Anakin’s Redemption

For the past three weeks my seven year old son has been addicted to Wii Star Wars Lego: the Complete Saga.   The game goes through the main parts of every episode.  Before that, he’d been building Star Wars Lego sets, and watched the films.  His brother, who turns five in a week, has been watching, learning and listening.  He even plays the Wii game, not as good as his brother, but better than his father (me).

On Sunday we made the trek to Portland for the Children’s museum, Christmas lights, and a visit to the bookstore.  There the boys found a book of Star Wars stickers.  As we waited in line to pay, they were going through, talking about the characters, what episode they’re in, as well as analyzing the weapons (different kinds of “walkers,” etc.)   Others in line chuckled, “wow, they’re into Star Wars,” one woman remarked.   I thought I was a Star Wars fan, but I don’t know the cast of characters the way they do.   And even though until recently the four year old still thought Darth Vader went to the “dark side of the forest,” they know the material.

I was thinking about this and a recent discussion on a different blog about the death penalty.  One amazing aspect of the Star Wars story is the ambiguity of the Anakin Skywalker story.   In The Phantom Menace Anakin is a lovable young boy, a slave living with his mom and owned by a junk yard dealer.  He wins his freedom, but must leave his mom behind, a very difficult choice.  He is befriended by Padme Amidala, the young queen of Naboo.   In The Clone Wars, now trained as a Jedi, he falls in love with Padme, and battles his own demons, as he feels distrusted by the Jedi rulers, and angered by injustice.  Finally in Revenge of the Sith he is tempted to the dark side of the force, joins the Emperor, and engages in a mass slaughter, including hundreds of children training to be Jedi.

George Lucas has a brilliant way of pulling us along with Anakin, showing how his tortured feelings, especially after the death of his mother and his visions of Padme, now his pregnant wife, dying in pain haunt him.   In weakness the emperor seduces him to embrace evil, telling him it is for the greater good, and that he can help save his wife’s life.   Yet out of anger he ends up being the one to kill Padme, hitting and weakening her to the point that she would die in childbirth.

Of course, in A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the original episodes from the 70s and early 80s (episodes 4, 5, and 6), Anakin has become Darth Vader, the ultimate villain.   To his original war crimes he adds the destruction of an entire planet, torture, and presumably acts of murder and genocide that go beyond any human list of crimes.

The film turns from a rebel group fighting the evil empire to one of Luke Skywalker who, after being trained as a Jedi, learns the terrible fact that Darth Vader is really his father.  He had been told that Anakin Skywalker was killed by Vader.   This creates a similar drama of anger and weakness that Anakin experienced, as Vader tries to seduce Luke to join the dark side.

Luke, however, senses there is still good in his father, even as everyone else is convinced that Anakin has been lost.  In the end Darth Vader, seeing the Emperor ready to kill Luke, turns on the Emperor and saves his son’s life.  He tells Luke that he was right, there was still good in him.   Darth Vader dies, but now he is again Anakin Skywalker.   In a celebration scene we see the spirits of Yoda, Obe-Wan and Anakin together, reunited, as Anakin has rejoined the Jedi.   Luke and his sister Lea (twins born to Padme before she died; Anakin’s children) live to carry on the Jedi tradition.

In the blog discussion I opposed the death penalty, in part because people can change.  A couple of Christians supporting the death penalty made what I thought a rather weak argument – it’s OK for the state to kill because a verse of the Bible says states have the right to wield the sword.  The fact its been proven that the state is sometimes wrong and kills innocents didn’t seem to have an impact, but I also pointed out that it’s possible for hardened criminals at some point to turn their lives around.   Wouldn’t a Christian want life to continue so the soul would have a chance for salvation?  Isn’t that the same argument for opposition to abortion (the Christians arguing with me oppose abortion rights)?

One thing I like about fiction is it’s ability to build a thought experiment and then connect it to emotion in ways that lead us to paradoxical conclusions.  We all learn to love Anakin, hate Vader, and then celebrate his redemption.   Few would stand at the end and say “it’s horrible that Anakin was able to see his son and die happy (and live happy in the afterlife) after all the suffering he caused.”   In this fictional thought experiment, our knowledge of Anakin means we celebrate his redemption, and see his evil as having been caused by fear, hate, and anger — all too human emotions.   We even understand him, and empathize with how he shuts out all emotion when he turns to the dark side.

