The Attack of the Clones told us that unchecked rage can turn you into a monster. Revenge of the Sith channels a different emotion that the Jedi renounce: fear.
We’ve jumped forward in time since the last installment of the Star Wars saga, and Anakin is now a Jedi Knight, as well as general for the republic, an important role in the wake of the war. Anakin has reveled in this newfound liberty by . . . well, growing his hair out.
But Anaking doesn’t really think he has liberty. He might not be a padawan anymore, but he still feels restricted. The Jedi lifestyle wasn’t enough for him last time around, as he just had to marry Padme at the end of the film. This time that escalates. No longer is it enough to be married to Padme. Next he needs a seat on the council. But then that’s not good enough. He wants the title of Jedi Master.
And yet, Anakin’s greed, a major driving force in his journey to the dark side, is not the primary conflict in the film. The war itself isn’t even the major conflict. Instead, it’s Padme. Or Padme’s death, that is. Anakin is tortured by visions of her death; visions similar to those he experienced of his mother shortly before she died. And so, instead of focusing on the war, and millions of lives at stake, he focuses on one. That of his wife.
That doesn’t seem so evil, does it? To be focused on the good of his wife, even if she is a secret wife. Yet you’d think it was by listening to Master Yoda. Anakin goes to him, determined to find a way to save her (referring to her as a vague loved one, of course). Instead of giving him tips on discerning the cause of her death through his dreams, Yoda warns him that attachment is a path to the dark side.
I get how anger is bad. And I understand how fear can lead someone to a dark path. But attachment a “shadow of greed?” This doesn’t make sense. Especially when Obi-Wan himself doesn’t seem to subscribe to this, later saying that Anakin is like a brother to him. So which is it?
The Jedi Code’s ideas on emotions (as well as the idea of selflessness without attachment) really don’t hold up. It’s reminiscent of the Eastern religious traditions of “emptying yourself,” and the idea that the less you care in general, the more spiritual (or more “good”) you are.
But it’s not the Jedi code that pushes Anakin over the edge. It’s Palpatine. His power grabs have finally ignited the suspicion of the Jedi Council, and they have thus asked Anakin to report on Chancellor Palpatine, forcing Anakin to choose between his allegiance to the Jedi, and the trust of a friend.
But Palpatine isn’t a friend. He coaxes Anakin into killing Count Dooku in cold blood while his old master is unconscious, and coaxes him to the dark side, not first by telling him how evil the Jedi are, but instead luring him with power. In particular, the power to save someone. The power to save Padme.
And so, when the rubber meets the road, he turns. The life of Padme was more important to him than his principles. At that point, I would be uncomfortable with this film, portraying Anakin as evil for choosing to save the life of his wife, instead of, as Yoda said, “let go of all of that which you are afraid to lose.” But that’s not the end of the story. That’s not what this is really about. Because there was something more important to Anakin than the life of his wife: power. And it’s his thirst for power that leads him to become Darth Vader. Not the search to save the life of his beloved.
And so, we are left with the film’s worldview. The saga toys with the concept that all emotion is bad, but in the end, it really denounces the same thing that Christianity would denounce: anger, cowardice, selfishness, and a thirst for power. And so the commendations I have for the film outweigh the criticisms I have. And at the end of the day, this really is the only prequel worthy of the title “Star Wars,” having a beautiful performance from Ewan McGregor (and a better performance from Hayden Christensen, even if not great), good action, and phenomenal lightsaber battles. It longs for good to triumph, even if it doesn’t in this installment. The film makes no excuses for Anakin, no buts to tag onto his crimes. Instead, it makes his sins to heinous, so merciless, that we almost long to see him die at the end.
But that’s all a setup. Because Anakin’s story has yet to be completed. This is by far the darkest installment of the saga, but that’s not without purpose. Let it be a lesson to us. When we allow a thirst for power into our hearts, even if it’s for what we might consider a good cause, we soon will scarcely recognize ourselves.