Anakin Skywalker. Just saying the name probably made 10,000,000 or more things pop into your head. Hero. Villain. Teacher. Killer. Jedi. Sith. Great arc. Terrible storytelling. But what matters most about is character is probably the fact that he is a reflection of our greatest shortcomings.
Let’s first look at the most important part of characters when it comes to story: motivation. We’ve all read, listened to, and/or seen far too many stories where the characters have as much motivation as the Tatooine has snow. It is a miserable experience. Anakin, however, has a powerful, and believable, motivation. His love for Padme is part of that, but she is really just a placeholder. His deep, burning motivation is to be a loved and fully realized person.
Think about it. He starts as a slave and he ends as a slave. The whole journey in between is really trying to figure out where he fits into the galaxy. Is he a lover, a Jedi, or something else entirely? He never really figures out until he meets Luke, and realizes that his true purpose is found in his son (and hopefully his daughter, too, although we never get to see it). But to say that Anakin is without motivation is a fallacy.
Now let’s look at the steps of his fall. First of all, there is his desire to not be a slave. This is extremely relatable because of the current crisis the world has with addictive behaviors. Immediately our mind jumps to drugs and alcohol, but the reality is that the evil of addiction hides in even darker corners. Eating disorders have seen a great rise since 1950, in both males and females. And how many hours a week do we binge watch television? Oh, and let us not forget about the almighty social media! Please know I am not condemning, for I am as guilty, or guiltier, than the next. But we cannot deny that, if we are not careful, we can become as much slaves to our behavior and our stuff as Anakin was to Watto.
When he finally escapes his slavery, he begins to chase his dreams. As many of us would. However, what happens when things get tough for Anakin? He tries to fill the void. With Padme. With power. With Palpatine.
Speaking as someone who has struggled with the addictive behaviors that enslaved me to an eating disorder, I can say that this is a very true characterization. When I was in recovery and could not exercise, which I used to do between two and four hours a day, I needed to fill that void. Fortunately I made the healthy choice and invested that time in read and watch movies, learning how to tell stories and improve skills that were important to me. But I also had people around me who supported me in the way I needed it. The same cannot be said for Anakin, who was stuck in the “dogmatic view of the Jedi” and never allowed to really become his own man because he had to be The Chosen One.
And when things got tough? Anakin ran. Many of us run. We move to new towns, screen phone calls, avoid that uncomfortable conversation with our significant other. Which usually leads us right back where we don’t want to be: as a slave. Anakin went from being a slave of Watto, to a slave of the Jedi and their prophecy, to a slave of Palpatine’s. All because he did not want to really confront the inner conflict he was having. He needed to be gazing in the mirror a lot more than he needed to be looking out that window in the Jedi Temple.
In fact, maybe we need to look in the mirror too.