Clearly, murderers and dangerous felons need to be separated from society.   And most are far from being romantic Jedi knights serving the Galactic Republic.   But perhaps if we looked at everyone as humans acting out of human emotion gone in wild directions in sometimes painful circumstances ranging from child abuse to life stresses beyond what are normally faced, we’d understand and pity the criminal as much as the victim.   Perhaps the self-righteous condemnation of the “perp” and concern for the victim would give way to a more complex set of concerns for all involved.   Perhaps we’d be able to say that the death penalty is wrong — that while we may need to remove this person from everyday society, there still could be a chance he or she could do some good, or choose a different direction.  Perhaps even those close to victims would see that the death of a murderer does no good – it only adds to the tragedy of that death.

To be sure, most probably won’t find their redemption.  They will be more like Emperor Palpatine or Darth Maul, locked in a fog of fear, hate and anger that perpetuates and causes danger.   Many who are guilty of far less serious crimes than murder are likely not going to find a path out of a sad, violent existence.

Still, perhaps we need to see the humanity of all, as painful and ugly as it can be.  The way Lucas made Anakin understandable when he went through his fall was to show him battling with the same emotions we all encounter.   We could all imagine making those same kinds of errors in the right (or wrong) circumstances/moments of weakness.   That realization — that each of us is capable of both the best and the worst behaviors offered by humanity, breeds a sense of humility and compassion.  If we can touch that, we can forgive.   If we can forgive, we can both change and help others change.

  1. #1 by Jeff Lees on December 21, 2010 - 13:53

    I believe that if the criminal justice system was actually set up to help rehabilitate and redeem people, then we would be able to see many stories similar to the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. Unfortunately we give people no chance to receive real rehabilitation or to achieve real redemption. We just separate them from society and keep them “lock-up” so we don’t have to think about them.

    • #2 by plainlyspoken on December 22, 2010 - 02:33

      Many have opportunities at rehabilitation programs before finally being sentenced to prison time. While there are limits to the programs offered in prison, there are programs.

      What needs to be done for the criminal justice system to be truly rehabilitaive in your opinion?

      • #3 by Black Flag on December 22, 2010 - 02:58


        needs to be done for it to be truly rehabilitative

        (1) Remove it from the State
        (2) All decisions placed in the hands of the victims, equal of consequences as well.

      • #4 by Jeff Lees on December 23, 2010 - 02:42

        I would like to see more social rehabilitation services provided for those in the criminal justice system. More opportunities for furthering your education, getting job training, and getting psychological services. People should not be coming out of prison addicted to drugs and returning to a life of crime. Our system is punitive, which does very little to deter crime, and does even less to change people’s behaviors. Prison needs to be a place of rehabilitation, socially and psychologically.

  2. #5 by Black Flag on December 21, 2010 - 17:13

    I generally agree, Scott – from a different point of view.

    I believe that mercy must come from the victims, and not the State.

    Case in point, I have an acquaintance whose son was murdered in a gang’s initiation of a young member. That member was arrested and sent to prison for life.

    The father, instead of revenge, reached out to his son’s killer – the young boy in prison – and over time, turned the boy into a moral leader and a source of inspiration for other inmates and young men who are being drawn into gangs.

    12 years later, the father of the murdered son has founded a society dedicated to supporting ex-gang kids, and helping others avoid the perils – and has petitioned the State for parole of the young boy (also a founder of this society) to come and work with these kids.

    The State refuses. Typical.

    As far as Capital Punishment:

    If one agrees that Capital Punishment should be dealt to those that kill innocent people;
    and if by mistake an innocent man is killed by Capital Punishment;
    then, those that support Capital Punishment should suffer the same punishment they dealt to those that kill innocent people.

    • #6 by plainlyspoken on December 22, 2010 - 02:29

      If one agrees that Capital Punishment should be dealt to those that kill innocent people; and if by mistake an innocent man is killed by Capital Punishment; then, those that support Capital Punishment should suffer the same punishment they dealt to those that kill innocent people.

      BF, I find it interesting after all you said about aggression that you would be making a statement supporting aggression against others.

