He had never been more alone than when he sat in the Jedi Council Chamber. In isolation far more than solitude. He had never been more hollow. More desperate. He reached out, across the miles. Across the stars. Across the Force.
To her. The only one he had left. The one he had to save.
Suddenly, it all seemed to have gone wrong. Now, like never before, he became desperate to save her. And maybe in doing so, save himself.
A tear fell.
In Revenge of the Sith, we see Anakin’s ultimate demise into the black terror that would damn a civilization: Darth Vader. Many things went wrong in order to lead him down this path, but the proverbial straw in the camel’s back was his wife, Padme Amidala.
Truth be told, however, it was not Padme’s fault. Not in the slightest. It could in fact be argued that she was the best thing that Anakin had going. Unfortunately, she was the square peg being pushed into the round hole.
She was, for Anakin, not a wife, nor a lover. She was, in essence, a replacement for his mother.
Shmi Skywalker provided for Anakin the only love and support he had ever known. As a slave, not only was he taken advantage of, demeaned, and belittled, he was not even viewed as human. Except for by his mother.
And, eventually, by Padme.
When Padme finds out that Anakin is a slave, she is shocked. Disgusted, not by him but by the idea that slavery even still exists in a galaxy she considers civilized. Anakin is her first glimpse into a world that is darker than she’s ever known, while to him she is the first light he has seen in ages (save for his mother…. Noticing a pattern?). This is important because it builds the first step on the romantic fallacy of one lover completing the other, which will play a major role in their relationship going forward.
But before considering their relationship, we have to understand the relationship that Anakin loses when he loses his mother. She was, very truly, the only person to ever love Anakin. As a slave, there had to be hard days. Harder days than even the most hard luck of scum on Tatooine would have experienced. Just the very idea of being property would wear on a child and diminish said child’s self-esteem. This is why Anakin so vehemently declares that he is a person when Padme first learns of his slave status.
On top of that, Shmi is meant to be seen, by the audience and by Anakin, as pure good. She is the “virgin,” pure of heart and spirit. In the familiar setting of Tatooine, with all its “scum and villainy,” she is an exception. A sense of hope. Hope that when all is lost, things will turn out okay. A beacon declaring that love is more important than anything else. A young boy like Anakin would need that to make it not just through a day, but through his life.
Then, suddenly, that is all ripped away from him. With a “yippee” and a smile, young Anakin declares that he wants to be a Jedi. Regret, indecision, and doubt start to creep in, however, when he learns that his mother will not go with him. The foundation of his life is being torn out from under him.
What replaces it?
The instability of the Jedi.
Qui-Gon Jinn promises to look out for Anakin, yet is unable to do so after he is slain by Darth Maul. Things just continue to change for Anakin. Change is not something he has known unto this point in his life, as is evidenced when he tells him mother, “I don’t want things to change.” Now everything is changing for him, and changing quickly.
This is a human experience we can all empathize with, as we all at one time have had to deal with change. But to have your entire life shaken to the core is hard to handle. Even worse, Anakin essentially becomes a ward of the Jedi. One they don’t trust and are not even sure they want.
The Jedi at this time are not what Anakin needs. He has built his life, his very existence, on living through and with the love and goodness provided him by Shmi. The Jedi are incapable of this during the prequel era. They are cold and systematic. The are simply a code in robes. They have not the heart to connect with the emotions Anakin has to be feeling during this new time in his life. To make matters worse, their relationship with him, contrary to his relationship with Shmi, is transactional. Shmi loves him unconditionally. The Jedi keep him around because of what he can do, and who they believe him to be. They support him only as far as his abilities support their ultimate goal.
We can infer that in the 10 years between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones that this instability in Anakin’s life has not gotten any better (and might possibly have gotten worse). For one, the civilization around him, the Republic, is being poisoned by the Sith. The Jedi at large, Mace Windu, Yoda, etc. distrust him. And the one person who should have his back, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the man who is “like a father” to Anakin, is committed to him out of obligation. (Even if Obi-Wan does believe Anakin to be the Chosen One, does trust his abilities, and does in some way love him, the idea alone that Obi-Wan is obliged first and committed second would have a toll on Anakin. This clearly shows in how Anakin complains about Obi-Wan all throughout Episode II).
