At its simplest, the Star Wars saga is made up of three key themes – tragedy, redemption and hope. These are embodied by the saga’s central character, Anakin Skywalker, and his fall and ultimate redemption through the love of his son. But during his time as right hand of the Emperor, Anakin committed unspeakable atrocities. In a campaign of violence and terror that lasted almost two decades, countless lives were slain by his lightsaber or strangled in his vice-like force choke. It begs the question whether he deserved to be redeemed at all.
It’s a conversation that frequently occurs in fandom. However, the issue seems to be less whether Anakin was worthy of redemption, all his past crimes expunged, and more whether the love of his son was enough.
To understand this we first have to understand Luke, a character with a complex psychology. Luke grew up with his aunt and uncle who were only related to him by marriage. He believed the lie that his father had been a navigator on a spice freighter. For all intents and purposes, he had no father, which poetically mirrors Anakin’s own upbringing. Both had a hole in their heart where a father should be, a yearning for that paternal figure. Anakin finds this in Qui-Gon, albeit briefly, and Luke in Obi-Wan.
After learning that Darth Vader is in fact his father, Luke can barely contain his pain and desperation. After this subsides, there’s left a kind of longing, as Luke calls gently to his father, once lost and now found. By the time we get to Return of the Jedi, Luke refers to Vader as Father and is convinced he can be turned back to the light. As we can see from the cave scene in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke’s fundamental fear is that he too will become an agent of evil. Perhaps, sensing the dark stain creeping across his psyche, he believes that saving Vader will somehow purify himself.
Having failed to bend to the will of the Emperor, and suffered the consequences, a torn Vader finally throws off his master’s shackles and saves his son at the cost of his own strength. After Anakin asks Luke for help in removing his expressionless mask, Luke looks upon his father with love. “I have to save you,” he says desperately, something like the little boy he’d once been on Tatooine. But Anakin soothes his son, telling him he’s already saved and that he was right about that last kernel of light inside his blackened soul.
Of course, Anakin’s deathbed confessional on seeing the light doesn’t erase years of systematic terror, torture and death. Nor should it. In death he is beyond reproach or punishment, yet he sacrifices himself and becomes one with the light of the Force. Only in atoning for his past transgressions and letting go of his hate and anger could this be accomplished. Compare this to the hate and anger that sustained his burned and broken body on Mustafar.
The love of a child for their parent is perhaps the purest love of all – undemanding and unconditional. For the happiness they undoubtedly shared, Anakin’s obsession, jealousy and paranoia hovered over his marriage with Padmé until he’s convinced she’s conspiring with Obi-Wan to kill him. But Luke’s love for him was a lifeline to find his way out of the abyss.
In giving his life to save his son, Anakin returns that love in death. His last wish is to see Luke with his own eyes and his final words are “Now go, my son”. The implication being that Luke go and live, bring love to the galaxy where Anakin brought only darkness for decades. If his son’s love could save him, then imagine the effect it would have elsewhere. So yes, a son’s love for his father is enough. Only Luke mourns the death of Anakin, when the rest of the galaxy celebrates the downfall of the Empire he helped usher in.