How Darth Vader (and You) Need a Father

Ever wonder why so many heroes grow up without parents and why countless stories pivot on the encounter with a father? Focusing on Anakin Skywalker’s life and path to the Dark Side, we find that his quest for a father, central to the hero’s journey, reveals our deepest need.

The Quest for the Father in Star Wars

Let’s examine how Anakin Skywalker’s need for love shaped his story, both for better and worse.

When we meet him in The Phantom Menace, his mother says he has no father. While “true from a certain point of view”, the Force itself is Anakin’s father1. Though he shows great loyalty to the Force throughout his life (and finds others’ “lack of faith disturbing”), we will see that due to its impersonal nature, it never satisfies his need for a father.

Removing him from the only parental love he knows, the Jedi take him away from his mother at a young age. If the Order had the most basic understanding of child psychology, they would know this practice inevitably leads to disastrous results. While they try to keep the children from forming “attachments”, Anakin and all people need loving attachment to their parents (or at least parental figures) for healthy emotions and moral fortitude. 

Expressing this longing in Attack of the Clones, Anakin makes frequent reference to Obi-Wan as a father figure. To Obi-Wan, he says “You’re the closest thing I have to a father.” Later in the film:

Padmé : Ani, are you just going to sit here and let [Obi-Wan] die? He’s your friend, your mentor-

Anakin: He’s like my father.

Sadly, Obi-Wan never understands the role Anakin needs from him, saying in Revenge of the Sith, “You were my brother, Anakin”.

Palpatine, on the other hand, understands perfectly well. Anakin craves his care, advice, and encouragement. Set during Anakin’s youth, scenes in the comic Obi-Wan and Anakin reveal Palpatine taking him under his wing in ways that others mistook him as the young boy’s father. Darth Sidious’s ability to manipulate Anakin further reveals the depth of his need for loving attachment with a father.

Vader expresses his continued need in his extreme devotion to the Emperor. In Thrawn: Alliances, one sees his moral indignation to any officers who did not share his loyalty. Lastly, we see his utter dejection in the 2015 Darth Vader comics when he realizes Palpatine never cared for him, but only treated him as tool. He remained loyal until his discovery that his son lives (meaning his “father” lied to him about his wife’s death.)

Though Vader delivers the line, “I am your father”, it is Luke who acts as the father figure. His unconditional love and sacrifice ultimately free Vader from the Dark Side.

Luke takes the father’s role as he names, or renames, Vader as Anakin Skywalker. © Lucasfilm, Ltd.

From Anakin’s example, Star Wars presents universal truths about people:

  • We desperately need loving attachment with a father or father figure.
  • Not finding this love can lead to disastrous results.
  • Receiving this love can transform the most broken people.

The Quest for the Father in Stories

In order to better understand Anakin’s search for parental love, we must put it in context with other literature. Take a look at the Wikipedia page for fictional orphans. It’s staggering how many heroes face life without their biological parents. These include Luke Skywalker, Rey, Harry Potter, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Frodo Baggins, and James Bond.

While discussing themes in Harry Potter, Jordan Peterson points out many orphan protagonists grow up with foster or adoptive parents, sometimes good like Superman and Frodo, others quite bad like Harry Potter. While these parents represent normal or natural parents, the hero’s journey typically includes meeting their original, spiritual or magical parents.

The meeting with the magical parent appears in literature so frequently, Joseph Campbell, who greatly influenced George Lucas and the Star Wars saga, includes it as part of the the hero’s journey. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he identifies the “Atonment with the Father” as a pivotal stage common in world mythology. According to the hero’s journey Wikipedia page, “This [stage] is the center point of the journey. All the previous steps have been moving into this place, all that follow will move out from it.”

This diagram shows the “Atonement with the Father” as the turning point in the cycle. From Wikimedia Commons Author RegHarris4Wiki, © CC-BY-SA-4.0

Both Peterson and Campbell see the hero’s journey of maturation as symbolic of our own. Consequently, the former argues the foster or adoptive parents represent our biological parents, but we have deeper, truer parents. Campbell’s father figure, with whom we must reconcile, functions as the deeper parent.

What do the deeper parents represent? Peterson identifies them as biology and culture, also known as nature and nurture. Campbell portrays it as that which initiates us into maturity. Here, I argue otherwise, as Anakin’s yearning for parentage goes far beyond a desire for biology, culture, or even initiation. We can say the same for Luke, Harry, and Superman.

The Quest for the Father in Life

Let’s put together the two principles argued above. First, we need loving attachment to a parental figure. Second, our favorite stories teach us we have deeper parents, more important than the people with whom we grew up. Hence, we need attachment to the deeper parents. Since we cannot have loving attachment with biology or culture, but only with a person, the deeper parents must be personal.2

We certainly see Anakin’s need for attachment with the deeper parents. Compared to the previous heroes, his deeper parent has the closest resemblance to a traditional understanding of God: the Force.

Anakin’s virgin birth brings the dichotomy into focus. As an angel explains that Jesus’s miraculous birth makes him the son of God, likewise Anakin Skywalker’s father is the Force. While the former heard his Father say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” the latter never received such words from the Force.

Almost quoting Jesus regarding God, Vader finds power from the Force, but not love. © Marvel

Anakin never finds solace in the Force because it is not a person. It does not love. There is no attachment. As I wrote in “Yoda Was Wrong“, had the Force been personal, he would not have depended entirely on Padmé for his emotional well-being.

Our favorite stories pivot on the “Atonement with the Father” because our story does. While I’m not calling us to disrespect our biological or adoptive parents, we must seek our true, deep, spiritual Father.

Jesus offers this atonement, saying he will reveal the Father to us, so we can experience him as Jesus did and does. Unlike the impersonal Force, we find a Father who loves us.

To take a step on this journey, provide your email below. Along with questions to consider, I’ll send you a story Jesus tells about his Father and ours.

 

Footnotes:

  1. Many interpret the recent Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith comic #25 to say Darth Sidious caused Anakin’s conception, but Lucasfilm story group member Matt Martin has repeatedly refuted this claim, meaning the Force itself willed Anakin into existence.
  2. Campbell correctly shows that we also need initiation, not just attachment. Though this can come through events, rituals, and the hardships of life, our stories depicting an initiator reveal our longing for a person, especially a father figure, to guide us along our path to maturity.

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