At the risk of having the first sentence of this article seem like it was written by a six-year-old, Darth Vader is awesome. From the iconic mask to the all-black outfit, to the slow, labored breathing that heralds his arrival in a scene, everything about the artist formerly known as Anakin Skywalker just oozes cool.
Vader's lasting dopeness has made him one of the most popular movie villains of all time, achieving popularity in a 2016 poll that would have made him the frontrunner in the presidential election, had he not been a fictional space fascist. But apparently, Vader is not viewed with such reverence by his own creator. According to a 2005 Rolling Stone piece, George Lucas, the creative mind behind the "Star Wars" franchise, doesn't see Vader as quite as cool as the movies' fandom does. Lucas actually sees Darth Vader as "a pathetic guy."
The public's fascination with Lord Vader has been the topic of essays and studies by psychologists for years, as you wouldn't assume a character who is willing to casually vaporize a planet full of people would be so well-liked. A 2020 study posited that people are drawn to Darth Vader because they see him as an inversion of themselves, a person who they disagree with morally but feel they still share many similarities with. Even as evil as he is, people still relate to the inner demons and struggles of Vader.
Not Just A Scary Suit
One of the coolest aspects of the Darth Vader character is how imposing a figure he is. He's a very tall man wearing a very cool outfit, all black and with a sinister red lightsaber. From the first moment you see him on screen, you know this guy's a big deal. But to be special, the character needed more than that. According to the Rolling Stone piece, Lucas struggled to find a way to make the Vader character terrifying without ever revealing his face to the audience.
"I had to make Darth Vader scary without the audience ever seeing his face. Basically, it's just a black mask. I said, "How do I make that evil and scary?" I mean, he's big and black and he's got a cape and a samurai helmet, but that doesn't necessarily make people afraid of him. His character's got to go beyond that – that's how we get his impersonal way of dealing with things."
Sure, Vader looks cool, but cool-looking villains are dime-a-dozen. What really makes a character memorable is their attitude and their actions. So, despite how far Vader's sinister appearance, along with the dulcet tones of James Earl Jones (which was far better than Vader's original voice, apparently), went in terms of making his character appear to be a formidable villain, Lucas knew there had to be more to it. It's not just his physical traits, but personality traits that make Vader so terrifying.
Pathetic, Like Us
The first six "Star Wars" movies serve as a complete character arc for Vader, showing his transformation from an adorable little boy to a cold-hearted android killer. These changes in Vader are not only driven by his circumstances but his actions and his regrets. He undergoes horrible personal losses, such as his mother being killed on Tatooine or the loss of his wife, Padme. He commits the sort of heinous acts that can permanently scar a person, like his betrayal of Mace Windu or his slaughter of the Jedi younglings on Coruscant. By the time we meet Darth Vader in "A New Hope," he's a shell of the man that Anakin Skywalker was. He no longer feels any remorse for his actions, no matter how genocidal they are, and he tries not to think about his past life. It's this that makes him pathetic, according to Lucas in the Rolling Stone piece.
"He's done a lot of horrible things in his life that he isn't particularly proud of. Ultimately, he's just a pathetic guy who's had a very sad life."
But perhaps it's this patheticness that makes Vader relatable, even as a villain. Plenty of people have regrets from their past, and maybe they feel what they've done makes them past redemption. But as Darth Vader shows at the end of "Return of the Jedi," nobody is past redemption. As much of a monster as Vader is, in the end he is able to use what little good remains in him to help save the day. So, yes, Darth Vader is a pathetic man. But it's how much we can all see ourselves in him that makes him such a great character.
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