The Star Wars Deep Dive is a StarWars.com feature that explores themes, motifs, and characters from across the saga.
The phrase “like father, like son,” has probably never had more meaning than in a galaxy far, far away. Anakin and Luke Skywalker might seem like polar opposites on the surface, one born of light, the other dark, but they have more in common than you think. Their journeys mirror each other in fascinating ways that makes one wonder how carefully their fates were designed by the Force, if at all.
Both Skywalkers begin their journey on Tatooine, where they were raised in a desert wasteland with little to do. Anakin was a slave who tinkered endlessly with anything mechanical and very quickly became a hotshot pilot, the only human podracer in the history of the sport. Luke, at least, had family who raised him but, like his father, was a whiz with anything technological and he was an ace pilot in his T-16 Skyhopper. Luke may have never built his own droid, but it was his job to take care of the droids working on his uncle’s moisture farm.
Both of their lives change immeasurably when a Jedi appears from the desert to rescue them from their status quo. Both of these mentor Jedi will face off against a Sith Lord and both will be killed by the blade of his red lightsaber. That loss would define Anakin and Luke in their own ways.
Their journeys mirror each most strongly in their respective second installments.
In Attack of the Clones, Anakin has been trained by the Jedi for a long while, but he still has problems with the attachments he’s made throughout his life before coming to the Jedi Temple. Namely, it’s his attachment to his mother that causes problems. He senses from across the galaxy that she’s in trouble and can’t seem to shake the images and feelings of it in his dreams. The best advice his master, Obi-Wan, has for him is that “Dreams pass in time.”
Soon enough, the premonitions about losing his mother are too much to bear and, against the orders of his master and the Jedi Council, Anakin travels to Tatooine in order to save her. After seeking her from one side of the planet to the other, Anakin finds her on her deathbed, thanks to the work of the Tusken Raiders.
Naturally, this sends him over the edge and he kills each and every Tusken Raider present.
This is truly the beginning of his slip to the dark side and he spends the entire Clone Wars fighting against the temptations of that darkness, all because he has an overwhelming desire to save the ones he loves. The pain of Padmé’s potential loss leads him to make a deal with the proverbial devil: Darth Sidious. Sidious promises him the power to prevent those he cares about from dying and Anakin, driven over the edge, is willing to do anything to discover that secret.
When you look closely at Luke’s journey, how is it any different?
While training on Dagobah, Luke has visions much like Anakin’s. Instead of a mother or secret wife, Luke’s loved ones are Han and Leia, his best and only friends. And he sees a future where they’re in pain and he falls into the same pattern as Anakin. He leaves Dagobah against the wishes of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the only remaining Jedi of the Council and races to Cloud City, into a situation he’s not ready to cope with. He’s unable to rescue Han and, like his father before him, ends up on Tatooine.
This is where things get complicated for Luke and we, as an audience, are left to concern for his well-being and moral center. Now, he’s shrouded in black and entering Jabba’s palace with the same dark hood that Anakin marched on the Jedi Temple with. He chokes Gamorrean guards with the Force and threatens to kill Jabba in his seemingly arrogant negotiations. As he kills everyone aboard Jabba’s skiff, we’re left to wonder if Luke is turning dark the same way his father had.
And by the time we think his soul is safe on Endor, Luke arrives in the hands of the same Sith Lord who turned his father. Darth Sidious offers him a similar deal: Luke will join him, or his friends will be destroyed on Endor and the Rebel Alliance will die.
Luke resisted all of the temptations Sidious offered him, but the one he couldn’t resist came from Darth Vader. When his father, formerly Anakin Skywalker, tells him that if he doesn’t join, his sister, Leia, will be turned to the dark side, Luke lashes out. The dark side overcomes him and he almost kills his father.
But he stops.
Something Anakin could never do.
He discards his lightsaber. That’s something the Emperor doesn’t understand and cannot fight. So he lashes out — and it’s a fatal mistake. Maybe the only one he’s made, but it’s enough.
Seeing the example of his son, Vader sacrifices himself to save Luke.
Their destinies were forever barreling to that spot, where they could both learn from the mistakes of the other.
And that means it’s no wonder that Luke still has to struggle with these instincts for the rest of his life. When Luke reacts poorly to Ben Solo in the flashbacks we see in The Last Jedi, he knows that this cycle of reaction from Skywalkers is dangerous. Of course he cut himself off from the Force and couldn’t drop everything to save Han again, because in those selfish moments comes the dark side. He saw the damage it did to his father, that all-consuming desire to save the ones he loved.
And he needed to break the cycle.
Anakin and Luke aren’t that far apart. Anakin is a shadowy reflection of his son. But that’s all one needs, a little push into the shadows. Maybe Luke would have ended up there, too, if he’d have had a Dark Lord of the Sith whispering in his ear through his life as well.