The Big Reason Why Darth Vader Is Actually A Crappy Villain
Every single Star Wars fan has only one question on their mind right now: Has Darth Vader ever used the Force to squeeze a dude's nuts?
We'll dive into that in a moment. First, we have to keep in mind that almost all action movie characters, from spies to Sith Lords, have one thing in common: It's not at all clear what their special abilities are. A movie will establish early that a particular guy is good at spying and shooting, but when needed, he'll also be super talented at piloting a tiny submarine or dodging an avalanche in a snowmobile with what you'd have to assume is very little practice. And if your fictional universe involves magic, all goddamn rules go out the window. What's the effective range of a Harry Potter wand? How fast do spells travel? You see characters physically dodge them!
This is due to a trick that every writer knows: You keep this kind of thing vague, so you've got some flexibility if you write yourself into a corner later. But when it comes to Darth Vader and his Force powers, we get the most ridiculous possible version -- a character who demonstrates nearly godlike ability in one scene, then completely forgets about it in the next. Darth is the second villain we're harshly criticizing in our week-long series "Wait, What Was His Plan Again?"
First, Let's Figure Out Exactly What A Sith Lord Can Do
In Star Wars, we see Darth Vader do the following, in order:
-- Use telekinesis to create an invisible, physical force to crush a guy's windpipe
-- Use clairvoyance to sense a Jedi nearby
-- Fight competently with a lightsaber
-- Fly somewhat competently in a TIE Fighter
That's all fairly low-key for a space wizard. Vader can't teleport, or fly, or time travel. He can't blow up an X-Wing with his mind or predict the future in any practical way. In The Empire Strikes Back, they up the ante a bit. Vader uses the Force to deflect blaster shots with his hand (either that or they should make Stormtrooper armor out of his glove material). During the climax, we see his telekinesis is much stronger than portrayed before -- he's able to rip a heavy piece of machinery off of a wall and chuck it at Luke. That ability is apparently infinitely scalable -- Yoda uses his Force powers to lift a 15-ton X-Wing that had been firmly wedged in muck.
Then, at the end of Empire, there's a twist that sent fans reeling: Darth Vader is, in reality, incredibly shitty at his job.
Wait, What Was His Plan Again?
Vader has exactly one goal in Empire: to capture Luke. He doesn't need Luke's love or loyalty, not yet (remember, the original idea is to freeze Luke in carbonite, like Han). He only needs to physically apprehend Luke somehow. So at the climax, when Luke has climbed out onto the gantry, why in the hell doesn't Vader use the Force to grab him?
There's no reason Vader doesn't simply pick the boy up, float him over, and console him like the present, loving father he never was. "Well, maybe his telekinesis can't be used to lift human beings for some reason!" OK, here's him doing that exact thing in Rogue One:
"But maybe that doesn't work against Jedi!" Don't tell Darth Maul, who force-shoves Obi-Wan into a chasm in The Phantom Menace:
Even if we argue that Luke falls too quickly for Vader to react (despite Luke clearly telegraphing that he's going to jump for about 30 seconds), Vader could have Force-hugged him at any time prior to the jump. Hell, the kid only has one hand at this point; Vader should have done it just to keep him from tumbling off on accident. "Wait, you're my father? OK, I ... I feel like deep down, I've always known. I realize now that the Jedi have done nothing but lie to me. I understand your position, and I am now ready to accept you as my fa-WHOAH SHIIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii ........ t."
In Fact, Let's Count All Of The Times That Would Have Been Useful
Sure, Vader isn't strong enough to grab the Millennium Falcon and hold it to the ground on Hoth, but shouldn't he be able to, let's say, Force-yank a key piece of machinery off the exterior? What about those crucial parts Han and Chewy were welding earlier? Also, if he can use the Force to create an invisible hand that chokes people, can he also invisibly squeeze a dude's nuts? It seems like that'd get a lot done, day to day. The first time we ever see him, he's using his actual hand to try to choke information out of a rebel. Put his nuts in an invisible Force vice! Come to think of it, do that to every guy you meet! Establish who's boss right off the bat!
And why is physical lightsaber fighting even a thing? Why not use the Force to press the off switch on your opponent's weapon? Or freeze their wrists into place? Because that would, what, violate the rules of lightsaber fighting? But those same rules are fine with you chucking debris at your enemy? What about distracting them by invisibly crushing their nuts? We're sorry we keep coming back to that, but it really does seem like the first thing every teenage Force user would try.
So is the Force an all-powerful tool that grants tiny 800-year-old lizard/bat/monkeys unlimited telekinesis and Professor X mind-fiddling powers? Or is it a more fickle mistress, subject to whims whereby one moment you're ping-ponging Rebel scum around starship fuselages, and the next you're helplessly letting your only begotten son twist in the wind? The answer is that it's whatever the story needs in the moment, so don't you worry your pretty little head about it. Either that or we're forced to confront the possibility that Vader uses a cool costume and scary voice to cover for the fact that he is actually very lazy.
If you missed yesterday's takedown of Loki, it's right here. Tomorrow, we'll be attempting to understand the villain in a lighthearted children's film whose entire character motivation is shooting dogs in the head to see what happens.
Make sure to check out the rest of the series:
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