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The Turn: A History of the Evolution of Anakin's Downfall

"I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father."

"That name no longer has any meaning for me."

"It is the name of your true self you have only forgotten."

At the heart of the story of the Star Wars saga lies the character of Darth Vader and his downfall as a heroic Jedi knight. While originally this character was mostly in the role of a villain, and the issues surrounding his fall and redemption a mere subplot in Return of the Jedi tied primarily to the hero Luke and not an issue unto itself, with the prequels George Lucas created a new movie series where this becomes the prime through-line of the six-episode story. As such, the storyline of the origins of Darth Vader did not originate with the first film--nor even were they solidified as the film that would actually show it, Revenge of the Sith, was made. In this article we will explore how the details of the downfall of Anakin Skywalker transformed--even as late as 2004.

In the beginning, to borrow such an inflated phrase, the downfall itself was not attached to Annikin Starkiller, Luke Starkiller's father--nor was it attached to Darth Vader. Anakin's turn to the darkside first appears in the rough draft of Star Wars from 1974, though it is not so much a tragic turn as it is loyalty to the wrong side. In that draft Prince Valorum is a Sith Lord--here the Jedi and Sith are two opposing warrior sects, not quite the mythical avatars for the forces of good and evil in the later films. Prince Valorum, however, undergoes a change of heart--General Skywalker has known Valorum for quite some time, and points out that the forces of the Empire are not worthy of servitude, for they have no respect for the higher, samurai-like code of honor the Jedi and Sith live by. Valorum renounces the Empire and joins the heroes. Here there is no "fall" per se, and how Valorum ended up on the side of the Sith is never explored. However, the next draft would introduce the storyline of a Jedi who betrays his peers and joins the Sith--as part of the exposition told in the script, this tale is attached to a Jedi named Darklighter, who runs away from his Jedi mentors and joins the "Sith pirates," teaching them the ways of the Force of Others. Finally, in the third draft from 1975, this storyline gets attached to villain Darth Vader, and Ben Kenobi is also introduced as his failed mentor.

LUKE
Don't you have a Kiber crystal?

BEN
I had one, but it was taken at the battle of Condawn [...] It was a black day. One of my disciple's [sic] took the crystal and became a Sith Lord. It was a black day. The few crystals that remain are in the possession of the Sith Lords on Alderaan. That's how they've become so powerful [...] The Crystal Darth stole was the last one in the possession of the Jedi. When he joined the Sith, the power of the Dark Lords was completed.

In the revised fourth draft, Vader was then made into the murderer of Luke's father, and a backstory involving a duel on a volcano was developed. Lucas tells Rolling Stone in 1977, "Vader kills Luke's father, then Ben and Vader have a confrontation, just like they have in Star Wars, and Ben almost kills Vader. As a matter of fact, he falls into a volcanic pit and gets fried and is one destroyed being. That's why he has to wear the suit with a mask, because it's a breathing mask. It's like a walking iron lung." In 1978, Vader was then fused with the character of Annikin Skywalker, Luke's father. Here Lucas began developing the "tragic" elements--Luke's father was a hero, and not just a "bad seed" the way the student Darth Vader was; now it was a fall from grace. In order to explain how he could have turned evil, Lucas developed that he was manipulated and lured to the darkside by Emperor Palpatine--his choice is no longer an altogether-evil act. This then necessitated that Emperor Palpatine himself was a Sith Lord, instead of merely a corrupt politician. Time magazine explains in May 1980:

"For years the universe was goverened by a republic, which was regulated by the order of Jedi Knights who bore a vague resemblance to Japanese Samurai warriors. But eventually the citizens of the republic 'didn't care enough to elect competent officials,' says Lucas the historian, and so their government collapsed. A sorcerer, a bad counterpart to Yoda, blocked all opposition and declared himself Emperor...The Emperor subverts Darth Vader to his side, and together he and Vader betray the other Knights, nearly all of whom are killed in their trap."

With Return of the Jedi , Lucas made things more specific, though most of this dialog was exercised from the final film:  


                              BEN
               When I first knew him, your father was
               already a great pilot. But I was amazed how
               strongly the Force was with him.  I took it
               upon myself to train him as a Jedi.  I
               thought that I could instruct him just as
               well as Yoda.  I was wrong.  My pride has
               had terrible consequences for the galaxy.

                              LUKE
               There's still good in him.

                              BEN
               I also thought he could be turned back to the
               good side. It couldn't be done. He is more
               machine now than man. Twisted and evil.

                             [...]

                              BEN
               To be a Jedi, Luke, you must confront and
               then go beyond the dark side - the side your
               father couldn't get past. Impatience is
               the easiest door - for you, like your father.
               Only, your father was seduced by what he
               found on the other side of the door, and you
               have held firm. You're no longer so reckless
               now, Luke. You are strong and patient.

