Admiring Darth Vader

Admiring Darth Vader January 23, 2016

There has been a lot of discussion and speculation about The Force Awakens related to Kylo Ren’s admiration for his grandfather, Darth Vader, and his fear that he will never be as strong as he was.

I think that one thing that the prequels offer that the original trilogy didn’t is a chance to really flesh out the character of the man who became Darth Vader. He starts out in “A New Hope” as something of a cardboard cutout villain, and I suspect that many who dislike the prequels simply couldn’t cope very well with the idea that a person with genuine goodness, who was once a child, could become such a villain.

We need to dig deeper. We need to grasp how Anakin Skywalker learned to compromise his principles not just in spite of being a Jedi, but precisely because of things the Jedi asked him to do. We need to recognize how fighting a war against separatists for a very long time made the alliance against the Republic’s military strategy, which eventually became the rebel alliance against the Empire, an enemy of the same sort. We need to understand how he learned that the use of power, even at times the destruction of lives, was necessary in order to achieve a victory that would lead to greater peace and stability in the long run.

It is only when we notice such things that we realize that Darth Vader was not a radically different person from Anakin Skywalker after all.

And it is only then that we recognize that the lines between “good guys” and “bad guys” run not between “us” and “them,” but through each of us.

For more on the moral themes in Star Wars, see the recent posts on Pop Theology, Sojourners, and Nonviolent Atonement.

And for an exploration of details that show that his turn against the Emperor also doesn’t come out of the blue, see Darth Vader #6. Here’s the key moment:

Darth Vader #6 image 2 Darth Vader #6 image 3 Darth Vader #6 image 4 Darth Vader #6 image 5 Darth Vader #6 image 6 Darth Vader #6 image 7 Darth Vader #6 image 8


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  • arcseconds

    While Darth Vader in the original trilogy is kind of flat (particularly in A New Hope), he is definitely iconic. In fact, probably the most iconic fictional representation of evil and menace of modern times.

    Going for better-developed antagonists is harder to do than just having people plain evil, and it also erodes the simple outlook we have on life in the original triology: the bad guys are bad, and the good guys are good, and it’s right for the latter to defeat the former. Life’s not like that, of course, but is it such a bad thing to have escapist fantasies in which life is like that?

    My complaint about Anakin’s trajectory in the prequels is not that they gave Darth Vader a sympathetic past. That had already been signalled with Obi-wan stating that Vader had been a good friend. My complaint is that it wasn’t done very well. One minute he’s concerned about Padme’s health and the next minute he’s slaying children he knows personally.

    Some of the stuff is on the right track: he’s impatient, he wants everything to be made right ASAP, he can’t understand why power can’t be used for that end.

    There was a blog somewhere around blogging as Darth Vader through the events of the original series. While mostly comic (he claims he still has Mace Windu’s purple lightsaber, and he uses it for trimming his hedge), it did give some real insight into plausible motivations for the character. He actually gets kind of enthusiastic at one point about a trade conference saying “this is what the Empire is about! Stability, and order, allowing this kind of commerce and interchange to occur without risk!”. This comic seems to do the same.