Friday, 8 April 2011

121: E is for Eternal Life

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

Well, I say "Eternal Life", what I mean is "Eternal Identity". It's basically the same thing when it comes to spirituality, so let's leave it at that, yeah?

In what will become a theme over these blog posts, this one will be about one of the more controversial changes that Lucasfilm made to the Original Trilogy over the years. As well as the now infamous 'Special Editions' in 1997, more changes were made to the trilogy for the 2004 DVD release. Some tidied up things which weren't quite working in the SE's (Jabba The Hutt in Mos Eisley, Matte-lines still around the Rancor in Jabba’s palace), and others added new things (Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor in tESB, Naboo appearing in the RotJ ending montage). One of the other 'new' things was the Force-ghost of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi.

In previous versions, the redeemed Anakin Skywalker, having 'brought balance to the Force' by killing the Emperor, appears on Endor as a smiling, robed Sebastian Shaw; the actor who had played Anakin in his de-masking scene earlier. In the 2004 version of the film, Lucasfilm used a shot of prequel-Anakin, Hayden Christensen. Yoda and Ben appear as they always have, but for some reason Anakin appears as a 22yr old Jedi, the age he was when he became Darth Vader. As you can probably imagine, this has sent some fans into an apoplectic rage, as they claim (once again) that Lucas is ruining the saga by changing things with each release.

Out-of-universe: The main reason for this was drawing the two Star Wars trilogies closer together. Few of the 'human' faces from the OT appear in the prequels, largely due to characters not being present, and actors having aged since 1983 (Ian McDiarmid being the awesome exception to that rule), and having Episode III-era Anakin appear at the end of the saga brings things round in a circle for the generation who class Episodes 1-3 as 'their Star Wars'. The fact that Sebastian Shaw was replaced as a Force-ghost but not on the Death Star has a deeper implication, which runs into an in-universe theory.

In-universe: I'll be leaving aside the question of "Well, how does he know that it's Anakin? He wouldn't recognise him!" which usually gets bandied about. Bear in mind that Luke would recognise Anakin however he looked; the impression he creates in the Force is more powerful than his 'physical' ghostly appearance (and it could be argued that Ben, Yoda and Anakin don't actually appear at all, and the scene is a visual representation for the aid of the audience, to let them know of Anakin's redemption). For this entry, I'll be working on the basis that Luke recognises all three figures instantly...

Under Scenario 1983, Anakin appears as Luke has recently seen him; a kindly old man (even though he's actually only around 48), who's fulfilled the prophecy and brought balance to the Force, and the least said about the atrocities he committed as Darth Vader, the better. He was only following orders, and yeah, he had to go through the nasty part of the forest to get to the castle, but hey; all is forgiven. Cool? Yeah, I thought so.

Under Scenario 2004, Anakin appears as a young man; wavy hair intact, a sheepish grin on his face at finally having returned to the Light Side. He's fulfilled the prophecy, brought balance to the Force, and appears to have earned a place in the afterlife despite all the acts he brought about as a Sith Lord. It's almost as if he's been forgiven for killing those children in the Jedi Temple 22 years previously, and hunting down the last of the Jedi Knights, working for an organisation that's brought tyranny and re-instituted slavery to an entire galaxy.

Actually, I put that under 'Scenario 2004', but Anakin's apparent forgiveness applies to both versions. It's just in the second one, he's suddenly younger. Eight months or so after this release hit DVD, Revenge of the Sith was released in cinemas and, for me at least, something then clicked into place.

After their lightsaber battle on Mustafar, when Anakin (okay, Vader) has been robbed of his three remaining organic limbs by his friend and mentor Obi-Wan, Darth Sidious (Emperor Palpatine) lands on-planet to take his apprentice back to Coruscant and deal with his injuries. As Vader is lying on the lava bank, limbless and burned, Sidious leans over him and places a hand to his temple. It occurred to me afterwards that this gesture by Sidious is almost identical to the one that Ben Kenobi used on Luke Skywalker after he'd been attacked by the Sandpeople in ANH.

What I'm suggesting is that while Ben used the Force to heal Luke, Sidious used a similar technique to keep Vader artificially alive. Vader should have flatlined and died on the lava bank, from his physical traumas alone. Miraculously, he survives (albeit in life-support armour). Now if Palpatine had kept Vader alive using Sith magic, enslaved to the Dark Side, there's a possibility that Anakin's 'soul' is trapped in a limbo for the next 22 years, while the host-body carries out the will of Sidious. This could explain why the spiritual form he takes is 22 years younger.

It also comes full circle and fleshes out the dialogue from Vader's death scene in RotJ:

Vader: Luke... help me take this mask off.
Luke: But you'll die...
Vader: Nothing can stop that now.

Vader knows (irrespective of the damage his life-support suit has taken) now that Palpatine is dead, his hold over Vader is finished, and there's no longer anything keeping him alive. Dying, he realises this is why he was bound to Sidious, unable to leave by choice. Now Anakin's returned to the Light-Side, he can't even hope to use the Sith magic on himself.

This links the two triloges (and generations) together. This is why Hayden as Anakin's Force-ghost is justified.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

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