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Melinda’s Brew : Help Me, My Friends! You’re My Only Hope.

Melinda’s Brew : Help Me, My Friends! You’re My Only Hope.

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 melindaw@coffeewithkenobi.com.

Until next time,

MTFBWY 🙂

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22 Comments

  1. Erica
    September 15, 2014 at 14:29 Reply

    great entry Melinda. this is one of my favourite subjects! I really think you have answered your own question. The definition of redemption, as you quoted, is to make something better. I think Anakin makes a lot better by overthrowing the Emperor and saving his son. I don’t feel his act is lessened by the fact that he has a connection to his son. As one of my teachers says “you don’t harm what you feel connected to”. Connection is the very quality (or one of them at least) that needed to be reawakened in Anakin, that sense of being connected, not separate, or alone, or above others, but right there with another person and feeling their suffering and therefore taking compassionate action. That sense of connection is one of the ways that Anakin is “made better” in his final moments. and when he is made better, the galaxy is uplifted at the same time, so to speak.

    I could go on and on! this is so fascinating to me!

    1. birdonabird
      September 15, 2014 at 18:47 Reply

      Right?! I love that you mentioned connection, too. It always seems to be such a point of contention with the Jedi Order. Attachment – I’d call that a connection – is of course discouraged, but without connection, where does compassion come from? And compassion intended to be a key component of the Jedi philosophy, at that.

      1. Melinda
        September 16, 2014 at 16:13 Reply

        So true. So true. About the Jedi Order, compassion and its tenet that attachment was a bad idea. Thank you for pointing that out. 🙂

    2. Melinda
      September 16, 2014 at 11:27 Reply

      Thank you so much, Erica! 🙂 Maybe I just have been putting up roadblocks in my mind. Maybe the fact that it was Luke — his son — being the catalyst toward coming back to his true self really didn’t matter in Anakin’s redemption. It helped, I’m sure. But maybe, at its base, it really didn’t matter. Maybe it took someone with whom Anakin had a connection (tenuous at best) — someone who had at least an inkling of faith in him — to set Vader/Anakin down a new path (or the path on which he was until he took the wrong fork in the road 😉 ).

      It’s just that sometimes I have trouble reconciling the fact that there was no solid atonement involved. I mean beyond saving Luke. Was that enough? Maybe so — because it enabled the rebirth of the Jedi (and all the good they were able to accomplish in the aftermath). Or maybe not? I know he really didn’t have a chance to, but ANAKIN himself did not make any reparations for all the wrongs he did as Vader.

      Maybe … maybe … maybe! 😉

      I like what you have to say on the topic. It really does help me see more clearly. 🙂

      MTFBWY 🙂

  2. Rob Wainfur
    September 15, 2014 at 14:32 Reply

    Interesting read. Really enjoyed it. Maybe, just maybe the Force can see the goodness in each of us. Remember in the Bible (Luke Chapter 23) when Jesus was being crucified, to his side was a thief who said “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” to which Jesus replied “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” I’ve often wondered what if all he had to do after a life of crime was to say this in his final minutes but Jesus saw the goodness in him. Perhaps the Force works in the same way. Just my thoughts 🙂 Great read.

    1. Melinda
      September 16, 2014 at 16:19 Reply

      Maybe, Rob. Maybe. Come to think of it, in Catholicism, at least (and I am NO expert — far from it! — where its teachings are concerned), on one’s death bed, one can confess one’s transgressions, and be welcomed into Heaven. There’s probably more to it than that, but that is what I basically remember from my CCD lessons of long, long ago. That doesn’t mean go ahead and lead a life of degradation and crime, and think all one has to do is say “I’m sorry” at the very end. But a sincere apology gives one the chance for salvation?

  3. birdonabird
    September 15, 2014 at 18:44 Reply

    I love this entry! Two things:

    “Luke can concentrate on rebuilding the once defunct Jedi Order.”

    With copious amounts of humor, the Legends EU would respectfully like to disagree with you! Poor Luke! The dregs of the Empire, resurrected enemies, Mara Jade, Yuuzhan Vong… poor guy can’t catch a break. But he creates a decidedly cohesive and clear vision of the Jedi Order. Despite all the struggles, he does just that, and does it well.

