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Home > A Dark Lord’s Mercy: Was Darth Vader Really Redeemed?

A Dark Lord’s Mercy: Was Darth Vader Really Redeemed?

A Dark Lord's Mercy

Exploring the Duality of Light and Dark in Darth Vader’s Final Scenes

Darth Vader was the original space-western baddie. Throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, the audience watches as he uses The Force to kill enemies and allies, torture Han Solo, and blow up an entire planet. Darth Vader is the terror of the original Star Wars trilogy, at least until the Emperor shows up. This article will explore Darth Vader’s so-called “redemption” in Return of the Jedi and whether he was, in fact, redeemed.

Darth Vader & Anakin: the Dual Personality Below the Mask

To fully understand Darth Vader’s so-called redemption in Return of the Jedi, one must first understand how Luke sees him. At the end of Return of the Jedi, Luke surrenders to the imperial forces, but before Vader takes Luke to the Emperor, they speak in a hallway. Luke tells Vader he accepts that Vader was once Anakin Skywalker, his father, but Vader says that this man is gone entirely. Luke doesn’t believe him. Luke believes that there is still some good in Vader yet. Luke believes that Anakin is still buried inside Vader somewhere. The evil Darth Vader is not his father, but the man under the mask is. Luke seems to believe that there is a dual personality in Vader. Anakin is still there but lost himself during his fall to The Dark Side and he became a monster. Darth Vader is simply Anakin, who was possessed by The Dark Side of The Force. 

Throughout Return of the Jedi, the audience meets a new Darth Vader. Due to his ties with The Dark Side, Vader slowly becomes physically weaker but also seems somewhat softer, especially in comparison to the Emperor, and even in his lack of conviction in looking for Luke. This softness introduces the audience to Anakin for the first time, showing that Vader is more complex than we’ve seen.

During the final scenes of Return of the Jedi, the audience watches as Anakin battles Vader under that mask, each fighting to come out victorious. Anakin’s battle in these final scenes is against The Dark Side. He lost to it once before, but now the question becomes whether he will conquer it now. Of course, we know that the answer is yes, Anakin will conquer The Dark Side of the Force due to his fatherly affection for Luke, which seems to jolt him out of his possession. But first, let’s look at a few of those final moments and how they can help us determine whether Vader finds redemption or if he just sees that his actions over the past several films have been wrong.

Luke’s Final Battle with Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi

Luke’s final battle with Vader occurs because of the Emperor. The Emperor angers Luke by telling him that his friends will die and the rebellion will fail. Luke’s hatred for the Emperor builds, which the Emperor tells Luke, if used to kill him, will complete Luke’s transition to The Dark Side. Luke, overcome by hatred, doesn’t care. He turns and attempts to kill the Emperor, but Darth Vader blocks the blow, commencing their fight. The beginning of this fight shows Vader’s dual intention. Vader might stop Luke from killing the Emperor because he is a servant of said Emperor and loyal to The Dark Side of the Force, but he may also stop Luke because, as the Emperor said, killing him out of hatred would complete Luke’s transition to The Dark Side. Having seen the pain and abuse Vader endures because of his ties to The Dark Side throughout the rest of the film, the audience senses that Luke’s father is trying to protect him in this moment and not the Emperor.

A Dark Lord's Mercy

Luke takes on a much more aggressive role in this battle than the audience has seen before. Usually, Luke fights more defensively, using acrobatics to evade Vader’s blows, but in this battle, Luke allows his hatred to get the best of him. He attacks Vader, so Vader is on the defensive. But, the audience understands that Luke’s fighting this way is him allowing The Dark Side to take over, so this doesn’t come across as a heroic victory. Because Vader’s fighting is softer than we’ve seen before, it almost makes him a victim, especially at the end of their fight when Luke stands over Vader, relentlessly hitting him with his lightsaber. Luke cuts off Vader’s hand and sees all of the wires beneath, evidence of the part-machine The Dark Side has made Vader into and reminding Luke not to make the same mistakes his father did (we remember Vader cut off Luke’s hand in A New Hope). Thus, this fight makes Vader more sympathetic and shows the audience that he and Luke are not that different. 

Darth Vader Redeemed?: Vader Saves Luke from the Emperor 

After refusing to kill Vader, the Emperor comes forward and tortures Luke with radiant, crackling bolts of electricity which stem from his fingers. He reduces Luke to the floor, where Luke calls for his father to save him. The camera cuts between the Emperor ginning wickedly, Luke writhing on the floor, and Vader looking between the two, clearly attempting to choose between good and evil. After what seems an age, Vader lifts the Emperor off the ground and kills him (as far as this trilogy is concerned). Vader saves Luke, showing that he chooses good and has allowed Anakin to return–or that Anakin has risen victorious over Vader.

This moment also displays the difference between Vader and Anakin. Vader’s indecision shows a softness the audience doesn’t see from Vader in A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back. Vader is never at a loss when making a choice, but now that he is, the audience can see him doubting himself and The Dark Side. His indecision shows how Vader, the inhumane monster the audience has seen over the last three films, struggles against his humanity, which Luke’s screams force to the surface in the form of fatherly instinct. Vader’s indecision transforms him from an emotionless dictator to a protective father in seconds–even though it takes a little longer than the audience would like it to.

Darth Vader’s “Redemption”: Luke and Vader’s Final Scene

In their final scene together, Luke struggles to carry Vader through the halls of the exploding ship. Here, Vader is weak, dying. He asks Luke to set him down and take off his mask. Luke removes the mask, the trademark stamp of Lord Vader, and speaks to Anakin, who looks at him with fatherly love glittering in his eyes. Anakin dies after telling Luke he was right about there being good left in him. 

In this final scene, Vader is no longer Vader. Darth Vader turns into Anakin and dies victoriously in his battle against The Dark Side. So, to answer the question that this article explores: no, Darth Vader does not find redemption. Darth Vader is a symbol of evil, and the audience has watched him slaughter countless people. Darth Vader is Anakin possessed by the power of The Dark Side. The man we see in this scene between Luke and his father fought The Dark Side and won. He still did terrible things, but there is a sense that Anakin destroyed Darth Vader when he killed the Emperor. Thus, there was no Darth Vader left to redeem. And, even if there was, the tone of this final scene between Luke and Anakin is not redemptive. Darth Vader is not suddenly a good guy for throwing the Emperor off of a balcony. He couldn’t go home with Luke and hang out with Han and Leia as if nothing happened. Rather, when Anakin tells Luke that he was right and that there is some good left in him, the sense is more that he found the good in himself–not that he has redeemed himself. 

You can find all of the Star Wars films and series on Disney+!

A Dark Lord's Mercy

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) Official Lucasfilm’s Trailer

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Syd Sukalski attends Sarah Lawrence College and studies television writing and production and fiction writing. Syd aspires to write novels that she will adapt into a television series. She recently finished a draft of her first novel and is hard at work on her second.