Friday, January 11, 2013

The Proto-Vader

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

This one has a huge prologue that gives you some insight as to how I write these things, so please bear with me here.

In case you dear readers don’t remember, I got this Jedi News job because of a post I did on my blog back in November entitled “The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth about Star Wars”. I basically outlined all the complaints labeled against the Saga I could think of, especially I-III, and show how they were either complete fabrications, misinterpretations, or unfair double-standards. My intention was that this would be a link to spam whenever message boards and comment threads started getting anti-Lucas, in the way the hatedom usually links to Red Letter Media’s laughably inaccurate “reviews” of I-III as if it were irrefutable holy scripture.

It has been my long sad history with weekly articles, whether it be in my old college newspaper or right here online, that after a while I just run out of ideas of things to talk about. Every week I kindly ask my wonderful editors here for suggestions and “assignments.” They’re usually really good about letting the creative mind free with no restrictions, but on occasion they’ve come through with some great topics to get my brain going in gear. After last week, it was suggested that I talk a little bit about the cleaner feeling of I-III verses the dirtier feeling of IV-VI and why this is a smart thing instead of an error.

And I was psyched to go into it, because it is a great point. However, it slowly dawned on me that I’ve said pretty much all I have to say on that topic in the above mentioned blog post. In case you don’t want to scroll through the whole thing, I wrote:

I find this is usually brought up with Phantom Menace in particular, about how prequel-era tech looks shinier and spiffier than IV-VI's "used future" aesthetic.

See, you just answered your own question there. "Used". It can't be "used" until it has been put to some use for a while.

Phantom Menace was an older time. A lot of the technology was new and built more by artisans than an assembly line. That's just what happens with tech and vehicles in the real world. New tech is all spiffy but as time goes on it becomes more uniform. And you notice things getting back to "normal" through Clones and Sith, as the Clone Wars rage and war machines have to be built quickly. This was a conscious design effort and makes the most sense.

Although, I dunno, you can't look at a Podracer and tell me it doesn't look as dingy or cobbled-together as the Millennium Falcon.

And that pretty well covers it. It’s not like last week’s Anakin article, which did repeat what I said about him in my Truth post but within the narrative about how I personally discovered it, anything I could really add to this would feel like padding.

So there I was, at a loss, staring at the screen wondering what to write about. As a stress reliever, I started fiddling with my Vintage Collection General Grievous figure, separating and reattaching his arms to get my mind going on what to write about. Suddenly I stopped, looked down at the toy in my hand, and realized there was one aspect of I-III “technology” and its impact and symbolism on the saga that I hadn’t yet touched upon.

According to Wookiepedia, Qymean jai Sheelal was a decorated war hero during Kalee’s war against the Huk. He was a noble warrior who became distraught after the death of a beloved ally and took a new name before his body was horribly mangled in an accident and forced to be rebuilt as an unfeeling cyborg.

Boy, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

It should be obvious to even the most casual moviegoer that General Grievous and Darth Vader have a lot in common aesthetically, and that Grievous was in fact supposed to invoke Anakin’s fate later in the film Revenge of the Sith. What is intensely interesting is how much the two stories really do have in common. I’m not entirely sure how much of this was George Lucas’ doing, since Grievous’ backstory is confined to the Expanded Universe. I admit my bias when I say that if it was primarily Lucas than this history is poetic, but if not then the writers could be accused of trying to force Grievous into the next Vader.

Remember, in the film itself Grievous is a moustache-twirler. He’s the type of character who would be right at home tying a damsel to some railroad tracks in a silent film, and that’s what makes him so much fun. The popular image of Vader is the same, though as I’ve said before he actually never really gets close to that archetype except for possibly A New Hope, and even then he’s fairly restrained.

But even in the films themselves, the comparison doesn’t stop at being lightsaber-wielding cyborgs with respiration issues. General Grievous is a figurehead. Even though Dooku was the political head of the Separatists, and even though Sidious was pulling the strings behind everything, General Grievous was, for the galaxy, the face of the “bad guys.” He’s built up as one of the most important individuals within the CIS’s hierarchy, and indeed takes on leadership roles numerous times, but in reality he has many people holding him on a very short leash. He’s the mad dog. “Be good or we’ll sic Grievous on you.”

This is a direct parallel to how Vader is seen not only in-universe, but in our world as well. As I’ve said, Vader is built up as the ultimate villain. He’s the menacing figurehead for the Empire. Sour political figures in the real world are often dubbed “Vader” when references to WWII Germany are considered uncouth. Yet even Leia recognizes his status. He takes his cues from Tarkin throughout New Hope, and it’s already shown that Palpatine is essentially the Devil ruling Imperial Hell. Vader? He’s just the boogeyman. “Be good or we’ll sic Vader on you.” Again, as in Grievous’ case this doesn’t ignore his actual tactical and leadership skills, but when one really studies how the Empire works it’s obvious that Vader is hardly the top dog.

Having Grievous situated thusly in the Separatist pecking order is a masterful touch by Lucas to help show how Anakin is literally about to become what he is fighting against. The fact that it correlates to our real world perceptions of the character of Vader, whether intentionally or not, is even more brilliant.


  1. "Red Letter Media’s laughably inaccurate “reviews” of I-II"

    I don't really want to get into an argument here, but it's not fair to say the reviews are 'laughably inaccurate' when you've only seen one of them.

    1. I should note for the sake of it that I agree with the rest of your article.

    2. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I like to think of it this way. In the prequels, everything is shiny and spiffy to symbolize the goodness of the Republic. As the films go on, the technology gets more worn and tattered looking to symbolize the brewing and the rising of the evil Empire. When we get to the original trilogy, everything is in a massive junk pile or has a coat of dust over it to symbolize the tight, nefarious grasp of the Empire and how it has made the galaxy an unclean, nasty heck hole. The dusty, grainy look shows how dirty the Empire has made the galaxy far, far away and by the end of Return of the Jedi, the Rebels are able to restore peace and balance to all galactic beings and Anakin Skywalker fulfills the jedi prophecy.

    I like to think that in the upcoming trilogy, things will still be dirty and worn in the beginning, but by the end, the good guys will clean up the mess and make everything slick and shiny again.