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Why Do Jedi Turn to the Dark Side?

Still of Hayden Christensen in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
Hayden Christensen in Revenge of the Sith.

Lucasfilm Ltd.

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Answer by Damien Allan, I’ve watched the Star Wars movies dozens, maybe hundreds, of times:

There are three quite well-known movies that discuss exactly this: the Star Wars prequel trilogy.

In The Phantom Menace, Yoda says, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” This is a succinct foreshadowing of Anakin’s eventual fall. Every evil or bad character in Star Wars has one or more of the major bad qualities George Lucas equates to the Dark Side: greed, fear, and anger and hatred. Anakin eventually embodies all of these at the point he chooses Palpatine over the Jedi.

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Fear

In Star Wars, Lucas portrays fear of loss as a major personality flaw. Anakin fears losing Padme and makes poor decisions because of this attachment. He is not able to make rational decisions because of this. In Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan is able to reason Anakin out of making a rash choice to protect Padme, but in Revenge of the Sith Anakin has let his fear overtake his rationality (and he doesn’t have a voice of reason but instead Palpatine’s devilish advice).

This same fear of loss almost drives Luke Skywalker to make the same mistake in Return of the Jedi, but he makes the better choice. In an eerily similar scene, Anakin kills Count Dooku at Palpatine’s insistence. Palpatine plays on Anakin’s fears that Dooku is too dangerous to be kept alive. Anakin slips further towards the dark.

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Many enemies are portrayed as cowardly—the Nemoidians and General Grievous in particular. The Senate grants Palpatine emergency powers due to fear of war.

Anger and hatred

When Anakin’s mother dies, he gets angry and lashes out at the sand people. He was so fearful of her death that he couldn’t handle it. He lost all reason and slaughtered an entire village. He hated them. He couldn’t forgive them or report them to authorities. He blamed himself for never returning to free his mother, and that played into his hatred. As Yoda said 10 years earlier: fear led to anger, which led to hate, which led to suffering.

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Darth Maul is the personification of anger and hatred. He is pure aggression and a blur of red and black.

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Greed

Greed is a huge theme in Star Wars. It’s tied in with the fear of loss. Palpatine is greedy for power, Anakin’s greed comes from wanting to cheat death and avoid losing what he has.

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Palpatine is the embodiment of greed—“Unlimited power!” He does everything in the name of acquiring power. Watto and the Nemoidians also embody greed.

Those are the main underpinnings. But Anakin is pushed toward those things by secondary factors. Count Dooku is presented as a political idealist. He wants a different system than the flawed Republic, and he’s not entirely in the wrong. Interestingly, Anakin says some very similar things to Padme on Naboo in Attack of the Clones—he sympathises with the idea of a benign dictatorship, which is exactly how Palpatine eventually portrays his Empire. Anakin is frustrated that he can’t just use his power to solve problems. There’s red tape in the way, and we saw very clearly in The Phantom Menace that the red tape and beaurocracy doesn’t work very well in the Republic. Anakin’s political views, like Dooku’s, do not stem from greed, but from a genuine desire to do the right thing.

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Anakin also finds that the Jedi let him down, whereas the Sith (Palpatine) always help him. The Jedi deny him things (such as marriage and love), whereas Palpatine offers to help save Padme from her fate as Anakin has seen in visions.

When Anakin was faced with an impossible decision—to choose between Palpatine and the Jedi—he had no real choice. He wanted to save Padme, and only Palpatine could help him do that. The Jedi had lost his trust, but Palpatine had gained it. Anakin was scared of what would happen if he let Mace Windu kill Palpatine.

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