Anakin Skywalker’s slow and tragic fall to the dark side is the major storyline of the Star Wars prequel films.
The original trilogy was the story of Darth Vader’s redemption, but viewers learned little of the man behind the mask.
The Phantom Menace introduced the world to Anakin Skywalker – a fresh-faced, sweet-mannered boy destined to become the most iconic movie villain of all time.
As inconceivable as it seemed, the clues to Anakin’s fall were there from the beginning.
Anakin turns evil because of emotional trauma, dark side manipulation, and the burden of enormous Force powers.
These factors, combined with anger and arrogance, lead to Anakin’s fall to the dark side.
Anakin becomes good again just before his death when he chooses Luke over Palpatine and throws the latter down a reactor shaft to his (seeming) death.
Anakin’s 12 steps to the dark side
There are 12 factors and pivotal events that lead to Anakin becoming Darth Vader, from his conception via midi-chlorians to the death of his wife.
Here they are in chronological order.
1. A powder keg from the very start
One of the first things we learn about Anakin is his midi-chlorian count is “off the charts”.
He is exceptionally strong with the Force, both light side and dark.
The Jedi Council are reluctant to train Anakin, recognizing the danger of so much power in one individual.
Anakin’s exceptionally high Force abilities are reflected in his passionate nature and strong attachments to people.
2. Born into slavery
Shmi Skywalker raised Anakin in a loving environment but can’t shield him from the harsh realities of slavery.
We first meet Anakin at age 9, working in a junk shop for Watto.
Anakin tells Padme he “wouldn’t have lasted long…if I wasn’t so good at building things”.
Watto has repeatedly forced Anakin to compete in pod racing, a highly dangerous activity.
For all his resilience and street smarts, there is obvious anger in young Ani at his lack of power.
He fiercely corrects Padme that “I’m a person” when she asks if he is a slave.
The powerlessness and abuse Anakin suffered in childhood haunts him for the rest of his life. It is reflected in his anger and need for power and control.
3. Goodbye to Mother – forever
While most Jedi younglings leave their families as toddlers, Anakin leaves Shmi when he is 9.
For almost 10 years, she has been the only family and protection the young boy has known.
Anakin’s grief, guilt, and longing for his mother linger with him into adulthood.
On leaving Shmi, Anakin immediately forms a bond with Padme – almost imprinting on her as a maternal figure.
This eventually grows into a romantic love when they meet again as adults.
Anakin’s association of Padme with his mother is reinforced after the latter’s death when he begins having similar prophetic nightmares of her dying in childbirth.
4. His first father figure dies
Growing up with only one parent, Qui-Gon Jinn was Anakin’s first father figure.
The young boy idolizes the Jedi, who rescues him from slavery for a glittering future.
Tragically, Qui-Gon dies mere days after they meet. His death happens just after Anakin has left his mother and reinforces his fear of losing those he loves.
This trauma-born insecurity will have disastrous consequences when Anakin grows up.
Obi-Wan takes on Anakin as his padawan, becoming more of a big brother than a replacement father figure.
The stage is set for Palpatine to begin offering his brand of fatherly advice.
5. “Your special Ani” vs. “Nah, you’re not”
Despite growing up a slave, Anakin was always aware of his Force powers. Shmi no doubt told him many times what a special little boy he was.
The arrival of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan is like a fairytale – the slave boy from the desert is whisked away to Coruscant. A powerful jedi knight is convinced he is the all-powerful chosen one!
But things change quickly. The Jedi Council doesn’t believe Anakin is the chosen one or even that he should be trained.
He misses his mother, Qui-Gon dies, and Padme returns to Naboo. Anakin is thrust into the rigorous discipline of Jedi training with many other talented younglings.
This is compared to Tatooine, where – despite being a slave – Anakin had the freedom to roam the streets and tinker with his own creations (C-3PO).
Anakin’s perception of himself as special leads to wanting more than what a Jedi should. He becomes resentful of Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council for holding him back.
The Jedi, for their part, seem to ignore Anakin’s unique physicality – his midi-chlorian count is higher than Yoda’s and the Force literally conceived him.
This makes it easier than ever for Palpatine to manipulate Anakin against them.
6. Too late to save his mother
Anakin rescues Shmi from the Sand People but is tragically too late to save her life.
She dies from her injuries in Anakin’s arms – a terrible and traumatizing reunion for the boy who never stopped missing his mother.
Anakin’s rage is quick and uncontrollable, slaughtering the whole village of Tuskens in retribution.
7. Confesses to a massacre, but no ramifications
Anakin confesses to Padme about killing the Tuskens – a massacre that included “not just the men, but the women and children too”.
Padme never tells Obi-Wan or any of the Jedi about his crime.
