Marvel’s What If…? episode 4: Its tragic parallels to the Star Wars prequels

Doctor Strange and Doctor Strange Supreme in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+.
Doctor Strange and Doctor Strange Supreme in Marvel Studios' WHAT IF...? exclusively on Disney+. /

This story contains spoilers for What If…? episode 4.

Marvel Studios’ What If…? series has been a fascinating watch for many of the MCU fans out there as the series explores countless scenarios based on events in the MCU canon. But episode 4 of the Disney+ series, in particular, stood out as one of the darker tales in the series so far. And the themes of power, greed, love, and loss all link back to a familiar story in the Star Wars world.

As a recap of this episode, the events of Doctor Strange play out slightly differently. Stephen Strange takes his love interest, Christine Palmer, out to an event. And similar to the original movie, they get swept up into a car accident on the road. Strange survives the crash (and his hands make it out perfectly fine). But in this universe, Christine is the sacrifice that needs to be made in order for Strange to become the Sorcerer Supreme.

Eventually, we find out that the Ancient One splits Strange’s life in two. This is so the side of him that wants to bring Christine back from the dead doesn’t become too powerful — since he’s not whole. And as such, the dark Strange (known as Doctor Strange Supreme), goes on a quest for knowledge — which turns into a quest for power, as he siphons all the magic from dark creatures for “centuries” until he’s taken everything.

In the end, when he finally does become whole again and brings Christine to life, we see his universe collapsing. And Christine is in utter shock at what is going on. By the end, Strange recognizes the errors of his ways, but it’s too late. He not only loses Christine in the process, but his entire universe is lost as well.

A Star Wars connection

The entire time while watching the episode, I couldn’t help but think back to one prominent person in the Star Wars universe who went through the same lengths as Strange to protect his love interest: Anakin.

Anakin was often a little misguided, but he strove to do the right thing and help people, all throughout his time as a Jedi in the Order. Strange, too, was no monster before that. He saved countless lives as a surgeon and then dedicated his time to saving others once he became the Sourcerer Supreme.

But as O’Bengh said to Strange: “There is a fine line between devotion and delusion. Love can break more than your heart, it can shatter your mind.”

That becomes the case for Anakin in the prequel series, starting with the death of his mother, Shmi, in Episode II. By Episode III, when he gets the vision of Padme, he will do anything to stop her from seeing the same fate as his mother. And this is exactly the vulnerability Palpatine uses to manipulate and push Anakin to his furthest ends. Anakin did not realize it, but love was about to shatter his mind.

With Palpatine promising that Anakin could bring Padme back using powers from the Dark Side of the Force, Anakin — without hesitation — was willing to use these powers just to save her. From then, we see his destructive nature take place. He showed his hand during the showdown between Palpatine and Mace. And let his anger show in front of Padme on Mustafar. And, to top it all off, his love for Obi-Wan sourly turned into hate, breaking a delicate bond they had shared for so long.

Tragedy: A guaranteed fate

In the end, the two characters had separate fates. Strange Supreme got to see his wish play out. Christine could not accept him for the monster that he had become. And by the time that he realized he had made a huge mistake, it was too late. He had many opportunities to stop before that, but his thirst for power wouldn’t let him do that.

Anakin, on the other hand, perhaps suffered a different but equally painful fate. After everything he had done, Padme still ended up dying. Once becoming Darth Vader, he was forced to live with the knowledge that he still couldn’t save Padme. Even worse, Palpatine had lied, saying that in his anger, Vader killed her.

Both end scenes are incredibly sad, but it makes you realize that sometimes, we can’t let our love for something lost turn into something destructive.

It makes me wonder “What If…?” for Revenge of the Sith. If Padme had been brought back, would she accept Anakin for the man he had become? Vader is just as much of a monster as Doctor Strange Supreme, and it’s certainly not the man Padme fell in love with. In either scenario, bringing Padme back would have broken his heart again. And What If…? was the perfect cautionary tale to remind us not to cling to the past.

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