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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

CLASSIC REVIEW: 'STAR WARS - THE COMPLETE VADER' BOOK



THE COMPLETE VADER

By Ryder Windham and Peter Vilmur

Published in the UK by SIMON & SCHUSTER BOOKS

Reviewed by Scott Weller



DEEP IN THE PRESENCE OF EVIL…


In the romantic, adventurous and exciting storytelling worlds of ancient and modern myth there has always been some great challenge or dark force for the central hero to overcome. This dark force may come in many forms, but chaos, death and destruction will certainly follow in its wake. A tangible evil we all recognize from the bleakest areas of our minds and imagination. Over the years such creatures have transcended their original storytelling environments and, throughout the imaginative renderings of both the written word and the visual medium, have impacted on our modern culture, latching themselves into our consciousness, often providing clarity and enjoyment in teaching our growing young ones about life and responsibilities. Beyond education, we simply enjoy the timeless stories and often return to them for the purest escapism that they provide. But no characters or stories, past or present, have ever touched the imaginations and lives of so many people than the modern mythology created by George Lucas that is STAR WARS. In our modern times, it has become the ultimate new expression of myth making, with its own universe, drawn from so many recognizable aspects of the past yet singularly unique in its own right, of heroes versus villains, and goodness versus darkness that we can similarly relate to, of which there is one particular baddie whose exploits for evil have captured the world’s consciousness as easily as if they had been caught in his own vice like Force powers. A character so defining that, if he could be transported back in time to the original creators of the myths upon which STAR WARS was based, they would surely be amazed and inspired by what has spawned from their works.

Darth Vader.

Darth Vader-Dark Lord of the Sith, is one of the most unique and complex characters ever created for cinema, his sheer physical presence intimidating all that surrounds him, his terrifying visage haunting the faces of his victims, and his raging abilities for evil helping to subjugate a universe, whilst his own personal crusade in destroying countless lives and planets serve his idea of the greater good for the Dark Side of the Force. And yet, even with all this destructive power, there is more to this man/creature than meets the eye- in a previous life/history Vader had once been Anakin Skywalker- a child slave turned hero who, despite his best efforts, eventually strayed from the light and was seduced by evil, and whose ultimate redemption comes not from within, but thanks to the subsequent discovery of his son, Luke Skywalker, and the boys subsequent belief in his fathers deep buried instincts for goodness. Not unlike the tragedies of ancient Greek storytelling, it would be in that final critical reunion of father and son that Vader would see the terrible error of his ways, correct his past horrific deeds by destroying his Master and himself in the ultimate act of self sacrifice, for both his honour as an ex-Jedi and for his family.


Such an incredible tale of power, destruction, tragedy and eventual enlightenment has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many people over the years, with Vader’s popularity as a force for good and bad, the ultimate Alpha to Luke Skywalker’s Omega, remaining undiminished in its central storytelling, with Vader’s popularity still resonating over thirty two years worth of worldwide pop culture. Now, a new glossy hardcover book, THE COMPLETE VADER, has been released that has ambitions as mighty as the Dark Lord himself, delving deep into every facet of the character and its place in the cinema and beyond. Can such a tome possibly live up to our expectations?

Regular official LUCASFILM contributors Peter Vilmur and Ryder Windham have previously proved themselves to be a safe and reliable pair of hands, and now guide us through this unique media history, though, despite its strengths, as a member of this legion based appreciation society of the Dark Lord of the Sith, THE COMPLETE VADER isn’t quite the exhaustive book I had been longing to read.

With its opening sections it certainly shows promise, and the double authors’ enthusiasm for the subject matter cannot be faulted. With Vader’s genesis comes some interesting behind the scenes info linked to all six films, but it is merely adequate rather than being thoroughly in-depth. Representing Vader’s behind the scenes presence in the Original Trilogy is material on the creation of the character’s striking visual appearance, the enduring costume and mask (finally, an official mention by LUCASFILM of UK sculptor Brian Muir who built/cast the helmet, with input from the late Production Designer, John Barry) and the casting of actor/muscle man Dave Prowse (a serious error to be corrected here-for the record, Prowse has never been Welsh. He’s a Bristolian from the West Country side of England!!), but considering how Windham and Vilmur are officially working for LUCASFILM, have almost unlimited official access to the archives and are in the unique official position to interview the talented craftspeople who worked in front of and behind the camera to bring the character to life, this element of the book linked to Vader’s unique genesis is woefully lacking (and, as ever, with events thirty years on, there are some behind the scenes filming inconsistencies, too). On the photos side, apart from a couple of interesting shots there is pretty much a complete lack of rare behind the scenes photo material linked to the filming of the Original Trilogy-an element that I thought would be represented in quite a big way in the project. There’s also virtually nothing on any of Vader’s cut scenes from the original three movies, the barest of mentions for THE HOLIDAY SPECIAL, and, despite a couple of brief merits and a full page art cover reproduction, still not enough on the important first Expanded Universe novel, SPLINTER OF THE MIND’S EYE, by Alan Dean Foster, of which Vader makes a critical appearance.


