DUEL OF THE GREATS
THE CASE FOR VADER
HERE’S A FUN little game you can play at home. Think of the great Darth Vader lines. The stuff you quote all the time, perhaps even without thinking about it. “I am your father,” of course. “We would be honoured if you would join us.” “In time, you will call me master.” For a man of few words, most of them wind up rattling around your head.
Now think of the great Kylo Ren lines. I’ll wait. Of course, that’s a slightly facetious way of comparing the two Star Wars wrong-’uns, but make no mistake: Darth Vader remains the greatest villain of the greatest franchise. Which makes him the greatest villain, full stop.
Everything about Vader is designed for maximum malevolence. That mask, unblinking, designed so that you never know what Vader’s truly thinking. That voice, courtesy of James Earl Jones. Calculating; chilling; deep as the Mariana Trench. That rasping rattle, guaranteed to keep kids awake at night. That feeling that he’s in complete control of every situation and, if you even so much as look at him funny, it’s brown-britches time. This is what pure evil looks and sounds like. Vader will haunt your nightmares.
The Empire Strikes Back, in particular, might as well have been called Vader Strikes Back. It is his movie. He bestrides it like a bucket-headed colossus, outsmarting Rebels to the last, casually executing minions who displease him, dropping truth bombs on his son. He gets the best new musical theme as well, an ominous blast of pure dread that’s also kinda catchy.
Yes, Kylo Ren is a better version of Anakin Skywalker’s tortured Youtube celebrity act. You could even argue that Ren has more complexity and emotional resonance than Vader, but that would be to ignore the struggle the Sith Lord faces in Return Of The Jedi before his late lurch to the light. Though when it comes to pure out-and-out villainy, he remains little more than a tribute to the original and best.
And while Rian Johnson remedied that somewhat in The Last Jedi, removing the helmet and the overt fan worship, what remains is still little more than Donald Trump with a lightsaber; a blustering blowhard with legendary mood swings. And not a quotable line in sight. When it comes to the clash of the red lightsabers, accept no substitutes.