Continuing with Episode II of my series on the psychology of Star Wars, this week Anakin’s son, Luke, deals with difficult emotions, like his father did, but in a totally different way. He develops a strong emotional center thanks to social connections and support.
(This is the second of a three-part article; see “Packing an Emotional Punch, Episode I: How the Jedi Created Darth Vader”. Remember, if you haven’t seen the films, there are spoilers ahead.)
When analyzing Anakin’s descent into the Dark Side of the Force, I argued last week that the Jedi essentially created Darth Vader by refusing to help Anakin deal with his emotions. Fortunately, they did much better with his son, Luke. Apparently their near destruction at the hands of their Frankenstein monster humbled them, and they did some rethinking of their practices. However, it wasn’t just their changed behavior that caused Luke to travel a different emotional path than his father. He was also fortunate enough to have friends who gave him an emotional center. So, although Luke’s life path had a great many similarities to Anakin’s, he had enough emotional resources to choose a different and better outcome.
From the very beginning (Revenge of the Sith), the Jedi tried to ensure that Luke would have a better life than his father. Although he was raised on the same planet as Anakin, Luke was given to a family that was wealthy enough to keep themselves free. He never had to endure the hardships of being a slave. His aunt and uncle clearly loved and cared for him, and he was allowed to be a kid. Unlike Anakin, he never had to assume adult responsibility before he was ready, and he was treated just like everyone else. Although Anakin’s mother Shmi had meant well, she treated “Ani” like he was Very Special. Consequently, he grew up knowing he had a Great Destiny to achieve. If you recall, it was the lack of fulfillment of this Destiny that had Anakin so desperate. If he, like Luke, had known what it was like to live a normal life, perhaps his expectations would not have been so high and he wouldn’t have had so far to fall.
In addition to choosing a good family for him, the Jedi also sent Obi-Wan to watch over Luke and make certain he remained safe. Although this was clearly a tough assignment (after all, how else would Ewan McGregor turn into Alec Guiness in the space of just 19 years!), it was a necessary one. Obi-Wan was there not only to keep Luke out of the hands of Darth Vader but also to mentor him. The Jedi learned — at great cost to themselves — that you don’t just abandon someone with the potential of great power to the Fates; they must be nurtured! Consequently, Obi-Wan (aka Ben Kenobi) was in the right place to help Luke figure out what to do when his aunt and uncle were murdered.
Like Anakin, Luke was immediately thrown into battle shortly after deciding to become a Jedi, but he caught a lucky break: he made friends. Did Anakin ever talk about friends? He had Obi-Wan as his trainer and Padmé as his love, but was there anyone in his life who didn’t want something from him? Obi-Wan was his teacher, not his peer (and there was the age difference to boot), while Padmé’s love caused emotional turmoil. So, essentially, he had no one with whom he could just openly relax.
Luke was different. Even when we first met him in A New Hope, he talked about his friend Biggs who left to train as a pilot. Then he had the great fortune to meet Han Solo, Chewbacca and Princess Leia. Throughout his hero’s journey, Luke had people (and a Wookiee) who wanted the best for him, who would give up their lives to save his. His relationship with them caused no angst, it only gave him joy and the feeling of connection. Human beings are social animals, and we need people for good physical and mental health. That’s why friendship is so important. True friends accept you for who you are, share your emotions, and will be there even when the going gets tough. They build you up when you’re feeling down and encourage you when you’re feeling unsure. In short, friends are a vital component of emotional stability because relationships matter. Luke had them. Anakin did not.
We saw the results of these stable friendships when Luke faced his first emotional challenge during his Jedi training. The Jedi got it right this time and sent him to Yoda. Yes, you could argue that there weren’t any other Jedi trainers available, but I choose to think they realized the error of their ways and would have sent Luke to Yoda no matter what, because he was the best. However, when Luke realized that Leia, Han and Chewbacca were in true danger, Yoda kicked it ‘old school’ and, like he did with Anakin, tried to convince Luke that having emotional attachments was only an impediment to achieving his goals. Unlike Anakin, though, Luke had a strong enough emotional foundation that he realized this advice was bunk and immediately set off to save them. And it was this same emotional foundation that in turn saved him when Darth Vader played the father card. In Anakin’s power struggle with his father figure, Palpatine, the Dark Side won because Anakin didn’t have the emotional wherewithal to resist. Luke fared better. Instead of immediately giving in, Luke called out for Ben and, when he got no answer there, linked telepathically to Leia. While Anakin had to face his challenge alone, Luke had people to call upon for help.
It was also Luke’s solid emotional foundation that helped pull Anakin back from the Dark Side. While the Emperor used Luke’s love for his friends and sister as a way to get him to access enough anger to defeat Darth Vader, Luke, unlike Anakin, never truly lost his way. The loss of Darth Vader’s arm was enough to remind him that he wanted to save his father and that he was standing on the precipice of the Dark Side. He knew that joining with evil would lead to fear and isolation instead of the happiness and connection that he had. At that moment, Luke realized he had to either die as the contented man he was or live as the miserable man he would become. Consequently, he allowed his emotions — the “good” ones — to dictate his choice. And seeing Luke make the brave choice, the right one, was what ultimately brought Anakin back from the Dark Side. For the first time since becoming Darth Vader, Anakin allowed himself to feel something other than hatred, fear and anger. In so doing, he saved himself. As he told Luke, he was able to die as a human rather than live as a machine.
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