My 5 favorite villains: Volume 5

Ah so, here we are at the villain who should top everyone’s villain list. Before we get to that, I should mention that I’ve written these after I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about their top 20 heroes and top 20 villains.

I thought the lists were crap.

James Bond, as much as I love him, is not really a hero (certainly not number 1). Action hero? Yes. Number 1 on the list of awesome characters? Definitely. But he’s an assassin, who’s more interested in beating down some bad guys and sleeping with exotic women than saving the day (he saves the day because it’s his job).

My list of heroes will come in future posts. And their number one villain? The Wicked Witch of the West. Please. Iconic? Definitely. Scary? Not for me, but apparently for others yes. Well-developed? Hardly, all she does is cackle. She certainly has a place on the list because of her importance to film history, but when you’re talking villains in terms of how iconic, well-developed, and awesome they are, there’s only one man that comes to mind (although he’s more machine now, than man).

No. 1. Darth Vader from Star Wars. And for the record, I am referring to the series as a whole. I will never in my life refer to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope as Star Wars, because George Lucas initially intended it to be Episode IV but didn’t want to throw off audiences.

Refer to it as Star Wars in my presence and I’ll react as though you said that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is on the same level as The Dark Knight

. Anyway, back to Vader.

First off, admittedly it’s an incredibly nostalgic character for me. The original trilogy was sadly before my time, so I couldn’t experience it for the first time in theaters. But when my mom decided it was time for me to watch the trilogy, man I thought they were incredible. I thought they were pretty much the greatest things I’d ever seen.

And when Vader’s humanity shines through at the end of Episode VI, it was the first time I really felt the power of a film. To this day it still makes me cry and I’ve probably seen it at least 20 times. That moment is what solidifies Vader as the best villain, because in the end he wasn’t a villain at all.

A lot of people hate the prequel trilogy, but I think they’re excellent. Sure they’re cheesy (much like the original trilogy), sure young Anakin is annoying (just like young Luke), and yeah there’s Jar-jar (no excuse for that one). But you know what? The overall plot is better than the original trilogy, and the original movies are overall more charming and have a better flow, therefore I regard all six as pretty much equal (at least in how much I love them).

The main point of the new movies is to showcase the fact that the whole thing is really about Vader. He, along with Obi-Wan, R2D2, and C-3PO, are the only characters in all six movies. And as the robots are comic relief and Obi-Wan is the guide, really it’s about Vader’s descent and subsequent salvation. In addition, there are a lot of great musical moments in the prequels which foreshadow the birth of Vader (and yes I can tell you every time Vader’s Theme is played in the prequels).

In fact, my love for film music really erupted when I saw Episode II, it was during the scene after Anakin kills those responsible for his mother’s death. When he says, “I slaughtered them like animals, I hate them!” it blares out Vader’s Theme, and man I just wanted to jump up in the theater and scream, “Did you guys hear that? That was the freaking coolest thing ever!”

Right then, enough harping on the films themselves. Vader’s villainy stems from the most human of all dilemmas: love. He made a deal with the devil to save the one he loved. He always did have a bit of an ego, as in Episode II it’s slightly inferred that he thinks if he ran the whole intergalactic political scene, things would be better (this is something I can understand).

But he really just wanted to be with Padmé, and when that connection was threatened he took action. Aside from Hannibal (who’s really just messed up in the head, although he lacks a certain human connection too even if it’s never explored in the films), every other villain I’ve discussed suffers from this same dilemma.

Michael Corleone entered the family business out of love for his father, Lex Luthor and Ben Linus were cast aside by their fathers and they try to force others to fill that gap in their lives. Anakin didn’t really have a father, so his connection to his mother was strong. His first step toward the dark side was when his mother was killed. And when he thought it was all happening again with Padmé, he had to do whatever was necessary to secure her safety.

If you notice, Anakin doesn’t take pleasure in carrying out his first orders from the Emperor. He convinces himself that he’s getting rid of the Jedi because they’re dangerous, and that he’ll overthrow the Emperor later and run things properly in his place, but he really just wants to save Padmé and his unborn children.

Everything else was just a lie he told himself so that he could aid in the committing of mass murder.

After killing the Separatist leaders, there’s a single tear on Anakin’s face. He was ashamed of what he had become, but in his mind there was no other choice. However, things start to go downhill when Padmé confronts him on Mustafar (a planet that aptly looks like Hell).

