How Anakin Skywalker Became Darth Vader

A recent Bar Mitzvah, Caleb Caplan, asked me to give a sermon about Star Wars, and connect it to that week’s reading from the Torah, Shelach Lecha, and I happened to be in the right mood for a personal reason.

In recent weeks, my granddaughter, Talia Sam Scolnic, 3½ years old, who lives with her parents in Chicago, has been watching some of the Star Wars movies with her father, my son Danny. They watch a half an hour a night, and then call me with questions and comments, and then Talia goes to sleep. I’ve seen the Star Wars movies over the years, but Talia has asked me a few questions that I couldn’t answer or that I didn’t know how to answer. When Luke Skywalker travels to the swampinfested world of Dagobah to find the exiled Jedi Master Yoda and begin his Jedi training, Talia noticed that Yoda lives alone in a cave and doesn’t have any toys. She could not understand how Yoda could survive without toys. I have to admit that I never gave that much thought before, but I managed to come up with an answer that Yoda’s imagination was so powerful that he didn’t need any toys.

But the really hard question was when she asked how a bad guy, Darth Vader, could be the father of a good guy, Luke Skywalker, and why they didn’t have the same last name. I had to explain that Darth Vader’s real name was Anakin Skywalker, and that he had once been good, and then became bad. She asked: How did he become bad?

So I said that she was watching movies 4, 5, and 6, and that 1-3 would explain how Anakin became Darth Vader. But her father didn’t want to show her 1-3, and he left it to me to explain how a good guy became a bad guy. So I explained that the title of the sixth movie, Return of the Jedi, was about the return of Darth Vader to be Anakin again, but she wasn’t satisfied. So how could I sum up three movies about how Anakin became Darth Vader?

G-d is a funny guy, so He saved me by giving me that week’s Torah reading. In that reading, the Israelites are preparing to leave the wilderness and enter the Promised Land, the Land of Israel. Twelve scouts, one from each of the twelve tribes, go out to see the land, and ten of them come back with the report that there are giants in the land, and that compared to them, the Israelites are like grasshoppers. The people become very afraid, and rebel against G-d and His chosen prophet Moses, saying, in their fear, that they no longer want to go to the Promised Land, that they would prefer going back into slavery in Egypt instead. Fear turns the Israelites not only into cowards, but also into sinners against G-d, for they commit the sin of faithlessness, and the sin of ingratitude for all that G-d had done for them.

Fear can make us evil. Fear, as another science fiction novel says, is the mindkiller. Why were they so afraid? Because they were human. Human senses are very highly tuned for danger, the result of millions of years of evolution. Survival is our first priority.

Now I come back to Anakin Skywalker. Anakin was raised by his very loving mother, and when she was killed in a horrible manner, he was, of course, very angry, but
especially angry at himself that he had not prevented his mother’s death. He was so angry that the Jedis, who knew how powerful he would be, told him not to get
attached to anyone else. Anakin falls in love with Padme, anyway. And now Anakin became filled with fear that something bad would happen to her. His worries about
Padme’s death make him confused and too emotional to think clearly, and this is why he walks into the traps set by the man who will become the evil emperor. And after more events, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.

Human beings have many fears, and those fears, if channeled and used, can lead us to plan and prepare and to be ready for as much as we can.

Fear can be a gift. It can make us run or duck or hide when we need to. It can send us to the doctor when we have certain kinds of pain or distress. Fear can be a gift
that points us in the direction of protecting our loved ones and ourselves.

But we have to control our fears, and we cannot allow others to manipulate us and to get us to lose our hopes and indeed our very identities. That’s how Anakin
Skywalker became Darth Vader. That’s how the Israelites blew their opportunity to make it to the Promised Land.

But fear, if properly channeled, can be an incredible gift.

To see fear as a gift we must have the courage to pull the ribbons off, and open the box. To learn from our fears, we must engage them and seek their message. If we turn from our fears and run, they will control and torment us.

May we all have the courage to face our fears and by doing so, nourish our capacity for love.

Rabbi Scolnic