This post is part of the Flaws of the Jedi series.
I’ve always had this set piece: the end between Obi-Wan and Anakin. I knew that’s where this movie was going to end up. It’s all this volcanic land, with lava shooting up, so it’s almost monochromatic in its red-and-blackness. I’ve had that image with me for a long time.George Lucas, The Making of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
A volcano is a perfect metaphor for Anakin Skywalker. Volcanoes are formed when two foundational rocks meet up and fight for dominance. It takes a long while and a lot of pressure but when the volcano erupts it’s dramatic and it’s disastrous.
A Learned Trait
Anakin does not exhibit rage, or even anger, in The Phantom Menace. He is outgoing, kind, and confident despite a harsh upbringing and lack of agency. The closest he comes to showing anger is during the Jedi Council tests when they suggest he’s too focused on his mother. Anakin defensively answers “I miss her”.
So, where did the rage on display in the later films come from? If we’re to believe Yoda, it’s rooted in fear. Anakin certainly struggles with anxiety. He fidgets and he has nightmares and he admits to insecurity. But his time with the Jedi exacerbates it. They tell him to let go of his fear and his anger, but they don’t explain how in a way he understands. Instead, he hides and suppresses his emotions, and with them his sense of self, and it doesn’t work. Eventually, like a volcano, it breaks through to the surface and explodes,
Anakin’s first eruption of unadulterated rage occurs halfway through Attack of the Clones, when he murders an entire village after the death of his mother. It’s an act of vengeance and it’s unequivocally wrong. It is also the large scale version of Obi-Wan cutting Darth Maul in half.
There is no ambiguity in Obi-Wan’s case either; Maul is trying to kill him, and to help the forces of evil take over Naboo. But Obi-Wan clearly channels his sorrow and anger into the fight and he, still a padawan, succeeds where his master failed. He is then able to let the anger go, like he was trained to. Anakin can’t.
To be angry is to be human.
Anakin doesn’t feel any better after his massacre of the Tuskens. His mother is still dead. He was too late to save her. He remains overwhelmed by a storm of conflicting emotions he’s not supposed to feel. And he knows what he did was wrong. Each time Anakin gives into his rage, he regrets it. He hates what he’s done, what he’s become. But that hatred feeds the rest.
Padmé is not wrong to comfort Anakin after his confession. In a compassionate universe he would receive help exploring and redirecting his emotions in a stable and healthy environment separate from triggers. And then he would atone for his actions with direct reparations to the Tuskens as an act of restorative justice. But there is no evidence that therapy exists in the galaxy far, far away. Instead, he is immediately conscripted into a war. His rage is validated by the conflict and he becomes a weapon of mass destruction.
Beneath the literal and figurative armor of Darth Vader, Anakin remains a volcano of emotion. He is in constant physical pain, mental anguish, and emotional turmoil. He allows his rage free rein against the Rebellion and then returns to Mustafar to self-flagellate.
Anger, like attachment, is healthy. Rage, like possession, is not.