Darth Vader. Dark Lord of the Sith. #3 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest villains in the history of Cinema (coming in just behind Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates). He’s a bad dude. Vader kills his own men when they fail him, he tortures prisoners for the fun of it, and he helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi.
But Darth Vader didn’t start out evil. He was once the heroic Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, but Anakin’s fear of losing his wife and his desire for the power to prevent that led him to the Dark side of the Force. He became Darth Vader. In the epic duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi that we see in “Revenge of the Sith”, Anakin lost his arms and legs, was badly burned by lava, and was forced to live out the remainder of his days entombed in the heavy black armor and helmet that sustained his life.
In the end however, it’s Darth Vader – Anakin Skywalker – who destroys the evil Emperor Palpatine. Vader’s love for his son Luke overcomes the decades of anger and hatred and causes Vader to turn on his master. The story of Darth Vader is – above all else – the story of a good young man who is driven to do the wrong things for the right reasons. Literally a slave when he was a boy, Vader becomes a slave to his Emperor. The only thing that can save him – and the galaxy – is the love of his son.
That pivotal scene in Return of the Jedi when Vader makes the choice to save Luke is one of my favorite scenes in the entire Star Wars saga. While actor David Prowse was hidden behind the mask of Darth Vader, the viewer has no trouble understanding what’s going through Vader’s mind as he looks back-and-forth from Luke to the Emperor who’s electrocuting Luke with Force-lightning, and back to Luke. Combined with the musical genius of John Williams, it makes for an emotionally powerful scene. In the end, Vader/Anakin sacrifices his own life for the life of his son, and in doing so, redeems himself.
At the heart of it all, Star Wars shows us all that no matter what sins we have committed, it’s never too late for us to redeem ourselves, and choose to do what’s right… and that love is the key. Is there any better lesson a film could teach us?