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The Shadow of Anakin Part II: A Legacy of Hope

kylo and anakin

At its heart, the Star Wars saga has always been about Anakin Skywalker in some form or another. If the prequel trilogy is about Anakin’s rise and subsequent fall, and the original trilogy is about his redemption, then the sequel trilogy is about his legacy. Though Anakin is dead, his story continues to play a key role in the narrative of a galaxy far, far away.

On Monday I discussed the differences between Vader and Kylo, both in their backgrounds and in their falls to the dark side, and what that might mean in terms of redemption arcs. If Anakin was a Jedi whose path to the dark side was paved with good intentions, Kylo (as best we can tell from The Force Awakens) willfully chose to embrace the dark and is still fighting the light inside him. Very different interpretations of dark side power. Kylo is determined to follow the Vader side of his heritage…but he would do well to remember that Vader is only part of the legacy that Anakin leaves behind.

First, Anakin leaves an obvious physical legacy through his children, Luke and Leia, and here it is a positive one. Through Luke we have the first Jedi of the new age, and presumably a new Jedi Order. Through Leia we have a prominent leader in the New Republic and later in the Resistance against the First Order. Both children are both fighters and peace-seekers, intensely dutiful to their causes, and dedicated to their sense of right and wrong. They’re a Jedi and a politician, a perfect blend of both Anakin and Padmé.

However Anakin’s second legacy, and what he is probably more remembered for, is Darth Vader. And unfortunately it’s this malevolent and destructive legacy that Kylo chooses to follow, believing that Vader is the path to power and glory. He deliberately embraces the dark side and is dedicated to Vader’s legacy or at least what he thinks Vader’s legacy is (since, as I discussed on Monday, Anakin and Kylo have very different approaches to dark side power). However, the most interesting thing about Kylo is that he has too much light in him. He keeps trying to embrace the dark side but has to fight the “seduction” of the light (his words). Finally he is driven to desperate measures and kills his own father, hoping that will finally kill the remaining light inside him.

And that brings us to Anakin’s final legacy and one of the central tenets of the Star Wars saga: hope.

Embedded in the Star Wars saga is the idea that it is never too late to turn back to the light. It’s never too late to renounce your ways and turn away from the dark. There is no depth you can fall to where redemption is no longer an option, and nowhere is this better exemplified than in Anakin’s redemption arc. Obi-Wan tries to reason with Anakin on Mustafar before regretfully engaging him in combat. Padmé, with her dying breath, believes there is still good in Vader. Luke refuses to accept that killing Vader was the only solution and, despite nearly the entire galaxy screaming at him otherwise, stubbornly clings to the idea that he could appeal to the good in Vader and bring him back to the light.

Vader is responsible for the murder of hundreds of Jedi. He personally killed children and was the Emperor’s second in command for roughly twenty years and probably committed any number of atrocities. By Return of the Jedi, when Luke first tries to appeal to the part of Anakin left in Vader, all he gets in reply is a “It is too late for me, son.” He’s resigned to his fate and believes there’s no turning back from what he’s done; the only option left to Vader, in his mind, is servitude to the dark side.

FuneralPyre
Nothing says “redemption” like a hero’s funeral pyre

And yet, through Luke’s perseverance and steadfast belief, Vader finds that spark of goodness and brings Anakin back to the light through a final act of defiance against the master who had shackled him for so long. He reaffirms the message that no matter how far gone you think you are, it’s never too late to turn back.

Likewise, Leia and Han refuse to believe that their son is irreversibly lost to the dark side. Leia says it over and over: “There’s still light in him.” “Bring our son home.” Even Han, for all his cynicism and belief there was “too much Vader in [Ben],” still tries to reason with his son and still pleads with him to just come home. It doesn’t matter that he deliberately turned his back on the light, joined the First Order, and may or may not have been responsible for an attack on Luke’s Jedi Temple. Leia and Han refuse to believe he’s irredeemable and gone for good.

Now, of course, the confrontation between Han and Ben in TFA didn’t have the same result as the duel between Luke and Vader in Return of the Jedi. Instead of turning back to the light, Kylo rejected it yet again and killed his father to reaffirm his commitment to the dark side. But does this mean it’s too late for Ben? After all, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny,” says Yoda.

