Last year, I wrote about a Star Wars poster that (to me) illustrates everything that went wrong with the series. In the process, I was surprised to find myself arguing about something I thought was a given; that Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars. Some people argued that Anakin Skywalker is the hero. Let's set the record straight.

The argument on Anakin's side is that he is the focus and main character in the prequels. They tell the story of young Anakin, a Jedi who falls to the Dark Side. That carries the narrative arc through the original trilogy, where we see Darth Vader redeemed by his son, and turned back to the light side.

It's true, that's the story the prequels told. That's the problem. Because as much as Lucas wants us to see Anakin as the hero, he's not.

Let's look at it a different way, the way we all did before the prequels. As much as we all loved Darth Vader, was anyone really on his side in the original trilogy? Were we cheering when he destroyed Alderaan? Or when he tortured Han Solo? Or rooting on the AT-AT walkers as Vader sent them to destroy the base on Hoth? Did our hearts break when the Death Star was blown up, and did we sigh with relief when we found out the Empire built another one? Did we all think, "Sure hope Vader manages to crush that pesky rebellion?" Let's take it closer to home. In the new trilogy, how many of you were applauding when Anakin slaughtered the younglings in the Jedi Temple? Show of hands? When the 2011 Scream Awards gave Darth Vader his award, was it for Ultimate Hero? No, it was for Ultimate Villain.

Okay, so let's think. There was someone who we did all cheer for in the original trilogy. Someone you were cheering for when he rescued Princess Leia, blew up the Death Star, and single-handedly destroyed an AT-AT on Hoth. Remember him? What was his name again? Oh, yeah. Luke Skywalker. The hero of Star Wars for twenty years.

The truth is that Vader's central role in the original trilogy was an accident. In the original movie, there was no master plan for six movies or Darth Vader. If you notice in Star Wars, Vader was really more of a sidekick to Grand Moff Tarkin. It's also been established that Vader's breathing mask, which defines his cyborg status, was developed in pre-production, not in the original script. Lucas made the first movie, but we begged for more, especially Darth Vader. So Lucas gave us more Vader. He was the main villain in Empire Strikes Back, not a sidekick. The concept of Darth Vader as Luke's father and fallen Jedi wasn't conceived of until 1978, during the second draft of the script for The Empire Strikes Back. And in Return of the Jedi, we loved Vader so much that Lucas made him turn good in the end, so it was okay to like him. End of story.

Then Lucas wanted to make the prequels that we've all been begging for, but he had a little problem. The story would have to be set before Luke Skywalker was even born. Who would the prequels center around? Lucas decided to make it Anakin Skywalker, a.k.a. Darth Vader. And even better, Lucas realized that doing so gave the original trilogy greater significance.

But even then, it didn't really work in the prequels. Anakin was just a little kid in Phantom Menace who had little to do. There was a lot of talk about how important he was, and he managed to accidentally blow up the Trade Federation ship, but he still wasn't the hero in that movie. Most of it had nothing to do with him. And in the second and third episodes, Anakin was a creepy, sulking jerk who caused more trouble than he solved. In Revenge of the Sith, we're rooting for Obi-Wan to defeat him and end his reign of terror. In many ways, Obi-Wan is the real hero of the prequels, despite Lucas' best efforts.

So the real problem here is that Luke always was and still is the hero of Star Wars. All the prequels did was muddy the waters. But Luke will always be the hero to me.

Scott Copperman of Perspectives agrees with me, and gets more into how the Clone Wars TV series has done even more to establish Anakin as the hero in the minds of young Star Wars fans. That makes me very sad.

Do you think Anakin Skywalker is the hero or villain of Star Wars?

[Image Source: Sodahead]


AlexJCavanaugh said...

I agree with your assessment. Add in some bad acting and there's no way I could've rooted for Anakin. Obi-Wan was more of the hero, although even then that doesn't work.
Really hope there aren't any more. Which is a shame, because certain authors (like Timothy Zahn) have written great stories for Star Wars.

Cory said...

