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.
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.