When he began writing the prequels in 1994, Lucas had to figure out a way to transpose all of this into a specific plot and sequence of events. While Lucas had first intended to script all three prequels between 1994 and 1997, after starting the screenplay for Episode I this plan fell by the wayside and Lucas dedicated all his time to that film, leaving Episodes II and III, while rudimentally sketched, still ephemeral. What Lucas did know, however, is that Anakin's Skywalker's downfall would be linked to issues of possessiveness, of his need for control, which would manifest itself as a lust for power, whether to protect his wife or simply for himself, as he slowly is drawn to the darkside and with Palpatine manipulating him into believing the Jedi are planning a betrayal of the Republic; all along, Anakin would have believed he was doing it all for the right reasons, that he was in fact justified in some twisted way. As Lucas would later say, most evil people believe they are doing their deeds for the right reasons. Lucas also had devised that the death of Anakin's mother would be a prime factor in contributing to this process.

Nevertheless, even as Lucas entered pre-production of Episode III in early 2002, this arc had, as far as evidence suggests, not undergone much further development. However the specifics of how Anakin's downfall would play out in the screenplay, Lucas seemed to nonetheless have a vision of it in his head. That is, until he actually began the process of figuring it out on paper--placing this ephemeral mental conception of the story into tangible form revealed problems Lucas hadn't counted on encountering. By this point, Episode III had some substantial development in the art department--Lucas developed an opening sequence that would see seven battles of the Clone Wars fought on seven different planets, which had undergone much depiction by conceptual artists, and other weapons and creatures (such as a "lemur people") had been developed. (i) But when Lucas took a family vacation in August of 2002 before comitting himself to three years straight on Episode III, he began the process of laying out the actual story itself, and not just the aliens or action scenes he envisioned for the film. Lucas says:

"Back in August, I started writing this thing...But the script starts to have its own life. Characters start to tell you what to do--and you end up with problems...And you have to solve these problems, because what you thought was going to happen isn't happening...So I had to disassemble Episode III and re-think it, to make it line up with Episode IV. When you actually put it down on paper and start doing it scene by scene--when you really start pulling it apart--you say 'Well, I have to have a through-line. And I have to stick with it.' " (ii)

Whatever tangential storylines this change may have eliminated, more significant is that it is primarily a re-structure, as Lucas and Rinzler make clear. While the nature of Anakin's arc remained, more or less, intact, the structure of how it would occur--and hence the structure of the movie itself--seems to have undergone drastic changes. What this original structure was is sketchy, at best, but it seems as though Dooku was to survive until later in the film; with Anakin being drawn to the darkside, he might finally slay Dooku and take his place at Palpatine's side, as a sort of parallel to what would have happened to Luke in Return of the Jedi (in the final film, Lucas would stage the scene on a set identical to the throne room from Jedi, perhaps a remnant from this original, more literal parallel).

This was changed, it may be argued, because the arc of Anakin's turn was too abrupt--the very same issue that would later prompt even more massive changes in post-production. Instead, Lucas moved Dooku's death from the middle of the film to the beginning, changing the film's opening from a montage of Clone War battles to a sequence wherein Anakin and Obi Wan must rescue the kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine and where Anakin kills Dooku at Palpatine's request, leaving more transition time from this established foundation and allowing him to become a bodyguard to Palpatine. (iii) Roughly a week after this new opening sequence was unveiled to the art department, Lucas also approached them about a new idea he had--a droid General for the Seperatists. (iv) Here Lucas created a new villain, General Grievous, to inherit the role Dooku was originally supposed to fill, with Anakin's sacrificial victim now being Mace Windu. This elimination of Dooku may also have resulted in an evaporation of the Sifo-Dyas plot, an element Lucas said would be explained in Episode III.

By now it was well into November of 2002, with production scheduled for the next summer, but Lucas was still having trouble tying together Episode III's still-changing story. By December he had still not starting scripting--nor even an outline of the film. (v) However, sometime in January, Lucas finally wrote a brief, 55-page rough draft that layed out how the film would unfold. (vi) In this draft, Anakin's turn is slightly different--his dream of Padme is that she is consumed by flames and not dying in childbirth, and Anakin's siding with Palpatine is given an enormous twist in that Palpatine reveals that he is, in fact, Anakin's father. By June, principle photography had commenced.

