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I: The Emergence of Darth Vader
From the moment that he first appeared on screen as a nightmarish demon in black striding down a spaceship corridor, Darth Vader became an icon of evil. With his nearly seven-foot frame covered from head to toe in armor and leather, a billowing black cape that left a fleeting trace of where he had just been, and a hard-edged helmet and mask that furthered the terror, Vader didn't have to utter a word to strike fear. When he did speak, those deep, modulated tones were interrupted by harsh, mechanical breathing that further chilled his enemies. From the start, it was apparent that Darth Vader was indeed a villain for the ages.
That, of course, pleased writer-director George Lucas. What Lucas hadn't expected was how popular Darth Vader would become. The poster boy for villainy -- both figuratively and literally -- his was the costume that kids wanted to wear at Halloween. It was Vader's image on T-shirts, pajamas, underwear, and the like that sold the best. Editorial cartoonists quickly adopted Vader as shorthand for whatever immorality they were trying to portray. When Ronald Reagan declared that the Soviet Union was the "Evil Empire," it was Vader -- not some aging, faceless Communist bureaucrat -- that sprang to mind.
And yet, the character who was so easy to hate in Star Wars, the epitome of pure evil, became much more complex as the trilogy continued. When audiences found out the terrible, dark secret at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, that Vader was really Anakin Skywalker, the father of farmboy-turned-hero Luke Skywalker, millions gasped in disbelief. In fact, Lucas made sure that the dialog was written and played in such a way that younger children could believe that the dreadful line, "I am your father," was really a lie if the immensity of the revelation was just too much to bear.
By the time Return of the Jedi rolled around, filmgoers knew that Vader had spoken the truth. Still, there was a lot more to learn about his character, something that Luke had felt long before anyone else. "Your thoughts betray you, Father," the younger Skywalker says during a break in their violent lightsaber battle in the Emperor's throne room aboard the second Death Star. "I feel the good in you...the conflict."
"There is no conflict," Vader insists. In the end, Luke is proven right.
Lucas says that the new Star Wars trilogy that he is working on now, combined with the existing three films, will in totality be the story of Anakin Skywalker and the entire Skywalker family. The "larger story of Darth Vader is a story in a more classical sense," he told Jane Paley, who interviewed him for a film and audio tour that accompanied the yearlong Star Wars: The Magic of Myth exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. "It's about the struggle between good and evil, and about how somebody falls from grace and then is redeemed by his son."
In the first trilogy, Lucas says, we'll get to know Anakin first as a gifted nine-year-old, then as a young Jedi Knight who falls in love and marries. And we'll be witnesses to Anakin's eventual turn to the dark side of the Force, becoming the monstrous Darth Vader. It will be a mighty and wrenching fall.
In the end, with help from his son Luke, Anakin struggles and finds the last bit of the light side within himself, ultimately achieving redemption. In his first draft for Jedi, Lucas in fact had the elder Skywalker achieve even more -- a return to his corporeal body and a reunion with Luke. In fact, all three departed Jedi -- Anakin, Ben Kenobi, and Yoda -- returned in the flesh. A later draft had been Ben and Yoda return as shimmering images with Luke lost in deep thought about his departed father. In the shooting script by Lawrence Kasdan and Lucas and in the film, the three departed Jedi appear smiling, side by side, in their spirit forms.
As many buffs know, there were lots of changes between the initial story treatments and the various drafts for all three films in the trilogy, but none more so than for The Star Wars, which lost its initial article after the fourth and final draft had been written. Still there are bits and pieces that foreshadow the character of Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith, from the earliest writings.
In the story treatment, completed in the spring of 1973, sixteen-year-old Annikin [sic] Starkiller is living on the fourth moon of Utapau with his ten-year-old brother Deak and his father Kane, one of the last of the Jedi. They are hiding out from the rival Knights of Sith when Annikin spots a spacecraft orbiting the moon and rushes back to his hut with the news. The three then go to investigate the strange craft, which has landed, when seemingly out of nowhere a Sith warrior appears behind the two boys and kills Deak with his long "lazersword." The warrior is dressed in black robes and wearing a face mask.
Annikin pulls out his own lazersword and engages the warrior. Kane, who had gone on in advance of his sons, rushes back and slays the Sith warrior. Kane and Annikin later use the Sith ship to escape to Aquilae and go to the underground fortress of a General Skywalker. Kane is dying and asks Skywalker to complete Annikin's training. In another echo of what would become a major facet of Darth Vader, only Kane's head and right arm are human; all the rest of his body has been supplanted by mechanical and electronic devices.
"Having machines, like the droids, that are reasonably compassionate and a man like Vader who becomes a machine and loses his compassion was a theme that interested me," Lucas told author Laurent Bouzereau in an interview for Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays. The character of Annikin embodies some of the traits Lucas would later assign both to Luke Skywalker and the irascible pirate Han Solo.
Darth Vader, at least in name, exists in the rough draft. So how did Lucas come up with the name itself? In an in-house interview with Lucasfilm marketing executive Charlie Lippincott four months after Star Wars was released, Lucas had a simple explanation.
"Darth Vader is just another one of those things that came out of thin air," Lucas said. "It sort of appeared in my head one day. I mean I had lots of Darth this and Darth that, and Dark Lord of the Sith and all those kinds of things. And I also added lots of last names -- Vaders and Wilsons and Smiths -- and I just came up with combining Darth and Vader." It should be noted that Lucas had long toyed with the possibility of making Vader Luke's father, but he wasn't sure at that point whether he wanted to reveal that in the second or the third film. It seems little coincidence that, in several European languages, Darth Vader comes close to meaning "dark father."
Excerpted by permission of Chronicle Books. ®, , & © 1998 by Lucasfilm Ltd. All rights reserved.