Monday, 10 March 2014

Old School Villain of the Week: Darth Vader

Stop. I know what you are thinking.
Star Wars blew my mind when I was a kid. Sci Fi was already deeply ingrained in me, thanks to things like Transformers, Voltron, Ulysses, Star Blazers, Galaxy Rangers and Robotech. Unlike these other shows, Star Wars was REAL (well, live action, but I was young and impressionable…). It had so many awesome things: cool space battles, monsters, a princess, knights with lightsabers who use the force, giant planet destroying space stations, hyperspace, wookies, ewoks, AT-ATs, AT-STs, fricken TIE fighters that make this sound:

…and it had Darth Vader. He was the embodiment of evil. Impenetrable and intractable. Unforgiving and exacting. He was unknowable behind that sinister mask with its soulless eyes. Knowing his real name, Anakin, made you special back in those days.
Vader’s redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi was powerful cinema. I can remember roaring in approval when he threw the Emperor into the Death Star’s core, it was so unexpected and the scene escalated so quickly. Seeing Vader as an old, sad man, who has lost a lifetime with his son and daughter, suddenly puts everything into a new perspective. Vader transcends everything in those films in those few moments. Damnit, it makes you feel something.

So what the hell happened? Somewhere along the line Darth Vader got neutered. The story of his redemption, which is awesome, became a joke. I think, like many things, fans took ownership of Vader. When the story wasn’t told how we imagined it (…and it really wasn’t), and Vader was portrayed as a winey creepy kid, his potency as a villain just evaporated.

A few people have tried to help fans recover from this. The “Hatchet Method” of watching Star Wars ignores Episode I entirely (sadly losing Darth Maul, who HAD THE HIGH GROUND!). It starts with IV and V, letting you get sucked in old school style, then jumps to II and III, showing you how it all started, before finishing with the epic climax of VI. Personally, I turn the sound off when Vader gets his suit for the first time. Imagine if, instead of that whole ridiculous episode, Vader stood up silently and you saw all of the things around him get crushed by the force. He doesn’t react to Padme’s death at all, apart from impassively crushing everything in sight in absolute silence. Powerful cinema.
Another good take on the whole Episode I and II plot can be found here, take a look for yourself:

But that’s all conjecture. Darth Vader, old school Darth Vader, is a well-deserved Old School Villain of the Week.
Name: Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker)

Background: He fought with his friend Obi Wan Kenobi during the Clone Wars, as an exceptional pilot. He was “betrayed and murdered” by Vader, falling to the Dark Side and becoming the Emperor’s apprentice.
Weapon of choice: A red, single bladed, lightsaber, which he sometimes wields single-handedly. He also uses the force to throw objects at his enemies and to crush their wind-pipes. Additionally, he pilots a TIE Advanced x1.

Claim to fame: Darth Vader was one of the last potent users of the force of his time, a Sith Lord. He actively hunted other Jedi as well as their rebel sympathisers. He was an exceptional pilot with his own custom TIE fighter, content to mix it in space combat when he was not overseeing the command of the Imperial Fleet. His style of lightsaber fighting was bludgeoning in nature, not the spinning dance we have grown accustomed to. It was a blunt, brutal, unlovely style. He is, perhaps, most famous for three things. He chokes his underlings with the force when they fail, he is Luke Skywalker’s father and the destroyer of the Emperor Palpatine. In death he earns his redemption and a peaceful rest, being made one again with the force.