The Fall of Lord Vader

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken June 5, 2005

So the saga is complete. The story has been told in full. Thirty years after George Lucas's Star Wars first took America by storm troopers and droids, the sixth and final episode has been released. With The Revenge of the Sith, the epic film series of a generation finally comes to a close.

For the uninitiated, the Star Wars films are set in a galaxy far, far away. They tell the story of Anakin Skywalker, “the Chosen One” who will bring balance to “the Force.” Anakin grows up, becomes a valiant warrior, falls to the dark side, and seeks to rule the galaxy; but he is defeated and ultimately redeemed by his children, Luke and Leia.

Although it was the last movie to be filmed and released, The Revenge of the Sith is actually the third of six episodes. It is the long-awaited missing link in the narrative chain that explains how Anakin became Vader, abandoning the righteous company of the Jedi knights to become a dark lord of the Sith. In other words, it is the story of a man's fall into sin.

As the director of Star Wars, George Lucas is a man with a spiritual agenda. Heavily influenced by the philosophy of the universalist Joseph Campbell, Lucas believes that all religions are equally true. The viewpoint of his films is essentially Buddhist. There is no personal God, only an impersonal cosmic force. Good and evil are eternally poised in a fine balance.

What is strange about this is that the story Lucas tells is essentially Christian in its morality. This is not surprising. In a world that was created good, fell into sin, and is being redeemed by the grace of God, it is hard to tell any good story without echoing the good news of the gospel. George Lucas's New Age Buddhism may be unbiblical, but his story still tells us some of the truth about sin.

The Bible says, “Each person is… lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). So it was for Anakin Skywalker. Lucas has described the story of his anti-hero's life as “the struggle of a man to find himself, while at the same time falling into a trap of wanting certain powers, making a pact with the devil and basically spending the rest of his life regretting it” [quoted in Share the Good News (May/June 2005)].

So how does Anakin Skywalker fall into this terrible trap? Pretty much the way that most people fall into sin: not all at once, but little by little, until finally it seems almost inevitable. Along the way, we see him many of the same kinds of compromises that we ourselves are tempted to make.

Early in the film Anakin gives in to angry passion, taking justice into his own hands and violating the Jedi code by executing the evil Count Dooku. We fall into sin whenever we are enticed by our desire for revenge.

The man is also tempted by his ambitions. Anakin believes that he deserves a place among the Jedi masters. When they admit him to their Council but refuse to name him a master, he is filled with resentment. Rather than humbly and patiently waiting for them to recognize his gifts and calling, he rebels against his secondary status. And as we all know, such pride always precedes a fall.

We see the same pride at work in the man when his secret wife Padme begs him to get help from his close friend and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi. “We don't need him,” Anakin says impatiently. This is the way that sin so often happens. Confident in our own ability to withstand temptation, we run away from the accountability we desperately need.

Another factor contributing to Anakin's downfall is his growing skepticism about absolute truth. He becomes increasingly and mistakenly suspicious of the worldview of his Jedi masters. Gradually he comes to reject what he considers to be their narrow and dogmatic commitment to good as over against evil. He embraces instead a relativistic way of looking at truth and falsehood, accepting the claim of the Sith that good is only a point of view.

At some level, Anakin is aware that he is being tempted to go in the wrong direction. The Jedi cannot teach him the Dark Side of the Force; they can only teach him what is right and good. But he is not content with what they have to teach him. Like our first parents in Eden, he desires secret and forbidden knowledge. “I want more,” he says to Padme, “and I know I shouldn't.” This is the predicament of our depravity: we want so many things that we know we shouldn't have.

In the end what betrays Anakin is fear. He has seen a vision of his pregnant wife dying in childbirth. Feeling as if he cannot live without her, he rashly vows to do anything he can to save her. Lord Sidious then promises him the power of immortality. If only Anakin will give in to the Dark Side, he will be able to save the woman he loves. Or so he is told. In the end, of course, it proves to be a lie, but by then it is too late. Because of his fear of losing what he cannot keep, he gives his soul to an evil that he cannot escape. Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. In the climactic battle scene he defiantly declares that the Jedi are not good, but evil, to which Obi-Wan wisely replies, “Then you are lost.”

This is a deeply Christian account of any man's fall into sin. We are all tempted to give in to vengeful anger, proud ambition, and vain self confidence. We are all tempted to lose our grip on what is true, to want what we are not supposed to have, and to be dominated by what we fear. What happened to Vader happens to us all. But there is this difference: unlike Anakin Skywalker, we live in a galaxy that has been visited by a God who offers us forgiveness, redemption, and grace. You won't find that part of the story at the movies; but you will find it in the Gospels.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. ©2019 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org