    And that leads to my second point, which is rather aside from your original post… but there’s all this talk of Anakin having been the “Chosen One” who brings balance to the Force… but it always seemed to me like it was Luke. Luke was the one who brought the galaxy’s most powerful Jedi (and then Sith) back to the light. Luke brought the order back.

    Anyway, slight tangent, but I was literally thinking about that last night and this brought it all back. Love it!

    1. Melinda
      September 16, 2014 at 16:26 Reply

      Thank you so much. 🙂

      Yes, Luke had his challenges rebuilding the Jedi Order. A huge EU fan, I followed him, too, on that journey. But he did rebuild it. A different Jedi Order, but rebuild it he did. 🙂

      Oh My Gosh, birdonabird!!! I have found a kindred spirit!!! 😀 I, too, believe Luke was the Chosen One!!! 😀 One of my blogs — “The Path Less Travelled” posted back in January — dealt with that very subject. We might be in the minority, but it sure is nice to find someone who has the same bent as me on that topic. 😀

      MTFBWY 🙂

  4. pambruchwalski
    September 16, 2014 at 12:34 Reply

    I, too, could go on and on about this subject as I believe that Anakin was most definitely redeemed. The concept of redemption is so much more than a definition in a dictionary, and the redemptive qualities of the Force defy strict definition at all. Perhaps it IS left open so we can all come to our own conclusions, though I believe that would be counterproductive relative to George Lucas’ whole point of the saga.

    As to the point of religion, many provide for redemption simply by statement and/or the granting of redemption by god. Human beings can’t attain it on their own. Anakin acknowledged his redemption, made his statement of redemption, in his last heroic act, and Luke redeemed him in the Force by acknowledging the good in him and saving him. Anakin reinforced this by telling Luke he was right about him (Anakin). Depending on one’s *point of view*, this was all that was needed for redemption.

    St. Augustine believed that redemption is something humans cannot attain for themselves but only through the grace of god. In Islam, one must adhere to the five pillars, including Shahadah, their creed, and state and believe that there is only one god and Muhammad is his messenger. In Orthodox Christianity, there is the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” If one prays this heartily and with true faith, he will be redeemed. These are all oversimplifications for expansive religions, but there is limited space for discussion here!

    Lastly…please note that I have not stated my own religious beliefs. This is not the forum for them. But toward the point of commenting on this blog I will state…assuming that there is a higher power, I would like to believe that even if I die within seconds of finally coming to the Light, without opportunity for physical atonement, then even my Darkest moments will be forgiven if my heart is true. I believe that in Anakin’s final moments, his heart was truer than it had ever been. If that’s not enough, then what is?

    I LOVE discussing the deepest aspects of Star Wars. Thank you, Melinda! 🙂

    1. Melinda
      September 16, 2014 at 16:34 Reply

      Pam, I ALWAYS LOVE what you bring to the table. So much food for thought here!!! 🙂

      I think you hit the nail on the head (so figurative … today … because I hear — repeatedly — the loud ping of the nail gun as the carpenters install our new doors 😉 ) in your last paragraph, “Lastly…” I agree with you wholeheartedly — “that in Anakin’s final moments, his heart was truer than it had ever been.” Perhaps THAT is all that was needed to redeem him. 🙂 And in that respect, I can understand how he was, indeed, redeemed.

      Thank you so much!
      MTFBWY 🙂

  5. Danielle Williams
    September 16, 2014 at 13:14 Reply

    Love the article! And I agree with Erica. As far as atonement goes for Anakin, he knew he was going to die if he stopped the Emperor, yet he chose to save Luke anyway. He knew he was going to pay the ultimate sacrifice for helping another person, and he ultimately made the choice to do what was right even though it was to his own destruction. Which plays I think more into the Christian view of things, as “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”. I have to be honest, when the new “enhanced” RoTJ came out I was offended beyond words that Hayden Christensen was in the final scene. But after numerous rewatchings of all six episodes, I find I am really glad he is there as it relieves some of the intense anguish of watching him turn to the dark side in Episode III. I think Anakin’s salvation plays into every individual’s sense of worth, that no matter how dark your sins or wrongdoings, there is still hope of being ‘saved’ and/or ‘redeemed’. If Anakin wasn’t able to be saved by sacrificing his own life for his son what hope is there for me? I like to believe that Anakin is redeemed; I think it makes great storytelling and makes the end of the story very satisfying on a lot of levels.

