Darth Vader is considered one of the greatest villains of cinema. From the moment he stalked into audiences’ movie screens in A New Hope, he has been a constant figure in pop culture. The Original Trilogy gave hints about his back story, with Obi-Wan Kenobi first revealing to Luke Skywalker that Vader was the old Jedi’s apprentice and the father of Luke and Leia.
Then the Prequel Trilogy came along, fleshing out Darth Vader’s history. The films, series like The Clone Wars, books, and comics filled in the gaps in Vader’s history, a story of tragedy and a disastrous crash course with destiny.
Anakin Skywalker Leaves Home
Darth Vader's fall to the Dark Side starts with his mother, Shmi Skywalker. When she was only a child, Shmi and her parents were captured by pirates and sold into slavery. Shmi was separated from her family and lived in captivity for the rest of her life, never knowing her parents' fate. In her later years, she was sold on Tatooine to the Hutts and learned the trade of working on machinery, an affinity she would pass on to her son. Nine years before the events of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Shmi became pregnant from the Force and carried her child to term, giving birth to her only son, Anakin Skywalker.
Shmi didn’t have a strong love for the Republic as they didn’t protect her or her family from the horrors of slavery. In turn, she taught Anakin how to fend for himself, to learn a trade working in machinery, and did her best to give him a normal childhood. They were sold to a Junk Dealer, Watto, who could be cruel. Watto understood the only thing of value to Shmi was her son, so he forced Anakin into horrifically dangerous situations to control Shmi. These scenarios and his unknown-to-him use of the Force made Anakin a talented pilot, but these risks also left the child gruesomely injured on occasions.
When Anakin was 10, a pair of Jedi named Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi rescued him from Tatooine. With them was the Queen of Naboo, Padmé Amidala, hiding as a handmaiden. The Jedi discovered that Anakin was Force Sensitive and potentially the Chosen One, a figure from prophecy to bring balance to the Force. Seeing Anakin’s only chance to escape slavery, Shmi let her son go with the Jedi.
Scared and taken away from the only person who loved him, Anakin was brought before a group of strangers who scrutinized his potential and decided whether he was worthy enough to join them. These people were the Jedi Order, who thought he was too old and emotional to train. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan stood with Anakin, with the former wishing to teach the boy. Through a series of events in the Battle of Naboo, Qui-Gon was killed, and Anakin was admitted into the Order as the padawan learner of Obi-Wan Kenobi. He also caught the eye of Senator Sheev Palpatine, who was the Sith Lord Darth Sidious in disguise.
After losing Qui-Gon and leaving Shmi, Anakin was clingy to Obi-Wan, who was the only person he knew with the Jedi. During his first years of training, he often slept on the floor by Obi-Wan’s bed out of fear of losing his master. Anakin also struggled with the Jedi Code throughout his years as a padawan. One main rule was that a Jedi couldn’t have attachments, but Anakin couldn’t forget his mother left behind on Tatooine. It took several years for him to settle into the Jedi. Once he did, though, he became an exceptional Jedi making him quite cocky. All these factors together made it hard for Anakin to make friends, leaving him often alone in his room, tinkering on machines with the resentment of wondering if Shmi was okay. At one point, he considered leaving the Order and going home but chose to stay.
During this, Palpatine was not idle as he sensed great potential in Anakin. He would request meetings with the teen under the guise of wanting to help mentor him. In reality, Palpatine took these moments to sew doubts in the Republic and Jedi into Anakin when he could.
Flirting With the Dark Side
When Anakin was 19, he was reunited with Padmé, now a senator. After several assassination attempts, Anakin and Obi-Wan were assigned to keep Padmé safe. During this time, Anakin and Padmé fell in love. It was also when he began to have terrifying Force visions of his mother dying. With the support of Padmé, Anakin returned to Tatooine and discovered Shmi had been freed from slavery and married a man named Cliegg Lars. Shmi had also joined the White Suns liberation movement to help free other enslaved people. Missing upon Anakin’s arrival, Shmi had been taken by Tusken Raiders. Anakin tracked her to their camp to find her on the edge of death. Shmi was relieved to see her son one last time, telling him she was proud of Anakin. After she passed away in his arms, Anakin took his first steps into the Dark Side, slaughtering the Tusken village in revenge.
