Friday, October 25, 2013

Think of the Children

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

Revenge of the Sith remains so far the only film in the Star Wars Saga to receive a PG-13 rating, even retroactively. There are many sequences that contribute to this, but one of the most unsettling is during Knightfall, the combined execution of Order 66 with the purge of the Jedi temple. Anakin Skywalker, newly christened Darth Vader, walks into the council chambers to find a number of younglings huddled in hiding. Seeing a familiar face, they ask “Master Skywalker” what to do, only to be greeted with the ignition of a lightsaber. Though we are thankfully spared what Obi-Wan and Yoda would later see on the holorecordings, we know the younglings’ fates are sealed.

"Every single Jedi is now an enemy of the Republic..."

For some ghoulish individuals, this is what they wanted to see Vader doing from the start. For most of us, though, it was heartwrenching but inevitable. Anakin had fallen to the dark side, and we see just how dehumanized the Jedi are in his eyes.

But was it really necessary beyond tying up a loose plot thread?

There is an ethical dilemma that can be raised. Part of the reason I-III was made was to make Anakin’s redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi make sense. Remember, as it originally unfolded, while Darth Vader is not the main villain he was still a monster. He was not above torturing prisoners and Force-choking underlings. And while the destruction of Alderaan was Grand Moff Tarkin’s idea and order, Vader’s only real protest was that he didn’t think it would work to get the information out of Leia. So, now that we know he’s Luke’s father suddenly there’s some good in him?

"Is it safe?"

I-III went on to show how the good person turned bad, but that still leaves us with the bad guy in the end. This newest atrocity of pedicide only compounds matters, especially coming off of the Tusken massacre which you can at least argue he was consumed by guilt over. We’re already hard-pressed to accept the redemption of a mass-murderer and a war criminal, but do we really want to root for someone who would kill children?

Well, from a certain point of view…

There’s a reason not only that Anakin went back fully in the light, but in recent edits regained his youth upon death. It’s the same reason that Obi-Wan and Yoda felt, like many audience members, that he was completely beyond redemption. The reason, in fact, that Obi-Wan had his own “point of view” on the matter. It’s something George Lucas has mentioned and that some fans have called the “Duel Persona Theory".

Now, that may sound like the classic Jekyll and Hyde, “Gollum made me do it” split-personality business and, yeah, essentially it is. However, there’s something a tad subtler about this. What it’s establishing is that the Dark Side essentially takes away your humanity. It’s your own choices that leads you to fall, and the dark is born of your own duality, but once you make the choice to accept the darkness into you it takes over and your soul is essentially lost. True insanity. Anakin fell, Vader rose as a twisted mockery of Anakin.

"You underestimate my power!"

However, Anakin was in there somewhere; the dark hadn’t completely destroyed him. It’s what Padmé and later Luke felt. Why the first words out of the black mask were about a loved one. What Luke referred to as “The conflict within.” And indeed, Anakin’s good intentions influence Vader’s actions once he found out there was a son of Skywalker, though Vader’s still in enough control to pervert it (similarly to how Anakin’s fear and repression subverted his good intentions during his slow fall). Whether this is true of all those who have fallen, or if this is a talent of Anakin due to his unusual genetics is a subject for debate (I could see Dooku still having a shred of good, but no other Sith we’ve seen in the films proper).

Now, some may further argue that this is hardly an excuse, and Anakin then neither holds nor takes any of the responsibility that he really should even if he was “temporarily insane.” To that I say, have you forgotten the end of the Saga?

" I haven't..."

 The thing to remember is the fundamental difference between the Jedi and the Sith, dark and light. The dark is selfish and the light is selfless. Though most beings possess a balance, our actions bring us closer to one side or the other. History is rife with figures who have committed terrible acts not too far removed from the elder Skywalker, and yet they realized how horrible they were and dedicated the rest of their lives trying to fix things. I say, if someone in that situation is truly sincere, they deserve the chance. We should never forget what they’ve done, and certain acts cannot be undone, but steps they’ve taken to amend should be taken into account. Whether you believe that Anakin overpowered Vader or that he simply made one good choice in the end, the point is that after years of selfish acts in a not-right state of mind, Anakin Skywalker willingly made the ultimate sacrifice for his son and the galaxy as a whole by destroying the ultimate evil and bringing the Force back into balance (depending on your interpretation of “balance of the Force”). Anakin/Vader/Whatever paid for his crimes with his life, and saved the galaxy in the process.

