Strange Brouhaha

Monday, April 18, 2005

Darth Vader

It's true; Star Wars really is Darth Vader's story. This article has a lot of insightful and intelligent points like that. Writes Erik Lundegaard, "The other characters change [as the first trilogy goes on]; Darth becomes more himself." (I'm citing from memory; may not be verbatim.) I never thought of that, but it's absolutely true.

I disagree with some minor points. The author was disappointed when Darth Vader's original face was revealed in 1983; I remember being moved by its bloated, white image of suffering and decay. Also, forget the alleged parallelism of Leia and Amidala "both being drawn to the bad boy." There is a big difference between "bad" as in Han Solo and "bad" as in the freaky Anakin Skywalker of "Attack of the Clones," who can't think how to put the moves on a girl in any kind of normal way ("I don't like sand" is the best he can do) and flies into a barely-controlled rage when Amidala asserts herself on a very minor issue.

But this author makes a lot of really interesting points, particularly that Darth Vader's appeal (both as Darth Vader and as Anakin Skywalker) is his power--and his willingness to use it. Lundegaard bets that a lot of people will be secretly cheering, not crying, when Anakin crosses over to the Dark Side in the upcoming Episode III. He speculates that it will be a vicarious rush when Anakin casts off all restraint and dedicates himself to power alone. I fear he may be right.

This is a story issue as old as Homer. We know it's wrong, but our hearts beat faster when Achilles says "All right, that's it" and plows into the fray with maddened ecstasy to avenge Patroclus. (Anakin Skywalker does exactly that, by the way, in "Attack of the Clones," going berserk when his mother dies in captivity and slaughtering everything he can get his hands on.) When "Platoon" was released, Oliver Stone learned to his chagrin that plenty of people preferred Barnes to Elias. Barnes, you will remember, was the guy who put a gun to a child's head to make her father talk (even though in the film it was not at all clear that the father had anything of value to say).

Lundegaard writes, "The other Jedi Knights have the problem of mercy, but Darth points his finger and people die." "The problem of mercy"--an interesting phrase. Especially when you consider the targets to whom this problematic mercy will not be shown. When Anakin Skywalker goes berserk, he confesses, "I didn't just kill the men. I killed the women--the children--everyone." Barnes was willing to blow a nine-year-old's brains out. We know from "Star Wars" what Darth Vader was willing to do with Princess Leia and a flying ball with a dripping needle. He wasn't berserk anymore there, wasn't avenging anyone close to him. He did it quite calmly.

So...why does the rush of power come from *him*? There's another side to this. When Barnes threatens the little girl in "Platoon," Elias sees him, runs up to him, and smashes him in the face with the butt of his rifle. It's a purely aggressive, macho, unrestrained, unilateral, you're-going-down-asshole moment, blissfully unencumbered by any problems of mercy. It ought to satisfy the power junkies out there.

But it doesn't.

And here's something to think about. Elias is mean in that moment, but he's not a bully. When he goes after Barnes, he's going after an equal. Barnes, if you look carefully, tends not to do that. Barnes *is* a bully. He knows to get at the father through the child. He knows to get rid of Elias secretly. He knows how to subsequently handle Elias's friends. They're all a bunch of stoners, and their ringleader is a guy he can easily beat up, thus intimidating the others. This *isn't* really power. It's something else. It's an entirely different kind of satisfaction.

Elias's unrestrained use of power involved risk. Barnes made sure that his never did. Anakin Skywalker's displays of force automatically involve no risk because of his degree of Jedi power. And even *then* he doesn't always pick on people his own size. It's the equivalent of going "hunting" by having lackeys drive the bewildered game into your guns.

Darth Vader *is* a fascinating and compelling character. But not because of this.

If I have time later, I will continue to prove my total geekiness by saying what *I* think is interesting about him. Maybe Rob will too.


  • I liked the author's use of "Tuscan Raiders." I can imagine at the end of a hard day of raiding, they park their banthas at the villa and sit down to to some wine and fresh bread and some pancetta and fresh tomatoes and olive oil.

    By Blogger Robert, at 5:21 PM  

  • (Josh) I laughed out loud at that. Nice work!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:09 AM  

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