Star Wars The Clone Wars – The Animated Series tracks Anakin Skywalker’s slow descent towards the Dark Side of the Force, which as we all know eventually culminates in his becoming Darth Vader at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
Of all the Star Wars movies, the third one, Revenge of the Sith, is my favorite. For Anakin’s passionate struggle to be a hero, to be a strong force for Good, and then failing in the most horrendous way possible, struck very close to home. As Christians, we too have a strong sense of good and evil, and we may even look at our world as a world at war – spiritually. But more importantly, as a Christian I know all too well what it’s like to have been given all these gifts and talents, to almost burst with the potential God has bestowed on me, on all of us – and then to fail. Fail miserably and horrendously, time and time again, because of my sinful nature. No one is good – except God alone, according to the Bible.
So I’m very happy and pleased – and thrilled and excited – that The Animated Series (TAS) not only caters to my general Star Wars fandom, but zooms in on the events and character journey that lead to my favorite movie of them all.
In my previous blog post I reviewed Seasons 1 and 2. In the third part of this blog mini series I’m zooming in on Anakin Skywalker, starting at Season 3.
So what about this Anakin? (warning: movie spoilers for SW III)
Of course there are some strong messianic overtones to Anakin’s character. The Force runs strongest in him and from the start he was meant to restore balance to the Force when the Dark Side started rising. In the end, in Star Wars VI, he actually does restore that balance, conquering death (but only for himself) as he does it. The animated series hints at this Destiny as well, for he’s regularly referred to (in his absence) as The Only Hope. Which of course is also a very nice prequel reference to Star Wars IV – A New Hope.
But that is where all messianic similarities seem to end – as the title of A New Hope already clearly demonstrates: Anakin failed at being the universe’s Only Hope, wherefore a new hope was needed. He failed at his messianic task, which of course is not so strange at all, for he – like any other Jedi – is no super human, let alone a genuine Messiah. George Lucas himself stresses this point repeatedly during interviews: the Jedi are no super heroes, no meta humans. They know how to wield the Force, but they are not invincible, nor invulnerable.
Anakin near-fatally injured: definitely not invulnerable
Clearly Anakin is no messiah, and when I watch the movies or the animated series, it is not Jesus that he reminds me of. No, in Anakin I see myself. I see the entirety of mankind starting with Adam, of what it means to be a sinful human in a fallen world. I see love, hope, faith, passion and all things good – as well as hatred, fear, egotism, jealousy and all things evil. I actually shed tears at Anakin’s fall in Revenge of the Sith, for it represented my own fallen state – as well as the world’s. To me, he is the embodiment of Paul’s lament in Romans 7: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (verse 18-19). Do we not get a great demonstration of the meaning of this verse when Anakin (warning, movie spoiler ahead!)
to his horror, discovers it was he himself who had murdered his one true love, his beloved Padme?
On morals, ethics and spiritual convictions
In the SW universe, intense emotions are not for the highly evolved. Hate, rage, fear but also ardent love and committed relationships are not done for true Jedi masters. This is why it leads to some serious eyebrow-raising in Obi Wan en Plo Koon, when Anakin stops the attack on a Separatist ship because it’s where Padme is held captive (S01E04). In this, there are differences with the biblical teaching of valuing each individual above the collective as a whole; whereas it would seem more “cost-effective” to sacrifice one life to potentially save many more by defeating an enemy ship, it’s actually very biblical not to demand such a sacrifice of someone else, nor forcing it upon them. Curiously it is our future bad guy, Anakin, who shows us this very biblical example.
In S01E05 Anakin raises the stakes when he wants to go on a rescue mission for his little droid R2D2, whom he lost during a space battle. Obi-Wan stresses again: ‘Attachment is not acceptable for a Jedi’. But Anakin is of a different opinion. ‘R2 is more than a droid, he’s a friend,’ he explains to Ahsoka.
Another example of the Jedi way of putting the collective before the individual can be found In episode 13. Ahsoka is told by Jedi master Aayla Secura to leave a seriously injured Anakin behind and go with her and the troopers to find a way off of the planet they stranded on. Ahsoka doesn’t want to leave Anakin behind, claiming he would never leave her behind if she were ever in the same position. But Secura tells her: ‘As a Jedi it is your duty to do what’s best for the group.’
Secura tells Ahsoka about her own master, who had been like a father to her. ‘I realized that for the greater good I had to let him go,’ she states. ‘Don’t loose a thousand lives just to save one.’
I don’t know about you, but I would not subscribe to this part of Jedi philosophy. It seems I would not be allowed to form any attachments, and would be required to deny (or as the Jedi call it, ‘control’) all of my stronger feelings. In short, I would have to give up on several things that are central to being human. What’s more, I don’t think I would leave someone I consider a father or father figure to die, just to save an abstract thousand. You don’t even know whether the thousand really would be saved, you probably just hope they would be. Ahsoka seems to agree with this latter sentiment, for she replies: ‘Maybe. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to save his life.’
On Anakin’s leadership
Season 1, episode 19: Ahsoka disobeys a direct order from both the admiral and her master Anakin, and looses her squadron. Anakin is disappointed with her, but is remarkably forgiving and fatherly. Stern but gentle, and not harsh at all, he gives her not less but more responsiblity, only applying his force of will to help her overcome her fear of failure and her longing to refuse any more responsibilties. But his greatest leadership move is to make her responsible for his own life, coming up with an attack plan that will leave him helpless if she won’t manage to succeed in her mission, rescuing him at the same time. This clever combination of strategy and genuine trust in her abilities, forces her to step up to the plate and take back her position of command, conquering it back from the spirit of fear and dejection that had threatened to overwhelm her.
I really love how the character of Anakin is written here. It shows him to be a strong, fearless and remarkably gentle leader. He is fatherly and brotherly at the same time. This is the kind of leadership that makes people flourish, the kind that makes me want to be a leader just like that.
On the other hand, Anakin truly believes that when your intentions are good, it’s okay not to follow orders. A mindset that sows the seeds of rebellion, for doesn’t every person on earth believe that his/her own intentions are generally good, even the ones history shows to be bad, or even evil?
To the Dark Side
We already know from the movies that Anakin Skywalker crosses over to the Dark Side of the Force, leaving the Jedi knighthood. We see his actual fall in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, but how does a promising young Jedi knight, considered the Only Hope by the Jedi High Counsil, deteriorate to not only committing himself to the Dark Side, but also becoming one of the most powerful Sith in the galaxy?
In The Clone Wars Animated Series we get to see more of this journey, and in this and future posts I’d like to track some highlights of his journey to and through the ‘valley of the shadow of death’.
To be continued… 😉