One commonality between religions across history is the idea of a virgin birth. The most referenced may be Jesus, but a virgin birth dates far farther back than Mary. It was this common theme that George Lucas tapped in creating the backstory of Anakin Skywalker, a virgin birth by Shmi Skywalker.
Which means Anakin never had a father. Anyone who is goes through childhood without a father will most certainly tell you that a major factor in their life is trying to fill the void left by their father. It is never easy, and it is definitely something that Anakin himself struggled with. Like his real world counterparts, Anakin continuously tried to fill the void of not having a father with other male role models.
This is a major factor, although an often ignored one, in the fall of Anakin Skywalker. All his father figures failed him. All his fathers let him down.
Anakin’s first major father figure, at least as far as we know, is Qui-Gon Jinn. The Jedi found Anakin and recognized his potential. For a slave boy on a planet of scum and villainy, this was probably the first adult male to ever believe in him. No doubt Shmi believed in him, but for a young man having an adult male see your potential is simply not something that can be replaced. It is no knock on Shmi or any single mother who may be trying to fill the void left by a father (and doing so quite valiantly at that). It just cannot be done by anyone save for male father figure.
Qui-Gon’s belief in Anakin had to reach down to the very soul of Anakin and rile up something visceral, creating emotions he had never experienced before. This was bound to create an attachment, so losing Qui-Gon so soon after having a father figure for the first time had to tear apart Anakin’s heart. Not only did he never have a father, but now his first father figure let him down. Failed to keep a promise. Abandoned him.
It may be unfair to look at it this way, since Qui-Gon was brutally murdered by Darth Maul. Yet Qui-Gon was able to do something no Jedi to date had, transcend death and reach back to the realm of reality via the Force. He was able to talk with Yoda and presumably Obi-Wan post Revenge of the Sith, so why not Anakin? We see him yell for Anakin prior to his slaughter of the Tusken Raiders, but that was too little to late. Anakin is, as George Lucas has said, the true Chosen One, and therefore had a connection to the Force beyond other Jedi. It is hard to believe Qui-Gon couldn’t reach out to Anakin, especially considering the Mortis arc of The Clone Wars. As much as most of us love Qui-Gon (yours truly included) and see him as the ideal Jedi, the truth is he failed Anakin.
He was the first, but definitely not the last. In fact, the man who stepped in to fill his shoes failed to an even greater measure than Qui-Gon ever could have.
When Qui-Gon died, once again there was a void in Anakin’s life. To make matters even more difficult, Anakin was not only on a new planet but stepping into an entirely new life. Without the support of his mother, Anakin was in more need than ever for a role model.
Enter Obi-Wan Kenobi, newly christened Jedi Knight.
The first big issue with Obi-Wan as a father figure for Anakin starts the moment that he promised his dying master that he would train young Skywalker. Obi-Wan stepped into the role of father figure as an obligation rather than a choice, which itself brings its own baggage. To pile on, we see in The Phantom Menace that Obi-Wan is still headstrong, by the book, and, frankly, still learning the ropes of Jedi-dom. Not the best person to lead a young man.
Obi-Wan was literally learning on the job, and the uniqueness of his situation just complicated things. Hey you are a new Jedi Knight, congratulations. Oh, by the way you are responsible for training the “Chosen One.” Don’t forget the Council doesn’t support you!
The situation was, suffice to say, less than ideal. But not everything can be blamed on the situation alone. A lot falls on the shoulders of Obi-Wan and his own shortcomings as a father figure, namely his inability to show emotion. Now this must not be mistaken for arrogance or an inability to see his own flaws. That is a primary character trait of Kenobi, as seen when he apologizes to Qui-Gon in The Phantom Menace.
Yet we never really see him show emotion until those final moments on Mustafar. In over a decade of working side by side in the most dangerous time in galactic history to that point, Obi-Wan never truly told Anakin how he felt about him. In fact, he may not have even admitted it to himself. We know that he loved Satine, and claims he would have left the Order for her, but do we ever see him tell Satine he loves her? Once again he only admits his feelings to her when it is already too late.
That fateful day on Mustafar was a manifesto on Obi-Wan’s failures. Consider that this was the first time Anakin ever heard an adult male, a father figure, tell him he was loved. By that point his heart was too black to accept that love in. In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Anakin lashes out about Obi-Wan holding him back. The reality of this is debatable, but the perception is not. Anakin really believed, from his certain point of view, that Obi-Wan did not have his best interest in mind. How would things have been different if Obi-Wan had told Anakin the truth of his emotions, and how deep his love for his “brother” ran?
While Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan were the primary father figures for Anakin, they were not the only ones.
Ten years after leaving Tatooine, Anakin returns to find that his mother is now married and he has a step-father, Cliegg Lars. Great opportunity for a father figure to finally step up, right?
Cliegg is microcosm of what is wrong with all of Anakin’s father figures. He’s not around, like Qui-Gon, and basically tells Anakin to not feel his feelings, like Obi-Wan and the Jedi. The former can be forgiven since Jedi are not allowed to have contact with their family, but the latter falls directly on his shoulders.
After ten years separated from the only person to date to ever show Anakin love prior to the events of The Phantom Menace, you would think the guy could be a little more empathetic. But not Cliegg. He is as cold as Tatooine is barren. “Your mother’s dead son. Accept it,” is no way talk with someone who has lost the single most important person in his life. And it is not the time to call him son for the first time when you have not done anything fatherly for him. Shame, Cliegg. Shame.
But Cliegg is only a minor problem. The larger problem is the Jedi as a whole. From Mace to Yoda, from Plo Koon to Obi-Wan, the Jedi failed as father figures for Anakin. Father figures are supposed to teach a young man how to move through life, navigating its ebbs and flows in a proper way. The Jedi, however, were so lost they could not be that for Skywalker.
Moreover, they basically did nothing to make him feel welcome. Yoda, in The Phantom Menace, calls him out for feeling fear thanks to being in an entirely new situation. Yes, Yoda, the kid is going to have a little fear in him after leaving his mom on a barren hive of scum and villainy and moving to the center of the known galaxy. How about offering to help him handle that fear properly instead of telling him straight up that he is wrong for feeling the way he feels?
That is the crux of the whole conversation about Anakin and the Jedi. The Jedi failed the galaxy by fighting in the war instead of remaining as peacekeepers. But they failed Anakin on a much more personal level. They failed him by teaching him to bottle it up and push it down instead of learning to handle his emotions. He was a firecracker just waiting for that final spark, which Palpatine was more than happy to ignite.
Palpatine took advantage of the failures of other father figures in Anakin’s life. Palpatine saw that Anakin needed a role model, a man to look up to, and he twisted that for his own devices. The outcome was exactly what he wanted, but not exactly what was best for everyone else.
All of this leads to one simple question of, “Would things have been different if Anakin had a father/father figure more well-suited for his needs?” The answer, unfortunately, is not as simple. While fandom seems to (shockingly) agree with the idea that Anakin would not have fallen had Qui-Gon lived, in the game of “what-if’s” and “coulda-shoulda-woulda,” there is rarely a winner. So surmising what would have happened had the chance cube fallen on the other side just leads down a rabbit hole with no end.
One thing is for certain, though. Anakin’s story, from rise to prominence, through his fall from grace, and back to his eventual rise again, is compelling. There is something in the story that just about everyone can relate to in some way, shape, or form.
So in the end, even though Anakin did not have a father figure lead his way, many Star Wars fans have Anakin to look to as a father figure, a role model to learn from. Now all we need to do is “unlearn what [we] have learned.”