Fear Leading: Anakin’s Turn to the Dark Side



For most of us who started watching Star Wars before the prequels came out, Darth Vader loomed as a compelling, mysterious figure. His reveal as Luke’s father, former Jedi Anakin Skywalker, only made him more intriguing. How did a “guardian of peace and justice” become a Sith Lord who makes our heroes tremble in fear?

Jump back 32 years before the Death Star explodes and the mystery doesn’t seem any less puzzling. Nine-year-old Anakin shows few, if any, dark lord tenancies. Without foreknowledge of who he will become, we might miss Ani’s potential for darkness entirely if it wasn’t for Yoda outlining the path that will lead him to the dark side: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”


Fear to Anger

When Anakin arrives at the Jedi temple, Yoda senses “much fear” in him. Aside from his force-sensitivity, it’s the only trait the Jedi notice. To viewers, little Ani might seem like a confident kid, but inside he’s terrified. He left his planet and his mother and lost his new mentor all in just a few days. Fear’s a normal response. Unfortunately, he doesn’t learn a good way of dealing with his fear.

The Jedi Code teaches “There is no Emotion, there is Peace.” Instead of giving Anakin ways to deal with his emotions, they’re telling him emotions don’t exist. This might work if you grow up in the Temple learning how the Jedi suppress their emotion, but it wouldn’t help a scared little boy whose fear seems very real. With no other options, Anakin buries those anxieties for 8 years before we see him again in Attack of the Clones.

Psychologist Frank Gaskill describes Anakin as a character driven by anxiety “and the need to control external events” (Dark Side of the Mind: Star Wars Psychology, p.196). Anakin fears losing his mother, which leads him to Tatooine. He fears losing Padmé when she falls from a Republic gunship on Geonosis, which leads to a lecture from Obi-Wan. As the stresses pile up and life slips out of his control, he moves from fear to anger. He kills an entire village of Sand People in his rage over his mother’s death. He becomes reckless when fighting Dooku and loses a hand.


Anger to Hate

When you just watch the films, Anakin’s shift from angry Jedi to Sith Lord can seem abrupt. It takes The Clone Wars series to fill-in his shift from anger over being unable to control his life to hatred of the Jedi. He can’t, or won’t, deal with his fear and anger so he “externalizes and emotionally reacts” in a never-ending cycle of escalating far, anxiety, and need for control (Dark Side of the Mind, p.197-198).

The Clone Wars starts out giving us a picture of a relaxed, mature, and confident Anakin thriving as a Jedi war general (click here for a list of recommended episodes dealing with his character development). As the War progresses, Anakin life starts slipping out of his control and his anger resurfaces. His padawan leaves the Jedi order because the counsel failed her, his relationship with Padmé is strained, and Obi-wan keeps important information from him. He internalizes a belief that both the Jedi and the army he’s leading can fail him, and he’s looking for a way to cope.

Palpatine promises Anakin the sort of power he needs to control his life – a way to fight fears that the Jedi would have him pretend don’t exist. But in reality, Palpatine’s the one in control and all he does is feed-in to Anakin’s anger and twist it into hate. Now, Anakin’s not just lashing out in the heat of anger. He’s turning his hatred systematically on everyone he feels could betray him or will stand in his way – the Jedi, the younglings, his best friend Obi-Wan, and even his wife.


Hate to Suffering

Anakin’s hate leads to an entire galaxy suffering. But he suffers as well. Anakin committed himself to a course of action he hoped would give him the power to control his life and deal with his fear. It did not. He wanted to bring peace to the galaxy, and he brought darkness instead. He wanted to save Padmé, and he set in motion events that led to her death. He wanted to be the most powerful Jedi, and he becomes a Sith more machine than man. He’s doomed himself to suffer in mind and in body until the end of his life.

Yoda was right when he said Anakin’s fear of losing his mother has to do with “everything,” because “Fear is the path to the dark side.” Anakin’s childhood fears never left him. They just grew deeper and more powerful as he tried to ignore them. Ultimately, Anakin’s desperate need to control the sources of his anxiety spun out of control when fueled by the dark side. Instead of facing his fears, he let them destroy everything he’d fought to protect.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marissa Baker is a freelance writer, blogger and full-time nerd. Her work has appeared on several websites, but her favorite place to write is on her blog where she shares thoughts on everything from psychology to Star Wars to Jesus. She lives in Ohio, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in English. When not writing, she loves baking cheesecakes, reading books, belting out Broadway show tunes, and obsessing over her nerdy interests. These include Doctor Who, Star Trek, and 18th- and 19th-Century literature.

7 thoughts on “Fear Leading: Anakin’s Turn to the Dark Side

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  1. Great post.

    I wish somebody (*coughs* Yoda *coughs*) had not only realized how much fear Anakin was feeling, but actually DONE SOMETHING CONCRETE about it. Because, as you pointed out, just telling him that “emotions don’t exist” is not going to help. At all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really feel a great deal of sympathy for him. Of course he’s still responsible for all the bad things he did, but his mentors missed so many opportunities to help him avoid the dark side path. It’s sad 😦


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