If we judge Anakin Skywalker the way intelligent people would judge their Tinder dates, we’d come to the conclusion that he’s not a tragic guy, but instead, a controlling and abusive sociopath.
By taking the Star Wars prequels at face value — and adding in a little brain chemistry, psychology and comparative lit — it becomes pretty clear that Anakin didn’t really love Padmé Amidala, he simply wanted to possess and control her, mostly to satisfy his own quest for power.
Anakin is less of a Romeo and more like Julian Sorel of Stendhal’s 1830s psychological novel The Red and the Black. Like Julian, Anakin Skywalker comes from peasant-like origins and makes his name in higher circles of society composed of people who will never really accept him. Just as Julian decides he loves Mathilde for his own political ends in The Red and the Black, Anakin decides he loves Padmé. And just like Julian, Anakin’s “love” of Padmé is forbidden by social circles and kept a secret. Both also favor aggressive solutions to problems.
Anakin wants a lot of power, and ostensibly the reason he seeks dark side knowledge is to “save Padmé’s life.” Though, if he was really “in love” with her, he would reorganize his life in a meaningful way. But he doesn’t really. Quitting the Jedi Order and running away with her is on the table. But Anakin likes the glory of restoring order to the galaxy. Seen from a certain point of view, Padmé is just an accessory to his ambition.
But what about Padmé herself? She resists Anakin’s advances in Attack of the Clones with creepy shades of Taming of the Shrew, but then randomly tells him she “truly, deeply loves” him right before they think they will be put to death. At least partially, Padmé is experiencing a kind of Stockholm Syndrome or more specifically, the idea of equating affection with crime, a disorder known as hybristophilia. Anakin confesses his crime of killing the Sand People to Padmé, and later, she totally tells him she loves him. Is it possible Padmé gets off on Anakin’s murder spree?
Because if she hasn’t “fell in love with her captor” in Attack of the Clones then she did by Revenge of the Sith, and she totally considers herself Anakin’s partner-in-crime. Romeo and Juliet were selfish and impulsive people, but things are much darker and dysfunctional here: Padmé is roped into being the Bonnie to Anakin’s Clyde. She lies to Obi-Wan and even lies to herself about just how far Anakin has gone.
When Padmé actually comes to her senses, Anakin straight-up abuses and attempts to murder her on the planet Mustafar. Is this true love or the last gasp of an abusive person blinded by his need to control others?
To be fair, if we venture into Anakin’s character outside of the films, he does seem to be heroic and good-hearted in the cartoon show, The Clone Wars. But if we stick to the movies, Anakin Skywalker comes across very clearly as a power-hungry sociopath incapable of true love.
Perhaps the only reason why he betrays the evil Emperor in Return of the Jedi isn’t an act of love for Luke, but instead, deep shame for his own dark, dark soul. When you think about Anakin this way, he’s no longer a mythological figure/fallen angel figure. Instead, Anakin Skywalker represents a scarily real aspect of human behavior: He’s a giant abusive asshole. The dark side doesn’t get much darker than that.