LIFE AND DARTH
Kieron Gillen, writer of Marvel’s Star Wars: Darth Vader, tells us why the Dark Lord of the Sith is cinema’s most enduring villain
i’ve spent the last two and a half years with Darth Vader in my head. In fact, I realised about halfway through writing Star Wars: Darth Vader that, unless I’m forgetting someone, I’ve written more actual-in-canon Darth Vader dialogue than any other individual in history. I’m not sure if that makes me qualified to say why he’s such an enduring icon of a villain. I actually suspect that it may make me the person least qualified to argue that.
You ask anyone who writes truly bad people how do they write truly bad people, you’re almost certain to get an identical answer: I don’t write truly bad people. no one thinks they’re a villain. everyone’s a hero of their own story. Due to the aforementioned two and a half years of having someone inside my head who thinks Force-choking their way through an office meeting is a good look, up there, Vader’s not a villain.
Thankfully, lower in my body, I’ve got that black shadow with a sharp handful of red who strode into frame in the first movie I saw in my life. That primal vision overwhelms my recent experience. The gut rules the head in fiction... but the head can at least analyse it. It’s like this. There is fear in a great villain. one part of this is the Doctor Whovian urge to hide behind the sofa, but it’s far more than that. You’re afraid for those characters you love who enter a scene with them. It’s the part of
you that spent all of Jessica Jones saying GET OUT NOW whenever Kilgrave walked in.
There is joy in a great villain. The bit where we relish the fearlessness and inspiration of the cruelty. The bit of us that wants to theatrically cancel Christmas. The bit we don’t always like to admit.
There is recognition in the great villain. We may not think we would do as they do, but we understand why they do what they do. They are as coherent a statement as anyone in the cast. You know why you must become Don Corleone. You know why you must push Matti from the roof of the House of Commons. You know that in a choice between making love on a purgatorial chaise longue and war, it must be war.
There is antithesis in a great villain. It is a heroes’ story. The villain not only opposes them, but acts as the opposing argument, embodying all the fears and flaws of our leads. Their defeat allows the hero to truly express the justness of their cause, their growth, their rightness... or, provide a question that the hero can never quite manage to answer. Batman and the Joker, forever glaring across the mirror.
Finally, there is style in a great villain. You make bad look good.
You can make a fantastic villain with a handful of these traits. Vader has all five.
That alone isn’t sufficient to explain his status. It’s all of that, and one more key thing. At least in some genres, a great story can exist without a great villain... but a great villain cannot exist without being in a great story. Darth Vader had the good fortune to be right in the heart of the pop cultural sensation that created the still dominant mode for mass market cinema entertainment. He had the break, and thanks to that he stands as the most iconic villain of my lifetime, if not the whole 20th century.
Also, awesome cape.
Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol 4 – End Of Games is published on 17 November.
Something lots of us thought we’d never, ever see again: Vader alive and dangerous.
The character you’re most looking forward to seeing…?