On the other hand, I must admit I would blame no one for not wanting to give Anakin a second chance after the scene in the council chambers. If it had happened in real life, and not just on celluloid, I would definitely be siding with those who would see no decency left. So why then do I long for Anakin’s redemption and cheer it when it happens? Perhaps because I like to hope that, sometimes, maybe inner-good can overcome inner-evil. That no matter how far you fall, there’s always a way back up. 

"You were right about me..."


  1. "I could see Dooku still having a shred of good, but no other Sith we’ve seen in the films proper"

    The films don't really go into Maul, but as we saw in TCW, the guy did have some signs of good when he saw Savage die. I would say that Palpatine is the Sith Lord in which truly their is nothing good about him-he was basically born evil (which was hinted in the Darth Plagueis novel and said by McDiarmid himself).

    1. Again, though, we really need to go mostly by the films, since those are the only 100% Canon. Still, an interesting point.

    2. Yeah, if we go by the films, then I agree.

    3. The EU was 100 percent canon too. Lucas confirmed it. Still is to many of us.

    4. Lucas confirmed no such thing. Lucas confirmed that his films were canon, but the EU was different. He said that people should consider any EU that doesn't explicitly contradict his films something that "could have happened" but not necessarily "something that did happen". That way, if he wanted to tell more of his stories down the road, he didn't need to run it by EU writers since its his story and he can tell it how he wants. Which works out, since a lot of EU writers (not all, but many) missed and continue to miss entirely the point of Star Wars.

      On the one hand, this is a perfect EU model since it frees both the creator and the reader to take the parts they like and dismiss the parts they don't. The admitted downside is that fans can easily forget even the parts they like are not necessarily so if the creator decides to go in a different direction.

  2. I'm glad George didn't show us what happened in that scene with the children, the implication was horrific enough. And yet I feel that scene was necessary, to show us just how far Anakin had fallen from the light.

    You almost need to see him doing something truly 'evil' to understand that the Anakin we all knew is now gone, and Vader has arrived.

    Killing Jedi who can fight back is one thing, killing innocent children is something else entirely. It's horrible but it serves to get it through our heads that Anakin is a bad guy now even without the mask and suit.

    It might not have sunk in as well without that scene.

    And it also helps us to understand why Obi-Wan and Yoda believe Anakin is now beyond redemption, without getting angry at them for 'giving up' on Anakin so quickly.

    In fact if you watch ROTS without having seen the OT Films you might find yourself agreeing with Obi-Wan when he says "Then you are lost!" and scoffing at Padme when she insists their is still "good in him".

    And it also heightens the tension in ROTJ when Luke insists their is still good in his father...because we now know just how 'evil' Anakin has become, and we might think that he (like his mother) might be refusing to see the truth that Obi-Wan is trying to tell him.

    So when Anakin redeems himself in the end and Luke and Padme are both proven 'right', it makes the ending more satisfying in a way.

    I think people want to be like Luke and Padme and believe against all odds that their is still a light at the end of the tunnel no matter how dark it might seem...but sadly most of us get more and more like Obi-Wan and Yoda as we get older and lose our optimism.

    Luke won because he didn't give up, and maybe that's the underlying message of Star Wars, about holding onto hope when all hope seems lost.

    1. Wow. What else can I say but...well...^This.

  3. Gotta say I rather liked this article. It's nice to see something that goes in a different direction from the usual tack of discussing a contentious point in the prequels, instead using that point to discuss the moral issues that arise out of the scene.

    I may have some things to say about said moral issues later, but I'd like to let my mind mull it over a bit first. It's an interesting point, to say the least.

    1. Gotta say this was one of the hardest to write because I see both sides because there really is no right answer.