    1. Melinda
      September 16, 2014 at 19:16 Reply

      Thank you so much, Danielle! 🙂 Thank you, too, for pointing out the point about “greater love hath no man…” I hadn’t really considered this, and it plays nicely into Anakin’s deed — and his ultimate redemption. It reminds me of the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save this comrades. He knows he’s going to die, but does it anyway. Shouldn’t that one, last, unselfish act count for something???

      Like you, I wasn’t too keen when Hayden Christiansen’s head replaced that of Sebastian Shaw. I thought, “Nooooooooooooooo!” It was Shaw’s face we saw when Luke removed Vader’s mask, and, in my opinion, that is what Anakin looked like at the time of his death. However, with time, I came to see that it made sense to insert the younger Anakin’s visage. That was what Anakin looked like when he was (as I like to put it) his true self. I now see why the switch was made.

      MTFBWY 🙂

  6. Fr James Worthington
    September 16, 2014 at 20:52 Reply

    The question of what we are saved from is the center of it all. Are we saved from something or for something? To answer this question, let’s ask a deeper one that I am particularly maybe a bit more qualified to answer (I only know my particular tradition, and can’t speak for others). What happened on the cross? Since the verse about Christ showing his great love for mankind was mentioned, we can say that Christ loved so much that he took on all sin upon his own shoulders. All sin – past and yet to come – were upon his shoulders. He was alone liable for all sin. Can God die? By definition, no. So the thing crucified was sin. Sin is what was defeated by Christ’s love on the cross.
    This is redemption, utilizing a bit of the dictionary definition (which I am usually against, since they don’t ask the interested parties for internal definitions).
    Humanity is saved for eternal life. This is what it was created for. So to stretch the analogy, Anakin is not saved for eternal stasis and blue glowyness, but to be a guide in raising Luke by (inworld) becoming one with the Force.
    As for the distinction between saved and redeemed, I am not entirely happy with Michelle Arnold’s answer. For Orthodox Christianity in particular, there is no salvation of an individual without the community helping in the process. No man is an island, ask not for whom the bell tolls…I like that poem a lot and it finds its way into many sermons.
    There is no possible atonement that can be made by a person. It could only be done by the infinite, since, in the real world, one sin is enough to throw all of creation out of whack. CS Lewis posited this in the space trilogy, to some degree.

    1. Melinda
      September 17, 2014 at 17:24 Reply

      Fr. James, you gave such an eloquent reply I had to ponder it for a while before posting a response. I hope you don’t mind.

      I am not even going to pretend to know enough about Christianity, the Bible and the Church’s teachings to comment — either in agreement or in disagreement — on what you have written. I will say that I LIKE your response, and it’s a shame you aren’t a pastor closer to where I live (I don’t think you’re in WI 😉 ). I would love to sit in on one of your sermons. 🙂 A priest and a Star Wars fan? Now that is what I call a great combination! 🙂

      Since my blog really was about Anakin’s redemption and whether he truly was redeemed, I didn’t want to delve too deeply into religious teachings/tenets of the world’s various belief systems. George Lucas has said, repeatedly, that the Force basically is comprised of the best of many religions so I didn’t want to get into a deep discourse on the teachings of any specific religion. I did find it very interesting, in a general sense, that more than one dictionary referred to Christianity in defining redemption. It is not the only religion into which redemption figures, but the only one cited.

      You have peaked (and yes, I do mean that particular word) my curiosity. I intend to look up the CS Lewis works to which you referred. I hope they’ll be enjoyable reading material. 🙂

      Thank you so much for stopping by! 🙂 MTFBWY 🙂

  7. Dan Z & Cory Clubb
    September 16, 2014 at 21:57 Reply

    Such a fantastic, thought-provoking entry. Look at all these comments too; I love it!

    As far as Catholicism, there is much more to it than that (as I know you are aware). There must be true acknowledgment, as well as true intent never to sin again. True redemption occurs through forgiving, as well as forgiveness. Thanks for giving us so much to ponder.

    1. Melinda
      September 16, 2014 at 22:15 Reply

      You’re so welcome. 🙂 And it is great to read what everyone has to say about the subject. It really has helped me come to terms with whether Anakin truly was redeemed at the end of ROTJ. At least in my mind.

