Saturday, June 1, 2013
Star Wars Rebels: The Pyrite Vader
"The action-filled series is set between the events of Episode III and IV -- an era spanning almost two decades never-before explored on-screen. Star Wars Rebels takes place in a time where the Empire is securing its grip on the galaxy and hunting down the last of the Jedi Knights as a fledgling rebellion against the Empire is taking shape. Details about the show are a closely guarded secret at this point." ~StarWars.com Press Release
Possibly the hardest character for the team behind Star Wars Rebels to deal with is also the most appealing character for them to play with. An animated series staring Darth Vader could be a marketer's or merchandiser's dream, but it could also be fool's gold for a storyteller if not handled well.
The Vader of this time period is a dark and complex character and the broadcast home and likely target audience for the show gives me some pause.
Where The Clone Wars series ran into some of the biggest issues was the extreme swings it took at times from a more immature tone clearly directed at younger audiences and a more mature tone that had a wider appeal including to adults. Speaking purely for myself and admittedly my thoughts are colored by self-interest, I believe that we do a disservice to children by dumbing down their entertainment. Children and adults react to Star Wars and stories like it because of the larger themes and moral issues raised. The best episodes of The Clone Wars incorporated the humor, fun and wonder that are at the heart of Star Wars, but balanced this with a darker tone set in a galaxy in the midst of civil war.
Star Wars Rebels is set during the Dark Times, where as the press release states "..the Empire is securing its grip on the galaxy and hunting down the last of the Jedi Knights." This setting is a tremendously compelling starting point for a series, but is Disney committed to deliver the types of stories that this setting demands?
We do not yet know the details of the show, we do know that it will air on Disney XD (excluding the 1-hour premier episode on Disney Channel) and we can assume that it will be a 30-minute show (22 minutes after commercials are factored in). We do not know if it will be a Saturday morning show or a prime time show. I would hope that this ends up as a prime time show on XD and becomes one of their flagship programs.
If the Kinberg, Filoni and Weisman are going to use Vader in a substantial role on the show, then they need to be true to the character and not trivialize him by having him become the recurring villain that the heroes of the show frequently get the better of, only to run away like General Grievous.
Vader of this period is so compelling because he is a man caught between worlds. Still grieving for the loss of Anakin, Padme and his unborn child. Filled with doubt and regret about the choices that he has made and the results it has caused. Stuck in the walking iron-lung that is his new armored visage and adjusting to his new physical handicaps. At the same time he is trying to learn how to harness his new powers accessible through the Dark Side, to figure out the new dynamic that exists between he and Sidious as Master and Apprentice. He is a man who has made so many bad decisions, even though he knows he is going the wrong way, he sees no other way now but to keep going. This means that not only does he hate his new master, but he also hates himself, and the Jedi or anyone else that reminds him of Anakin. This hatred gets projected externally because he hates himself so much that confronting the truth of his situation is too much for him to face.
The Expanded Universe shows us that the Vader of this period is far from perfect and certainly not the seemingly invincible monster we meet in Episode IV. Vader's defeats and failures during this period should be explored, but it will be important to do so in a way that doesn't trivialize the character or make him into what should be a galactic laughing stock by the time we get to Episode IV. If Vader is used in the show their must be some character growth and growing pains as he adjusts to his new role, at the same time their must be a clear momentum towards becoming the Dark Lord we all know and love. As Vader becomes more sure of himself in his new role and abilities, we should see an increase in both competency and lethality that he displays.
One of the biggest storytelling concerns that I have is that in dealing with the Vader of this period on an animated show, that they will not be willing to go far enough in showing just how evil Vader has become. The Clone Wars in the fourth and fifth seasons went to some pretty dark and violent places, but will Disney allow the same latitude or will the show be homogenized into more traditional children's animated fare?
Ultimately as a Star Wars fan I can only ask one thing of the storytellers behind Rebels, respect the character of Darth Vader. If they do this and do it well then the show could really be something special. If they don't handle Vader well or simply use him as a billowing cape we see sweep down Imperial hallways occasionally then I think they will have missed a golden opportunity to add something special to the Star Wars mythos.