The title is in quotations obviously because I do not believe it. For the past few weeks this is a notion I’ve seen across various sites: the notion that Anakin’s character in the prequels should have been what Kylo Ren was in The Force Awakens. To say that this troubled me would be grossly understating my feelings on the matter. It shows a distinct lack of understanding the character everyone claims is so bland. Hopefully this can be my last Star Wars post until at least Rogue One. Without further ado…
What was the point of Anakin’s character?
It was to show the past of Darth Vader. You know who Darth Vader is. He’s a being that’s more machine than man. He is the apprentice of Darth Sidious. He is the fist of the Empire. He’s a being so lost in the darkness that he had to seriously contemplate whether he should save his own son’s life. Anakin’s character was meant to be the answer to how someone could start noble, but become so entrenched in depravity that they could become the monster Vader was.
Now let’s look at Kylo. Why does he exist? He’s meant to be an antagonist in the place of Darth Vader. A poor replacement. In the movie, it’s made clear he’s indecisive—he doesn’t know if he wants to be a dark lord or if he wants to go back “to the light”. He’s a lost puppy. Do you see how intrinsically different from Darth Vader that is? The good in Vader was so buried that Yoda and Obi-Wan told Luke to kill him and that he was too far gone, but Kylo is presented as being equal parts good as he is evil.
Why is that an important distinction?
Again, Vader is secure in his position in the dark. That’s ultimately what makes Episode 6’s conclusion so fulfilling. Luke dedicated himself the entirety of the movie to turn his father back to the path of righteousness. It was no less than a Herculean feat requiring Luke to lose and be tortured before him. That’s how deeply gone Vader was.
Let us compare that to Kylo Ren, who, without ANY provocation whatsoever, says to Darth Vader’s mask that he is “tempted by the light”. This shows a heart that is easily changed, and a man not stalwart in his convictions. He later kills his father to help tether himself to the dark side because he was never securely in it.
Now let’s bring Anakin into the mix. He turned to the dark side because, as Episodes 1-3 constantly told us, he was a being driven by fear. He feared leaving his mother, he feared losing his mother, and then he feared that Padme would end up like his mother. These emotions led to hate and anger, as Yoda often said they would. See, Anakin devoted himself to Palpatine’s teachings because it was the only way to save the one he loved—the one he feared losing. He didn’t see it as becoming evil, turning from the light or joining the dark side: he saw it as doing the right thing. How can wanting to keep those you love be wrong? He was secure in his convictions, and that carries over to the Darth Vader aspect of his character.
This is what makes Darth Vader a good villain. He firmly believes that what he is doing is right. Kylo has doubts, and that’s why he would make a terrible Vader. It would undermine Luke’s effort in turning him back to the Jedi way and from the path of the Sith if he was doubting himself.
“Okay. But couldn’t Anakin have been a little more conflicted in the movies?”
I’m going to give the people that say Kylo is what Anakin should’ve been the benefit of the doubt and assume they also mean “We see Kylo is conflicted, but never see that in Anakin”. The truth is, that’s also incorrect. Anakin is conflicted since his very first appearance in The Phantom Menace.
Ignore Jake Lloyd’s groan-worthy acting and pay attention to the dialogue and to what’s happening. Anakin wants to go with the Jedi because, in his child-like view of the world, they’re unbeatable and are the good guys, but he also knows what life is like on Tatooine and doesn’t want to leave his mother. That’s conflict, and a conflict that carries over into every other prequel movie in a different form.
In Attack of the Clones, we see him try to deny his feelings for Padme, because that’s the Jedi way—that’s what he was taught to do—but he can’t because he loves her too much. He’s conflicted between being the Jedi Obi-Wan and the rest of the Order want him to be, their chosen one, and being himself. We later see this come up again in Revenge of the Sith, where he apologizes to Obi-Wan for being a failure as a Jedi, and these failings all come from him not being able to bury his feelings. Anakin is essentially in a constant fit of self-loathing, where he’s ashamed of himself for not being able to rid himself of his emotions, but at the same time he revels in those emotions. That is conflict. Real conflict and not the manufactured kind like in The Force Awakens, where Kylo does absolutely nothing to show that he is conflicted, but tries to tell us that he’s being tempted by the light.
“But I thought you said Vader and Anakin are secure in their decisions”
I did say that, yes, and it remains true. The thing with Anakin is from Episode 1 until the climactic scene where he lops off Windu’s arm in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s conflict had been building to that crescendo. We see him wrestle with himself in Palpatine’s office, where he has to choose being true to the Jedi, or being true to what he wants. In the end, he chooses the path that he believes is right—the one that leads to his wife’s life being saved.
That goes back to what separates Anakin from Kylo. Anakin’s internal conflict boiled over into him making a decision and sticking with it because to him it is a just one, regardless of the emotional pain it led him to, and that’s what convinces Yoda and Obi-Wan that he cannot be saved. Anakin is certain that what he’s doing is ultimately right, because the Jedi were becoming corrupt and saving the one he loved couldn’t possibly be wrong. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, lacks that crescendo, or even that build up. He’s a completely different character with a completely different personality and view of the world.
That, dear reader, is why the Anakin we got works, and why him being different from Kylo is the only way the narrative of Lucas’ six films hold true. See you next time.