Anti Hero Anakin Skywalker

So You Want to Be a Villain?
By Greg Stewart

Well, it has been a curious past couple of days, as I have watched the hype of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith reach a fever pitch. The anticipation of Anakin Skywalker turning to the “dark side” has captured the imagination of citizenry; or, at the least in this humble “geek’s opinion” the popular movement of the moment. To see the corruption of an individual transfixes us as we watch the choices people make for their own undoing and become the villain.

The villain is fascinated with a single goal: the unyielding conformity of the society has to be undone, so they can impose their own sense of orthodoxy. Therefore, the villain in the great tragedies are filled with the complexities that are reflected from their own culture; the “heroic” villain—the anti-hero—challenges the society’s normative value. In others words, those traditional values, those items which are besieged by the everyday authority and accepted as governance by the culture-at-large, are at times transformed by the anti-hero.

The “heroic” villain challenges the ideals, the principals, and the morals, which are confined within the status quo of the society. Needless to say, the villain’s complexities are reliant on the emotional picture of the culture. In American-Western culture (but especially in America) we want the villain to be simplistic and be able to escape from the difficulties of the world. We do not want to be confronted with the grays; we just the black and white.

But our most memorable mythic heroes and villains as Joseph Campbell,might say, depicted through our own duality and are those which mirrors the current stirrings of the culture. In ancient Greece, these villains and heroes were depicted through mythologies of Hercules, Zeus, and Apollo to name a few. In the yesteryear of the 20th century, the “mythologies” of the modern age was comic books and science fiction novels that captured the West’s imagination until these genres shifted and took hold in the media of cinema and television. The heroes and myths from ancient Greece were transformed by America popular culture and became Superman, Batman, and eventually Spiderman. These are the “big three,” but before them, were the folktales and dime novels of the west that were larger-than-life—Paul Bunyan, Davey Crockett, John Henry, Wild Bill Hitchcock, and Horatio Alger stories. These mythical figures inspired us to transform a continent of “hunter-gatherers” to an “intensive agriculture” mecca. In essence, instead of being lost in the woods and plains searching for food, we transformed our country into farm land and fed a nation.

But before the big three aided us in the transformation of an agrarian culture to a modern technological world there were our folk heroes of the 19th century and prior to them were the legends of our founding fathers. These mythic heroes of the 19th century helped us shift the America culture forward with the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone, the electric light bulb, and the establishment of a system wide clock system. Then, in the early part of the 20th century, when modernity was enveloping the face of America, our agrarian mythic heroes were failing us by falling behind. And, the promise of Horatio Alger was betraying us with the opulent imagery of wealth, which once promised the rise of an individual from nothingness of poverty to “establishment” of something-ness of wealth. He joined the exclusivity of a new aristocracy that our forefathers had once battled against. As a consequence, a new mythic hero and villain were born and a new definition of good and evil was transcended into the age of modernity. The big three were born within the first three generations of the century. Superman, being the first, and Batman being the second, each represented the many complexities of the new modern word. Superman carried the torch of liberty, justice, and individuality of the American spirit. But he also illustrated the leaving behind of the rural community, and moving into modernization of urban living.

The farm boy Clark Kent with the embolden vision of moving toward a better world within the city of Metropolis inspired young America to change the face of their environs, while his alter-ego Superman was capable of instilling the principals of American ethos. He represented the beginning of America’s schizophrenia, the cognitive dissonance that laid in wait, would be played out in comic strips, movie serials, and television—as did Batman’s anti-heroic feats. Eventually, Spiderman became the culmination of the two heroes resolve. The torn hero, whose identity must be hidden from those he loves and protects, to been seen as less than a hero by the authorities—a vigilante—but seen as the common man’s avenger, ever striving for justice. Superman in his earliest form stood for downtrodden, bringing “justice” to all. He rose from the ashes of his planet, a foreigner, an immigrant from another world, arriving to stagnation of the depression to reassert the values that seem to get loss in the “roaring twenties,” and the perceived inequities of 1930s wealth of oppression. In Superman form, Clark Kent, was “ubbermensch,” the superior man, if you will who could do the impossible — which included flying. But he also in this form represented the age of the wealthy (think JP Morgan, Carnegie, and Rockefeller), the ability to solve all with his extraordinary powers and be as powerful, if not more so than the men with money. He would even protect the opulence of the rich, as long they aided the “right side” of the law, and gave comfort to the impoverished. On the other hand, when he became the mild manner geek and naïve newspaper reporter, Clark Kent illustrated America’s lack of self-confidence, insufferably weak, who numbered greatly, but were powerless to challenge the “establishment” of powerful men (think the dustbowl farmers, and contract migrant workers, and hardship coal miners).

Meanwhile, Batman symbolized the urban angst. The invaders of criminal organization destroying the dreams of the naïve young farm boys and girls and corrupting the values of the people; he replaced the authority of ineptness and worked outside of the establishment to be bring his sense of justice to the non-conforming world of his vision of American jurisprudence.

