Well I have put it off long enough, so now with just a few days left I thought I would do one last character analysis, on the one and only, Darth Vader. He strikes fear into the galaxy, brings dread to all who oppose him, and a quivering lip when he dies? More on that later though, because I have always maintained that one of the greatest accomplishments of storytelling within that original trilogy was how Vader began his journey as what appeared to be a one dimensional villain who we would not miss, as far as our heroes were concerned, when he eventually bit the blaster bolt.
But of course that is not what happened, by the end we almost wanted Vader to survive due to the revelations that had taken place during the series of films. That may be why Vader is one of the greatest villains of all time, because in the end he is not really the villain, in some ways he is the hero of the entire saga.
Not only that, but Vader is a universally recognised figure of film. Not for the first time in this series I suggest you ask anyone to do an impression of Darth Vader and once again, apart from the initial shock and potential panic of being confronted by a raving lunatic, they will clasp their hands over their mouth and make that endlessly recognisable ‘brrrrrp-baaarrr’ noise. With that simple noise the creators induced such a profound and simple fear of him, one that is still used to this day (just look at the Season 1 finale of ‘Star Wars: Rebels’ where you hear Vader before you see him, and it is terrifying).
Another moment of terror that sticks out in my mind is that one scene from ‘Empire Strikes Back’ in which an Imperial officer just catches a glimpse of the back of Vader’s head as his mask is lowered on. That represents another incredible side of the character, his vulnerability. How many iconic movie villains have been placed in such a position before as we gradually start to see the skin beneath Vader’s armour (metaphorically, although I guess it goes from no skin in the first movie, back of head in the second and then full facial in the third, so literally as well I suppose).
His weakness and humanity becomes more apparent with each film. He is a fairly one dimensional villain in ‘Star Wars’, but in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ we get the revelation of his clear link to the heroes as Luke’s father and a former Jedi, as well as the fact that he serves a higher commander, this Emperor that contacts him. Then in ‘Return of the Jedi’ was realise how subjugated he is, as he is just a disposable tool to the Emperor, who is happy to have Vader killed when it becomes apparent that Luke is now far stronger than his father, and the large extent of his inner turmoil.
But for those insecurities and weaknesses Vader remains a force of fear even upon re-watching those films. If anything the knowledge that there is an inner turmoil just makes the character even more disturbing when he commits those terrible actions. Remember that within the first five minutes of meeting Vader he strangles a man to death, then later in ‘Star Wars’ he threatens to kill his own officers just because he ‘finds their lack of faith disturbing, he kills major characters and then in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ really does strangle his own officers. I always loved the look his crew gives him when we last see him in ‘Empire Strikes Back’ after the Millennium Falcon has escaped there’s this instant silence on the Star Destroyer as they all wait for the inevitable wrath, but it never arrives. Is that more or less frightening?
The impact Vader has as a villain is partly down to two factors; the compelling nature of the heroes as you ultimately begin to fear not what Vader will do but what he will specifically do to them, and the fact that he has such a towering presence on his own. David Prowse’s enormous stature and part artificial, part human movement combined with James Earl Jones’ subtly gargantuan voiceover. They create a character that is ruthless at times, terrifying at others and when it needs to be, utterly sympathetic.