To its credit, though, the authors are brave enough to finally come out and confirm the problems between actor Dave Prowse and LUCASFILM during the making of RETURN OF THE JEDI-the first official book from LUCASFILM to talk about such problems- though Windham avoids much of the resulting fallout from the controversy by only presenting Prowse’s side of the story. I don’t think we’ll ever get a response back from LUCASFILM about what happened in 1982-the full truth of the situation will never be totally revealed at all. Thankfully, the written/visual material beyond the opening sections is much better-there are some interesting new snippets of information that help fill in the blanks of Vader’s history in merchandise and public appearances, and some nice info on nostalgia of the time, like fanzines and rare interview quotes that I hadn’t seen before.

Beyond the original first film, the book charts Vader’s deserved rise to prominence by THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (with an interesting section on the top secret decision by George Lucas of making Vader Luke’s father-and how its subsequent revelations and ramifications would affect past and present STAR WARS continuity and its Expanded Universe forever more), his redemption in JEDI and then his rebirth as the sagas most recognizable, popular and character complex villain.

The overall printing of the book is very good and the crisp reproduction quality of the materials is excellent, with some great full page reproductions and gatefolds of key images and artwork from the saga and its merchandise, as well as some rare unpublished artwork (kudos to the design team for the fantastic black and white spread on the late 1990’s MANGA comic art of Vader, originally linked to the Japanese release of the SPECIAL EDITION adaptations. Very cool!!!). Some special collectible keepsakes are also included, reproduced here in the same manner of the previous THE STAR WARS VAULT book from Steven Sansweet, including copies of the original “I am your father” script scene written by Lucas for the first draft script treatment of EMPIRE (AKA STAR WARS II) from 1977/78, replicas of original TOPPS bubblegum cards and stickers, some very rare images/sketches of costume art by the esteemed Ralph McQuarrie and John Mollo from 1976, and instructions from LUCASFILM on how public appearance actors playing Vader are to put on the costumes various pieces, though annoyingly, some of the rarer images in the book are used way too small-like unused poster art concepts for EMPIRE which I’d never seen before (perhaps we’ll get that wish in the upcoming J. W. Rinzler MAKING OF EMPIRE book?).

In between and after the films, the book goes into many varied sections spanning thirty two years, covering fascinating areas of Vader’s presence as a worldwide media force, with further notables including Vader as an action figure since 1977 (with the brilliant inclusion of an early KENNER blueprint for his reference/construction), his unique TIE fighter and its place in the merchandise industry (with a couple of great shots of the fighter, but no real schematics images), the lightsabers used by both Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader (and the various incarnations of the device in merchandise), his Rolling Stones/Beatle-mania type of personal appearances across America (though very little on the overseas promotions) between 1978-1982 (three cheers for Kermit Eller!!), poster art, Vader video games, and noteworthy comic book appearances. The early hit and miss toy market for Vader in the release tails of the first STAR WARS is especially interesting, as are the merchandise rip offs that hit the market in 1977/78 when the first film became a smash phenomenon. From the Prequels onwards, toys would become more serious in nature, no longer just confined to the ranks of the TOYS ‘R’ US shelves, as new STAR WARS items, especially those linked to Vader, became more specialized and limited edition in number for serious collectors to present and enjoy in their homes, though there would also be fun branch offs linked to the character in other areas of toy pop culture-notable examples being the hilarious Darth Tater and, one of our faves, Darth Stewie from FAMILY GUY.

And yet, despite all this great media material coverage, there are still some notable exclusions from the book, including two UKhighlights: Peter Serafinowicz’s TV show VADER IN LOVE sketch, or the TUNES cough sweet advert. And no mention of the hilarious ENERGIZER bunny/ Vader duel, or the EPISODE III UK/European ORANGE PHONE company commercials!!??


