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Star Wars: Who Originally Owned Anakin Skywalker As A Slave?

After the original "Star Wars" trilogy (1977-1983) established Anakin Skywalker's third act of life as the nefarious Darth Vader, franchise creator George Lucas peeled back the layers on the tragic character with 1999's "The Phantom Menace." In the first prequel film, audiences were treated to Anakin's (Jake Lloyd) early days as a pre-teen, showing just how disastrous his fall from grace was going to be. While the characterization of Anakin in the prequel films (particularly in "The Phantom Menace") has always been controversial, it's difficult to deny how the hero-turned-villain was portrayed exactly how Lucas wanted.

It's also important to acknowledge that Anakin is a character who was wronged right from the get-go. Born into slavery, Anakin could have been destined to live a life of pure servitude. Owned by the flying Watto, Anakin's life might have been drastically different if Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) hadn't found him. As Anakin's owner, Watto is largely responsible for the circumstances that Anakin had to face.

In the film, Anakin is nine years old — a move that Lucas knew would be controversial. "It is important that he be young, that he be at an age where leaving his mother is more of a drama than it would have been at 15," Lucas said in an interview with Empire magazine weeks after the film debuted in the summer of 1999. Lucas isn't wrong. Seeing Anakin, living as Watto's slave, and forced to leave his mother at such a young and impressionable age is quite traumatic, and fuels his trajectory as one of the "Star Wars" franchise's most devious characters. 

Who is Watto and why did he own Anakin?

As expansive and filled with beauty as the "Star Wars" universe is, it's also riddled with its own systemic problems and horrors. One such example is, obviously, how slavery was able to prosper on planets like Tatooine, the birthplace of Anakin Skywalker. In "The Phantom Menace," Watto, who is voiced by Andy Secombe, is seen as a junk dealer. Cruel and eager to make a quick buck, Watto owns Anakin and Shmi Skywalker (Pernilla August), the former's mother. 

Watto owns Anakin and his mother after a podracing bet from their previous owner. Ultimately, that's also how Anakin is "freed." In "The Phantom Menace," Quin Gon-Jinn (Neeson) bets the junk dealer that Anakin can win a pod race. The young Skywalker proves his abilities, and Anakin is freed from Watto's claws, though he has to say goodbye to his mother, who is still enslaved. Watto later returns in the sequel, "Attack of the Clones," where his modest empire of second-hand goods is reduced to rubbish, with Shmi no longer in his servitude. 

While Watto isn't a prominent character in the "Star Wars" universe, he's largely responsible for setting Anakin (later played by Hayden Christensen) on a path of vengeance and revenge. As the "Star Wars" universe continues to expand, will audiences ever see Watto again? That's anyone's guess, though voice Andy Secombe does know what direction he'd want to take the junk trader in. "I think he has set up some kind of small-scale gambling den. Having lost everything, he's now selling bits of scrap metal. He's not the successful man he once was," Secombe pondered in a 2006 interview.