[A ramble about Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker]
Given that Rogue One is on the horizon, I decided that I should rewatch the original trilogy and the prequels (like I do every year) and get all excited. Then, as I was watching Luke mournfully stare at his burning papa, I could not help but think about what made them so different. Why did Luke end up a hero and his father, a villain? It’s not a smart question, but it popped up anyway and then I had to think about it.
Darth Vader is wonderfully complex and one of my favourite fictional characters. His life is a perfect tragedy and possibly his death as well because when he finally took a step towards redeeming himself, he got fried (for the second time) and kicked the bucket (no puns intended. Oh, and let’s not forget that what remained of him was burned as well). I see him as a symbol of villainy because he is someone who had forsaken all his vows and all that he promised to love and protect.
Darth Vader is no fool; a pawn perhaps, but not a stupid one. The line between right and wrong may be blurry at times but the things he did were clearly wrong and he should – would – have known that. He did them anyway.
He was a kind person once upon a time, and kindness learned cannot be easily unlearned. In that regard, he probably hated himself, for all his sins. And how could he not? He became the very thing he swore to destroy and he sacrificed everything to walk that path. His power probably stemmed from his self-loathing, honed by every act of cruelty and malice that he committed. I don’t think he had much regard for himself; he wanted something for himself, maybe, but I don’t think he wanted himself.
He hunted down and destroyed the remnants of Jedi, didn’t he? I don’t believe for a second that he did this for the Emperor. Perhaps he wanted them to hurt the way he was hurting – to pick at what was broken and battered and reduce it to smouldering ruins. Perhaps he did so to prove to the Order that he was better than them. Or perhaps he was trying to prove that to himself – that he was, after all, “the most powerful Jedi ever”. After a while, I don’t think it was power that Vader sought. He was probably lost, seeking in his own selfish and cruel way for redemption, without even knowing it.
Luke knew it though. Ah, Luke…
In many ways, Luke Skywalker always seemed to me to be a mere shadow of Anakin. He never seemed as talented. He was a “fair pilot” but not the “best starpilot in the galaxy”. He didn’t build droids or win his freedom from an impossible race. He didn’t come with a prophecy looming over him and he wasn’t fathered by the Force. He wasn’t the “chosen one” (I hate that phrase).
So why was Luke the hero?
I think the obvious answer is that Luke made the right choice. He chose to protect and trust his father at the end, and even with his life on the line, he chose compassion.
Anakin, to be fair to him, had been placed under a terrible strain before he finally jumped to the dark side: Yes, the Jedi Council was harsh and utterly unreasonable; Yes, his trusted friend and advisor was secretly plotting to use him to destroy the Jedi; Yes, his beloved wife was possibly going to die in childbirth. None of these however could justify the eventual choices that he made. In spite of everything that he had learned, he chose to do the wrong thing.
There are no ambiguities here. Anakin Skywalker made the wrong choice and all of his abilities and genius couldn’t save him. Only at the end, when he made the right choice, was he “saved”.
I guess the line that divides heroes and villains is most probably choice.