While short, the scene in Revenge of the Sith is intensely powerful. Jedi younglings, hiding in the Jedi Council Chamber from attacking Clone Troopers, emerge from their concealment when a familiar figure enters the room: Anakin Skywalker. Unbeknownst to the young Jedi children, Skywalker is no longer the Knight they have all come to love and respect. Instead, he is Darth Vader, and he is the one leading the Clone Troopers in the attack against the Jedi Temple.
As the younglings emerge, one young boy steps forward and in a calm but obviously scared voice asks, “Master Skywalker, there are too many of them, what are we going to do?” Immediately, the camera shot changes from the innocence of the boy’s face to the malice of Vader’s. Reacting with only the slow downward nod of his head, Vader stares at the child who has addressed him.
The shot changes again and we now see the child in the center of the shot with other younglings to his sides and behind him. Vader’s body is cut off, and all that is visible of him is his left hand and the lightsaber he holds within it. His hand moving, Vader ignites the saber into a brilliant blue beam. At this, the child jolts, takes a step back, and the scene ends.
I can still remember sitting in the theater watching Revenge of the Sith the night it opened and being absolutely shocked by this scene. We all knew going into the film that Anakin Skywalker would fall to the Dark Side, that he would become Darth Vader. Hell, we even knew he would end up leading an attack on the Jedi, beginning the purge that would whip out the vast majority of the ancient Light Side order. But what I wasn’t prepared for were these few seconds where young Jedi children, innocent, adorable, and hiding from the Temple attackers would come face-to-face with Vader.
While it hurts to watch the systematic destruction of the Order as Jedi Generals are killed by their Clone Troopers, it was at least bearable since those Jedi were adults. Children though, that’s tough. We may not see Vader do the deed, but we all know, when the lightsaber is ignited, what’s about to happen. Our imaginations are strong enough to put the pieces together.
The thing is – and I admit this is a weirdly absurd thing to say – he is fully justified in killing the younglings. I’m not suggesting I like that the younglings die, but within the context of the story that is Star Wars, their murder makes perfect sense. After all, the person we see enter the Council Chamber is not Anakin Skywalker but a newly minted Dark Lord of the Sith – Vader.
Before attacking the Temple, Vader’s new Master, Darth Sidious, gave him strict instructions to “Do what must be done.” He told Vader “not to hesitate” and to “show no mercy” to the Jedi he would encounter. Is what happened to those children heinous and cruel? Of course, but why should a Sith care? Those children weren’t just any children, they were Jedi younglings. Their collective death is justified by virtue of their being members of the ancient, mortal enemy of the Sith. Should a Sith be blamed for acting like a Sith? I don’t think so.
Besides, would we be as shocked if the Sith doing the killing wasn’t Vader? Say it was Darth Maul, or Darth Tyrannus, or even Darth Sidious – what then? They, too, would be justified in killing Jedi younglings, and we can easily imagine a scenario in which any one of these Sith Lords would kill any Jedi, young or old, if given the chance.
But this scene needs Vader to make it work. The dramatic effect in the scene hinges on “Master Skywalker” being the would be savior of these children. Like I said above, the youngling who is speaking is unaware that Skywalker is no more, and the person standing before him is a Sith Lord. But WE are aware, and with this knowledge we’re trapped inside the room with those children, unable to escape from the reality of what Anakin-turned-Vader does to the younglings. Again, we don’t see him do the deed, thus we don’t know precisely how Vader goes about killing each child. Perhaps he cuts them all down with his blade or uses a Force choke on a few of them. Luckily, we are sparred from having to watch the dark deed but part of me wishes we had been forced to watch, if only to cement in our minds how twisted Anakin had become and how ruthless Darth Vader really is.