In Hollywood history, Darth Vader is ranked as one of the biggest bad guys of all time. There has never been a more cold-blooded killer. This guy didn’t even blink when deciding to destroy the entire planet of Alderaan and its inhabitants with the Death Star.
And yet, even Vader found redemption. Why? Because Luke Skywalker believed that there was something more than just hatred behind that black mask and respirator.
I’m gonna go all-out Star Wars fanboy on you and say that this campaign is close but let’s take it a bit further. From the Return of the Jedi:
VADER: The Emperor has been expecting you.
LUKE: I know, father.
VADER: So, you have accepted the truth.
LUKE: I’ve accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.
VADER (turning to face him): That name no longer has any meaning for me.
LUKE: It is the name of your true self. You’ve only forgotten. I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn’t driven it from you fully. That is why you couldn’t destroy me. That’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor now.
When we see the backstory of Episodes 1-3, we become sympathetic to Vader, see the humanity behind the mask and respirator…that is true. We see him as a slave child, losing his mentor, having his mother die in his arms, and the guilt that plagues Anakin becomes malignant. We see Anakin rise up because of his power and ferocity who destroys entire planets and societies, and after this scene hands over his own son to the Emperor. We celebrate his redemption, how he embraced the second chance his son Luke gave him, and as his last act removed the source of evil from the galaxy. Why? Because Luke gave him a second chance. Boom. Poster campaign.
However, Redemption is more than personal. Redemption is about uncovering the source that caused us to go astray, and removing its effect on individuals and societies so that none other have to live the life you did.
Marjorie Suchocki in God Christ Church talks about Original Sin as social: one is born into sin. Teens on the streets of NYC see violence as liberative, women in fundamentalist households see subservience as preferred, and a slave boy on Tatooine sees “saving people” as his calling, no matter what the cost. This slave boy is in the grip of sin that he did not choose, it chose him. Eventually Anakin will be in the grip of the Emperor, a being more powerful who offers a power so seductive it preys on Anakin’s emotions and turns him into Vader.
Anakin’s story humanizes him and explains redemption, but also shows the power of dehumanizing sin in our lives that needs to be removed not redeemed.
I used to be slightly worried that the normally pacifistic Jedi would kill the Sith. Pretty mean. But when I metaphorized (is that a word?) it, I also want to remove sin from society. Sins of racism, sexism, abuse of LGBT people, marginalizing of the poor, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and sinful aspects of society’s structures from the government and the Church on down. The list is long. And while people can be redeemed, society healed, and the environment rebounded (hopefully), the sin is not necessary. It is not necessary that people be born into sin to be redeemed…we have enough to deal with on our own, thank you. And we are called to help others toward redemption even as we seek to remove the sin that leaves broken people in its wake.
Maybe redemption is equal parts Anakin and the Emperor. Redemption is more than mercy towards a sinner. It is about justice to the source of sin. Both are necessary, but it is the latter that changes more than the individual and can change society as well.
Redemption is more than personal. It is interpersonal and social, unlocking the grip of sin, destructiveness, and death on a society. We are a people of the second chance, absolutely, but also ones that don’t want anyone behind us to need a second chance like ours.
May God guide us to offer redemption to people and justice to the Empire around us.
Thoughts?(Photo Credit: People of the Second Chance, reprinted per their blog post request)