*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the original Stars Wars trilogy. Read at your own risk if you are just now discovering the original trilogy. For this post, I will also be briefly delving into some of the narratives in the prequels.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from original Star Wars trilogy to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
In previous posts, I have examined Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan (the late Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (the late Alec Guinness).In this post, I will be writing about the series’s most iconic character, Darth Vader.
Every hero needs a villain. In whatever world that hero inhabits, the villain is the one who keeps the hero on their toes and challenges them as they go on their journey. There is no more iconic film villain than Darth Vader. Physically acted by David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones, Vader is the ultimate villain. Physically imposing and a master of the dark side of the force, he is the overlord of the empire.
Darth Vader started his life as Anakin Skywalker, a young man who was blessed with force sensitivity and discovered by Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). He would grow up and marry Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) and father Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa. An enthusiastic, slightly hotheaded young man with an eye for adventure in his early years (much like his son a generation later), Anakin turns to the dark side, looses his humanity and becomes Darth Vader.
For most of Episode 4 (A New Hope) and part of Episode 5 (The Empire Strikes Back), Vader is the standard villain. Then something begins to change. He begins to sense that Luke is also force sensitive and pursues him with the end goal of turning him to the dark side. The infamous “Luke, I am your father” scene is one of the greatest plot twists in all filmdom, in my opinion.
In episode 6 (Return of the Jedi), Vader finally redeems himself and turns back into Anakin after killing the Emperor while saving his son. Revealing another one of filmdom’s great plot twists that Luke and Leia are twins (and turning their kiss in the Empire Strikes Back into a moment of incest), Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader dies and is finally at peace.
A villain should more than Snidely Whiplash. A more interesting and well-rounded the villain creates a greater threat to the hero, compelling them to act to defeat the villain. A mustache twirling villain who uses the hero’s loved ones/love interest to draw them out into a fight is boring and predictable. A villain that is complicated, that is motivated by more than the standard villain motives, now that is going to grab an audience and keep them wanting more.
To sum it up: A good story deserves a good villain. But if the villain is 2D, predictable and boring, then there is no point to the story or the journey that the hero will go on to defeat the villain. In creating the iconic Darth Vader, George Lucas challenged future writers, regardless of genre to create villains that excite the audience and encourage them to cheer on the hero as they defeat the villain.