What with The Force Awakens and Rogue One, the Star Wars universe is again invading planet earth! A life-long fan who saw the Star Wars movie 12 times when it came out in 1977, I think this is great. BUT, we also have a problem, a very, very serious problem, which comes from the lawless regions at the edge of the Star Wars “canon.” Over the years I managed to avoid this “hive of scum and villainy” (ha ha!) what with its bubbling cauldron of novels, comics, novelized comics and comicalized novels, but now that I’m on the Internet and watch Youtube, my barriers have been breached. As it were. So I’ve just discovered the nefarious and long-standing conspiracy to turn Darth Vader into a pathetic character straight out of Charles Dickens. Thus I bring to you:
THE VERY SAD AND TRAGICAL TALE OF THE PITIABLE ORPHAN JEDI WHO WAS HORRIBLY MAIMED AND CRIPPLED
According to the 1992 novel “Dark Lord: The Rise Of Darth Vader,” as quoted to me by the Star Wars Theory channel, when Vader thinks back to his “resurrection” after the duel with Obi Wan Kenobi he is “dismayed by the incompetence” of the medical droids who performed it. One problem is that they used the “wrong” kind of metal when rebuilding his legs and missing arm, resulting in constant and annoying “snagging” against the inner lining of his pressurized bodysuit. His boots are a “poor fit” for his artificial feet, the “claw like” toes of which do not work so well. And it gets worse, “raised in the heel, the cumbersome footage canted him slightly forward, forcing him to move with exaggerated caution lest he stumble or topple over. Worse, they were so heavy that he often felt rooted to the ground, or, as if he was moving about in high gravity. What good was motion of this sort? If he was going to have to call on the Force even to walk place to place he may as well have resigned himself to using a repulser chair and abandon any hope of movement.”
Good Lord! The poor thing doesn’t need a light saber, he needs a tin cup so he can beg for pennies outside the space port. Please remember his need for a pair of well-fitting boots, and give generously when you see him.
And the misery continues: his artificial arms are “sometimes slow to respond.” His cape and breastplate are so heavy and restrictive, that he can “scarcely move his arms above his head.” His gloves don’t fit well either, and “sag and bunch at his wrist.” His mask is “needlessly flared over the check bones.” His faulty hearing aids impede his hearing, but still, the sound of his own breathing makes it difficult to fall asleep because his semi-artificial lungs are another catastrophe. Even his regenerated skin itches!
All of this weepy nonsense is flatly contradicted by the grace and power of David Prowse’s original performance, as well as Vader’s action scenes in the new Rogue One. And look, I understand and approve of giving Vader a tragic edge. And indeed, Anakin’s defeat and rescue are depicted as a terrible ordeal in Revenge of the Sith. But when all the tear jerking of the canon, or near canon requires massive incompetence on the part of a galactic empire, a galactic empire!, I just have to call shenanigans. (No lightweight “space-age” fibers? Really??) What’s more, Vader is the Number Two man, just under the emperor, but his treatment program seems so underfunded he could be just another injured stormtrooper trying, and failing, to get an appointment with the Imperial Veterans Administration. Speaking of the Emperor, the efforts to pathetitize (new word!) Vader doesn’t stop with his bodysuit and artificial everything. He is actually turned into an underachiever. (Sacrilege!)
YouTuber “The Stupendous Wave” explains in a video that has garnered over 1 million hits, “Why Palpatine Didn’t Train Darth Vader.” Mr. Wave doesn’t quote a source for his explanation, so maybe he dreamed it up himself. But wherever it came from, it’s a load of hooey. Mr. Wave repeats how crippled Vader was after his loss to Kenobi, and how “his existence was filled with never-ending pain.” (What, no pain killers? They have hyperdrives, but no pain killers!?!) He then speculates that Vader’s powers in the force were “severely limited” by his injuries. (Huh?) And for some reason, this inspires Palpatine to let Vader train himself in the ways of the Dark Side. (Again, huh?) So now Palpatine has a crippled, home-schooled protégée – who he promptly sends out to kill all remaining Jedi knights. Vader manages to hunt down and kill 8 of them. Yet Palpatine is “somewhat disappointed” by this. Like killing 8 Jedi knights is easy.
