Movie Musings: The Path to Darth Vader, buried within the Star Wars Prequels

To many, it seemed that the Star Wars prequels could be summed up in four words: George Lucas blew it.

However, in the years since the three films were released, and despite the neverending flogging from a very vocal (but usually online) fanbase, I often found myself still intrigued by what had been laid out before the public.

While many had high hopes of a film trilogy that would have shown Anakin Skywalker ‘hunting down and destroying Jedi,’ Lucas instead attempted to tell a story of how a giving and caring person, was corrupted into craving ultimate power.

Unlike a mere rehash of the films many knew and loved, the Prequels attempted to tell their own tale. Notable, was how Darth Sidious (under the guise of a Senator-turned Chancellor named Palpatine)  managed to not only bring down the Jedi Order, but coerce the Galactic Republic into giving him total control, and forming the Galactic Empire.

Of course, Sidious continued to play with the ‘rule of two,’ when it came to doctrine of the Sith: there would be only a Master, and an Apprentice.

Over the course of the three films, we’d see several of Palpatine’s apprentices rise and fall. One looked like a demonic bad-@$$, another was a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side, then a mechanically-aided alien creature, before Sidious finally set his sights on Anakin.

With Skywalker at his side, Palpatine could have had one of his most powerful apprentices ever. However, circumstances left him with a badly-wounded husk of a human being…one who was then transformed into an imposing dark presence, who became one of the most visually-distinctive figures in the Star Wars Universe.

While many were let down with Lucas’ depiction of the Jedi Council (a rather pompous lot whom had become lazy after a millennia of having no Sith to counteract), there was also some negativity bandied towards his depictions of the multiple Sith Apprentices as well.

Many fans were used to the general idea of there being a ‘constant’ apprentice to the Emperor, as it was in The Original Trilogy with Vader.

However, what some may not have considered (from a certain point-of-view), was that the three figures we see being loyal to Darth Sidious, might in fact, be considered as ‘puzzle pieces,’ that together, form Darth Vader.

In several making-of pieces, Lucas makes note of what he calls, ‘an echo.’ This is usually in reference to something we see, that will also come back later in some form.

The first time I recalled this word usage, was during a “webisode,” discussing the creation of General Grievous.

Lucas was adamant that the concept artists not ‘recreate Darth Vader,’ but was taken by an image that showed a metal creation, with organic eyes. This was the birth of Episode III‘s new bad guy.

His telling of how Grievous was “an echo of what Anakin is going to become,” started the wheels in my head to turn. Soon, I began to think deeper, about the apprentices to Darth Sidious.

This post, is the result of those thoughts. So, let’s see what I’ve dug up.

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Darth Maul

From the moment he was introduced visually to the public back in 1998, many eagerly clamored for more of Episode I’s Sith Apprentice.

His kicks and flips were one thing, but his tattooed visage and double-bladed lightsaber, quickly made him the ‘Boba Fett’ of the first prequel film. Many were eagerly snapping up toys of Maul, and speculating on just how he’d fit into the grand scheme of the new trilogy.

…and then he was cut down by Obi-Wan Kenobi, infuriating many! How could Lucas throw away what was (essentially) an awesome character, many wailed.

The truth is, George Lucas rarely goes for what’s ‘cool.’ This explains why fan-favorite character Boba Fett, was so easily dispatched in Return of the Jedi. To George, Fett had served his purpose, and there was no further reason for him to live on.

Of course, George’s vision was mere peanuts compared to the fans and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, that soon made Fett out to be ‘The Most Interesting Bounty Hunter in the Galaxy.’

When going over Maul’s appearance in The Phantom Menace, I soon thought I had figured out what Lucas was trying to do.

To me, it boiled down to a line that Luke Skywalker told the Emperor in Return of the Jedi: “Your over-confidence is your weakness.”

Maul is much the same way. He’s been trained by Sidious, and like a brash young upstart, he seems to think he can take on anything. With his whirling dervish moves, he feels his skills will give him the upper-hand in getting revenge on the Jedi.

Maul’s skills come into play when he stuns Qui-gon and take him out, but his over-confidence gets the better of him, when he revels in Obi-Wan hanging over the pit on Naboo.

Obi-Wan ended up getting the upper-hand against Maul, by jumping over him, and slicing him with Qui-Gon’s lightsaber.

This also serves as an ‘echo’ in Revenge of the Sith.

When Obi-Wan confronts Anakin on the planet Mustafar, Anakin is confident in his powers, and much like Maul, his moves are fast and vicious.

We also get an ‘echo’ to Obi-Wan in Menace, when Anakin attempts to jump over Obi-Wan. However, Obi-Wan has been in this situation before, and he knows what to expect (even cautioning Anakin not to do what he knows he’ll do).

