A Savior Gone to the Dark Side

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

9 Replies to “A Savior Gone to the Dark Side”

  1. The main difference being, of course, that Jesus and the Father are part of the same Godhead, both being equally God. Anakin and Palpatine are obviously separate entities. Jesus couldn’t have turned to evil because He is God, compared with Anakin who obviously isn’t. I’m afraid Anakin and I were never buddies, even when he was a little kid.

    But you definitely have an interesting analysis about Anakin going on. It’s just been so long since I’ve seen the films that I’ve forgotten most of the details about the new ones so my recollection about Anakin is very hazy.

    What’s worse, and sort of sad, is that I don’t really want to watch them. And I’m waiting to rewatch the original trilogy until Disney actually gives us the 1990s revamp of the films with all the original voices and without young Anakin at the end of the movie. They’ve raised the idea and I hope they follow through on it.

    It is interesting seeing you as a Star Wars fan. 🙂

    1. True, but they are both part of the Force, which is a single force that flows through all life. That’s why Anakin is the anti-Jesus: created for a dark purpose, to fulfill dark ambitions, by a dark master.

      It may be a long wait, depending on how stubborn Lucas is…

      1. I feel kind of bad that I’ve lost the love I once had for Star Wars. You know me, I was never all that into the new movies, but I don’t think I ever hated them. It’s just that Tolkien took over whatever passion I once held for the Star Wars verse. Very strange!

        One does wonder what would have happened if Anakin had resisted evil. I mean, he has free will, just like anyone, regardless of his origins. In that way he is very like Jesus, as you said. It’s just that Jesus, in human form, was tempted but never sinned. Anakin never managed to accomplish the not-sinning part. Maybe if I watched them again, and who knows when that might be, I might see a more gradual turning than I remember in the movies. Little steps along a darker path. I think that’s why I always loved Luke. He starts out selfish and a bit of a jerk, but he grows beyond that.

        And yes, I’ve grown used to Lucas’s stubborn streak. We may have years and years to wait before he finally gives in. Bleh!

        1. It’s still there and if you ever revisit the films, it’ll show up again. Trust me. 😉

          Had Anakin resisted evil, he would have brought balance to the Force and perhaps wiped out the Sith or at the very least, helped them on their way to destruction. But he chose hatred and revenge over forgiveness and acceptance — he destroyed the people that caused his mother’s death, his first MASSIVE step toward the dark side. Before that, though, the seeds were there … rebellion, defiance, choosing to love and marry Padme, lying … all things that took him toward the big shift.

          George Lucas is an eternal tinkerer, so I don’t know that you will ever get the original series as it was; as new technology comes along and as he continues to build the mythos, he continues to tinker with the originals. Reading a book about it lately, I was surprised at how little he plans ahead with these things — like, Luke and Leia were not going to be siblings at first, and Vader really was supposed to have murdered Luke’s father in a fight. But then he spontaneously decided while writing the second film to make Vader the father figure. Hence, why there is a bit of discontinuity in the films.

  2. Oh awesome. Now I feel like I have to explore this for myself and do a post, to try to figure out what it all means to me. Gah! You make me work so hard with all your angles and ideas!! 😉 Hmm…maybe my post will link back to yours, serving as a bit of a complimentary one….

  3. Awesome post!
    Yeah, I remember when I saw the prequels, the third in particular, that it reminded me of Christian symbolism. Though I did catch the immaculate conception plot, Anakin’s fall made me think of the devil rather than Christ. Evenso, it was sad to see a character that I liked go to the dark side. I actually liked Anakin better than Luke Skywalker, who is the Savior. While Hollywood is blatantly anti-Christian (at least in my opinion it is), they know what appeals to the public and will borrow Christian themes when it suits them.

    1. You can interpret a lot of the stuff in Star Wars according to what you want to see and what you value — so yeah, I definitely saw some Satan symbolism in Anakin in Episode III. His brutal fight with Obi-Wan in particular made me think of light and dark, a juxtaposition of good and evil — sort of Gabriel (Obi-Wan) fighting Satan (Anakin) in an iconic falling-out. The Fall from Heaven, as it were. I certainly see that in Anakin. That scene breaks my heart — the master and the apprentice, locked in lethal battle.

      To be brutally honest — and at the risk of being butchered by fans of the originals — I like the prequels way more for their emotional arc. It is so much more emotionally gutting to see Anakin start out an idealistic, ambitious, opinionated boy that is likable and engaging and then descend into the pathetic, charred, half-robotic creature Darth Vader. It’s a gloriously heart-wrenching betrayal that resonates long after the credits roll, much more so for me than any emotional arc in the originals. Luke is the Christ figure indeed; the one who comes to redeem the fallen ways of his earthly father and bring true balance to the Force.

      Nice thoughts. I love discussing these things, so thanks for commenting. 🙂

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