As the book navigates its way through to the nineties, Vader’s return back to the big screen in the STAR WARS TRILOGY SPECIAL EDITIONS in 1997 is as popularity renewing as ever, but also sees the character undergo the first part of a transitional stage, as his true origins, after years of fan speculation, are finally revealed two years later, and we get a better understanding of what made him become the figure of evil we know and love to hate today. We are now presented with an even more complex character with the birth of the Prequel Trilogy-over the years Lucas had become intrigued in what could make someone good become evil, and introducing the concept in story strands that will take him on that road-the idea of showing Anakin Skywalker as a nine year old child, purest of heart and kindness, a slave turned hero, traumatically forced to lave his cherished mother on Tatooine- elements that would strike a resonant chord with the sagas creator and its many fans throughout the world and then intensified in EPISODEs II and III, as Anakin, now a Jedi ten years older, gets sucked into the conflict of war before finally, through his inability to let go of the things he has cherished so dearly, evolving into the very thing he had fought against all his life, becoming the ultimate enslaver, and the ultimate henchman, for the Galactic Empire’s diabolically evil mastermind, Emperor Palpatine, by the closing scenes of EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH.

Including a noble detour into the 2-D realms of the animated CLONE WARS series, the Saga comes full circle in 2005 with a basic delve behind the scenes into Hayden Christensen’s emancipation as Vader for REVENGE OF THE SITH, and then continues on with the highly popular THE CLONE WARS 3-D animated series from 2008 onwards, showing the return of Anakin at the height of his heroic Jedi powers, but with the Dark Side very slowly trickling in to his character. The book ends here, but with some tantalizing info on the future of STAR WARS in television, predicting how, one day, the Dark Lord might possibly return…

Vader’s life story on digital and celluloid may be over, but he lives on in the public’s imagination, touching the lives of young and old fans throughout the world, especially the former. It’s funny, but Vader’s popularity with them proves an intriguing insight into all our collective consciousness. The Dark Lord of the Sith is one of the ultimate scary characters, the STAR WARS Boogeyman, but, like Velociraptors or Tyrannosaurus Rex, kids (and adults) love to be afraid of him. They are in awe of such frightening visages and their tremendous physical powers. Vader, like the extinct dinosaurs of old, are the stuff of nightmares that, fortunately, don’t exist in real life, so there’s an automatic emotional protection barrier in liking them-the fact that they can never become a true reality, except on film screens. And it certainly doesn’t stop the kids from happily going to bed at night and resting their heads on pillowcases with Vader, or even Darth Maul’s, face adorned on them!! In it’s abilities as an entertainment medium, the Dark Side of the Force seemingly transcends all ideas and psychologies!

Now one of the kings of worldwide pop culture after Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, Vader has also become an art form, too, spreading beyond his original design in many forms of merchandising, like the STAR WARS CELEBRATION conventions Vader Helmets art exhibition and his Japanese warrior tribute/re-imagining. And let’s not forget the all consuming popularity of tattoo art that has borne his visage. Beyond even all of that, he’s so iconic and beloved that he’s had species of beetle and wasp named after him!! How’s that for worldwide immersion!

So there we have it, a book that looks at the two sides of Darth Vader in movies and in merchandise-one, the ultimate screen villain- the eternal baddie that we love to hate, the other one of cinema’s ultimate screen heroes- a once powerful force for good whose passion and need to protect his loved ones ultimately gets the better of him, trapping him on a dark path. Fortunately, there is fusion and redemption for Anakin/Vader, making the dual character both eternally fascinating and equally compelling in all his facets.

Almost the quintessential guide to the ultimate heavy breather, THE COMPLETE VADER is a very good book on the subject but, as I previously indicated, not as definitive as hoped (there are a further few little quirks, too-I spotted at least one caption error (apparently, the result of a late change of image by the author/s), but I can forgive that in such an ambitious project). Despite some faults, this is certainly a treasure trove for all Vader fans worldwide to enjoy and savour, and a far better showcase for the character than the magazine tribute to him that was launched to coincide with the release of REVENGE OF THE SITH back in 2005.

A character whose presence and popularity will always be assured, Darth Vader, like STAR WARS itself, is forever…


AFICIONADO RATING: The book works best in its second half as a merchandise history/ timeline guide rather than looking at the characters original, unique behind the scenes creation and filming, but, with its rare material and a nicely designed interior, THE COMPLETE VADER is one of the best STAR WARS books to have been released in 2009. A great birthday or Xmas present this will be, but one best given in black wrapping paper for maximum effect! 8.5 out of 10

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