The turn, as originally written and filmed, played out in a drastically different manner than what is seen in the final film. But first, we should first examine the nature of Anakin's turn itself, hinted at earlier.The original conception of Anakin's turn was that the darkside was slowly turning and corrupting his mind, like some kind of drug or virus. Anakin's massacre of the Tusken Raiders was initially a pivotal point (in many other ways as well, as we will see later) because it gave him his first taste of this awesome power, and slowly but surely he would be drawn back to it. Thus, when Anakin struck down Mace (or Dooku, in the original conception), it was the consumation of a journey that began in Episode II. This is why the Emperor was sure Luke would fall in Return of the Jedi if he killed Vader out of hate--once you had tasted its power, it would be so irresistable that you would inevitably be drawn back to it, and slowly it would consume you, twisting your mind. "If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi Wan's apprentice," Yoda intones in Empire Strikes Back. The Emperor had been so consumed in mind that it had even corrupted his flesh. But just as this aspect would be revised so too would the pschological aspect--but it would occur after the movie had been filmed. As Lucas has also said, most bad people act on good faith, and here Anakin truely believed in the actions he was taking, that they were ultimately for a greater good, another aspect to be altered in the final cut.

The following is a summation of Anakin's turn as originally written and filmed: Palpatine reveals his true identity to Anakin, telling him that the Jedi are planning to take over the Republic and to accept the Sith and the darkside. Anakin is conflicted but distrusts the Jedi--his mind is being influenced by the darkside already and he chooses to stay with Palpatine, essentially accepting the Sith in this scene. Mace and the Jedi then enter Palpatine's office--with Anakin present beside Palpatine. Mace tells Anakin to get behind him but Anakin remains where he is. When the Jedi ignite their lightsabers to arrest him, Palpatine uses the Force to retrieve Anakin's lightsaber and the fight begins. Anakin watches as his two mentors fight, and as Palpatine is disarmed he unleashes the Force-lightning. Mace and Palpatine struggle, and Palpatine's face is drained of his visage in the effort to sustain the lightning. Finally, as the two masters remain locked in a standstill, Anakin cuts off Mace's hand, and Palpatine fries him and sends him out the window. Anakin collapses in disbelief that the Jedi were indeed attempting to take over the Republic, and Sidious knights him, telling him to go kill the rest of the Jedi before they retaliate.

Original version of the scene where Anakin stays loyal to Palpatine. Note Mace Windu and Jedi approaching for arrest.

This is what appeared in the film when a rough cut was assembled in 2004. Seeking to gauge the film, Lucas showed this cut to a number of people, most of whom expressed some concern or confusion over Anakin's motivation for giving in to the darkside. "Some people were having a hard time with the reason Anakin goes bad," Lucas says. "Somebody asked whether somebody could kill Anakin's best friend, so that he gets really angry. They wanted a real betrayal, such as 'you tried to kill me now I'm going to kill you.' They didn't understand that Anakin is simply greedy. There is no revenge. The revenge of the Sith is Palpatine." (vii) Arguably, Lucas hadn't clearly developed this element of Anakin's pyschology. However, while Lucas did not initially instigate as drastic changes as some suggested, he would soon change his mind from his first instinct, which was to leave the film as is. While editing the film down further, Lucas began to realise that the through-line of the picture was Anakin, and that any scene not directly related to him be exercised. The removal of these superfluous scenes unexpectedly began to shift emphasis towards the character's obsession for Padme, which Lucas then began to actively re-structure the film around, because, as he says, it seemed "poetic." Anakin would go to the darkside to save Padme, with his attempts to prevent her death ultimately killing her, in the vein of Macbeth. He says:

"The first script I wrote had stories for everybody...and I cut it down and we had a script. But when we cut it together, there were still problems. Finally, I said, 'Okay, let's be even more hard-nosed here and take out every scene that doesn't have anything to do with Anakin.' But that causes you to juxtapose certain scenes that you were never contemplating juxtaposing before. And these scenes take on different qualities than before, because the scenes were never meant to be next to each other...What happens then is that some of the themes grab hold of each other and really strengthen themselves in ways that are fascinating...so we'll strengthen that theme because it seems poetic." (viii)

First, a second vision of Padme's death was inserted. This vision was not scripted but created in the editing--taking footage from the end of the film (which appears in the shooting script, ie Obi Wan saying "hold on Padme") and splicing it into a scene where Anakin sits staring off in thought in Padme's apartment. This is then a more metaphorical "vision" and not a literal dream as the first one was. Originally this scene was preceeded by one in which Obi Wan actually does visit Padme--a scene prior to that one then had Palpatine planting seeds of jealousy in Anakin's head. So, you have 1) a scene where Palpatine suggests Padme is hiding a secret, 2) a scene where Obi Wan secretly meets with Padme, which is then followed by 3) the scene of Anakin in Padme's apartment. The scene then plays out in that he shows paranoia first, then confesses he has been lusting for power, and then finally says he will find a way to save Padme. Here we see the original configuration of Anakin's turn in which there are many causes--we see here Palpatine and the darkside corrupting his mind, creating paranoia and building within him a thirst for power, and finally we have it punctuated with a need to save Padme. But with the elimination of the two preceeding scenes and the insertion of the waking vision, the scene plays out with a singular focus: saving Padme.