Just like Darth Maul, Anakin’s over-confidence becomes his weakness, and Obi-Wan mortally-wounds his former apprentice, with a well-placed slice of his lightsaber.

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Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyrannus)

In Attack of the Clones, Count Dooku was revealed to be a former Jedi (and Master to Qui-Gon Jinn), who left the Jedi Order.

Word was that Dooku became disillusioned with the Order, and how it was conducting itself. It was briefly mentioned that Qui-gon himself was sometimes at odds with the Council, and these tendencies may have been instilled in him by his own Master.

It surprised the Jedi, when Dooku was soon mentioned as being a member of the Separatist Movement, which seemed intent to try and take control of the Galaxy, away from the Republic.

Just as Dooku found disillusionment with the Jedi, an ‘echo’ of this seemed to be mirrored in Anakin as the Prequels continued onward.

Anakin’s emotional turmoil is on display in Attack of the Clones, most notable in regards to the death of his mother, as well as his feelings for Padme Amidala. The monastic lifestyle of the Jedi began to clash with Anakin’s thinking, and as he tried to wrestle with those around him telling to let go of his emotions and feelings, he often found himself unable to do so.

We see more of Anakin’s disillusionment in Revenge of the Sith, when he is given a position on the council, though mainly out of obligation to the requests of Chancellor Palpatine. The Council does so at the request of Palpatine, but Anakin does not become a Master simply by sitting on it. Anakin in turn, is upset by this, but is further upset upon being given a secret request by Obi-Wan, to spy upon the Chancellor, at the Council’s request.

Being used to spy on the Chancellor feels like a further crumbling of Anakin’s faith in the Jedi Order, and he grows upset as well, when Padme asks him to speak directly with Palpatine. Because of his closeness to Palpatine, she requests he ask him to consider diplomacy against the Separatists, to end the war (“Don’t ask me to do that,” he snaps at her. “Make a motion in the Senate, where that kind of a request belongs!”).

I will admit when it comes to Dooku, there isn’t quite as much in regards to him, as he’s a bit less ‘confrontational’ than Maul or Grievous.

Even so, Dooku was powerful enough to channel Force lightning upon Anakin, while also maneuvering his own lightsaber, with an aire of grace and fluidity.

We also see, that he was not above playing mind games, even with the Jedi.

Notable is when he has Obi-Wan Kenobi captured on Geonosis.

At one point, Dooku tells Obi-Wan point-blank, that a Sith Lord is controlling the Galactic Senate.  Dooku even tries to use this information to turn Obi-wan, claiming the two of them can destroy the Sith. It could be that Dooku hoped that Obi-Wan’s loyalty to Qui-Gon could make him able to be turned, but Kenobi stays strong and refuses the offer (it almost ‘echoes’ Vader’s attempts to turn Luke in The Empire Strikes Back).

The information is later relayed to the Council, and rattles them slightly. Though they don’t wholly believe what has been told, they decide to keep a closer watch on the Senate.

This tactic of trying to turn good people to the Dark Side, is almost ‘echoed’ in Revenge of the Sith with Anakin. When he meets Padme on Mustafar, he tries to convince her that he is powerful enough to overcome Palpatine, and that this can pave the way for them to be happy. With Palpatine overthrown, Anakin claims that they can ‘rule the galaxy, and make things the way they want to be.’

Though just like Kenobi, Padme refuses to give in to this Sith Apprentice’s offerings of power.

Of course, Anakin’s confrontations with Dooku in Episodes II and III, resulted in dismemberment for the both of them.

Dooku cut off Anakin’s arm in Episode II, and in their next confrontation, Anakin cut off Dooku’s hands, and decapitated the former Jedi, at the behest of Palpatine.

One could almost see that moment, as Palpatine testing Skywalker, to see how loyal he could truly be. Though Anakin shows a slight remorse, Palpatine claims that his actions were justified (“He cut off your arm, and you wanted revenge,” says Palpatine).

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General Grievous


During the Clone Wars, Darth Sidious and Count Dooku employed an overseer for the Separatist’s Droid Army, in the form of General Grievous.

When first introduced in the Cartoon Network animated series in 2004, Grievous was seen as a cunningly-fast, and dangerous threat to the Jedi.

It was a far cry from his appearance in Revenge of the Sith though, where he seemed to be one of those villains who talked big, but then quickly ran away, shaking his fist at the “Jedi scum,” as he made his way to a new location (usually with a raspy cough).

Just like Maul and Tyrannus, Grievous also supplies a piece in the evolutionary puzzle of Darth Vader.

Whereas Maul shows how overconfidence can cloud a Sith’s judgement, and Dooku shows how a Jedi can be turned to the Dark Side via disillusionment, Grievous shows himself to be an early predecessor of a creature, kept alive via technology.

