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Evil

Say what you will about the Star Wars movies – plenty of people have had plenty to say about them.  There are many people who absolutely loathe the three prequels, Episodes 1 through 3.  I certainly understand the complaints.  Jar Jar, who I am sure was invented just to give Obi Wan someone to talk to, before they added a second Jedi, should have been removed.  The Jedi do seem to make simple mistakes, especially in the care and feeding of one Anakin Skywalker.

But the prequels were also marvelous spectacle at some level.  I thought the light sabre duel in Episode 1 was the best of the series, by far, from a point of view of pacing, logic, and understanding what just happened and why.

There are, however, two things from the movies that just do not track with me, both dealing with the subject of evil.  First, there is the conversion of Anakin to the dark side.  He goes from hero to baby killer in about five minutes.  Because he loves Padme.  He wants her to live, so he walks around slicing up kindergartners.  Sorry, not buying it.

Of course, he did it, we are told, because his boss, chancellor of all the known galaxy far, far away and part-time Sith lord, told him it was a good idea.  Of course, it might have been a little more plausible if they had written it differently: Anakin, now in Vader mode, leads the soldiers to the Jedi Temple, dispatches a few senior knights who refuse to surrender, then leaves the complex in the hands of the soldiers – who then wipe out the survivors because they were programmed to.  One can imagine Palpatine admonishing Anakin for allowing this to happen, driving the young fool into even deeper despair and misery, while all the time snickering behind the cuff of his robes.

Which brings me to my second exception: Palpatine.  Through the five movies he was in, he is shown to be a cackling villain, rubbing his hands in glee as evil is done for evil’s sake.  Never does he seem so happy as when bad things are happening to good people.  “Hahahahahahaha!”  He is like the Wicked Witch of the West, or Voldemort.

Honestly, have you ever actually seen anybody like this?  Does any person behave this way?  No.  Palpatine is, despite the skill of the actor who plays him, cardboard.

Which brings me to the point, that evil people do not behave this way, as either Anakin or Palpatine are shown, because they do not believe they are evil.  Everyone is the hero of their own story and those who commit evil have convinced themselves that they are doing what they do for good reason.  They have rationalized their actions to themselves in some manner, so they tend to act righteously and not as the black hat from some melodrama.  They would act as someone who is sorry they have to take such drastic measures and not as “Boss save Padme, me kill Jedi babies.”

We all confront evil at various times in our lives.  Apparently, George Lucas has not, or he did not recognize it for what it was.  You have to look for evil in people’s actions and the results of those actions, though the results might be unintended.  Knowing their motives will not help you much, because you cannot truly know their motives or whether they were rational or rationalized.

So, when you are writing a villain, make sure you make him the hero of his own story.  Give him good reasons for being the way he is, make sure he explains to us why he had to do the thing he did.

Or, better yet, don’t have a villain.  I don’t really believe in them, myself.  Instead, have an antagonist, somebody with goals that conflict with yours.  And try not to have them chuckle with delight while the kitten is drowning.

 

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