Redemption for Darth Vader

Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, I had watched the first six movies in the Star Wars series three times. The last time was with my then 6-year old son who was rather taken by the story and the characters. I recall that first Christmas thereafter. Almost every gift wrapped was a Star Wars merchandise and Santa wasn’t going to be outdone and brought the little man a glass light saber (what was he thinking!) For about a year after that there was a Star Wars moment in our lives on a daily basis. Memories of that era are very much alive in our home from the talking Master Yoda puppet to the R2-D2 cushion and all the rest of it. With the release of the final movie in the series earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before the Star Wars revelation was made to the youngest member of our family. Covid-19 presented us with that opportunity. While we were all excited to revisit the young Skywalker twins on our TV screen, we never imagined the extent of the emotional journey watching it with Theo would take us on.

My husband decided the order we would watch the series. His logic was that it would be important to show Theo Darth Vader’s redemption after he turns to the dark side. Personally, I didn’t really care and never for a minute thought it would matter. Theo’s interest in the storyline and the characters were to put it bluntly, extremely frustrating. I have lost count at the number of times we had to press the pause button so he could ask questions or run to the book shelf to retrieve one of the dozen Star Wars books we have so that he could clarify something or another. Watching The Revenge of The Sith today however, would change the way we would remember the entire experience.

From the start, he knew, with great excitement that this was the one where Anakin Skywalker became Lord Vader. As the story unfolded however, his excitement slowly turned into concern and worry. We never understood the extent of it until one of the final scenes when he started to sob uncontrollably. At first we laughed at how absurd it seemed, and then, after a minute of sobbing turned into several minutes, we were surprised that he would take it so badly – and then, when we fully understood his pain, our hearts broke. We all had tears. If the fly on the wall could talk, it would be quite the story to tell. Why can’t he just say sorry? Why can’t Obi-Wan forgive him? Don’t they know it’s the Emperor’s fault? And on and on he questioned. I held him, I wiped his tears and even gently threatened to stop watching all of it if it caused him so much pain. His father assured him that this was all fiction – a great invention from a great story-teller.

Theo eventually composed himself, though he clearly remained doubtful of our intentions. With puffy eyes, and an emotionally drained family, he managed to get through the final ten minutes of the final episode of the prequel trilogy.  As the end credits appeared on the screen, I got up from my couch, excused myself and went to the bathroom to have a good cry. I was shaken by the experience and wondered whether we had jumped the gun with watching this with him this year. Reece had been the same age when he got acquainted with the great Jedi Knights and the Dark Lords of the Sith and I don’t recall a single tear. But then it dawned on me how Theo processes things so differently. He has always been ahead of his years in the sentiments department. He would always see (or ignore for that matter) beyond the facts of the story and question the whys and the feelings.

As I in turn, tried to compose myself today, my thoughts drifted to the meaning of the dark side. The exact moment we pressed pause today so that Theo could cry his heart out was in the final light saber battle where Anakin told Obi-Wan “I have brought peace and prosperity to the galaxy”. He said this as destruction and fire consumed everything around him. In other parts of the galaxy betrayal, lies and death were everywhere. It is perhaps the greatest on-screen irony of all time. How could he be so blind? However, despite the irony, I saw Darth Vader in a different way today, through the eyes of my son. His story is a complicated one. He has suffered, he has known great loss and he has been manipulated by someone who was a step ahead of him in understanding his weakness. Taking this in made me really sad.

I realised however that he also made a choice. A short while before his physical demise, his wife showed up for him and so did his best friend. He did not lack love – though admittedly it wasn’t enough to save him. He was, obviously too far gone at this point. As I took all of this in, in some ways for what seems like the first time, I realise that the lies those who pursue power and wealth at the cost of others’ well-being or even lives, tell themselves are all they truly have. The lies, as obvious as they may be to others, justify their actions and decisions. To accept the truth will ultimately leave them with absolutely nothing.

I tried to share this lesson with my six-year old today. He doesn’t understand. To him, Darth Vader’s fate, so far, is extremely unfair. In the next episode, he will witness his redemption. He knows it’s coming though I doubt it will make everything OK. He would be right – by the time we gain redemption, the bulk of the damage has usually been done. Redemption is, sadly, most of the time, a tad bit too late.

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