      • #7 by Black Flag on December 22, 2010 - 02:56


        Reread my post more carefully

  3. #8 by plainlyspoken on December 22, 2010 - 03:17

    BF, I read it several times AND spent quite a bit of time thinking it over and kept telling myself “no way” but yet it seems as if you are supporting/proposing just that sir.

    Passing by removing it from the state, who acts on the victim’s behalf if the victim doesn’t survive the act against them? Also, does “equal of consequences” means an eye for an eye (or shall we say a death for a death)?

  4. #9 by Black Flag on December 22, 2010 - 03:27


    Your first error corrected: the State is not necessary to deliver justice.
    Your second error corrected: the Law of Mutuality; if YOU determine killing is justice to redeem the murder of innocent, if YOU kill innocent, you will be judged by your own hand. Therefore, be very careful of the extent of justice and revenge you demand.

    Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!

    Let He Who is Without Sin Cast the First Stone

  5. #10 by plainlyspoken on December 23, 2010 - 05:48


    If I may ask, do you have direct experience working within a prison system? The prison system i worked in had all of that. Most systems do, albeit in differing amounts, but then one size will never fit all. Educational opportunities can range up to obtaining Masters degrees. Counseling programs are usually available for drug/alcohol addictions, anger management and such. Work and training programs are a regular part of the system but funny enough the courts do not allow forcing inmates to attend them or work if they choose not to. I find your blanket statement to be at odds with what I have encountered in two separate prison systems, one in Colorado and the other in California.

    As to prisoners leaving the system addicted to drugs, how do you suppose they obtain those drugs?

    It seems to me you’d rather blame the system than place any responsibility on the offenders.

  6. #11 by Donna Theriault on February 18, 2012 - 21:47

    I am a believer in the death penalty- when it is warranted. But who gets to make that decision and does every criminal sentenced to prison or death row deserve a second chance? I honestly believe that there are some that are beyond redemption and can not be cured. I am talking about child molestors and rapists of course. I believe that child molestors have a ninth circle of hell reserved just for them and that their death should be determined by the victims and ther families.

    The story of Anakin is an exception to the absolute evil rule. His life depended on the evil he spread, in that the body the Emperor gave him was sustained only by evil. THe reason that Darth Vader died was not because he got his hand cut off or because he was hit with lightening. It is because he saved Luke and turned back to the good side. When he did that, the machine kept alive by evil, shut down.

    Still, at what point doe we determine that some one is beyond salvation? I honestly think that over half the people on death row should not be there and that most of the overcrowding in prison could be solved with common sense.

    • #12 by Black Flag® on February 18, 2012 - 23:15


      It is not a matter of a “second chance”.

      You support killing a criminal because the criminal has harmed or killed an innocent person..

      Therefore, if you have erred in your application of death and killed an innocent man who was wrongly accused and convicted, will you accept your own judgement – death – for yourself, since you have advocated killing an innocent person.

      Of course you won’t – hypocrisy is required state of being if anyone “supports” death penalties.

  7. #13 by Alan Scott on February 19, 2012 - 20:16

    I suppose it leaves to me to take the argument to it’s nth power of logic . In the real world mass murderers do not get to revert back to their pre murderer state . Do Nazi war criminals get to be rehabilitated ?

    Since we are dealing with fictional characters, let me indulge one of my favorite dramas, Night Gallery. In the 1969 episode Richard Kiel plays an ex Nazi being hunted in South America for his crimes. We actually have sympathy for him because he suffers for his crimes emotionally and is simply exhausted. He is recognized by a former victim, Sam Jaffe, I believe, who he is forced to kill .

    In his moments of mental escape he hangs out in a museum and stares at a painting of a man in a boat fishing on a lake . He can feel himself in the painting and comes to believe that with enough time and effort he can become the man in the painting and find peace.

    In the end scene, Israeli agents, as I remember are about to capture him. If he can only get to the museum and the painting . He gets there and prays to be allowed into the painting just as his captors have him corned . They almost have him , but he vanishes and they are puzzled. Then the audience sees the painting, but it has been substituted . He is in the wrong painting. He is nailed to a cross and only we can hear his suffering. Divine justice.

  8. #14 by Alan Scott on February 19, 2012 - 20:35

    I gave the wrong actor’s name . It was Richard Kiley, who played the Nazi.

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