Was Anakin redeemed at the end of “Return of the Jedi”?
Help me, my friends! You’re my only hope to figuring this out!
Here is my dilemma — I know the entire Star Wars Saga (at least Episodes I through VI) is about Anakin Skywalker, his rise through the Jedi ranks, his ultimate fall to the Dark Side, and his (supposed) redemption. His son, Luke, believes — like Padmé — that there is good that still resides in Anakin’s/Darth Vader’s soul. It’s just been deeply hidden for a long, long, long time.
Through a sequence of events that the young Jedi most likely never foresaw, Luke was able to help his father break the shackles that tied him to the Evil Emperor Palpatine, and return Anakin to the Light Side of the Force. At the celebration on Endor, Luke espies the image of his father’s true self standing shoulder to shoulder with his mentors, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. (Well, shoulder to shoulder is meant figuratively since Yoda is quite a bit shorter than his two comrades. lol)
I have no trouble believing that Luke saved his father, and got Anakin on the road to redemption. It’s the rare parent who will not rush to his/her child’s defense when that child — even an adult child — is suffering, in agony. True, Darth Vader did not rush to help his son as Emperor Palpatine was delivering a pretty potent electrical punch aimed at Luke’s battered body, but Anakin finally reawoke, and went to his son’s aid. Anakin paid a high price for the deed, but I do believe that he did so unselfishly. Being brought back to the Light Side of the Force is what ultimately saved Anakin. He realized this quite easily — enough so that when Luke urges, “I’ve got to save you!” … meaning to get Anakin off the Death Star since it is about to be destroyed … Anakin replies, “You already have, Luke.” … meaning Anakin has returned to his true self.
But was Anakin redeemed?
That is the question that has been plaguing me for a long, long time.
Saved? Yes. But redeemed? I’m not so sure.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, redemption means “the act of making something better or more acceptable.” In terms of Christianity, the dictionary points out: “the act of saving people from sin and evil; the fact of being saved from sin or evil.”
As far as saving is concerned, the dictionary defines the word: “to keep someone safe; to stop someone from dying or being hurt, damaged or lost; to keep something from being lost or wasted.” As a transitive verb, “to save” means “to deliver from sin; to rescue or deliver from danger or harm.”
Since the dictionary brought up Christianity — a religion in which redemption figures big time — let’s address the topic of redemption and salvation. Michelle Arnold, the Catholic Answers Apologist, noted: “Redemption is the collective, and salvation is individual. By His passion, death and resurrection, Christ redeemed humanity collectively from slavery to sin and from the debt of punishment mankind — as a whole — owed due to sin.”
Salvation, on the other hand, according to Ms. Arnold, “is the application of redemption to individuals.”
Maybe because of George Lucas’ Methodist upbringing, redemption became a theme of the Star Wars Saga. In addition to Christianity, redemption figures prominently in a number of religious belief systems — but not all. In fact, redemption does not figure into Buddhism, the belief system on which the Jedi Order is largely based. But maybe it is Buddhism that most closely explains what happens to Anakin at the end of “Return of the Jedi” — to reach Buddhahood (or jōbutsu — to become a Buddha), “one resumes or recovers the original quality inherent in him.” This is exactly what happens to Anakin (Darth Vader) upon saving Luke from Emperor Palpatine’s wrath! Darth Vader is no more. Anakin returns to his true self!
Of course, we know that the Force — whether the Light Side or the Dark Side — has no deity (emulating a more Buddhist philosophy) to which the Jedi and Sith worship. Even though George Lucas considers himself a Methodist Buddhist, he still clings to the belief that God exists — and this has a great deal to do with his explanation that the entire Saga revolves around Anakin’s redemption — a very Christian and Jewish tenet. Maybe using the word redemption is done so because of its familiarity to George Lucas — and to many of us.
But is Anakin truly redeemed? What if it had been Han being tortured by the Emperor? Would Darth Vader have been so selfless? What if it was Leia? (At the climax of ROTJ, Vader didn’t know the identity of Luke’s sister.) Wedge? Chewbacca? Admiral Piett? I think not!
This has a lot to do with why I have a problem with the redemption of Anakin. I don’t believe Vader’s act of saving Luke was 100 percent selfless/altruistic. There was a connection between the two. Father and son. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Darth Vader saved Luke. (He’s my favorite character, after all.) I’m glad Luke was able to save his father, and help Anakin find his true self. Anakin may not be one of my favorite fictional characters, but I always am saddened to watch him fall to the Dark Side.
Too, there is no atonement for all the pain and suffering that, as Darth Vader, Anakin unleashed on the galaxy. If there is going to be redemption, shouldn’t there be atonement as well? I think so. Atonement is “the reparation for an offense or injury.” Fans of “Xena: Warrior Princess” know the formidable warrior turned away from a life of causing death and destruction to do good, to help those who could not help themselves, to fight for right and justice. She knew she had a lot for which to atone, and devoted her life to making up for past wrongs. Xena’s atonement was part of her quest toward redemption.
Of course, Anakin died within minutes of saving Luke. Anakin never really got the chance to atone for his past mistakes and wrongs wreaked on denizens across the galaxy. Furthermore, for atonement to even have a chance, one must make a sincere apology. As a poster hanging in our local Jimmy John’s restaurant succinctly points out, an apology must consist of three points: (1) acknowledge what one did was wrong, (2) aver one’s sincere remorse about what one has done/said, and (3) figure out a way to make the situation better. Given all this, can it be said, then, that Anakin was redeemed? The words, “I’m sorry” never passed Anakin’s lips during those final moments. If he couldn’t say that, how could he be redeemed?
I love the double entendre of Episode VI’s title. “Return of the Jedi”. It is the return of the Jedi — as a whole. With the Dark Side defeated — at least for the moment — Luke can concentrate on rebuilding the once defunct Jedi Order. The title also references the return of the Jedi — Anakin coming back to the fold, to his true self.
Maybe Darth Vader had to die so peace could flourish, so humanity could rebuild itself. In that sense, maybe Anakin was redeemed. He gave his life — unselfishly … to a certain extent … to save Luke, yes, but as it turned out, he wound up saving the galaxy’s populace. Could it be that Anakin was both saved and redeemed?
Maybe George Lucas uses salvation and redemption as synonyms. Roget’s Thesaurus certainly lists them as such. To me, there are nuances associated with each word. They aren’t quite the same. I know. I know. Potăto, Potāto. Semantics is a big subject with me. There lies my problem. 😉
I’d love for you to weigh in on the subject. I’m interested in what you have to say, for you to help me find the final piece of the puzzle. It may seem like I’ve reached a conclusion, but, truly, I haven’t. Help me, my friends. You’re my only hope. I look forward to you leaving a comment below. Or feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com.
Until next time,
And remember …
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