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This essay is from Julia Lam
Published on December 10, 2002

Anakin Skywalker: The Early Years

Star Wars creator George Lucas has reiterated that the saga is centered about the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker. In a grand, galactic struggle between good and evil, Skywalker is transformed from bearer of light to the very embodiment of darkness, and is ultimately redeemed before his death. His son, Luke, undertakes a similar journey himself, in the shadow of his father's descent into darkness. Interpreting the Star Wars chronicle from a mythological standpoint, Anakin Skywalker is personified as the archetypal fallen protagonist in a story that can be easily categorized as the archetypal hero's journey.

As in various cultures' folklore and mythology, such as the Christian tradition, Anakin's birth was prophesized long before its occurrence. An old Jedi prophecy spoke of a Chosen One who would arise and bring balance to the Force. More than forty-one years before the climatic Battle of Yavin, Tatooine slave Shmi Skywalker suddenly found herself pregnant, although, as she told Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn nine years afterwards, "There was no father." It was possible that the child had been conceived by the Force itself, a mystical, all-encompassing energy field that "surrounds", "penetrates", and "binds the galaxy together" (Obi-Wan Kenobi, A New Hope). Paralleling the belief in a being whose creation occurred through the will of a higher power, followers of Jesus Christ believe that Christ arose through immaculate conception.

As a child, Anakin exemplified the characteristics of one whose future was filled with promise. From an early age, Anakin exhibited extraordinary talents. Enslaved to the greedy Toydarian shopkeeper Watto, Anakin showed early promise as a brilliant mechanic. He dreamed of leaving the barren desert planet and journeying among the stars. This is a common thread in storytelling - a youth with extraordinary talents is born into bleak circumstances, and dreams of escaping the wretchedness of his life. It is these tales of conquering the status given at birth - that is, defying destiny's diktats - that have inspired us and awed us since the beginning of time. To satisfy his thirst for adventure and excitement, Anakin turned to the dangerous, illegal sport of podracing, where he proved himself to be the only human capable of handling the vigorous speeds. Passionately devoted to his beloved mother, he was an empathetic, selfless youth who once nearly sacrificed his life that he might prevent the slaughter of a herd of banthas. This compassion is rendered all the more ironic when his eventual fate is revealed.

Destiny's hand began to reveal itself when Anakin's footsteps crossed with those of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, who was, at the time, serving as bodyguard for Queen Padm? Amidala of the Naboo. Qui-Gon told Shmi Skywalker of his encounter with her son, "Our meeting was not a coincidence. Nothing happens by accident." Thus occurred the introduction of the young hero's guide in his journey, often depicted in mythology as a wise, elderly man, such as The Lord of the Ring's Gandalf or The Sword in the Stone's Merlin. Having never had a father figure, in the short time that Anakin spent with Qui-Gon, he immediately formed a strong bond with the Jedi maverick. As in any bildungsroman, a significant step in the young hero's journey is the separation from his mentor. Qui-Gon Jinn perished in the Battle of Naboo at the hands of the Sith lord Darth Maul. Despite reluctance form the Jedi Council, Anakin was able to take up his Jedi training under Jinn's former Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Their partnership was marked by an uneasy start; Kenobi, it seemed, took Anakin as Padawan learner only to fulfill a promise to his late Master, not out of his own willingness. Later on, Obi-Wan would relate to Anakin's son Luke, "I thought I could instruct [Anakin] ... I was wrong."

Ten years after the Battle of Naboo, Anakin was reunited with Padm? Amidala when assassins threaten her life, now a senator for her planet. Against the background of an increasingly turbulent galaxy, they fell in love. Although the Jedi Code expressly forbid marital union, as is in his increasingly rebellious and aggressive nature, Anakin gave little thought to consequences. Allowing his fervors to direct his actions, he let the ends justify the means, and the darkness within began to rise. Prompted by recurring nightmares, the Jedi learner returned to Tatooine to find his mother, only to arrive in time to witness her death in captivity by the fierce Tusken Raiders. The last strands of his former life as a slave had been suddenly and brutally eliminated. There was no longer anything to hold him down. Enraged, Anakin lashed out and massacred the entire Tusken camp - men, women, and children. He explained distraughtly to Padm? in a line that chillingly echoed his future, "I killed them. I killed them all." Against the Jedi practice of diplomacy and defense, Anakin took the position as aggressor. Fueled by ferocity, rage, and hurt, he slaughtered an entire community unhesitatingly. It was the turning point, the point at which the shadows that had been cast upon his life began to loom longer and longer.

At the same time, the struggle within the young Jedi was paralleled by the roiling tensions in the galaxy, which had reached their boiling point. On the red-rock planet of Geonosis, the battle forces of the Republic clashed with the dissenting Separatists. As the battle raged, the head of the Separatists, the Sith Lord Count Dooku, engaged Obi-Wan and Anakin in a heated lightsaber duel. Upon landing in the deserted hangar where Dooku (also known as Darth Tyrannus) waited, Obi-Wan advised Anakin to advance cautiously. Heedless of his mentor's words, Anakin rushed forward to attack Dooku. Once more, his aggression and fury were revealed, in direct contradistinction with the Jedi Code that taught peace and serenity. Dooku succeeded in severing Anakin's right arm, in a theme of ritual dismemberment that would repeat itself several more times throughout the Star Wars saga. Blinded by fear, pain, doubt, and anger, Anakin turned once more to Padm?. The two were secretly married by a Naboo Holy Man. Marriage should have been a joyous event in Anakin's life, but it was only another step to his eventual fall and destruction. In the cycle of the hero's journey, Anakin's period of initiation, darkness, and suffering far overshadowed the preceding and succeeding events.

From Force conception to fall to the Dark Side, Anakin Skywalker's path in the Star Wars prequel trilogy traversed the first stage of the archetypal hero's journey. In later years, as told by the Episodes IV-VI of the original trilogy, Anakin would make the transformation into Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, half man, half machine, instigator of doom and destruction. This tale of a man who began life with such extraordinary potential, only to use his powers for infinite evil, and ultimately redeems himself at the end of his quest, is a poignant, mythical rendering of life as we see it - the marriage of rise and fall, light and dark, good and evil, within a single entity.

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