Ach. I’m not going to listen to any more of it. Again, it just goes against all the logic of the set up. Palpatine, like any successful tyrant, is only interested in his own power, so his interest in people depends on their usefulness. When an underling loses that usefulness, he or she is discarded with supreme ease. Just look at what happened to Count Dooku. Palpatine is also very, very good at gauging how best to use those around him. Look at how he plays the Senate and the Jedi Council in his rise to power. So when he discovers the mutilated Anakin and makes the decision to save him, we can be confident he is not being sentimental. Nor incompetent – this is the leader of a galactic civilization after all. He’d do the job right, thereby producing the formidable foe we were all introduced to in A New Hope. Remember Vader’s boast to Kenobi when they face off in a new duel? – “Now I am the master!” Does that sound like a guy who feels he should just give up and use a repulser chair?
Which brings me to my final complaint with all this “Poor Little Vader” stuff: it diminishes the triumph achieved by Luke and the Rebellion whenever they score one over Vader and his forces. In fact, given what a despairing, self-loathing, pain-filled cripple Vader is supposed to be, those victories practically turn into human rights violations!
For anyone who’d like to listen to the crap I just criticized, the links are below!
All of Darth Vader’s Injuries and His Thoughts About Them – Star Wars Explained
Why Palpatine Didn’t Train Darth Vader – Star Wars Explained
OK, I just finished going after overwrought canon and fan fiction that, in an attempt to make Darth Vader tragic, actually turned him into a pathetic loser. This time I do something much harder, which is to criticize St. George himself. Being a devout Star Wars fan since the age of 16, I feel somewhat like Martin Luther gearing up to start The Reformation. Well, OK. I’m being dramatic. All I’ll do is criticize The Phantom Menace, and millions of people have already done that. But still, I like to think of myself as a brave pioneer, so…
But first, a shameful confession: I don’t hate The Phantom Menace. In fact, I love a great part of it. I love its evocation of Coruscant. I love the beautiful underwater city of Otoh Gunga. I love the journey through Naboo’s “planet core,” the one that’s filled with huge marine monsters. The pod-racing sequence, if a bit too long, is thrilling. The Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo is strangely beautiful, while its battle with the Gungan army is pulp science-fiction at its best. And if anyone knows of an affordable time-share in Theed, please let me know. I’ll even take something in the suburbs!
You might notice I haven’t talked about the plot or the characters. Because, well…(Except Darth Maul – he’s awesome!) I could talk about a number of things, including the unspeakable “M word,” (Hint: it’s midichlorian) but I want to focus on what’s become for me the primary problem: poor little Anakin Skywalker. And it all started out so promisingly, with that terrific poster showing a cute little kid with the shadow of Darth Vader. But alas, the movie didn’t live up to that poster. It’s sort of like that part in The Lord of the Rings, the novels, not the movies, where the narration talks about the “afternoon rarely living up to the promise of the morning.”
So what’s wrong with Anakin? – An adorable little tyke of only 9 summers age, he’s simply too young. At least to be doing what he is doing:
He has trained himself to be a professional level race pod driver.
He has designed and constructed his own racing pod. And it’s faster than most of the other pods in the circuit. The ones built by teams of adult professionals.
He has also designed and built, in his (extra) spare time, a protocol droid. I repeat – a protocol droid. Because when he isn’t dreaming about winning glory as a champion pod racer, he is captivated by the problems of managing a vast governmental bureaucracy.
And who could forget how he “accidentally” pilots a star fighter from the planet surface up into an orbital dogfight? How he “accidentally” avoids the deadly fire of enemy fighters, “accidentally” breaches the defenses of the lead Trade Federation battle station, “accidentally” destroys it, and “accidentally” survives the experience.