Shmi’s death had a profound impact on Anakin. He felt guilt in slaughtering the Tuskens, feeling he failed as a Jedi. Her passing also gave him a deep seeded fear of losing anyone he loved. He became interested in the idea of defeating death, thanks to hints and whispers from Palpatine. During all of these emotions, he also married Padmé in secret alongside the outbreak of the Clone Wars as the Republic split into a period of civil war.
Getting a battlefield promotion essentially, Anakin became a Jedi Knight, a General of a group of clones led by Captain Rex, and a padawan of his own named Ahsoka Tano in about a series of a couple of months. Thrust into a war, Anakin struggled and shined in this new era. His bond with Ahsoka helped him grow as a teacher, but it constantly pushed his struggles with attachments. He had to keep his relationship with Padme a secret which challenged him as Padmé was always in danger as an outspoken senator under constant assassination threats.
The war allowed Anakin to bend the rules of combat, often killing enemy leaders instead of capturing them to save the lives of many. Also, as a Jedi Knight, he wasn’t constantly watched anymore by Obi-Wan, which gave Palpatine far more opportunities to manipulate Anakin toward the Dark Side.
A breaking point with the Jedi was reached when Anakin’s padawan was framed for a murder she didn’t commit. Cast out of the Jedi Order, Ahsoka ran from authorities while Anakin sought the truth to clear her name. When the real culprit was found, the Jedi Order offered a place for Ahsoka again, but she denied it as her view of the Jedi had shattered. Anakin begged Ahsoka to stay, the fear of losing people he loved rearing its head. Making her choice, Ahsoka left the Jedi Order for good, further sullying Anakin’s view of the Order to which he once was loyal.
Anakin Becomes Darth Vader
As the Clone Wars came to a close, Anakin once again began to have horrible nightmares about losing someone he loved, this time his wife, Padmé. He also found out that Padmé was pregnant with his child and that he would become a father. The fear of losing his wife and child shook Anakin considerably, but he didn’t trust the Jedi anymore to go to them for help. Instead, he turned to a different mentor Palpatine. Anakin met with Palpatine, who revealed himself as a Sith Lord. He also offered Anakin the knowledge of conquering death and saving Padmé.
Anakin was set on a crash course with the Jedi Order, who was uncertain about Palpatine. The senator had taken power as Chancellor at the start of the Clone Wars and slowly amassed more control over the years. With the threat of the Republic falling apart thanks to Palpatine’s machinations, the Jedi Order decided it was best to put a stop to the Chancellor.
Anakin defended Palpatine from the Jedi and took the mantle of Darth Vader. Palpatine set into motion Order 66, which turned all the Republic’s clone soldiers against the Jedi, which destroyed the Order in a day. Anakin stormed the Jedi Temple on Coruscant himself to assist with the destruction of the Jedi before executing the leaders of the Separatist Movement, thus ending the Clone Wars.
Horrified by the events, Padmé went to find Anakin and met him on Mustafar. Obi-Wan, who now knew of his once padawan’s secret marriage and coming fatherhood, went with Padmé to confront Anakin. In a blind rage, thinking Obi-Wan had turned Padmé against him, Anakin attacked his wife before facing the man who raised him from a boy. His dreams of Padmé’s death became a self-fulfilled prophecy as Anakin was the cause of his wife’s demise. The battle with Obi-Wan left Anakin maimed and on the edge of death.
Palpatine would find his new apprentice and save Anakin’s life. He placed Anakin in the Darth Vader suit, purposely made to cause Anakin pain as it kept him alive. Believing Palpatine’s lie that he killed his wife and unborn child, Vader wouldn’t find out until almost two decades later that his son and daughter, Luke and Leia, survived.
Many of the steps in Anakin’s downfall to the Dark Side were caused by him. There’s no arguing that he made choices himself. Still, Anakin was born into a galaxy with the cards stacked against him. He took his only chance to escape slavery, went into a group of space wizards who didn’t always help a scared young boy process his emotions, and was thrown into the frontlines of a brutal war. The people who were supposed to be the good guys pitched out his padawan, who was innocent, and he couldn’t openly be with the woman he loved. Yeah, Anakin made many of his choices.
But the galaxy didn’t always give him a chance either.