There are differences between Darth Vader and Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t a cyborg, didn’t carry a laser sword, and he never flew a T.I.E. fighter. Darth Vader wasn’t good with weddings, lepers or fish. Yet, both Jesus and Vader were divinely conceived for messianic purpose. And what if Jesus hadn’t worked out? What if he decided he couldn’t be bothered with our salvation and turned Roman instead? That would make him, in a sense, Vader.
Darth Vader is a study in what might happen if the greatest archetype in fiction and myth — the Christ-like figure — never fulfilled the archetype.
Fiction is a plump with Christ-like figures, and the parallels between Jesus and Vader push much beyond their shared archetype. They both have divine, absentee fathers. Both are poor kids from the desert who were exposed to great trauma — Jesus survived mass infanticide; Vader is the son of a murdered slave — and went on to achieve great power in outer space. Jesus got a throne in heaven; Vader got one and a half Death Stars.
You could argue that, because Darth Vader never became the Force Messiah he was portended to be, he isn’t a Christ-like figure — that Qui-Gon Jinn forgot to the carry four when counting midi-chlorians. But it’s strongly implied that he is.
The Force, according to the Star Wars Wikipedia: Wookiepedia (get it?), willed Vader into being to crush the dark side after a couple of Sith lords got too handsy with it. Wookiepedia says they manipulated the Force to create a super Sith. This failed but left the Force aggrieved, and the mystical all-power retaliated by non-consensually impregnating a Tatooinish slave girl who, according to Jedi master Samuel L. Jackson, would “bring balance to the Force,” which is such a nebulous phrase.
Why does an omniscient, monistic entity so powerful it controls the universe need a human to balance it? And how did it get out of balance? If the Force is omnipotent, why can’t it balance itself? And if it needs advanced sentient life — humanoids — to balance it, doesn’t that make us kind of as powerful? Perhaps the Jedi have a fundamental misunderstanding of the Force.
I’m not saying I would be a Sith lord, but there’s definitely gray area. I don’t care for the emotional asceticism of the Jedi, but I also don’t like the Sith’s wanton surrender to urge and feeling. Moderation, as always, is key. I think I would be a happy-medium Jedi because I don’t want to slaughter anyone. I just want Force lightning, and maybe a red light saber. Color-coding laser swords based on a highly debatable moral system is not only unfair, it’s fascist.
It’s clear that Darth Vader is supposed to be a savior, but what makes him more interesting than the standard-issue Christ-like figure is that Vader chooses not to be a savior.
Fiction’s other chosen ones are boring. They’re the same and they’re predictable. They have few, if any, character flaws and are prone to glimmering morality. Aslan is perfect and furry and probably gives good hugs. Harry Potter is mischievous but generally vice-free. Superman is so powerful, both physically and ethically, that he’s uninteresting. He is a hero immune to conflict and temptation. Superman may be the ultimate superhero, but Batman is more fun. Superman’s boy-scout ethos is as invincible as his rippling Kryptonian abs. Batman’s morals are more negotiable.
I don’t know if George Lucas created Darth Vader as a study in what would happen if a Jesus figure went bad, but the similarities are so close and the idea so interesting, it seems intentional. Anakin Skywalker, like Jesus (mythologically speaking), is a demigod, full of mystical puissance and Joseph Campbell. But things go awry — Qui-Gon Jinn is killed, Anakin’s mother is murdered, Anakin doesn’t have a father — and Anakin becomes Darth Vader, the Robo-Sith, the fallen messiah.
This makes Vader more compelling than a regulation villain. He isn’t wholly evil, just misguided. He didn’t join the dark side to kill anyone; he converted to save his wife. Well-meaning intentions went askew, and he light sabers all the baby Jedis to cauterized oblivion. Still, through Vader’s career as the Emperor’s ranking goon, committing Jedi genocide, and ruling the galaxy with a cybernetic fist, there are parts of Anakin Skywalker alive inside his little, robot heart.
Wookiepedia says Vader regrets his choices, and that he has visions of his dead wife and what could have been if he stuck with the blue light saber. And perhaps this is an indicator of what bringing “balance to the Force means.”
Maybe Anakin Skywalker was the gray area, born to show puny, teeny-minded humanoids that the Force isn’t just light or dark. He would demonstrate that the Force is a spectrum and help the Jedi and the Sith understand Force revelation in a new way.
Anakin Skywalker could have been the the happy-medium Jedi — a classic Force moderate, carrying the Florida and Ohio systems every time. But it seemed that no one except Qui-Gon Jinn understood that. Even Yoda, Jedi pope, whiffed. He couldn’t see beyond light sides and dark sides. If the Force is all life, then to reject any part of it would be to reject the Force. Anakin Skywalker was the Force Incarnate, and throughout his life, he experienced extremes on both ends before finding his happy medium by throwing another man into a nuclear reactor.
This is what makes Darth Vader so compelling: He comes back to the middle and achieves balance, even though it’s just within himself.
The six Star Wars movies are about the rise, fall, and resurrection of Anakin Skywalker. The titles of movies four, five and six can be interpreted to allude to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader: “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” Vader’s new hope is his son, Luke. In response to Luke, the Emperor pushes to keep Vader on team Sith by suggesting they turn Luke to the dark side. At the end of the sixth movie, Anakin Skywalker is the Jedi that returns.
Darth Vader’s character arc is full, and at the end, he is redeemed. Other Christ-like figures are pure and there isn’t ever a question that they’ll be anything else. The tragedy of the unrealized messiah — especially if it’s a lightsaber-wielding cyborg — is so much more interesting.