So September contained no actual time: I was working on the first draft of Book 3, finishing edits for Book 2, going on blog tours for No Proper Lady, visiting a friend across the country, and…I don’t even remember what else. I might have robbed a bank; I might have met aliens; it’s all kind of blurry.
And a discussion over at Ana Mardoll’s blog has gotten me thinking about writing redeemable villains, which in turn leads to the old geek standby: Yet Another Reason the Star Wars Prequels Sucked. Which I have to write eventually, anyhow, lest armed thugs come and confiscate all of my multi-sided dice.
First of all, a caveat: I’m approaching this from an audience perspective. To date, I don’t think I’ve written any particularly redeemable villains. This is partly because I’m harsh and partly because it’s…really pretty tough, striking the balance between “bad enough to need redemption” and “good enough that redemption is a triumph rather than a cop-out”.
Vader establishes Point 1 pretty damn quick. We’re a quarter of the way through the movie when he blows up a planet of civilians–okay, Grand Moff does that, but Vader certainly isn’t protesting–thus skipping merrily across what TV Tropes calls the Moral Event Horizon. First objective: completed.
But then, somewhere along the line, the film became a trilogy and Lucas decided that Vader needed redemption, because he was Luke’s father, and while I don’t get the “sharing DNA with a good guy means you too must have the potential for good” trope, okay, whatever.
Except now we have a problem. Mr. Planet Exploder Force-Chokey Dude in Movie 1 shows up as a peaceful blue Force ghost in Movie 3, and somehow the audience has to be okay with this. This is not easy. Even the most universal-salvation-and-fuzziness religions in RL, one of which I nominally follow, don’t dwell too much on the fact that Ted Bundy *also* gets to chill out in the good afterlife, because…yeah, nobody really likes thinking about that. Vader has billions of dead people on his count, and somehow he redeems himself.
The thing is? The three main movies make this possible, or at least make it possible for me to fanwank a story where it makes sense: guy starts out serving the Empire for good reasons, watches it become more and more corrupt, makes larger and larger moral compromises for “the greater good”, and then finds he’s in a place where he can’t turn back and…what the fuck do you do then? You’re doomed anyhow, so you might as well go along…and then someone stubbornly insists that you’re not doomed, so you throw the Emperor down a convenient reactor shaft. Okay. I can deal with that. That’s a guy like Obi-Wan describes, who could have been amazing and awesome but got lost somewhere.
Except…the prequels don’t let me do that any more. The prequels establish that Anakin went from “basically faithful if slightly ragey Jedi” to child-excuse-me-“youngling”-killing-Sith-Lord over about two days, and that his thought process was something along the lines of “waaah the Jedi don’t listen to an apprentice barely old enough to shave and I’m worried about Padme’s Insanely Vague Vision and trying to prevent prophecies NEVER MAKES THEM COME TRUE OR ANYTHING fuck it I’m gonna hang out with a walking corpse called Darth Sideous and kill everyone”.
I don’t see the potential for extraordinary good in that guy. (Except in a fuzzy, nebulous, “we all have the potential for extraordinary good” way, and in that case, Luke’s decision to redeem him at the expense of his own life and possibly the war doesn’t make any damn sense.) I don’t see the potential for *anything* in that guy. I don’t really care if he gets redeemed or not.
I think there’s a lesson here.
That lesson may be “don’t be George Lucas”, although the guy does have several billion dollars, which I would imagine does a lot to salve any artistic pangs he suffers.