Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side. Why? The simple answer you may take away from this movie is that Anakin was afraid of losing Padmé because of the dreams he is having about her death. Darth Sidious has promised him the key to keeping her alive, so he turns to keep that hope alive. But is it that simple?
Young Skywalker’s path to the Dark Side began long ago, before he ever meets the young queen who will become his secret wife. It began with a desire—a good desire—to see his mother freed from slavery. He has dreams of becoming a Jedi and freeing the slaves on Tatooine. When he meets Qui-Gon, and confirms he is a Jedi, he assumes they have come to rescue slaves. Why else would they be out there? Devastated when his mother is not freed, he vows to come back to rescue her.
Jedi are trained to avoid attachments. They must “let go” of those close to them, being willing to give them up. We see this in Anakin’s conversation with Yoda after he is troubled by the nightmares about Padmé.
YODA: Premonitions . . . premonitions . . . Hmmmm . . . these visions you have . . .
ANAKIN: They are of pain, suffering, death . . .
YODA: Yourself you speak of, or someone you know?
ANAKIN: Someone . . .
YODA: . . . close to you?
YODA: Careful you must be when sensing the future, Anakin. The fear of loss is a path to the dark side.
ANAKIN: I won’t let these visions come true, Master Yoda.
YODA: Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them, do not. Miss them, do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is.
ANAKIN: What must I do, Master Yoda?
YODA: Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.
Jedi apparently believe in a Stoic-like philosophy. They are taught to be compassionate, but not allowed to own anything or form attachments which would distract them from their duty. This is presumably why they begin training at such a very young age. It reminds me of the quote attributed to Aristotle: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” Jedi trained “younglings” much longer than that, and concepts such as avoiding attachments were drilled into them.
The admonition to “rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force” is reminiscent of what you might hear at a Christian funeral but most Christians would reject the advice not to mourn or miss those we have lost. Such lack of feeling is unhealthy and dangerous. We do have to come to terms with the fact things happen beyond our control, but the grieving process is necessary.
Allowing himself to become attached to people was not Anakin’s problem. It was failing to deal with the fact there are times when things happen which are beyond our control. After his mother dies, he lashes out in anger at the Tusken Raiders, killing everyone—including the women and children. He is unable to forgive himself for not being there in time, and the scars from his judgment upon himself—for what he failed to do, and what he did do—will plague him the rest of his life.
Anakin was not the only one in the story who allowed himself to become attached contrary to his training. After Anakin turns and attacks the Jedi temple, Obi-Wan tells Yoda that Anakin is like his brother, and he cannot kill him. Watching the three prequels back-to-back recently with family, I was impressed by the difference in the evolving relationship of Obi-Wan and Anakin from episode 2 to episode 3. In Attack of the Clones, there is some closeness, but Obi-Wan acts more like a mentor than a friend. His criticism is often harsh, and it is no wonder Anakin is frustrated at times. In Revenge of the Sith, however, the friendship seems to have blossomed, with Obi-Wan more free with praise. The conversation between them when they part for separate missions is telling.
ANAKIN: Master, I’ve disappointed you. I have not been very appreciative of your training . . . I have been arrogant and I apologize . . . I’ve just been so frustrated with the Council. Your friendship means everything to me.
OBI-WAN: You are strong and wise, Anakin, and I am very proud of you. I have trained you since you were a small boy. I have taught you everything I know. And you have become a far greater Jedi than I could ever hope to be, and you have saved my life more times than I can remember. But be patient, Anakin. It won’t be long before the Council makes you a Jedi Master.
The close brotherly bond between the two makes the ending of the movie so much more poignant. Obi-Wan, unable to strike the fatal blow, leaves his friend to die (at least as far as Obi-Wan knows at that point). Somewhat similar to Bilbo and Frodo’s acts of mercy in sparing Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, Obi-Wan’s unwillingness to kill Anakin will eventually lead to the climatic event of the series when “the good” in Anakin breaks the hold over Vader, and he turns on the Emperor.
Yoda is not powerful enough to defeat Darth Sidious, who will become the Emperor, and Obi-Wan is too bound by his attachment and compassion for Anakin to totally destroy him. It appears that lack of power on one hand, and lack of dispassion on the other, have led to the defeat. Years later, however, Luke will be able to destroy the Death Star, even though he has only a miniscule knowledge of the Force. And his compassion for his Father will lead to the ultimate victory.
The galaxy in which the Sith come to power is riddled by war, being fought by witless machines and clone soldiers who know only dispassionate obedience. How like today when soldiers sit behind computer screens and strike human targets a thousand miles away. There may be justification for the “War on Terror,” but the way it is being fought has caused us to lose our compassion. Innocent civilians are written off as “collateral damage.”
Is there a better way? I do not pretend to have the answers but I do know God would not have us cast aside our compassion as we seek ways to keep the enemy from destroying us.
May Luke’s compassion help show us the way.