If she had, the Jedi Council may have recognized Anakin’s dark side tendencies before Palpatine could manipulate him further.
It’s not clear why Padme remained silent, other than her love and concern for Anakin.
It’s possible she didn’t see the Tusken natives as more than monsters, as she was new to Tatooine.
This theory, however, is at odds with Padme’s belief in equality, diplomacy, and peace.
Her immediate forgiveness of Anakin’s massacre is confusing.
One controversial fan theory proposes Padme was Force-tricked by Anakin into loving him unconditionally.
8. Ahsoka says goodbye
The animated Clone Wars series, set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, introduced Anakin’s own padawan – Ahsoka Tano.
While initially not getting along, Anakin and Ahsoka developed a close friendship akin to that of brother and sister.
Ahsoka, like Obi-Wan, knew of Anakin’s marriage to Padme but kept his secret.
For a brief few years Anakin had a close family around him – his beloved wife, a big brother in Obi-Wan, and a little sister in Ahsoka.
Ahsoka becomes disillusioned with the Jedi and chooses to leave her training.
Her departure is a great personal loss for Anakin. Ironically, Yoda assigned Ahsoka as his padawan to ease Anakin’s fear of losing people.
Ahsoka’s departure is the first of what Anakin comes to regard as betrayals by those he loves.
9. Unplanned parenthood and dreams of death
By Revenge of the Sith, Padme is pregnant. Despite being elated, the pressure of a secret family weighs heavily on Anakin.
He immediately has nightmares of Padme dying in childbirth – the same prophetic style of dreams Anakin had just before his mother’s death.
From this point on, Anakin loses perspective and is ruled solely by fear.
He cannot conceive of a life without Padme. Rather than consult an OB/GYN (surely Coruscant had at least one), Anakin becomes obsessed with Palpatine’s vague mentions of learning to wield power over death.
10. Humiliated by the Jedi
Just as he learns his wife is pregnant, Anakin is denied a work promotion.
The Jedi begrudgingly give Anakin a place on the Council as Chancellor Palpatine’s representative.
But they do not grant him the rank of master. The Jedi are wary of giving Anakin too much power but only succeed in deepening his mistrust and anger.
11. Groomed by Palpatine
Palpatine insidiously grooms Anakin to the Dark Side via emotional blackmail and manipulation.
- He encourages Anakin to kill Count Dooku, dismissing his guilt that it “was not the Jedi way”.
- He indulges Anakin’s need from childhood to be ‘special’, making him his confidante and slowly alienating him from the Jedi.
- He feeds Anakin’s paranoia of Padme’s death and Obi-Wan turning her against him.
- He dangles the story of Plagueis the Wise in front of Anakin as the only to save his wife.
It’s also quite possible Palpatine created Anakin’s nightmares of Padme dying in the first place, along with those of his mother three years earlier.
12. The day it all goes very, very wrong
When Anakin falls to the Dark Side, he falls hard.
Within a day, he helps Palpatine kill Mace Windu, pledges allegiance to the former, and slaughters Jedi younglings.
Anakin believes Padme has brought Obi-Wan to Mustafar to kill him.
He force-strangles his pregnant wife to the point of unconsciousness.
Following a vicious battle, Anakin is defeated, disfigured, and left for dead by his best friend and former master.
Finally, after everything he’s done, Anakin learns from Palpatine that Padme died anyway – because he killed her.
Does Darth Vader not remember he is Anakin?
Darth Vader remembers Anakin Skywalker as another person completely.
He tells Obi-Wan in one of their duels, “You didn’t kill Anakin Skywalker. I did”.
Despite this, he never forgets Padme. Darth Vader is obsessed with trying to resurrect her.
In Darth Vader (2017) issue 22, it is revealed he built his castle on Mustafar to try and bring her back via Sith sorcery.
Both Ahsoka and Obi-Wan try to appeal to the part of Vader that might still be Anakin Skywalker.
He refuses to acknowledge the existence of his prior self. Only Luke Skywalker, his son, is able to bring Anakin back.
Does Anakin become good again?
Darth Vader becomes Anakin Skywalker again just before his death. His love for his son – his and Padme’s son – triggers him to betray Palpatine.
In doing so, Anakin finally fulfills his long, burdensome destiny of being the chosen one.
Palpatine’s death (albeit not completely) brings balance to the Force. The effort kills Vader, but we see Anakin’s Force Ghost alongside Obi-Wan’s and Yoda’s.
Not everyone can forgive Anakin. Leia, his own daughter and the subject of his final words, is never able to reconcile with Darth Vader becoming a good man (or her biological father).
In a real-world sense, Anakin’s crimes as Darth Vader are irredeemable.
But Anakin Skywalker is forgiven and at peace in the spirit of the Force and fairy-tale Star Wars.
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