You knew this was coming, right? There is no way I can have any coherent discussion about villainy without addressing the Dark Lord of the Sith, the personification of evil for like 3 generations (cuz Lucas keeps re-releasing the SAME MOVIES!), your friend and mine—Darth Vader!
I was 4 the first time I saw the dark-suited wonder. It was at a drive-in and we’d gone to see Star Wars (the original, not this Episode 68 crap). I was two feet tall then; Vader was 20. He walked through the doorway of a ship, had to duck, surveyed the carnage and stepped over bodies without a word. No villain I had ever seen had been so imposing and made such a minimalist entrance. But what did he need to do? His stature said everything; his very presence conveyed everything we needed to know. But in case there were questions, in case we were unsure if he was the bad guy, the very next time we see him he picks up a man by the throat, asks him a question and BROKE HIS NECK BEFORE HE ANSWERED IT! And then threw his ass across the room.
This was more than my little 4-year-old mind could handle.
For the remainder of the next 2 hours, I watched this guy choke a dude out without touching him (in a meeting, no less! Not an argument, a regular Monday morning status meeting, Vader is choking folks!), blow up homegirl’s WHOLE planet, kill an old man and try to shoot down a kid in a fighter plane. And he wasn’t asking people to do this for him—he held the lightsaber, he was flying the ship. He definitely got his hands dirty. Did I mention this was a PG movie?
But it got better. In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader got a theme song that they now play in football stadiums. He killed his own people THROUGH THE TV. He didn’t even have to make the pinchy move with his fingers. Vader killed one dude while talking to another. When Han Solo shot at him, Vader caught the lasers in his hand and snatched the gun away. From the other side of the table. Then invited Han Solo to dinner. And then, to entice his own son to join him, Vader tried to freeze him, then beat him up by pulling shit off the walls with his mind, cut off Luke’s hand and told him, “Oh yeah, I’m your dad. We should totally go into business together.”
I am intentionally ignoring Return of the Jedi—I felt like it was an anticlimactic end to a stellar character. And I hate Ewoks. I could expound on Vader’s activities as Anakin Skywalker in the prequels but they truly are just the icing on an otherwise disturbing cake. And these items don’t actually illustrate why Darth Vader is so awesome: Vader gets it done.
I’ve said it before. He doesn’t give a damn what the obstacle is, what the challenge is, what’s in his way. As he told one of his admirals when their ship was getting blasted by asteroids while pursuing the Millennium Falcon, “Asteroids do not concern me, Admiral. I want that ship, not excuses.” Vader makes it happen. And he’s perfectly fine doing the dirty work himself.
But the truth is, what makes Darth Vader so incredibly potent as a villain is his rationale: Vader doesn’t have shit to lose. Think about it. His wife is dead, his mom is dead, his best friend tried to kill him and left him for dead, he has 4 prosthetic limbs, got burned alive and he’s permanently entombed in a leather burn unit. He killed everybody close to him, thinks his kids are dead, and his boss is a guy who figured out how to live forever. What else can happen to this guy? And when you truly have nothing to lose, you have nothing to fear. And when you have nothing to fear, well, there’s really nothing you won’t do, is there?
And that is what makes Darth Vader my favorite villain of all time.
Tomorrow, the Wicked Witch of the West breezes through. She’s gonna get you and your little dog too!