However, the mechanics are far from perfect, as seconds after he is introduced in Episode III, a raspy cough can be heard, a sign that the technology that Grievous is encased in, can’t cure all his ailments.

George Lucas has often been fascinated by the concept of man-and-technology, a theme that winds it’s way through his entire filmography.

Some could almost consider Grievous to be Vader’s predecessor. With his imposing height and appearance (at times looking like a living alien skeleton), let alone his threatening demeanor, the two almost seem cut from the same cloth.

While some criticize the rasping cough that accompanied the general in the film, it can be considered another ‘echo’ to the ‘creature/man-in-suit’ theme surrounding Vader.

The technology to save Grievous, is shown to have flaws, notably in how it cannot cure his cough. There is also the not-so-protective chest cavity, where his vital organs are stored. We see this flaw when Obi-Wan Kenobi manages to pry it open wide enough, to eventually fire a blaster, and cause the contents to catch fire, leading to the General’s death.

When it comes to Anakin, the cybernetic enhancements and the dark suit that he is encased in at the end of Episode III, are the final steps to erasing all traces of the former human being he once was. Plus, one assumes that since the Empire didn’t tell what had befallen Anakin (probably writing him off as another Jedi casualty), many never knew who was behind the imposing mask, and simply referred to him by the title of Darth Vader, as the Emperor requested.

I imagine some feel that my inclusion of Grievous here is somewhat of a ‘cheat,’ given that he was never a true apprentice to Darth Sidious. However, we did see in one scene, that Grievous was taking orders from Sidious (such as being told to move the Separatists to the planet Mustafar). Plus, he claimed that Dooku trained him in the Jedi Arts.

I feel that Grievous could be considered an unofficial apprentice for the first half of Episode III, after the death of Count Dooku. Shortly after Grievous is destroyed by Obi-Wan, that is when Anakin is given the title of Darth Vader, pledging himself to Palpatine’s teachings, and the Dark Side.

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Final Thoughts

When it came to the Prequels, George Lucas strove to make us question just who Darth Vader was.

Throughout the Original Trilogy, and the many years of advertising, Vader’s helmeted visage became an icon for the series. However, this was counter to what Lucas originally envisioned.

An example is in A New Hope. Whereas many thought it was Vader who was running much of the operations for the Empire, he was little more than an overseer to certain events, and little more than a lapdog/assistant to Grand Moff Tarkin, who was running the show on the Death Star (it was Tarkin after all, who ordered the destruction of Alderaan).

Throughout the years, many have often complained that Episode I’s storyline should have been excised. They claimed the story should have started with Anakin as a teenager, with him ‘falling’ in Episode II, and then in Episode III, there’d be images of him being totally evil, destroying Jedi left and right!

However, many fail to comprehend that most of what Obi-wan ‘fed’ Luke, were stories like the kind a Grandfather would tell his Grandchildren, about how the old days were so much better…but oftentimes, keeping out certain details. After all, most never realize that Obi-Wan (and later Yoda) pretty much lied to Luke about what really happened to his father, seemingly trying to set the young Skywalker up to murder his own father.

To many that grew up on the series, it was these little tidbits of background information, that fed our imagination, and made it hard to fathom the notions that this imposing dark figure, was once a Force-sensitive little boy, who would happily shout “Yippee!”

Despite the flaws of the prequels (yes, I will admit they aren’t perfect) there are some ideas and areas of interest in them, that still keep me thinking all these years later.

One of George Lucas’ strengths, are his thoughts and ideas. We see these played across in many of the films he’s not only directed, but also produced. Some times he hits the sweet spot, and other times, his visions clash with those of the viewers.

This is true of Vader’s big moment at the end of Episode III, after his new suit is completed. The scene is almost an ‘echo’ of the carbon-freezing scene in Empire Strikes Back, only instead of Han Solo encased in a carbonite block, Vader is now encased in his suit. A heavy metallic sound upon the table’s rotation, almost makes it seem like he is now forever ‘trapped,’ both physically and mentally, by what he has done, and what he has now become.

Of course, Lucas tries to make us feel sympathy for Vader, but he ends up somewhat ruining the mood, in a moment that became more cringe-inducing than emotional.

Even so, he’s given me plenty of ‘food for thought’ over the years, and this post is the results of some of it.

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About MWH1980

Growing up in the state of Iowa, one would assume I'd be enamored with pigs and corn. Well, I wasn't. Instead, I grew fascinated by many things that were entertainment-related. Things like movies, animation, toys, books, and many more kept my attention. This blog I hope to use to express myself regarding my varied obsessions. (P.S. There's no Photoshop involved in that Gravatar-I really am holding an Oscar)

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