HoF: Darth Vader
March Inductee: To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch
April Inductee: Breakfast at Tiffanys‘ Holly Golightly
As Played By Jake Lloyd, Hayden Christensen, David Prowse, Sebastian Shaw, and Voiced By James Earl Jones
Star Wars (1977)
“Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for… sister. So, you have a twin sister! Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side… then perhaps she will…” – Darth Vader
Darth Vader. Anakin Skywalker. The Dark Lord of the Sith. The Chosen One. The Betrayer. These are all names used to describe one of the best characters in the history of cinema. Whenever he is on screen, our eyes are on him. He always stands out from those around him, be it his sheer size or the dark color which often contrasts with everything else in the setting. He is not just an extremely intimidating and powerful figure, but is also one that is constantly in internal conflict.
While this article is titled “Darth Vader,” to understand this character, we have to look at his time before he’s forced into the suit. When we first meet (chronologically, that is) Vader he’s little Anakin Skywalker, a young slave on the desert planet Tatooine. He’s a good spirited (and yes, annoying) boy considering his circumstances: a fatherless child that’s forced into being a mechanic in a shady workshop. He is a very talented young man. He builds a protocol droid (C-3PO) to help his mother out around the house and even builds his own podracer (his son would do something similar some 30 years later).
As he becomes a Jedi, it’s apparent that his power exceeds anything that anyone has ever been seen before (including the ancient and wise Master Yoda). He is a quick learner, a great fighter and the best pilot around. Not only does this make the now adolescent Anakin arrogant, it also causes the Jedi Counsel to distrust him, most notably by Master Mace Windu. It is around this time where Padme Amidala re-enters young Anakin’s life and they rekindle a friendship that started on Tatooine. This would develop into something much deeper very quickly.
While the great Obi-Wan Kenobi is Anakin’s Jedi mentor, he soon finds a father figure in Chancellor Palpatine. Palpatine slowly nudges Anakin, telling him that the Jedis not only are holding Anakin back, but are jealous of the power he possesses. This comes to a head as Palpatine reveals that he holds the secret of immortality (the ability to keep Padme alive) and that he’s a Sith Lord. As Windu, the least trusting of all the Jedi, confronts Palpatine, Anakin chooses (out of love) to side with the Dark Lord and becomes Darth Vader. He then leads an assault on the Jedi Temple and is forced to confront Kenobi where Vader is nearly killed (thus the reason for the iconic suit). Despite all of this, he looses Padme anyway.
After the duel with Kenobi, Vader is never the same. While still one of the most powerful beings in the galaxy, he’s only a fraction of what he once was. This along with believing that he had killed Padme and their unborn child, forces Vader into being The Emperor’s (Palpatine) muscle without hope of overthrowing his master. This is how he is between the time he imprisons Princess Leia and the Battle of Yavin (where the first Death Star is destroyed). During this period, not only does he kill an elderly Kenobi, but he also encounters Luke Skywalker for the first time.
It is here where things begin to change for Vader. He realizes Luke is his son and his dreams of overthrowing The Emperor re-emerges. Vader never completely agrees with how Palpatine rules the galaxy. Before the first fight with Kenobi, he tells Padme that he can overthrow The Emperor and together they can rule the galaxy together as they see fit. He does the same thing after he tells Luke that he’s his father; that they can rule together as father and son. Whether this is just the natural progression of the Sith (to overthrow their master) or if it’s Vader’s true feelings about Palpatine (though was helpless to do anything about) is open to interpretation.
The climax of Vader’s story is still to come. After the completely one-sided first battle with Luke (where Vader uses only one hand to wipe the floor with his son), Vader takes Luke to his master where they duel once more. This time the outcome is different: the son betters the father. However, unlike Vader himself wasn’t able to do in the past, Luke refuses to kill Palpatine’s apprentice (Vader) and chooses to die instead. The Emperor agrees and ravages Luke with Force lightning as Luke begs for his father’s help. Vader sees enough and kills his now former master within the second Death Star.
While the original story appears to be a battle for Luke, it’s actually a fight for Anakin. The Emperor, having been disappointed with his apprentice after the original duel with Kenobi, would like for nothing more than the equally powerful Luke to strike down his father and join his side. Luke, for his part, wants to return his father from the Dark Side. This is why their second duel is so electrically charged. While perhaps not the most technically sound battle, it was by far the most emotional: it was for the soul of Anakin Skywalker.
Ultimately, the story of the six Star Wars movies is the rise, the fall, and redemption of Anakin. When Luke rushes to get his father out of the exploding second Death Star, he says, “I’ve got to save you.” A dying Vader answers:
“You already… have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister… you were right.”
These are his final words. We have come to see that Vader is a tortured soul, haunted by his deeds of the past, but was powerless to do anything about. He is a character that commits genocide in order to try to protect the only person he would ever love. In Luke, he saw his escape, but it doesn’t come as he expected. He fully wants to rule the Galactic Empire with his son. Instead, his soul is saved; he finds redemption by the son he tries to kill on more than one occasion…by the son he never knew he had.
For being the central figure of six of the most cherished movies of all-time; for being a deeper character than most give him credit for; for having the coolest look and voice ever; for being the best villain to ever be seen on the silver screen, I induct Darth Vader into my Hall of Fame.
Happy 30th anniversary to The Empire Strikes Back!
I apologize for the late post. I had a lot going on today. I shall return soon with a review or two.