Fear is the driving motif of life. The decisions we make are all influenced by fear. Every choice at its core is an internal confrontation. Applying lessons learned from Star Wars to real life.
In Star Wars, the Jedi and Sith feared losing control of their students, so they formed Codes to detail the ethical statutes of each sect. The Masters & Lords coveted the most valuable and dangerous artifacts pertaining to the force – out of fear their pupils would betray the ideals that had been instilled in them. These codes are referenced to guide one through the Light and Dark Side disciplines. Both the paths of Jedi and Sith are roads of self-actualization.
The identity of a force user was critical in determining their ability to connect with the force. Many of us identify most closely with the culture we were born into, so it can be noted that culture plays a large part in determining one’s identity. Sometimes we struggle to find a place where we feel we belong so we constantly challenge the culture in which we are harbored. This urge stems from one’s character: the innate personal morality governing the individual.
Character, simply is one’s sense of right and wrong and is unique to the individual. Character can be considered one’s “true” or ideal self. This quality acts as a compass, always driving us towards self-actualization. Oftentimes our culture, the society, and our loved ones will inhibit us from achieving our dreams out of our fear of losing them.
Since I was 9, I’d constantly fixed myself on one idea: Escape. My parents broke up and not long after I had a new father. This new person in my life turned out to be one of the few constants I could appreciate, but I wasn’t able to accept that as a child. So as a child, I resented everything: my mother, my father, this new man, his happy young children – and everyone else in my life with stability.
I felt like I was constantly walking uphill, burdened by adult supervision and the task of becoming a child that would live up to these new standards set before me. I felt like I was always being watched, always criticized for my shortcomings, never being understood. This feeling followed me far into adulthood and hindered me from developing an identity that I was confident in.
Now I had a choice: conform or conflict. As children, we are self-absorbed. All of the adults in my life were set in their ways, their identities formed, safe and sure of where they belonged. Now I was in a healthy living environment that as a responsible growing person, I couldn’t object to without coming across as ungrateful – a value emphasized in my new family culture that I was urged to conform to. All these changes conflicted with the carefree life that I had lived up until then. I felt burdened, frustrated, suffocated – so I searched for an escape.
I found quick relief from reality in fantasy. I loved video games, movies, the Internet, anything that allowed me to escape temporarily because at that point I didn’t believe anyone understood me. Even I didn’t understand what I was going through. I can remember seeing other people’s lives move so smoothly and not understanding why it wasn’t easy for me. I learned to be grateful for the opportunities and privileges I had out of an obligation to the people who didn’t have them. I didn’t mention earlier that my biological father never stuck around after I was born.
All I knew about my father was that he left. My mom raised me with another man I believed to be my father until my stepfather first came onto the scene. Only 3 years later would I learn that I had no father. The resentment grew, the pressure to conform, the scolding that stemmed from my inability to feel grateful for anything, I resisted anything intended to guide me towards a successful life. I couldn’t find any one thing that defined me since until then someone else designed everything I’d become.
I found many parallels between my life and that of Anakin Skywalker. I wanted to achieve greatness, but my environment and the circumstances I lived with inhibited me from believing I could. In the Star Wars universe, Initiates from both the Jedi and Sith are pulled from their home worlds as children once signs of their powers in the Force become apparent. Initiates are often blank slates, allowing Jedi and Sith to cultures cultivate their identity without much resistance. In order to become a member of either Order, conformity is required. But as we see from Anakin’s story, the expectations of the Order can be too much for one person to bear.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
Anakin was a bastard slave child with remarkable abilities. When he was 9, Anakin was discovered by 2 Jedi, who took him away from the despised desert planet Tatooine and brought him to the beautiful and flourishing planet of Coruscant where he was to be taught the ways of the Jedi.
Of course what child doesn’t dream of being whisked away, and replacing their old boring life with one full of adventure and purpose? Unlike most padawans, Anakin would find that the desire to hold onto the people he loved and his fear of losing them would lead him to compromise the identity the Jedi had attempted to instill in him.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
Anakin was always strong with the force, overcoming his meager life by accomplishing great feats as a child. Anakin’s willfulness, courage, and fortitude were all indications of his remarkable potential. All this considered, the Jedi Council feared Anakin’s identity was too far developed to become a Padawan Learner.
The Jedi prefer their Initiates younger – an empty vessel with which they can imbue the ethics of the Jedi, knowing that throwing away one’s entire identity is more difficult than throwing away only part of it.
Of course, eventually, Anakin fell to the Dark side. He became so fearful of losing the ones he loved that he used murder and subjugation to prevent that from happening. Anakin was always an outsider amongst the Jedi. His most remarkable asset was his ability to win battles for the Republic in the Clone Wars.