She sees him as the monster he’s become, and he begins to choke her out of anger because he feels that she’s betrayed him. In his broken mind, he had sacrificed everything for her and she was turning her back on him. He then proceeds to fight the only father he’s ever had: Obi-Wan. In the aftermath of the battle, Anakin is nothing but a broken shell of a man.

Enter Lord Vader.

In order to survive, Anakin is placed inside a mechanical suit, outside of which he cannot survive for long. At this point, he has become the physical representation of everything inhuman and cold. Like all great villains, his distorted soul irrevocably altered his appearance.

When he arises from the operating table, the Emperor informs him that in his anger he murdered Padmé. This is of course untrue, but Vader believes him. His self-image is the single most important facet of his character. What kind of a monster murders his own wife and unborn children?

Since he sees himself in this way, he has no other choice but to stand at the Emperor’s side. He has nowhere else to go. Everyone needs something that keeps them going (or a quantum of solace if you will). For Bond, it’s his job. For Batman, it’s revenge for the death of his parents.

For Vader, it was Padmé. But in the wake of her death, he had nothing left but service to the Emperor. He told himself that he couldn’t be saved. So he became Darth Vader, the scourge of the galaxy. A quote from Alan Moore’s Watchmen phrased a similar situation more poetically than I could, “I am a horror, amongst horrors must I dwell.”

Once Episode IV hits, it’s been 17 or 19 years or something. By this time, Vader has been crushing the resistance for years. Anything that was once human in him is supposedly gone at this point. He proceeds to kill his father-figure Obi-Wan in a somewhat appropriately low-key battle (appropriate since Vader doesn’t view the conflict as emotionally as their conflict in Episode III. Still, the fact that Vader’s Theme never plays in IV really does bother me).

It would seem that his villainy is irreversible, as the machine side of him has taken over. However, in V’s finale, when Vader is revealed to be Luke’s father (still the coolest scene ever) we see some of that humanity start to come out. In his own way, he’s reaching out to his son, trying to save him from the Empire’s wrath by having him join it. He’s still searching for that familial connection that he lost all those years ago in the desert when his mother died. In some ways, the connection he lost when he left his mother to become a Jedi.

By the time the series has reached Episode VI, Luke is starting to get a bit darker. In addition, Vader seems more conflicted. Though he says, “It is too late for me, son” he doesn’t sound too sure of himself. More than that, he sounds sad.

And then, in the finale of VI we see what are easily some of my favorite scenes ever committed to film. Vader is still trying to turn Luke to the dark side, perhaps for the aforementioned connection, perhaps because he’s still following orders, or perhaps to justify his own actions years earlier. However, when Luke lays down his lightsaber upon defeating his father in battle, without the film really telling you to, you can instinctually feel the change in Vader.

Then when the Emperor starts to torture Luke with the intent to kill him, Vader finally realizes that the humanity he thought had long been washed away by years of killing had still been inside of him the whole time. He picks up the Emperor and flings him right into oblivion. This action, and the previous fight, causes Vader’s hybrid body to shut down.

But he dies a once and future hero, and not the machine that had enslaved the galaxy for years. This transition is solidified in a controversial addition to the end of the movie, where Anakin’s ghost appears as his younger self, played by Hayden Christensen. I think this is excellent, because he lives on in the afterlife in his full glory, not as the shell of his former self.

If the prequel trilogy is about doom, the original is about redemption. Luke is what his father should have been, and he thus saves the soul of his father.

Love is what turned Vader, and it’s what brought him back. The father saved the son from physical death because the son saved the father from spiritual death. That’s beautiful. On the surface, Vader is the best villain because he has the best theme music, cool force powers, and probably the greatest voice of all time. But underneath it all, we must remember that the best villains are the ones that show us a reflection of ourselves.

And Vader’s story is not just recognizable in a scary way. It’s also recognizable in a good way. He shows us that no matter how far you travel down the dark path, you can always turn back. Even in the most cruel villain, a shred of humanity remains. No one is truly beyond redemption, and if we can alter our opinions about ourselves we can change for the better too. If Dr.

Phil or somebody says that, it sounds really cheesy and stupid. But the way it is shown throughout six movies of Star Wars is truly powerful, and it’s the reason they remain some of my favorite movies of all time, and why Darth Vader remains the greatest villain of all time.

(Read Volume 4 Villains.)