In Defense of Anakin Skywalker, the Most Unjustly Maligned Star Wars Character

The original Star Wars trilogy established Darth Vader as a mysterious and truly badass villain. The prequels came along to take the mystery out of the villain, but by then the internet was here to encourage fans to coalesce their opinions into memes: the prequels were lame, Anakin was a whiner (as if Luke and Ben Solo aren't -it must be genetic), nothing will ever be as good as the original trilogy before the Special Editions. The stoic, terrifying Darth Vader couldn't have possibly been born from the emotional and needy young man we called Anakin.   

And, yes: like that iconic Mean Girls character, Anakin Skywalker just has a lot of feelings. To be sure, his emotional outbursts in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith are incredibly difficult to watch. Most would say that the reason they’re difficult to watch is because George Lucas is terrible at writing dialogue and Hayden Christensen is terrible at acting and the result is a cringetastic cheesefest that has been meme-ified a million times over.

But I don’t think that’s entirely fair to Lucas’ story or Christensen’s acting. When it comes to what Anakin is actually saying, there is always a deeper meaning: his “I hate sand” speech is a veiled cry for help regarding his inability to overcome the trauma of his youth, while his fumbled confession of love for Padmé as they gaze into each other’s eyes next to a crackling fireplace in a cozy, dimly lit room (I mean, seriously, girl? You’re sending a pretty clear message there) is exactly what you’d expect from an emotionally stunted teenager.

Viewed as part of the larger story of Anakin’s life, his savagely violent outbursts carry weight as well. After unleashing his fury over his mother’s death on the Tusken villagers, Anakin confesses to Padmé in an anguished whirlwind of misplaced rage, desperately attempting to justify his actions while knowing in his heart that they were wrong. Later, Anakin’s terrified “what have I done?!” exclamation after aiding in the murder (or not) of Mace Windu reflects his belief that he has arrived at the point of no return – that whatever spark of good he may have fostered has suddenly been snuffed out. And his tortured scream of “I HATE YOU” after his battle with Obi-Wan… Well, I don’t need to dig too deep for that one. Between those three words and Obi-Wan’s tearful response (“You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you!”), there appears a boundless chasm of roiling, unspoken emotions. It breaks my heart every damn time.

Allyson Gronowitzlays out the argument that Anakin actually does have a rich psychological arc hiding beneath the stilted dialogue of the films, once you explore the forces that molded him, which are vastly augmented by non-film literature. The upshot is that Kylo Ren is turning out to be a better villain because of the lessons learned over six movies in 28 years that dealt with Anakin Skywalker. Take a dive into Anakin Skywalker's psyche at Slashfilm.

When I re-watched the prequels a couple years ago, I was really impressed with Episode III. The corruption of Anakin Skywalker was realistic. I could understand why he turned to the dark side.
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