Did Return Of The Jedi Really Redeem Darth Vader?

Darth Vader Return of the Jedi

As the Skywalker Saga will be drawing to a close with Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker, now's as good a time as ever to revisit some of the major plot points of the prior films. As the world wonders the meaning of the title, it may be worth revisiting the life of Anakin Skywalker, specifically his final adventure in the saga.

I'm talking, of course, about Return of the Jedi, in which Darth Vader thwarts the Emperor and kills him in order to save Luke's life. He and Luke share a touching moment, and he dies. Luke burns his body down on Endor and Anakin is later seen alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda as a Force ghost. It's a nice scene, but after all the things we've learned about Vader since that scene was originally written, was he really redeemed?

Consider for a moment what happened. Vader killed Emperor Palpatine not because he was disillusioned with the dark side or its plans, but rather to protect his son Luke. It's a cool thing to do, but did saving his son necessarily mean he was suddenly one of the good guys? Are we suddenly supposed to believe his goals for world domination and his anger at the Jedi way instantly went out the window?

Let's not forget that only minutes before, he was trying to bait Luke into turning to the dark side and declaring that he'd turn Leia to the dark side. It's also worth mentioning that Vader was only really paying forward a favor Luke already did in not killing him at the Emperor's request. Had Vader gotten the upper hand in that duel, it doesn't feel like Luke would've gotten off so easy.

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Canon supplemental material has only made this plot point more muddy, as its been revealed Darth Vader had harbored aggressive feelings towards Emperor Palpatine for some time. He eventually discovered that he was manipulated into turning on everyone he loved, and that he was not responsible for Padme's death. Obviously knowing that would've made killing Palpatine easier, even if it meant sacrificing his own life to defeat him.

As much as one may want to believe Anakin became a good person again in that sweeping moment, it just doesn't make sense that he would. In a hypothetical situation where Anakin survived, what would've been his next move? Would he have resigned to the punishment for the multitude of crimes he committed against the Republic, or would he fight and continue to shape the world under his ideal vision?

Anakin seems more inclined to continue to try and rule the galaxy. Additionally, he made a very concerted effort to fully eradicate the Jedi even after Order 66, so he probably wouldn't be cool with Luke recruiting more Jedi if they were to be trained under Obi Wan and Yoda's teachings. Given all that we know about Vader, he'd probably go right back into tempting his son into finding a way away form the Jedi, much like Kylo tried with Rey.

And yet, Anakin's place alongside Yoda and Obi-Wan doesn't imply any of that in the slightest. His one act of saving Luke seemingly positioned him as a Jedi worthy of a spot among two of the most prestigious light side users in Star Wars canon. In a world that's so black and white, one would think the universe would recognize that one good act wasn't nearly enough for redemption or negate the scores of misdeeds he carried out over the years.

Those misdeeds go beyond mercilessly hunting the Jedi. There's literally too many to count, but keep in mind he's choked many officers (some to death) simply because they irritated him. Even before Darth Vader, Anakin was very much unable to reconcile his emotions, and his anger led him to do some incredibly over-the top-things. He even went so far as to slaughter younglings which, regardless of his intention to save Padme by serving the emperor, is irredeemable.

The good news is the expanded material still does justice to the ending of Return of the Jedi, regardless of whether Vader is redeemed. After all, Anakin aligned with the Emperor to effectively protect his family, so it makes sense that protecting Luke would ultimately overrule the allegiance he has to Palpatine. It still doesn't explain why Obi-Wan and Yoda were cool with him being around in the Force ghost afterlife, but perhaps stuff like that gets brushed aside in death.

So why is it so important we know Anakin's headspace and whether he was redeemed following Return of the Jedi? Well, with a title like Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker on the horizon and Vader's helmet appearing once again, one has to think that Darth Vader will play into the plot in some way. At least, one can assume that's true for Kylo Ren, who famously told his grandfather he would "finish what he started."

We're all well aware of what Anakin Skywalker started, but now it's a valid question to ask whether he still intended to finish his plan. Anakin may have turned his back on the Empire and being his servant, but that didn't necessarily mean he didn't wish to shape the world in an image. Had things gone right, and had Padme been saved, would things have gone differently?

Remember, these are questions that characters could get an answer to in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It could be through flashbacks of Luke reconciling with who his father was outside of that one moment, or it could be Hayden Christensen reprising his role as Anakin to appear as a Force ghost to Rey or Kylo Ren. Should a conversation take place, would he push embracing the Dark Side, looking towards the light or maybe present a third option?

This is just one of the things to ponder as the countdown to Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker ticks ever closer day by day. Do you think Return of the Jedi redeemed Anakin and he's forever changed following the event, or was his act a small bright spot overshadowed by all of his past wrongdoings? Let us know by voting in the poll below, and feel free to elaborate in the comments.

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Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick Joest is a Content Producer for CinemaBlend with his hand in an eclectic mix of television goodness. Star Trek is his main jam, but he also regularly reports on happenings in the world of Star Trek, WWE, Doctor Who, 90 Day Fiancé, Quantum Leap, and Big Brother. He graduated from the University of Southern Indiana with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Radio and Television. He's great at hosting panels and appearing on podcasts if given the chance as well.