Anakin Skywalker became a Force ghost at the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, but how did he know how to do that, if he was Darth Vader for years? The Star Wars saga began in 1977 with the movie now known as Star Wars: A New Hope, which took the audience to a galaxy far, far away to meet heroes Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo, as well as villain Darth Vader, who became the primary antagonist of this movie and its sequels, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.
Years later, George Lucas went a few years back in the Star Wars timeline to explore the backstory of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in a prequel trilogy. Through it, viewers followed Anakin from his days as a young slave in Tatooine to his rise as Sith lord Darth Vader and witnessed part of his Jedi training with Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi as masters. However, Anakin turned to the dark side of the force in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and was trained by Darth Sidious. Now as Darth Vader, he worked alongside Sidious for years, but by the end of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Vader redeemed himself by saving his son and ended up becoming one with the Force, later returning as a Force ghost, which is something the Sith can’t achieve. But a big question remains: how did Anakin know how to become a Force ghost?
Force ghosts are those beings who gained immortality through the preservation of their consciousness after death, and through special training, these deceased Force-sensitives could retain their identity and thus communicate with the living, as Yoda did with Luke and later Luke with Rey. This could only be learned by those who fully embraced the light side of the Force, which is why the Sith couldn’t achieve this. Qui-Gon Jinn learned it from a Shaman of the Whills but didn’t complete his training before his death, so he could only manifest as a disembodied voice. He was able to complete his training in death, which is how he was able to appear to Obi-Wan Kenobi, who later learned how to become a Force ghost. Yoda also learned how to retain his identity after death, but unlike all of them, Anakin didn’t have that training as he turned to the dark side, and as Darth Vader, he couldn’t have learned how to become a Force ghost.
Darth Vader’s redemption and thus return to the light side as Anakin was the first step in making the Force ghost process a reality, but what came after that is still being debated among Star Wars fans. In the Star Wars: Return of the Jedi DVD commentary, George Lucas said Anakin was able to retain his original identity “because of Obi-Wan and Yoda, who learned how to do that”, suggesting he received assistance from them after he died, thus granting him the last step in becoming a Force ghost. This idea can be found in the now non-canon book The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader, where right after dying, Anakin is met by Obi-Wan, who tells him he’s in the “netherworld of the Force”, and if he wished to revisit corporeal space, he had one thing left to teach him.
In canon, however, there are a couple of theories on how Anakin was able to become a Force ghost. Perhaps the most popular and accepted one is that of the Force Priestesses teaching Anakin how to do it, meaning he knew how to become a Force ghost before he turned to the dark side, while others believe that his redemption was enough for him to be able to retain his identity. Unless new canon media – whether a TV show or book – expands on this and gives a definitive answer, how Anakin Skywalker knew how to become a Force ghost in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi will continue to be up for debate, with fans taking the explanation they think makes more sense within the whole context of the Skywalker saga.