Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.
About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)
Anakin Skywalker's ordinary world is pretty sweet. He's got an awesome mentor in Obi-Wan Kenobi, who loves him like a brother and has taught him everything he knows about the Force.
He's got a secret wife whom he loves dearly and can't wait to return to when his mission with Obi-Wan will take him closer to home.
And, to top it all off, he's rising quickly in the Jedi ranks, something he never dreamed he could aspire to as a young child enslaved with his mother. Although he still struggles with his anger and fear, Anakin feels like, for the most part, he's gotten his rage under control.
Call to Adventure
When Padmé tells Anakin that he is going to be a father, everything changes. Suddenly, he's haunted by visions of Padmé dying in childbirth, and he becomes consumed with making sure that never comes to fruition.
He's no longer content with pursuing the slow and steady path he's on with Obi-Wan because he needs to figure out how to save Padmé as soon as possible.
Refusal of the Call
Count Dooku tells Anakin that he can sense his rage and fear, and that if he'd only use those emotions, he could be that much more powerful with the Force.
Like a good Jedi, Anakin resists the temptation to go to the dark side, but he can't help but have second thoughts about turning down all that extra power.
Meeting the Mentor
Even though Anakin already has a top-notch mentor in Obi-Wan, the Chancellor's patronage is something that is hard to resist. Whenever Anakin starts to doubt the Jedi philosophy, Palpatine is right there, all too ready to drop hints about the dark side and how much more powerful it really is.
When he tells Anakin the story about Darth Plagueis, the Sith Lord who conquered death, Anakin might as well wave a white flag and announce he's switching sides right then and there.
Crossing the Threshold
Anakin contributes to the death of Mace Windu in order to save Chancellor Palpatine, the Sith Lord who has been stealthily gaining total power over the Senate in order to create his own empire. (He's also the only guy who has claimed to have the power to save Padmé from the fate that haunts Anakin's dreams.)
So, Anakin kneels and pledges himself to the dark side as Palpatine's new apprentice. He knows what he's doing is probably wrong, but he's so desperate to save his wife that at this point, he'll do just about anything.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Now that Anakin has pledged himself to Palpatine, he has to do some pretty terrible things in order to start harvesting his dark side powers. He goes to the Jedi Temple and kills everyone in it, including some adorably British younglings.
He heads to Mustafar, where the Separatists are awaiting instructions from Palpatine's new apprentice, and he kills all of them as well, deaf to their pleas for mercy. What's bizarre is that now his allies are those whom he'd been fighting against, and his enemies are the people he used to fight alongside.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
Up until his confrontation with Padmé on Mustafar, Anakin seems to embrace the dark side pretty willingly. He is able to kill all the little kids in the Jedi Temple and the pleading Separatists, and he (or Palpatine) has twisted the facts in his head enough so that he truly feels like he's doing the right thing.
Then, Padmé gets there and asks whether he's really done all of those terrible things. When he tries to get her to see it his way and she obviously can't because he's gone over the deep end, her reaction represents a reflection of his actions that he's not equipped to handle.
If the ordeal is a grueling physical test during which the protagonist must draw upon all of his skills and experiences in order to survive, then Anakin's battle against Obi-Wan definitely fits the bill.
This is the lightsaber duel to end all lightsaber duels, between two masters of the art who happen to be balancing precariously on melting structures hovering over a planet of erupting molten lava.
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
For Anakin, his reward is the ability to dodge what seems like certain death by becoming the iconic Darth Vader, complete with cape, chest plate, and wheezing helmet. With the death of Padmé, he's lost any reason to remain connected to his past and the Jedi ways, so he's now free to embrace the dark side with impunity.
We should keep in mind, though, that because this is the moment when our hero becomes the villain, we'll start to see some divergences from the classic Hero's Journey path. The other reason for the departure is because the end of the movie is really just a transition between the universe as we know it in Episodes I-III and the universe that we were first introduced to in 1977 in Episode IV.
The Road Back
For Anakin, the road back is truly the road forward. At the very end of Revenge of the Sith, we see Darth Vader admiring his new Death Star, still in the early stages of construction. But, you can tell that he's embraced his new identity as the Darth Vader: super powerful and super evil Sith Lord, who answers to no one but the Emperor.
Throughout the original trilogy, Episodes IV-VI, Darth Vader doesn't seem to question his commitment to the dark side but embraces his powers thoroughly.
Darth Vader's resurrection occurs in another movie entirely, Episode VI - Return of the Jedi. At the end of that movie, Darth Vader is confronted with a duel between the evil Emperor Palpatine and his son, the Jedi Luke Skywalker.
At the last second, he is forced to choose between them, and he decides to destroy the Emperor in order to save Luke. By doing this, the Empire is finally defeated, the Sith are destroyed, and Anakin Skywalker is finally redeemed.
Return with the Elixir
Anakin's return is extraordinarily brief, but it is momentous. After saving Luke, his son tries to save him from the collapsing Empire, but he has already received a mortal wound. He asks Luke to remove his helmet—making the transition back to Anakin Skywalker complete—in order to see him with his own eyes.
His dying breath is used to tell his son that he's saved him—not from death but from the dark side—thus playing out one of the biggest character redemption arcs in pop culture.