And did I mention that Anakin is a slave? Yes, a slave! A slave with a superb, fast-track education, an impressive budget, and lots of spare time to do all the cool things that interest him. All of us should suffer under such hardship! (I think I hear you saying that Anakin didn’t need a “budget” because his master runs a junkyard. So Anakin built all of his state-of-the-art toys from junk. – But of course, even if that were possible, Watto would be giving up the income he could get from selling the high quality pieces Anakin needs to use in his projects. In other words, Anakin has a budget, and a generous one. – Quick question! How many of us have fathers and/or slave-driver bosses who would do this for us? Those who do, please contact me, as I have some wonderful investment opportunities in mind!)
There’s so much wrong here. Lucas really bit off more than he could chew by trying to simultaneously condemn the institution of slavery AND demonstrate young Anakin’s amazing abilities. It’s a head-on collision of dramatic intent, and the wreckage is thrown for miles and miles around the rest of the movie. And those amazing abilities – did they have to be so incredibly awesomely staggeringly super duper amazing? Anakin is such an astounding prodigy that he tears a hole in the fabric of space-time itself. And did anyone else notice that no one in the movie is amazed at the amazing 9-year-old who single handedly saved Naboo? Amazing!
Oh, and the final problem with Anakin being 9-years-old: it is at this point that he begins his erotic fixation with Padme. Eeeeeuuuuuwwww!
No, we just have to admit that the whole thing has to be thrown out and that we need to go back to the drawing board. But that would be like re-writing the Bible, since it’s all in a Lucas written and directed movie. – Yes, alas. And maybe someday, maybe someday.
Final Note: This is a tangent, but another big mistake is that Lucas makes Obi-wan too young as well. According to the official timeline, he’s 25 years old in The Phantom Menace, and 57 in A New Hope. As played by the 63-year-old Alec Guinness, that makes Obi Wan a very old looking 57-year-old. Which would be OK if our story was set in Depression era America. But it’s not. It’s set in a super advanced galactic empire. Again, there’s this strange problem with medicine and personal health in the Star Wars universe. What’s more, Obi Wan is a clean living Jedi who is strong in the Force. No, it just doesn’t work. I’m sure there are all sorts of explanations out there for why Obi Wan is prematurely aged in A New Hope. But the fans’ need to come up with an explanation just highlights the problem.
Why did Lucas make this mistake? My guess is that he felt making Obi Wan young would help explain his “screw up” regarding Anakin’s seduction by the Dark Side. But that was just one option, and I think another one should have been chosen.
Final Final Note: Related to my Final Note, in a tangential way, is all the huffing and puffing about both Vader and Obi Wan losing strength and ability between their first duel and their second. I appreciate fan dedication, even at borderline neurotic levels, but at some point we need to pull ourselves out of the Rabbit Hole and come back to Earth. (I hope I didn’t mix too many metaphors with that last bit.) The angst comes from the fact that the “first” duel between the two is much more spectacularly athletic than the “second” duel. So gosh, we have to come up with an internally consistent fantasy universe explanation, right? No, we don’t. The reason the “first” duel is so much flashier is that it was staged 28 years after the “second” one. Back in 1976, movie sword fights, related stunts, and helping special effects were not nearly as expert as they were in 2003, when Revenge of the Sith was in production. The “first” duel also featured younger actors. Remember, Alec Guinness was 63 when he fought David Prowse’s Vader.
For those who think this explanation is not complete, I’d like to add two things. One, there is no hint in the script of A New Hope that either Vader or Obi Wan are suffering from some unusual disability. Obi Wan never tells Vader that he no longer has it because now he’s half machine. And while there is some sense that Obi Wan is past his prime, Vader never says, “You’ve grown weaker than I expected, old man.” Or something to that effect. Two, I remember seeing A New Hope when it came out, and the light saber duel was state of the art for its day. Harking back to the golden age of Japanese samurai cinema, it also helped open the flood gates so that Hong Kong kung fu spectacle could wash over Hollywood. The impact of that invasion, plus the advance in movie making technology, is all that we need in order to explain the difference between the two fights. And if anyone is still bothered by this difference, I have one suggestion – use your imagination.
Oh well. That’s my 2 cents worth. Thanks for listening!
Sean Ledden (Feb 2017)