Phantom Menace 25th: George Lucas' brilliance giving us young Anakin Skywalker

George Lucas demonstrated his genius as a filmmaker by showing Anakin's story starting from childhood.
Photo: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).. © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).. © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. /

It's fair to say that George Lucas knows how to tell a story a lot better than the rest of us, which is why the uproar over young Anakin Skywalker makes absolutely no sense now.

Lucas made the right call when he decided that Episode I - The Phantom Menace would focus on Anakin's childhood. Though many fans disliked the idea and were initially disappointed in the film, it has proven to be great for Anakin's story in the long run. Lucas understood that to feel the sting of Anakin's fall to the dark side, fans needed to see his life at a time when he knew nothing of darkness. Telling the story of Anakin's childhood has added much-needed depth to his character. It's given his fall to the dark side a stronger foundation than simply making him a man obsessed with saving his wife.

Photo: Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999).. © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved. /

Anakin went through enough trauma before being taken by Qui-Gon Jinn to send anyone to a dark place. He was a slave and treated poorly by Watto and saw his mother enduring the life of a slave as well. He longed to be free and to free her, and these circumstances gave him a compelling backstory as a character. He was damaged from the start and robbed of a proper childhood, something that would scar anyone, but that made Anakin extremely relatable. At one point, Anakin was just a kid who loved podracing but ended up on a path that he never would've wanted for himself.

Later on, being taken by the Jedi made matters worse for him. He never got to see his mother again, and the life of a Jedi who must forego attachments and suppress anger made Anakin resent the Jedi. Their refusal to grant him the rank of Master and the stress of hiding his marriage to Padme during the ongoing Clone War proved to be far too much for him.

Hayden Christensen acknowledges the simplicity of Anakin's backstory and says, “George Lucas subverted our expectations and understanding of this character when he went back to Episode I and introduced him as this very sweet young kid who just had a lot of promise and potential." The actor believes that the circumstances of Anakin's childhood explain some of the choices he makes later on in life, choices that lead to him becoming a Sith Lord.

"So it was a very understandable fall to the dark side, but it humanized him and made him a real person and almost somewhat of a pathetic person in a lot of ways. And you feel for Darth Vader now in a different way, too. Because it’s this man trapped in this life that perhaps he didn’t really want."

Hayden Christensen.

Perhaps fans weren't ready to accept that one of the greatest villains from the original trilogy, who walks around like he's invincible, was just a man who made terrible choices. He hated himself and all those around him, which gave him power. Darth Vader, more machine than man, was Anakin Skywalker, a man who loved and lost. By showing Anakin's backstory, Lucas made Anakin's arc one of the most tragic. However, combined with his eventual redemption, Anakin Skywalker became one of the all-time greatest characters in fiction.

Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) in Lucasfilm's STAR WARS: AHSOKA, exclusively on Disney+. ©2023 Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved /

All of this was made possible because Lucas understood the very essence of the character he wrote and knew that behind every villain is a painful story. It's cooler when the badass character is just a broken person underneath it all and finds his way back after losing himself completely. Little Anakin wanted to help people, and now, he can do just that from the World Between Worlds.

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace is streaming on Disney+.

Next. Phantom Menace 25th: Dave Filoni explains the film's brilliance. Phantom Menace 25th: Dave Filoni explains the film's brilliance. dark