He, Batman, fostered our desire to seek revenge, or at the least, our piece of flesh who had corrupted and oppressed the common man’s vision of the American way. He spurned the compassionless acts of evil, of individual’s, companies’, and corrupted governments’. These desires by both the heroes were brought up through turmoil of wars—the Great War and the Good War—as well as the devastation of hopelessness seeped into the country’s consciousness during the greatest economic downturn of the century—the Great Depression.

Admittedly, Batman’s alter-ego Bruce Wayne felt the blow of being orphaned; leading to his own darkness of spirit. In a sense, he represented America’s isolation from the rest of the globe during the hardship of the 1930s. But it is this self-infliction of guilt that we, as a nation, were not doing more. As it is with Bruce Wayne’s guilt that he could not do more for his parents, when he was a child; and now, as Bruce Wayne, the billionaire, to solve the tragedies of humanity, he dresses up like a bat; to seek his solace that he, at the least, has resolved to find vengeance for those cannot speak and cannot do for themselves.

But it is the culmination of Superman and Batman mirroring popular culture’s attitudes during the wars and minor skirmishes that assisted the American troops upon their “victorious” return from overseas, bearing the birth of a new generation of myths. A generation of imagination resulting in the myth of Spiderman (along with turmoil of the 1960s) being founded in the transcendence of the power within the common man, and the greatness of individuality, which was partially supplied by the defeat of the “axis powers,” and transformed society’s embracement of its own empowerment. The Baby Boomers, the children of the victorious veterans, would face the tribulations of ambiguity of the Cold War, communism, and the rebirth of “liberty for all” in regards to minorities. How could they face their own souls, knowing that, the cause of The Good War had been drenched in blood for all “colored” men: the yellows, the browns, whites and blacks alike had bled and sacrificed the same? They all had fought a common enemy as well as defended a “righteous” ideology; the American way of life. The belief in that true liberty can be only obtained, only if everyone has the access to them equally. This belief and their sacrifices became instilled in their children, the Baby Boomers, and the birth of its own myth, which gave rise to America’s symbol of “cognitive dissonance”—Spiderman.

America’s inner id had been divided. The duality from within, the dark and light clashing in the form of a hero, became the country’s mantra. By embracing its own frailty and selflessness, but also having the power to instill and impose its own views on the planet, Americans new image of the impatient youth was being fostered and transmitted to the world.

Americans became aware and understood they had great power, but would not understand its responsibility to how wield it until the Cuban Missile crisis, hence, the birth of Spiderman. He would acquire his powers through the age of modernity, science, and discover his true impact power and consciousness only after his failure to recognize his uncle’s sage advice: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

And, with this message of wisdom, some of us as well as Spiderman were able to transition this responsibility into adulthood. While others felt enflamed by their passions and championed their own selfish idealism by thinking that, society must conform to their will. Thus, failing to navigate the tempests of storms that youthful transgressions allow one to learn—and chose a path of darkness; or, the lessons that are transmuted in our consciousness in youth.

These epiphanies, lessons, which we should have realized in adolescence, are our guides in adulthood. But our emotions drive the imagination of darkness. By becoming the villain, we do not have to face the rules of conformity—we rebel. We get to make our own rules of conformity. At the least, in our villainy of the imagination, we can become the anti-hero. At our worse, we transition into the physical world and become the pedophiles, rapists, and murderers.

It is therefore not surprising, popular culture’s embracing of penultimate villain and anti-hero—Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker. So, when Star Wars (the original trilogies) and later the prequels shone us the light of universal truths of our own duality from within, and allows us to express our fears, regrets, and choices through fantasy. Anakin Skywalker, fatherless in his formative years, therefore rudderless, must find his own path of conformity. Although he received the training of the light and the guidance of its elder, the truth of democracy and freedom, however, is his allowance to choose poorly regarding his destiny. Thus, the folly of Anakin Skywalker is his allowance to be consumed by his passion and become Darth Vader. His destruction and his salvation, and the chance of redemption come from his son’s tribulations, while discovering his compassion.

So the best villains are the one’s who fight the duality from within, and challenge us to look within ourselves; and, through the magic of books, movies, and television with the assistance of a writer, director, and producer we can embrace our own duality and identity. So, by being the responsible adult and transforming the world of passion into com-passion (Campbell) around us, through our friends, family, and children we shape the future of the world. So I say to Mr. Lucas—good job ours and yours mythology is now complete.


My inspiration for this essay was Douglas Brown article, of the Denver Post, “Villains like Vader Captivate Us by Channeling Our Darker Sides,” and Joanne Ostrow’s article, of the Denver Post, “How Did Comics Turn So Dark?” Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer’s Power of Myth, and Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces were also the sources of this diatribe. And lastly, but not the least, Professor J. David Eller, Metropolitan State of Colorado, and my friend and fellow “geek,” Brian for their clarity and vision of popular culture.


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