Further, the beginning of Attack of the Clones shows a very different Anakin from the one we saw in The Phantom Menace. Where Phantom Menace Anakin used his abilities to help others, Attack of the Clones Anakin uses his abilities to prove himself as capable, worthy, and sometimes even better. He has become arrogant. He is so not out of strength, however, but out of desperation. The arrogance is a wall built up to not show the weakness and shame he feels in missing his mother, which he learns right away is a “bad thing” as a Jedi when he is being tested as a young child.
Then, Padme comes back into his life. The only other source of light he has ever had save his mother. Almost instantly, he falls back into the young child that he was, seeing an angel and realizing that there was love and goodness in the galaxy beyond the heart of his mother.
The problem is that his mother is not there anymore, and for years he has been searching for a replacement for her. Obi-Wan touches on this when asking Anakin about the dreams he has been having. Instantly he knows that the dreams have been about Shmi. But he does nothing to support him.
Padme does. On Naboo, when Anakin is meditating after a night of terrible images of his mother being tortured, Padme supports him. Much like Shmi must have on those nights when Sebulba and the other scum of Tatooine taunted and demanded the little slave boy.
All of this leads back to one very important line in The Phantom Menace. While having dinner, trying to convince Shmi to let him enter the Boonta Eve Podrace, Anakin says, “Mom, you always say that the biggest problem in the universe is that no one helps each other.” Anakin had been raised with this mindset to love and help each other. He believes that the Jedi will offer him the ability to do that, but they simply don’t. Padme does.
Padme is the one who finds a loophole so that he can go save Obi-Wan. Padme is the one who supports him when he decides to go help his mother from the terrors of his ruminations. Padme is the one who consoles him after his trek towards the dark side killing the Tuskens. Padme, like Shmi before her, is the only one who loves Anakin,supports him without expecting anything out of him (unlike the Jedi, who expect him to bring balance to the Force), and encourage him to not only feel his emotions, but act on them in a way that helps others.
Padme brings him the hope of pure goodness and love. But in his desperation to replace his mother, and after a decade of purely transactional relationships, Attack of the Clones Anakin cannot receive this in the same way that Phantom Menace Anakin could.
Still the same, Anakin knows, on some level, that love and purity is what he has been missing. This is why he so desperately pursues Padme throughout Episode II. But again, after a decade of only transactional relationships, he does not really know how to do this. When Padme finally admits that she does love him as much as he her, he begins to see a renewal of the status quo of a time he understood. A time when things were simpler.
On top of that, Anakin in Attack of the Clones, although not in name, is still a slave. He went from being a slave of Watto to a slave of the Jedi. What pulled him through, and gave him hope, while he was an actual slave was Shmi. Now, even though he has become slaved to the Jedi, he has that hope renewed in Padme instead of Shmi.
But even before that, we can see the danger that lies ahead. When Anakin tries to save his mother, and ultimately fails, he promises to never let someone else he loves die. There is only one person he ever loves the same way he does his mother. Padme.
So when he begins to believe that Padme will die in childbirth, he has to keep the final promise he made to his mother. Unfortunately, Padme has become that replacement for Shmi, and we can see throughout Episode II, particularly in the fireside scene, that Anakin feels as though Padem “completes him.” This is a dangerous way to love because it masks a transactional relationship with the guise of pure, unconditional love. Anakin’s love for his mother was pure and unconditional, as was her love for him. Now, he loves her because she provides him with what he lost in his mother. Pure and unconditional love.
The entire prequel trilogy is created to be a juxtaposition to the original trilogy. Wherein the original trilogy is about people acting selflessly out of love, with no ulterior motive, the prequels are meant to show the danger of entering into relationship to receive something. As it regards Padme and Anakin, Anakin’s desperation to replace his mother leads him to take the pure love that he had for Padme in that shop on Tatooine and manipulate it into something unrecognizable, much like he would become.
He saw her. The one he loved. His hope. But he did not need hope now. He had power. He was stronger. He could overcome his own internal weakness. The dark side would give him the strength.
He listened to her cry out about how much she loved him. How he was breaking her heart. She did not understand. She was short-sighted. Like the Jedi. Unlike the Jedi, though, she would see the right way. She would see that he was doing all of this for her. For his love.
But she continued to plea. To try and touch a person who was not there anymore.
And her tears fell.