Return of a Jedi: Why I prefer young Anakin’s ghost
Many have debated the alteration from the 2004 edit of “Star Wars: Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi” in which the young ghost of Anakin Skywalker appears instead of the older ghost from the 1983 and 1997 versions of the film. With the 2004 edition, the healthy version of a man we had only seen briefly as a dying cyborg in one sequence of the saga vanished, instead we had an image of the man as we knew him for over four hours of the saga. We prefer the young ghost of Anakin Skywalker and this essay will explain why.
The title “Return of the Jedi” works on a few different metaphorical levels. The first is that Luke is returning to confront his demons, i.e. his father. He is literally returning to the fight he had flee from at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back.” The second is Luke is clearing the pathway for the Jedi Order to return, hence the return of the Jedi by definition. Their order is being restored by conquering the Sith. The third, and probably the strongest implication of the title is the return of Anakin Skywalker. Anakin Skywalker is the quintessential Jedi of the Skywalker Saga. Anakin Skywalker, the good man who was Luke’s father, returns. The film is “Return of the Jedi,” and the hero, Anakin, returns to his former glory and we see that in the final sequence of “Return of the Jedi.”
That is why we at MakingStarWars.net agree with young Anakin being integrated into the ghostly sequence at the end of “Episode VI.” The adult hero from “Attack of the Clones” and “Revenge of the Sith” returns and fulfills his destiny. The young man who proclaimed his baby a blessing, the man who listened to his wife talk about setting up the baby’s room, is looking at his son, in his former glory in the way he always should have. The father and son are truly reunited by the end of the films and we have closure to Anakin’s character.
We agree that it works both ways. Old Anakin, portrayed by Sebastian Shaw can have a similar power. But by having Young Anakin as portrayed by Hayden Christensen, we are taken back to “Attack of the Clones, and more appropriately, “Revenge of the Sith” in which Anakin is redeemed in most respects. The visual language is stronger when showing the man we have seen throughout the saga return.
At the end of the day, ghosts are fantasy. Do ghosts age? I have no idea. I doubt they do. Luke is looking at a ghost. Ghosts, I assume can appear how they want to. Or they are appearing as they were in their glory. Obi-Wan’s sacrifice is the most glorious thing he does in the entire saga, and that is how he appears to Luke. Yoda looks like Yoda, he’s 900 years old, so he looks like he looks. I don’t think the visual language and the fantasy spiritual side of the alteration clash in any way. The choice to bring in young Anakin is stronger because it weaves the visuals of the saga together cohesively.
Finally, I feel the scene works because maybe Luke is seeing what he wants to see. Luke sees both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda as he knew them in life. He never knew Anakin as a healthy Sebastian Shaw lookalike anymore than he knew him as a healthy and young Hayden Christensen. If the scene never had an ounce of poetic license to it, Anakin would have appeared as a pink, bald, decrepit figure. Yet in every version of the film, he is re-presented as somewhat of an ideal. So what is Luke Skywalker’s ideal of his father? Judging from the films, Luke never longed for an old man, he longed for the man he thought “was a navigator on a spice freighter” and then the man he learned was once “the best star-pilot in the galaxy” and “a Jedi Knight.” For these reasons, we believe Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker is the superior choice for the representation of Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.