      Generally speaking, I do believe in redemption. That each of us has the chance to turn our lives around to be good, to do good deeds. To me, it really matters what is in a person’s heart more than anything else. 🙂 To let one’s actions speak for oneself. 🙂

      MTFBWY 🙂

  8. Jeff M
    September 16, 2014 at 23:59 Reply

    Wow. Lots of pondering going on. I was going to post something very eloquent and mind-bending, but it seems like everyone else had the same thoughts already, so I’ll just say “GREAT JOB MELINDA!” and go back to my regularly-scheduled jokemaking. There’s a reason I leave the heavy lifting to people like you 🙂

    Also, I agree, I think Luke was the prophesied one to bring balance. And so does Marvin.

    1. Melinda
      September 17, 2014 at 17:34 Reply

      Alright, Jeff! Two more fans in my corner! 🙂 (I wish I had a biscuit to give Marvin — sort of a “well done prize”. 🙂 ) Maybe we should start a “Luke Is The Chosen One” campaign!!! 🙂

      Thank you so much for your kind words. It’s always great to have you stop by! 😀

      MTFBWY 🙂

  9. Carrie Christian
    September 22, 2014 at 15:58 Reply

    Melinda,

    This exact subject has been on my mind for quite some time now! However, I am looking at things a bit differently…and I will hopefully soon have something published soon further explaining my take on this. I see a lot of my life in the relationship between Anakin and Padme, and I have no doubt that Anakin was redeemed at the end. Although my religious following has been lacking as of recent years, more so because of my experiences at work and subsequent questioning of all that I once believed, I do remember from my teachings growing up that once you made some atonement for your wrongdoings, you were saved and redeemed in the afterlife. It is unfortunate that Anakin had to die at the end of ROTJ; however, it was probably the best for him, as he surely would have had to face the backlash from the residents of the galaxy. By atoning for his wrongs through Luke, he achieved what few other Jedi were able to achieve: becoming one with the Force.

    1. Melinda
      October 2, 2014 at 09:48 Reply

      I see from where you’re coming, Carrie. And I agree with you — I can well imagine there would be a great deal of backlash with which Anakin would have to deal if he would have survived the electrifying attack on his body. Maybe his atonement and redemption were wrapped up in the one act. Maybe.

      Thank you, as always, for stopping by. 🙂

      MTFBWY 🙂

  10. jk
    October 8, 2014 at 12:35 Reply

    Hi Melinda, this is a great topic! And pretty appropriate for things I have been thinking about lately, as this last weekend was Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance. The hebrew word commonly translated as “repentence” is “teshuva,” which literally means “to return.” I like that the entire series ends with a “return,” with everything coming full circle. At the same time, Anakin’s “redemption” has troubled me too.

    In Judaism, it is taught that you cannot forgive someone for a crime that was committed against someone else. So, if you stole my sister’s socks, I cannot forgive you- you have to take it up with my sister. Murder is seen by some as an unforgivable deed because it is impossible to get the victim’s forgiveness. Perhaps in the star wars universe, there would be some kind of afterlife where gaining forgiveness from the dead would be possible (after all there are ghosts.)

    Anakin stepping in to save his son’s life does seem to fit his general life pattern of being provoked into action where his own family is concerned. I’m not sure if he ever develops the morality to realize that people/living creatures outside of the “Anakin Skywalker bubble” are worthy of humane treatment. While the people we feel close to can inspire us to brave deeds, its still necessary to respect the rights of those people we may care or know less about (AKA random Tuskins and Jedi younglings.)

  11. Melinda
    October 16, 2014 at 10:31 Reply

    Wow! JK, you have hit on the very essence of what I was getting at! 🙂

    I truly believe Darth Vader/Anakin was inspired by Luke “to do the right thing” in the end. However, because it was LUKE who he saved, I’ve always wondered just how redeemed Darth Vader/Anakin could be (as if there are levels of redemption 😉 ). Up until that point, he had no qualms about cutting down his son.

    That is why I have been in a quandary about whether Anakin was redeemed in the end. Can one act — when there is no “after” the fact — allow one to be redeemed? I believe in redemption … however, I also believe there has to be atonement/making up for one’s bad deeds in the aftermath. Could it be I have issues with forgiveness? I don’t know. Maybe that is something I need to examine.

    Thanks for stopping by, and leaving your thoughts on the subject. 🙂

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