(If you’ve been living in a cave for the last thirty years and aren’t familiar with Star Wars, you may want to stop reading now because there are certainly a lot of spoilers ahead. Also be warned that this is a three-part article. After all, it’s about Star Wars! It has to be a trilogy.)
As I was watching Return of the Jedi, it struck me that this six-pack of movies (what else do you call two trilogies?) was less about science fiction and more about something so many of us have trouble addressing: emotions. In broad relief, we see both their destructive power (Anakin’s story) and their awesome healing strength (Luke’s story). While I might wish for better dialogue and acting, the force of the narrative is undeniable. It all starts with Anakin, the Boy Wonder of his time.
In the prequel trilogy, Anakin goes from gifted boy to powerful young adult. The only problem he has is that he cannot seem to master his emotions. When we first met him, Anakin was angry about living as a slave and was scared for the welfare of his mother when he must leave her behind in order to become a Jedi. Although several members of the Jedi order recognized his internal emotional struggle, the best they had to offer was a warning and a refusal to provide him with the best trainer they had (Yoda). This was just the first in a long line of mistakes from people who should have known better. If Anakin was so powerful, then why in the world didn’t they decide to help him work through his fear and rage which, when you think about it, were completely normal reactions to the difficult life he’d led so far? How was a young boy of nine supposed to know how to manage his emotions appropriately? It was a ridiculous assumption on the part of the Order.
The foolishness of the Jedi continued as they failed to address Anakin’s angsty adolescent emotions and hormones. Here I must point out that I give Obi-Wan Kenobi somewhat of a pass in this because (1) he was the only one who seemed to try with Anakin, (2) he was quite young himself, (3) no one helped him deal with his grief over losing his friend and mentor Qui-Gon Jinn, and (4) he was Ewan McGregor. So, there was Obi-Wan struggling to do his best with an emotional and headstrong teenager when a completely foreseeable disaster occurred: Anakin fell in love with Padmé Amidala (which is reasonable given that she is practically the only woman present in the prequel trilogy). Anakin didn’t know what to do with these feelings as they were forbidden for a Jedi. Much like Catholic priests, attachments were not allowed for those in the Order. While I understand the rationale behind such a ban, surely they understood that human beings are social animals. We need loving attachments for good physical and mental health plus, as we see in the first trilogy, they can be used for good. But no, the Jedi forbade such unnecessary things.
If all that torment wasn’t enough for poor Anakin, his mother was captured and killed by Tusken Raiders. Once again, he failed to save her and, consequently, all of his pent-up rage, fear and grief erupted and Anakin slaughtered the entire tribe of Raiders. He did get a brief moment with Padmé when she comforted him and encouraged him to talk about his emotions but, being a typical teenage boy, he was torn apart by emotions he didn’t know how to deal with, and he thought he shouldn’t have. From there, it was a short hop to facing death, losing an arm and secretly marrying Padmé. And what did the Jedi Order do to help this battered teen deal with everything he’d experienced? Did they provide grief counseling or stress debriefing? Although we’re never told for certain, I’m pretty sure they did neither.
After his marriage to Padmé and the completion of his Jedi training, Anakin was sent all over the galaxy with Obi-Wan to help win the Clone War. To all the emotions he still carried (e.g., his mother’s death, almost dying himself, a major bodily injury, hiding his love), he now added the pain of loneliness and being unable to share a huge part of his life with his best friend (Obi-Wan). The poor boy had no one to talk to! Is it any wonder that he ended up killing Count Dooku in a moment of pique? If the Jedi Council had any sense at all, they should have at least debriefed him following this incident but they did not. Instead it was left to Anakin to try and save himself. He was caught up in all his past hurts plus the fear of losing Padmé and his conflict over the division between his father figure (Senator Palpatine) and his brother-in-arms (Obi-Wan).
Anakin realized that he was besieged by emotions and went to Yoda for help in dealing with his fears. Did Yoda suggest that he work through the feelings or even acknowledge them? No, instead he chastised Anakin for having attachments (he claimed they lead to jealousy) and basically told him to get over it. I think it was this conversation that put the Jedi Order in a coffin because the advice was not something Anakin could accept. Really, could you? I know that I couldn’t just give up my attachments and then do a little dance when they die because I shouldn’t be sad or miss them. It just doesn’t work that way and Yoda, as old as he was, should have known that. Something he and the other Jedi apparently failed to understand (or perhaps they just didn’t care) is that one of the problems with pretending that difficult emotions aren’t felt is that they do not just go away. They stay swirling in your body and eventually come out in other forms. Thus, all of Anakin’s grief, fear and confusion remained very much a part of him and soon overwhelmed him.
The final nail in the coffin though was when the Jedi Council decided to deny Anakin Jedi Master status. First he’s told not to have relationships and then they attack his self-esteem?! As unwise as the Jedi appear in the prequel trilogy, it’s a wonder that any of them survived for a few years, much less for thousands of generations! They knew that Anakin was incredibly powerful, that he was struggling with strong emotions, and that he was friends with the devious Palpatine, yet instead of nurturing him and keeping close watch, they decided to make him mad and let him loose. These decisions are indeed quite mystifying yet Obi-Wan was the only one who seemed troubled by them. By this time, Anakin was filled with an incredible amount of emotion and, in an attempt to do the right thing (save the life of his friend), he made a grievous error: he allowed Palpatine to kill Jedi Master Mace Windu. Once that occurred, it was game over for Anakin. His emotions so overwhelmed him that he became numb and looked to the Dark Side as a way out of his suffering. And so, because the Jedi Council wouldn’t help Anakin manage his difficult emotions, the Anakin Darth Vader transformation occurred and he turned from a caring boy into a cold, calculating and cruel being devoid of emotion.