Thanksgiving weekend, I curled up with Star Wars on Blu-Ray. It was the first time I have ever seen them all in a row, and had a chance to think through the over-reaching plot arc and dynamic. What I think of the prequels and originals as stand alones or part of a franchise is neither here nor there, but I kept mentally wandering back to Anakin and the symbolism around him, throughout.
I’m used to seeing religious symbolism in some form in entertainment, but Star Wars is weird. It embodies a broad, all-encompassing worldview that touches on many different philosophies and belief systems, but also has inverted Christian symbolism going on. And by that, I mean you can draw some interesting and unnerving parallels between Anakin and Jesus… had Jesus gone to the dark side. In doing so, it takes you even further into a somewhat sinister and fascinating contemplation of the films’ approach to a God-figure.
Anakin was born of an immaculate conception, because Palpatine – a Sith Lord, and user of the Dark Side – willed him into existence. This was a plot line intended but dropped from the final films, but it is still implied in the scene where Palpatine says that some Sith Lords are so powerful, they can create life out of nothingness, meaning Anakin. He is born with an unnatural connection to the Force, an element made up of every living thing, which makes him supernaturally gifted. Qui-Gonn even sees in him potential messianic implications, hence his decision to train him in the Jedi arts despite the Jedi Council’s objections. Old prophecies claim he will bring “balance” to the Force, but as Yoda says, “misinterpreted, prophecies can be.” This reminds me of how the radical Jewish community misinterpreted the prophecies about Christ, in pursuit of an earthly messiah rather than a divine savior. Anakin is rejected by the Jedi Council, much like the Sanhedrin rejected Christ, sensing danger in him. His fall from grace is due to his intense fear of losing the woman he loves; essentially, his inability to separate his emotions from his actions and repress them into non-existent total selflessness (the higher calling of the Jedi priests); this condemns him to embrace the Dark Side out of the hope that it will save Padme. Herein lies the distinction: Jesus could be totally selfless, and Anakin could not.
His inability not to love brings about Padme’s death and fulfills his prophetic dream; he is the catalyst that ends her life. His turn to the Dark Side and his murder of the Jedi children eradicates her will to live and thus she gives up and dies. His choice, made out of a desire to save her, instead abandons her to death and forces him into a conflict with his childhood mentor, Obi-Wan. Inverted symbolism; the savior that falls and loses the thing he desires, instead causing her death, compared with the savior who loves so much he gives in willingly and saves what He desires to save (humanity, if they accept His sacrifice).
If we follow this train of thought further, it leads us to Palpatine. He emulates both Satan and God, depending on which angle you want to view him from; his temptation of Anakin, his promise that all the power in the universe will be his and that he can control life and death, is not unlike the temptation of Jesus and of Adam and Eve. Anakin betrays all that is good in the Jedi order for power. He gives up the priesthood one decision at a time, in pursuit of his emotional desires, because to be a Jedi is too difficult for him; he cannot put aside his heart. Thus, in a very real sense, love leads him to the Dark Side. It becomes not a saving force, as in the Savior’s story, but a condemning one, for if one loves, one faces loss, and “fear [of loss] leads to anger, and anger leads to the Dark Side.” Anakin is only redeemed three movies later, when watching Palpatine torture his son Luke, who has the true traits of a Jedi and the moral conviction to stand firm and not give in to the Dark Side; he cannot stand to see his son destroyed and turns on his master. Once again, love changes his mind … but this time, for good.
Seeing Palpatine as Satan is almost comforting when offered the alternative… that he is representative of a harsh view of God. He willed Anakin into existence to pursue his agenda for the Force and the Empire. He chose a woman and gave her an immaculate conception, as God did Mary. Anakin went on to do his will, in destroying the Jedi (priests, who follow a moral code established and based on Old Laws; essentially, destroying the Old Religion and abolishing the Old Testament Laws). And, if Anakin was willed into being for a specific purpose, did he truly have a choice in the path he pursued, or was his turn to the Dark Side predestined? He has some choice, but only truly embraces freedom when he overthrows his “master.” He denied his creator, rebelled against him, and finally destroyed him… and found peace.
What is the implication? That we are only truly liberated when we rebel against a tyrannical creator? Or is it coincidence? The meaning behind these events is obscure, and we cannot even be certain any interpretation is truly meant; it is a hodgepodge of incidents, philosophies, worldviews, and religious symbolism wrapped up in a colorful and creative world. No matter what interpretation you choose, you can find evidence to support an ideology or belief system, religious or atheistic. (I am particularly fond of Obi-Wan and Anakin’s duel to the death in Episode III, a vision of darkness and light, angelic force colliding with demonic evil, amid the smoking flames of a hell planet.) What does any of this mean? Is it even significant? I don’t know, but it continues to preoccupy my mind.