Anakin’s powers in the force though were not enough to convince the Jedi Council that he was ready to become a Jedi Master. The Council sensed his anger and frustration. Numerous times Anakin is advised to seek balance. The Jedi Masters would often comment about sensing the turmoil within Anakin. Anakin’s identities as a Jedi Knight, a husband to his wife Padme, a soon to be father – these conflicts made balance impossible and would lead to his eventual downfall.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
When we discuss Anakin’s “fall” to the dark side, what we mean is the audience’s loss of Anakin’s “perceived” identity. Anakin makes the decision that his commitment to Padme means more to him than his life as a Jedi. We see that Anakin’s character drives him to do great things, and that is what prompts him to abandon his mother on Tatooine. Anakin promises his mother that he will return and save her after he becomes a Jedi.
Every choice Anakin makes to obligate one aspect of his identity leave wakes that ripple and begin to divide the other aspects. Anakin futilely attempts to assimilate these aspects of his identity into one. Anakin only finds out too late that his selfish desires would destroy everything he once hoped to control.
Following Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, after being told that he killed his wife Padme in his own anger, any semblance of the man we knew has been lost. Obi-Wan’s classic line, “He’s more machine now than man”, rings truer every time I hear it. Anakin, who was destined to do great deeds, who seemingly had nowhere else to go, conforms to the ethics of the Sith.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
Darth Vader is often referred to as the one who killed Anakin Skywalker and took his place. Of course, in Return of the Jedi, we find out that Anakin is alive just before he sacrifices himself to save his son. Darth Vader was merely an escape for Anakin he made to cope with the pain he had caused, and for betraying part of his identity. There is strong evidence that argues Anakin is displaying symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder. This fear of rejection, of not being able to be redeemed, was enough to keep Darth Vader alive until he found Luke Skywalker.
When Luke told the Emperor that he would never turn to the Dark Side, Anakin was reborn. Anakin realized his fear of losing the Jedi, his friends and companions, his wife and children was a result of his own selfishness. Anakin had been running away from his responsibilities and Luke was confronting his. Luke had become a Jedi, where Anakin had only been pretending. Anakin sided with the Emperor because it was convenient. This choice allowed him to keep a life full of importance, the only part of his destiny that was truly set in stone.
Finally, Anakin acknowledges what he is in the end: a man. Neither Jedi, nor Sith, but a man capable of great love, with the ability to cause great pain. He finally accepted this when he used the last of his power to simultaneously save his son and kill his master. Vader had a chance once to kill this man when he instead pled for Jedi Master Mace Windu to spare the Emperor’s life so he could stand trial. Anakin selfishly manipulated the Jedi teachings to stop Windu from killing the Emperor.
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When Windu rejects Anakin’s plea, Anakin murders his own master to save the Emperor, so he would, in turn, save his wife, Padme.
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At the time, Anakin would’ve argued that he had no choice. On impulse, the young Sith Lord realized he had to save his wife’s life by taking his Master’s. However, when he sees the Emperor torture his Jedi son, Vader makes a deliberate, conscious choice to murder the Emperor and save his son.
Luke had let go of his fear and let the force guide him. Luke was capable of having loved ones that didn’t compromise his character. Vader realized that his desire to control everything, to live with conflicting identities, and to try to preserve all of them at the same time, led to the destruction of everything he had ever held dear.
Finally recognizing his blunder and seeing the culmination of his identity represented in Luke now: Father, Son, Jedi – he becomes Anakin Skywalker and ensures that his legacy will live on. Anakin looks back on his obligation to his mother, his obligation to the Jedi, his obligation to his family and finally see’s them as more than stepping stones to his own greatness and happiness. He repays their memories by sacrificing himself to save his son.
Image Credit: Lucasfilm
As a person struggling to find my own way in life, I am reminded of all the obligations I have to people who have done right by me. Despite all the things I have suffered through there is always a choice. My character won’t allow me to ignore what I believe is right and wrong.
Despite people not understanding me, or judging me too soon, I should embrace our differences and grow because of them, not despite them. I was destined for great things, but the first step is, to be honest with others and ourselves.
It is a great thing to know who you want to be in life and not let other people’s judgments stop you. It is a great thing: to not be fearful of what other people may think, so you can live freely alongside their expectations. These beliefs form my identity. Without them, the only things I can accomplish will lead me further down a road of fear and ruin.
The value of our identity is only as great as our attempt to actualize it in every way possible. Achieving greatness through self-actualization is my only goal in life. Any attempt to deny or ignore my identity will only lead to suffering.