Thursday, September 1, 2011

Should Annakin Skywalker go to hell?

All this hand-wringing recently over the decidedly awful addition to the ending of Return of the Jedi for its BluRay release has got me thinking a lot about the heroic redemption of Annakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.

Although I think it's absurd to add the much-reviled "Noooo!" as dialogue for Vader during the crucial moment when he saves Luke from the Emperor's lightning torture, I do think there has been one clear benefit of this: It's made me realize that the scene, as originally constructed, had a kind of minimalist brilliance.

Never before had I had chance to think twice about that scene in terms of its impact relative to other choices they could have made. I knew Vader didn't vocalize his internal struggle as it was going on, and there was probably a time when I considered that sort of unusual. Now that I see the alternative, it makes me realize how cool the scene was when it relied on a minimum of acting. You can't see a face behind Vader's mask, so without words, only the befuddled movements of his helmet made you realize he was appalled at what his master was doing. I don't know if you credit that to David Prowse (the guy who walked around inside the Vader costume) or just to the director (Richard Marquand, remember him?), but either way, it works great. Through just a few sharp movements of his neck, Vader conveys the message "What the fuck, dude?"

So that was the first thing this discussion made me think of.

The next was whether The Megalomaniac Formerly Known as Annakin Skywalker should get into heaven so easily.

I mean, let's consider the facts. As a young man, Annakin oversaw the extermination of as many living Jedi as he could find. Once transformed into Darth Vader, he was the primary malevolent force behind the destruction of whole planets. (He was the Emperor's puppet, but still.) Throughout his adulthood he squashed people like they were bugs, and if he'd had his way, he would have crushed the whole rebellion in Episode IV. (And Episode V, and Episode VI.) In fact, only because the will of the Empire is flouted at the end of Return of the Jedi is he even in a position to overthrow his master. And then, you could argue that he only does it out of some latent sense of paternalism toward his son -- which could actually be described as a selfish, rather than selfless, act.

Yet moments after the flames consume his body on Endor, he gets to join all the other benevolent ghosts, like Ben Kenobi and Yoda, as if nothing ever happened? Wouldn't they be like "You! You're that guy! You killed all those people, you motherfucker!" And give him a ghostly shove or something?

It makes me recognize even more the true Christian underpinnings of the saga. That stuff is, of course, there if you look for it -- Luke is the "chosen one" (Jesus), who has mystical powers that can't be explained by science. (Does that mean, in this scenario, that Darth Vader is God?) But what about the whole idea of Christian redemption? One act of genuinely asking God for forgiveness on your death bed, and you're saved?

In all the years of people discussing and writing about Star Wars, I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this or write about it. But, I will say that I'm not stealing from something I read when I post these thoughts here.

As for the BluRays ... well, they were always just another chance to get us to spend a little more money on Star Wars. The time I'll really step up to the plate is when a version of the saga is made available that appears exactly as the films were shown to us in 1977, 1980 and 1983. The only conclusion about all these multiple versions made available in multiple formats over the years, with multiple new bits added to each film, is that it just whets our appetite even more for the original, unmolested versions. Which George Lucas is undoubtedly sitting on until that exact moment when our frustration has reached its limit, and we're simply desperate to shell out money for untainted greatness.

However, we may have to endure 10-12 more lesser versions of each movie (their 3D rereleases are up next) before we get to that point.


Thaddeus said...

Nice timing, Vance. My own post about this went up this morning, too. I think the change is incredibly done and incredibly unnecessary. Let me make a comparison:

Someone once described Farscape (a great show for 3 & 1/2 seasons) as being "space opera." They immediately added that they didn't mean "opera" as in "bombastic and loud," but as in "grand in scope and full of emotion." I'd say that after 1980-something, Lucas lost all sense of "scope" and started focusing on the "melodramatic and loud" aspect of it. In fact, the only opera I've ever been to was a mixed blessing - the singing and music were beautiful, but I hated reading the real-time translation, which was people baldly announcing their feelings.

As to your other point, I'll say this. If you're going to ask if Darth deserves to go to hell, you've already answered your own question. The entire idea suggests that Xian concepts of damnation, and many of those allow for regret and repentence - even without the commission of a good deed!

As such, scummy old Darth will not go to hell. Despite being a child murderer (seriously, Lucas, the stormtroopers couldn't've taken the kids on their own?).

Then again, the whole Force religion (even before the prequels) neatly works around the whole heaven/hell thing. The most we get is Yoda (still a puppet) saying that going to the Dark Side means "forever it will dominate" one's life. That doesn't even require damnation, just the fact that you'll have to deal with it always. Which, when you think of it, means very little - if you love the daylight, you can say your life is dominated by night; if you're an active do-gooder, you can say your life is dominated by evil. It's one of those phrases that sounds great, but doesn't mean as much as it may seem.

Nick Prigge said...

Great post. A lot to digest. First, I didn't even know this "Noooooo" thing had happened on the BluRay until I read this post.

Second, "Through just a few sharp movements of his neck, Vader conveys the message 'What the fuck, dude?'" Amen. Perfectly said.

Third, let's hope Lucas never truly realizes the potential to play up those mentioned Christian underpinnings or we could have a whole other set of re-releases with added/changed footage on our hands.