Two rounds of pick-up shooting then occured which actively re-wrote the film to reflect this new arc surrounding Padme. While in the original film it was just one of many issues relating to Anakin's fall, here it now became the issue. Anakin would instead turn to the darkside out of an act of misplaced love--no longer would he be corrupted by evil, and no longer would he betray the Jedi; his turn would be linked to a spontaneous emotional reaction to save Padme.

First, a scene was added in which Anakin consults with Yoda over his visions. Here Yoda call them "premonitions"--not only was the single dream reprised with the edit trick, it was now referred to in the plural long before this, implying Anakin is regularly tormented by them, enlarging his obssession with preventing them. Then, the entire "turn" sequence was re-written.

Here, Anakin would not "turn" to the darkside; newly shot material has Palpatine swaying Anakin away from the Jedi and emphasizes the power to save Padme when he reveals his Sith identity-- however, Anakin would instead reject Palpatine's offer and stay loyal to the Jedi. He then goes to Mace Windu and tells him about Palpatine. Windu tells Anakin to wait in the Jedi council chamber while he takes a squad of Jedi to arrest the chancellor. As Anakin waits in the chamber, Palpatine's telepathic thoughts echo to him stating that if the Jedi kill him, Padme will die. Anakin rises and he and Padme tearfully gaze at each other from across the city--Anakin knows he must prevent Palpatine from being killed if he is to save her. He runs to a speeder and arrives just as it seems Mace has beaten the Dark Lord. Palpatine begs Anakin to help him as he shoots lightning at Mace, saying he has the power to save Padme. Finally, Anakin speaks up--"you can't," he tell Mace as Mace is about to do him in. "I need him!" As Mace's sabre comes down Anakin intercepts him, cutting off his hand, and Palpatine sends him out the window. "What have I done!" Anakin exclaims, collapsing to the ground. "Just help me save Padme's life," he says, kneeling. "I can't live without her." Sidious then knights him as Anakin looks away regretfully.

All of this material was added to the film in the editing phase. Anakin would now accept the darkside because it (incidentally) contained a power to save his wife. Though this massive re-write does, however, raise a major curiosity in that Anakin inexplicitly agrees to kill his extended family, the Jedi, even when he was loyal to them moments before when he turns Palpatine over to Mace Windu. Now Anakin was no longer corrupted by the darkside and no longer believed the Jedi were evil and attempting a devious plot to take over the Republic. Anakin's massacre of the Tusken Raiders in Episode II was obviously placed there to foreshadow this plot point--killing even the women and children because he believed they deserved it. Now, however, he didn't believe the Jedi deserved it at all (at this point in the story, at least). There are still remnants from the original version of the storyline in the final edit, mostly in the latter stages of the film. "Twisted by the darkside, young Skywalker has become," Yoda says, in reference to the original version where Anakin had slowly been consumed by it. "The boy you trained, gone is he, consumed by Darth Vader." Later in the film, Anakin reflects his original belief that the Jedi were evil traitors--"I should have known the Jedi were plotting to take over...from my point of view, the Jedi are evil!" This no longer was valid, especially now that it was Anakin himself who turns Palpatine over for the Jedi to arrest and/or kill. It may be argued that, given the enormous manner in which the film was broken apart, re-written and then stitched back together--after principle photography--the film could not be totally re-assembled because it was written under a totally opposed conception of the plot and character. Lucas had re-written most of the first half of the film, but May 2005 was drawing closer, and there was not enough time to coherantly re-align the entire plot of the film.

Nonetheless, we see here how evanescent the storyline was--even the very sequence that is arguably the heart of the entire trilogy. "The only scene I hadn't thought through enough is the [turn scene]," Lucas says to Sam Jackson and Ian McDiarmid during the 2004 re-shoots. (ix) Lucas explains his new conception of the turn to Christensen the next day: "It's basically Faust in the end," Lucas says. "Where you make a pact with the devil. And that usually leads to the same end: You cannot change the inevitable. If you try, you're basically going against the cosmos or however you want to define that." (x)

(i) The Making of Revenge of the Sith by J.W. Rinzler, 2005, p. 13. (ii) Rinzler, p.36. (iii) Rinzler, p.30. (iv) Rinzler, p. 32. (v) Rinzler, p. 35-36. (vi) Rinzler, p. 40. (vii) Rinzler, p. 188.  (viii) Rinzler, p. 176. (ix) Rinzler, p. 205. (x) Rinzler, p. 206

05/07/08 


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