This one went longer than I planned. I guess that's what happens when I try to write something a paragraph at a time over the course of a week.
I tried very hard to like Anakin. He had a lot to recommend him. Obi-Wan Kenobi--who is tied with Princess Leia as my favorite Star Wars character--gave him high praise in Star Wars: A New Hope. He tells Luke that Anakin was "the best star fighter pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior...and he was a good friend."
You don't get much better than that in a culture that is so much informed by social and military conflict. (Sure, the Republic stood for over a thousand generations with the Jedi as it's "guardians of peace of justice," but the series isn't called Star Wars because the characters argued about who was going to win on Galactic Idol.) Watching A New Hope for the first time, I read Ben Kenobi as someone who had spent most of his life on a battlefield. Given what the Star Wars franchise now has to say about Obi-Wan's history, I wasn't that far off.
So, when I sat down to watch The Phantom Menace, I was more than willing to keep an open mind about this boy who grew up to be Darth Vader. I saw a sweet, earnest kid who had a really rough life. The problem was, the movie just about hit me over the head with how darling he was supposed to be, and his assertion that he was going to marry Padmé was just over the top in its creepiness.
I realize it was supposed to be creepy. Good foreshadowing just doesn't scream "HEY, LOOK! IT'S FORESHADOWING!"
So, I guess my problem with young Anakin is mostly a problem with the script-writing in The Phantom Menace.
Older Anakin doesn't need the bad writing in the Prequel films to make me dislike him. Like Luke, he's whiny, cocky, and self-absorbed. He has good qualities (loyalty and the earnest desire to do the right thing) but he consistently makes the most asinine decisions possible, and his temper tantrum over the fact that he was put on the Jedi Council but not made a Jedi Master is, to me, far too childish for a person who's supposed to have seen and lived through as much as he has in his short life. Luke, at least, had the excuse of a sheltered upbringing to explain why he was such a brat. The main explanation I can come up with for Anakin is fear and insecurity.
I have sympathy for him. In fact, I probably have more sympathy for Anakin than I do for Luke. Anakin's childhood was not pleasant, and the only source of stability or security he had was his mother. He was effectively cut off from her by the Jedi Order, but the Jedi never provided him with any kind of solid support or security in her place. He was rejected for training by the Jedi Council, then Qui-Gon, who was supposed to be his guardian, went and got himself killed. That left Anakin with only Obi-Wan to care for him, and he was never really sure that Obi-Wan wanted him around. Yoda and the rest of the Council did not approve of his training as a Jedi. From watching the films, I had inferred that Anakin grew up in a constant state of worry about his place in the Jedi Order and felt a great deal of pressure to prove himself. Qui-Gon called him "the Chosen One," but nobody else seemed to want him around very much.n. The EU novels I've read support that characterization as well, so anywhere you look, you see a character who had a lot of reason to be insecure.
Anakin was badly manipulated by Chancellor Palpatine, and he was consistently let down (even lied to) by the Jedi Council. He suffered extreme sleep deprivation for years due to nightmares and Force visions. Even mild sleep deprivation can cause paranoia, and the movies do a good job of demonstrating that he was unstable to begin with. So, in that sense, his fall to the Dark Side is understandable, but I think it could have been a lot better-- a lot more-- than Revenge of the Sith made it. The best way to do that would have been to make Anakin a better character.
I know that the Prequel films and the story of Anakin's life were not supposed to be happy. They were intentionally written to deal with themes of fear, obsession, and betrayal. My complaint here is not that Anakin fell to the Dark Side or that he made bad choices. I generally like flawed characters who make mistakes and have the capacity to do bad things a lot better than I like the kind who can do no wrong. My complaint is simply that Anakin was never likable enough to make his struggle compelling.
He's a character that I would point to as an example of why giving a character a tragic past and mental problems does not automatically make the character sympathetic or interesting.
I have another post planned later in the series about the relationship between Skywalker and Amidala, so I'll leave off here with one final thought. I love Star Wars. If I didn't love it, I wouldn't have tried so darn hard to like Anakin. So agree with me or disagree, but please don't take these articles as a knock against the franchise. I only bother blogging about the things I love.
Stop by next week to hear why I think the Old Jedi were run by emotionally disturbed morons (if you haven't been convinced simply by the contribution they made to Anakin's fall and the creation of Darth Vader.)