I enjoyed watching. Despite mixed reception of Hayden Christensen's acting, Darth Vader still remains Star Wars's most popular character, and Anakin's backstory helps enrich his legacy.
In-universe, Vader is now gone, but new villain Kylo Ren carries his baton, trying to emulate Vader's policies. In short, even past his demise, Vader continues to influence and expand the Star Wars Universe.
Check out the superb Clone Wars show to further explore his psyche, and how he handles raising his own Padawan while fighting a galactic war. May the Force be with you!