When Luke Skywalker first learns of Darth Vader, Obi-Wan tells him that Vader is the man that killed Luke’s father.
This sets Luke on a collision course with Vader that ultimately ends with him learning that the man he thought murdered his father … was his father.
This is old news in the Star Wars universe, but a recent discussion has surfaced on Twitter that seems to revolve around Vader’s presence on the cover of the latest LEGO Star Wars title.
Seeing Vader, as opposed to Anakin Skywalker, has made people express their displeasure in the lack of the young Jedi Knight. The answer seems simple: Anakin and Vader are the same person; one just has less hair and an inclination toward leather (insert heavy breathing here).
Beyond that, if I were advertising something, I would wager it’s pretty wise to put the most easily recognizable character in the saga on the cover of it. But apparently, a discourse was sparked that states that Anakin and Vader are two separate characters.
That means, from a certain point of view, that Obi-Wan wasn’t really lying and that Anakin died the day Vader was born. While there is an argument to be made for this as a metaphor, separating the two renders both characters meaningless and strips away one of the biggest themes of the saga: redemption.
Vader was originally conceived as the Emperor’s enforcer with obvious parallels to the Nazi Protection Officers, commonly referred to as the SS: the monsters who did Hitler’s dirty work. He was a fascist lap dog who had killed Luke’s father and looked pretty scary!
That was about all there was to him. This version of the character carried on far enough that there is even a bit in an early draft of Empire Strikes Back where Anakin’s ghost coaches Luke on how to fight Vader. Although Lucas has said he always knew Vader was Luke’s father, the facts don’t quite line up. The story of Star Wars is ever-evolving, and Vader’s reworking from muscle to central character is probably the purest example of this that there is.
Once the prequels were announced to be the tragedy of Anakin’s fall to the dark side, a lot of leg work was done to combine the two characters into one: starting with the first-ever teaser poster for The Phantom Menace which showed an innocent little boy whose shadow was that of the imposing and iconic Lord Vader.
After many drafts, Anakin’s story was ultimately one of loss, heartbreak, and manipulation. The stringent rules of the Jedi never allowed Anakin’s emotions to be properly developed, making him easily malleable to somebody as cunning as Palpatine who radicalized the broken man toward fascism and hatred. A harsh parallel to the real world of fascism which has long preyed on broken young people to enforce its ideals. But no, Star Wars definitely isn’t political.
A strange thing happened after the prequels were released. People started thinking they had weakened Vader’s character by humanizing him.
For many fans, Vader’s character is at his best when he is a force of nature. A terrifying killer wearing a face evocative of death itself. Rogue One was preaching to this exact choir when they shot the infamous hallway scene, which reduced Vader to his most terrifying form, one that is very often left to the imagination. In my opinion, the scene misses what makes that character so interesting and instead leans into the badass for the sake of badassery reasons that sell so many T-shirts at Target.
It’s hard to argue with that scene being cool, but I tend to like my Star Wars to be cool and, well, literally anything else. This oversimplified version of Vader harkens back to the character’s original inception, but loses all the growth that has been had in the decades since. Interestingly, it was Anakin’s appearances on the small screen that ended up further developing the character.
Anakin is somewhat reworked in The Clone Wars in order to fit Obi-Wan’s original description of the man. He is headstrong and brash but a hero through and through. Making his ultimate fall to the dark side all the more heartbreaking, especially when his Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, discovers his fate in Rebels.
The image of Vader’s helmet being split by Ahsoka to reveal Anakin’s face beneath instantly became one of the most iconic images in all of Star Wars. Seeing the man underneath the emotionless facade is a tough reminder of what became of the once-promising Jedi.
Moments like these have become a cornerstone of continuing Vader’s story.
The VR title Vader Immortal has a scene where Vader removes his helmet and we hear a spot-on impersonation of Hayden Christiansen’s voice calling out for Padmé. It is a truly haunting moment that follows up on the universal monster vibe of Vader’s rise in Revenge of the Sith.
Most recently, the popular Marvel Darth Vader comics have partnered the Dark Lord with his dead lover’s body double, Sabé. Without giving too much away, the story is making Vader look his past in the eye and come to terms with the losses of the man he was. The storytelling is beautiful and really puts it into perspective just how powerful the story of a truly broken person can be.
When at it’s best, Star Wars is a story about the light and dark that lives in everyone. A constant struggle that we all deal with and if we’re strong enough, come out on the right side of. Anakin’s evolution into Vader is an incredibly nuanced and powerful examination of this, even if it is a little roughly executed at times. His ultimate redemption brings the whole arc to a close with one of the most satisfying moments in cinema.
To separate Anakin from Vader is to rob the character of what makes him interesting and remove all nuance from his story. Not to put too fine a point on it, but only a Sith deals in absolutes.