One of the reasons the Star Wars story is so enduring is that it pits dark against light and touches on themes that have resonated with human beings since the first campfire was lit. Once it was revealed in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, fan curiosity began to grow about the name and nature of our hero’s grandfather.
We met Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, in prequel movies The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. But where’s Dad?
Shmi Skywalker told Qui-Gon Jinn that “There was no father.” What does that mean, and what are the origins of this idea? Here’s a brief look at where George Lucas and other Star Wars storytellers might have gathered the idea for “there was no father,” and what those implications are for the rest of the saga.
How did Anakin come to be? There are a lot of potential answers to that question. Let’s look at a few theories, both in the Expanded Universe as well as in canon.
Virgin Birth Origins
In order to discover the secrets behind Anakin’s creation, we must first concentrate on his mother, and the roots of the “Virgin Birth” concept.
The most famous example of a virgin birth comes from Catholicism and some forms of Protestant Christianity. Members of these religions believe that Jesus was conceived in Mary of Nazareth by the Holy Spirit– that she was the only human to have involvement in the process, and that she did so in fulfillment of a sacred prophecy. Here’s how the conception of Jesus took place according to the Gospel of Luke in the Bible’s New Testament:
…the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God…. Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
This passage is from the New American Standard Revised Edition of the Bible, but all versions will tell the same story—God is the child’s father, and Mary confirms that she is a virgin. This ancient and complex idea is well fleshed out in Christianity, and contains several mystical tenets. The event with the angel is often mislabeled “the Immaculate Conception,” but the accurate term for this moment is “the Annunciation.” The overall belief that Christ is God as well as man is called “the Incarnation.”
Here’s the difference. The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception, not Jesus’. The Catholic Church teaches that in order to serve as an appropriate mother for God made man, Mary, by a special grace from God, was conceived free from the original sin that stains everyone else but Jesus. On the other hand, the Annunciation refers to an of-age Mary giving her consent to conceive a child by the Holy Spirit. It marks the beginning of the Incarnation.
You might have marked the Incarnation’s feast day without even knowing it: Also known as the Nativity of the Lord, it’s celebrated December 25.
All this is to say that there was a great deal here for George Lucas to draw on, and he did so heavily.
Star Wars Virgin Birth Parallels
Just as special emphasis is given to Mary by Christians, The Phantom Menace spends significant time with Shmi and emphasizes her gentleness and cooperation with new opportunities. She lets go of her son Anakin to undertake Jedi training, and we don’t see her again until Attack of the Clones, when she is battered and near death. Similarly, Catholics honor Mary as the “Mother of Sorrows,” who was prophesied in the Bible as one “pierced by a sword.”
In the Star Wars saga, we don’t see Anakin’s conception or birth, but he was marked out as a very special human in childhood. In the same way, the Bible reports that Jesus astounded teachers in Jerusalem’s Temple at the age of twelve.
Nine-year-old Anakin was already podracing by the time Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi find him in humble desert surroundings, and Qui-Gon refers to him as a prophetic figure, “the Chosen One.”
Cultural Births and Star Wars
There are many examples of miraculous birth stories in ancient cultures, usually between gods and humans in polytheistic cultures. They are particularly found in Egyptian and Greco-Roman mythologies, but many of them do not involve a virgin conceiving, or include obtaining the mother’s consent. These stories predate not just Star Wars, but also Christianity. These elements usually serve as parts of an origin tale and are not central to a belief system.
In this way, these myths are actually closer to Star Wars, as the original film and trilogy told its story just fine without explaining why Darth Vader is so powerful with the Force. It was only in the prequels that George Lucas decided to delve into Anakin’s background and establish the idea of “the Chosen One.” Still, it’s interesting to note that we are never told if Shmi was actually a virgin when she conceived Anakin, just that “there was no father.”
Anakin’s Father and the Force
George Lucas told Vanity Fair in 2005 that Anakin was created by the Force and that “It was a virgin birth in an ecosystem of symbiotic relationships.” Lucas, however, has been known to contradict himself, even in his own work.
In-universe, the most accepted answer among Star Wars fans about how Anakin arrived is a subplot featuring Qui-Gon Jinn in 1999’s The Phantom Menace. He tells Obi-Wan to test Anakin’s midi-chlorian count, which serves as a predictor of Force sensitivity. A stunned Obi-Wan reveals that the tally is even higher than Yoda’s, which Qui-Gon takes as confirmation that “he could be the Chosen One,” and Anakin would bring ‘balance” to the Force.
Qui-Gon tells the Jedi Council that “It is possible he was conceived by the midi-chlorians,” which would explain Anakin’s freakishly high count. But even then, this statement leaves open a number of possibilities for interpretation; Lucas certainly gave himself wiggle room with the addition of “It is possible.”
Obi-Wan, at least at the time of Revenge of the Sith, seemed to have come to believe his old Master’s predictions, but cast it in the past tense: “You were the Chosen One! It was said that you would destroy the Sith, not join them! Bring balance to the Force, not leave it in darkness!” Anakin’s status as ‘the Chosen One” was later confirmed in the Mortis arc of the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
However, in Rebels, Obi-Wan revealed that he thinks Luke is the Chosen One. This suggests that Obi-Wan was open to various interpretations of the prophecy, whether or not Anakin was actually conceived by the midi-chlorians.
As for Shmi, she describes Anakin’s conception as follows: “I carried him; I gave birth to him. I can’t explain what happened.” We don’t know if Shmi was consulted for consent, as Mary was, and some fans interpret this as an anti-feminist development in the saga. Indeed, the “forced pregnancy” of Shmi Skywalker is in line with the Sith philosophy of bending others to their will rather than seeking collaboration. The parallel importance of Mary’s reply to the angel underscores the Judeo-Christian belief in free will.
While the details on just how Anakin was born without a father are scarce, we do know that the Force was involved, and that midi-chlorians are too.