A popular comment about writing is that we write best what we know, what we are most intimate with. Every story has a piece of its author within it, but the best make it only a sliver. This is so you can’t tell who the story is really about, because in the end the story should resonate with you, and thus be about your discovery and fascination within the narrative and world. George Lucas ‘knew without knowing’ when he wrote Star Wars, and those serendipitous circumstances are usually the best.
Darth Vader has been one of the most popular villains ever since he was introduced to the public. From the word ‘go’, his voice and charisma carried its way through the screen and both terrified and awed us. He was the penultimate ‘Black Knight’ who had betrayed his own kind and slaughtered them, only to redeem himself in the waning twilight of his life. This was all in the original trilogy, where he was revered and feared. However, in the prequels many think that Darth Vader was done a disservice by Hayden Christiansen, bad dialogue, and shoddy development.
What if that’s not true at all?
What if George Lucas is a better storyteller than you think, and Hayden is a better man than most of us will ever be?
Doc, What are you smoking over there?
George Lucas was himself a shy awkward kid who was the son of a well to do family, not rich, but well to do. He often squirreled himself away in his garage tinkering on his cars and other gadgets. He raced fairly frequently until he had a crash that nearly killed him. He was unable to move, locked within the vice-grip of primitive breathing machines and mechanical lungs. This, I assert, was the impetus of Darth Vader.
Lucas felt trapped, unable to speak, or communicate with the outside world. For months he lie there, seemingly a vacant soul trapped within a broken body. But all the while his fervent mind was put to task. He created a world, a cast of characters, and at the pinnacle of that world was a man trapped within himself. A man trapped behind breathing machines and respirators, behind a voice that was not his own, and a visage that he never wanted.
After he wrote that story, he wanted to write ‘his’ story. The story of Anakin; of a humble boy rich in ‘force’, who was always a little different. Anakin worked on his droids and racers, and as he grew up and became very strong, he still lacked the ability to understand emotion, especially as it was exhibited in other people. He was unable to read social cues, lacked the basic understanding of humanity that most of us take for granted, and this angered him. He was a man strong in an ability governed by faith and emotion, who could not himself connect to that faith or emotion.
Darth Vader/Anakin was written to be on the autistic spectrum.
Now look back at that dialogue. The coarse sand, the cheesy one-liners etc. It was scripted, it was deliberate. Anakin was written to be socially awkward and unable to communicate his feelings. That’s why he was so easy to manipulate, because it was hard for him to have faith, but it was easy for him to hate. All that had to happen was for him to love something or someone, and then lose them.
Hayden Christiansen was brilliant in ‘Life as a House’, his acting chops were put on full display and he showed nuance and depth that we never got to see in the prequels. Everyone blamed that on the actor and he’s received hate for destroying Darth Vader. But what if all he did was act just like George told him to? What if George had always intended for the impetus of Vader to be a scared, autistic, socially awkward boy like he was. He was being a storyteller, he was showing not telling.
What people were really hating, without knowing it, was George himself. He stuck his neck out and the audience cut it off. He didn’t have the courage to tell us then, and Hayden like a true bro, took it in stride. Instead of blaming George and saying he only did what he was told, Hayden took it on the chin, put on a stiff upper lip, and took the criticism as his own. He let the legend and legacy of Darth Vader live on, while his career took a serious downturn.
I think that people hated Hayden’s portrayal, which was really a mirror of George himself, took a lot of out Lucas. I think after that, he lost much of his fervor and flavor for more of the world he created.
But that’s another article.