Looking at Anakin’s legacy I would say that yes, there is still hope. Kylo certainly won’t have an easy time of it; the path to redemption is never easy, especially for a fanatic who continually rejects the light. Luke’s biggest struggle with Vader was convincing him that it was possible to break away from Palpatine and finally be free; Kylo’s biggest struggle will be reversing his worldview and breaking away from the influence of Snoke and the First Order zealots that surround him. But there’s still a chance, if the Skywalker family has anything to say about it.

Anakin left an ugly stain on the galaxy in the form of Darth Vader. But he also left two children, one who steadfastly believed in the goodness of his father and the other who just as strongly believes in the light still present in her son. And Anakin leaves a final legacy of hope, and a recognition that redemption and forgiveness are still possible, no matter how lost in darkness someone may be. And that final legacy will hopefully be the one that endures as the rest of the sequel trilogy unfolds.

7 thoughts to “The Shadow of Anakin Part II: A Legacy of Hope”

  1. This actually is the theme shown from Kylo Ren’s first conversation on screen. You cannot forget the truth of your family. And his response is to strike out. It could be viewed as a giant case of denial.

    1. I think Kylo is absolutely in denial. We haven’t seen much of his emotional fallout from killing Han, but my guess is that he’s going to have a lot of guilt about it (that he will then repress because it it’s just the light trying to seduce him again). I’m sure that Kylo knows the story of Vader’s redemption (I imagine it was central to Luke’s Jedi teachings, i.e. it’s Never Too Late For Redemption) but maybe he thinks he’s somehow immune to that? Which is especially interesting, considered that Rey says Kylo’s worried he’ll never be as strong as Darth Vader…..and yet Vader turned to the light at the end (which, by Kylo’s logic, would be an act of weakness).

      1. I imagine it was central to Luke’s Jedi teachings, i.e. it’s Never Too Late For Redemption

        I actually don’t think I’d go that far—it’d be an important lesson, I’m sure, but too much focus on it could come across as “hey, if you screw up and kill some children, no biggie”.

      2. Sarah wrote: “I’m sure that Kylo knows the story of Vader’s redemption (I imagine it was central to Luke’s Jedi teachings, i.e. it’s Never Too Late For Redemption) but maybe he thinks he’s somehow immune to that?”

        I’m sure redemption is a theme in Luke’s training — but I’d guess that what is a bigger theme is the idea that a Jedi is to be a redeemer – one who redeems. That a Jedi ought never view a person as a lost cause, that there should be patience and compassion.

        I don’t think it’s a matter of Kylo not wanting to apply these teachings to himself, that he is immune from receiving redemption, but rather a rejection of the importance of being one who redeems, who is patient, who is kind, etc. Being a Jedi isn’t very practical – it doesn’t get things done. It’s not about how to marshal and effectively use power on a grand scale.

        Think of it this way – Jedi ways are at their core more passive an reactionary. Knowledge and defense. When you are peace, then you will know. Meditate. All of this is waiting, waiting to fix things, hoping. The Dark Side sort of lets you get your hands involved and mold things to be the way you wish them to be. I don’t wonder if Ren isn’t rejecting the idea of being one who redeems.

  2. I wonder what the state of general Anakin/Vader knowledge is in the new canon. Is it general knowledge that Anakin and Vader were the same person? That Anakin overcame Vader in the end and redeemed himself? That Luke and Leia are his children? And even if Luke or Leia have told people that, do people accept it (I mean, for the Empire’s victims that’s got to be a lot to forgive)? Or is Vader still seen as a villain by most of the Republic?

    What others “know” about Vader could have a profound impact on what Kylo Ren thinks about him. It seems reasonable to assume that Luke and Leia told Ben the whole story about his grandfather. However, if Ben lives in a universe in which everyone else still sees Vader as a Sith Lord (and not a redeemed hero), then that might help explain why Kylo Ren still reveres Vader and rejects Anakin.

  3. I really like this image at the top of the article, with Kylo dwelling over Vader’s burnt mask. I wonder if Kylo is trying to learn a way to communicate with Vader/Anakin’s force ghost via the dark side. We see this of course with the Jedi and the light side but I get the impression that isn’t possible with the dark side. That kind of makes the image funny too, like if you had stayed with the light side you probably could speak with Anakin, but now all you can do is look at a mask.

    Kylo seems afraid he is not as powerful as Vader, and I like that the writers went this direction with him, tantrums and all. I could see this being a key draw to the dark side for him as well, being a descendant of Vader he feels he should be the best of the group during Luke’s training of new Jedi. When that’s not the case he turns to the dark side.

    Anyways, great couple of articles. It will be interesting to learn more about Kylo and his knights.

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