Ep. II made Obi-Wan my overall fave character, and he truly is the hero of the prequels.  He follows orders (to train Anakin for his Master) but takes responsibility for his mistakes ("I have failed you, Anakin").  He was the one who looked over Luke for 19 years in the desert, he was the one who uncovered the clone army creation, killed Grievous, cared for Padme, fixed the hyperdrive on Tatootine (at least partly), jumped out a window to catch an assassin, and on and on.  What did Ani do?  Bitch and moan.  Case closed.

Nigel Mitchell said...

Have to agree. Obi-Wan is the man.

Ken said...

Obi-Wan is the hero, unless you're trying to paint star wars as some kind of tragedy. If that were the case, George would have to do a better job of selling how Anakin got sucked into the dark side. 

Question: If one of the Star Wars novels were to be made into a film, which would you choose? Which one remains most true to the other films? I would vote for Timothy zahn's heir to the empire. 

Ryan said...

Nothing went wrong with the series

Andrew said...

Anakin Skywalker was created by the force and did exactly what he was supposed to do... Bring balance to the force. Not only did he take out the last of the Sith (in the films) but he also took out all of the Jedi. He leveled the playing field.
Luke could never be a true Jedi, because he did in fact did turn to the dark side in Return of the Jedi when he was ruled by anger and went on the attack against Vader... But with strength, he resisted the urge to kill him... the one thing that Anakin failed to do when he severed Count Dooku's head. Actually, come to think about it... the fact that Anakin took his own life to save Luke and kill the Emperor ended the Sith/ Apprentice tradition. That was the defining moment in the series that brought about the balance to the force. Luke embodied everything light and dark, love and hate, in a single individual.


rldessie said...

Luke is a hero. and his friends (and sister). and Obi Wan too. Anakin is a mass murderer, and a mentally and emotionally unstable idiot. anything but a hero.

Mueen said...

Anakin is a true hero that sacrificed everything to destroy the Sith and serve the force

Deepthroat said...

I think you're laboring under some incorrect premises. Anakin isn't the hero of Star Wars- over the six movies, I'd call Obi-Wan the hero- he's the protagonist. Think Light Yagami from Death Note, or Kain across the five Legacy of Kains. Even when the plot isn't always strongly centered around Anakin/Lord Vader, he is still the overall protagonist- again, like Light or Kain. What was intended from the first draft of the first film is neither here nor there. It became what it did, Anakin is who he is, and he is the protagonist, though I agree he's not the hero of Star Wars even at his most noble.

Loic said...

Obi- Wan formed dark vador .. because he wasnt a good master, he said so in the film, and yoda formed luke whihc made him a good jedi. But the true heroes are luke, and Vador in the film

Joe said...

Vader was the more complicated character and he is more like a real person than any other character in the movies. He has a good side and a bad side. He starts out as a good kid, grows up to become a Jedi, but then becomes arrogant and foolish. He turns against his own, and joins the Emperor. Anakin Skywalker is indeed the hero, also remember in Episode III, once he killed Mace Windu, Palpatine said he is no longer Anakin Skywalker but Darth Vader, so he became Vader before he wore the suit. Also in Return of the Jedi, he changes back to the good side, Luke tries to persuade him to change, he eventually saves Luke, and sacrifices himself, so he becomes Anakin while wearing the black suit.
I remember as a kid, Vader was pure evil, but then it was a huge twist, when Vader reveals that he is Luke's father. I think the moral of the story is that people can change, even those who do bad things can atone for their sins and mistakes.
I saw kind of a religious message in the movies, a young man starts out good then turns to evil, but he finally redeems himself at the end and saves his soul.

Josh Mitchell said...

An skin is the hero, as told In the prequels he would be the one to restore the balance and he did when he killed the emperor. If you read the books it's much clearer that the whole story revolves around Anakin.

Nigel Mitchell said...

Again, this is something that bothers me about the Expanded Universe and prequels. Yes, in the books and TV shows, Anakin is the hero. But that's part of a conscious campaign to support Lucas' vision. But his vision is wrong

Nigel Mitchell said...

I agree, Obi-Wan is a better fight as the hero of Star Wars


Subscribe to RSS Feed Follow me on Twitter!