The Star Wars original trilogy has undergone a number of changes in the years following the films' respective releases, including digital restoration, remastering old scenes, or removing and replacing them entirely. Many of these changes have been met with fan uproar, but none has caused so much backlash as the 2005 change to Return of the Jedi in which Anakin's Force ghost had been altered from its original appearance.
In the scene, Luke Skywalker is on the forest moon of Endor, enjoying the celebrations after the Rebel Alliance won the fight against the Galactic Empire. He sees three ghosts standing away from the party yet looking over toward him — Yoda, Obi-Wan and a newly redeemed #AnakinSkywalker. In the original theatrical release of the film this Anakin was portrayed by Sebastian Shaw, the same actor who had played him when the mask was taken off in #ReturnoftheJedi.
In 2005, when George Lucas wanted to make more changes to the film to fit with his vision, he decided ultimately that Anakin showing up as a ghost at that matured age doesn't make a lot of sense, and so digitally replaced Shaw's Anakin ghost with that of Hayden Christensen, who portrayed the young Jedi Knight in the final two prequel installments. Many fans railed against this decision and it remains one of the most unpopular changes to the original trilogy to this day.
Was Lucas correct in his decision to change Anakin's ghost? Here are some reasons why I believe he was, while debunking some popular counterarguments for why it was a nonsensical move to make.
Sith Cannot Become Force Ghosts
A snippet of conversation between Yoda and Qui-Gon Jinn from the novelization of Revenge of the Sith makes it clear that there is no such thing as Dark Side Force ghosts, as no Sith is capable of achieving the oneness with the Force that they would require to survive after death:
"The ultimate goal of the Sith, yet they can never achieve it; it comes only through the release of self, not the exaltation of self. It comes through compassion, not greed. Love is the answer to the darkness."
The passage is backed up on Twitter by Pablo Hidalgo, a member of the #Lucasfilm Story Group:
The idea of the Force afterlife is that it's unknowable to the dark side, for it requires selflessness.
So why would Anakin show up as a Force ghost at an age when he would have still been a Sith? He never made it to the age that the original release shows him as a Jedi and it makes a lot of sense that he would revert back to the last time we saw him as a #JediKnight. Speaking of age, When he filmed the scenes for the original film, Shaw was almost 80-years-old — older than his Obi-Wan co-star Alec Guinness, who would have been about 69.
(Before you mention Darth Bane from The Clone Wars series closer episode "Sacrifice," please note that Bane was not a Force ghost — rather, #Yoda referred to him as a specter, a mere illusion.)
Lucas and The Clone Wars animation director Dave Filoni had scrapped an earlier story that would have featured Sith ghosts specifically, because they were worried about the larger implications for how #Forceghosts work within the universe. Yoda's dialogue is meant to dispel the idea that Bane was a true Force ghost.
Returning To A Time When He Was Pure
Anakin went through a lot before he joined the #DarkSide; he had lost everything good in his life and as a result he had lost everything good inside himself. When Luke showed him there was still light within and Anakin was able to redeem himself with the selfless act of saving his son, he returned to a time when he was somewhat innocent.
It's important to consider that Anakin lost Padmé and Obi-Wan, he betrayed the Jedi, he lost Ahsoka, he destroyed everything the Republic had built, and he was trapped inside a suit for 20 odd years with horrific facial scaring. So wouldn't you want to return to looking as you did before any of that happened?
Check out Dave Filoni discussing Force ghosts:
How Did Luke Know Who Anakin Was?
When Anakin's Force ghost appears, Luke seems to know exactly who it is and smiles back at him. Many fans argued that young Anakin's appearance would have confused Luke as he would not have known who that was.
But couldn't the same thing have been said about Shaw's apparition? Luke knew who he was not because of what age he appeared as, but because he was connected to his father through the Force and was able to sense his presence as he had done before.
Why Didn't Obi-Wan And Yoda Appear As Their Younger Selves?
As Obi-Wan and Yoda never turned to the dark side and returned to the light to become one with the Force, it wouldn't make any sense for them to appear younger than they were at those moments.
Anakin stopped being a Jedi, the only people who are able to achieve the level of oneness with the Force to manifest after their death; Sith are not capable of being selfless enough to do this. Anakin had spent 20 long years as a #Sith and when he returned to the light side as a Jedi he was finally able to do what was required of him to become one with the Force
Obi-Wan and Yoda lived their entire lives as Jedi on the light side; they never needed redemption and as such appear as they did when they passed on.
So Anakin returned to the light side before passing to the other side of the Force. He appeared as he was most comfortable to himself, and to the many people who cherished Anakin from the prequels and #TheCloneWars.
As much as many fans like to debate, Christensen embodied the character that Anakin was and it was a change that makes the Star Wars universe more interesting and more in line with continuity.
Do you have a favorite or least favorite change to the Star Wars original trilogy? Sound off in the comments below.