Saturday, May 14, 2005

Cheesy, they are

Was running through the supermarket today and saw row upon row of Darth Vader cheese crackers on the shelf – the menacing, nearly life-sized black helmet juxtaposed with bright orange cheddar squares.

While not unexpected, this is a little unsettling. Darth Vader is, after all, a bad guy. Not just any bad guy – a really, really bad guy. One of the archetypal movie/pop culture villains of the past half-century. There is no other comparable movie character. The “Alien” alien? Come on. Michael Corleone? Well … the genres are not really comparable, though there are some similaries - both are tragic, high operatic figures. There’s a Ph.D. thesis in that one for somebody.

In the “Star Wars” cycle Vader is on a journey to perdition, followed by eventual redemption. But the perdition part is the heart of the story. The redemption takes about five seconds, in between Ewok scenes.

This is what gave the original “Star Wars” movies (and let’s hope the new one) their power – the dark mythic undercurrent, not just the mushy Joseph Campbell stuff but the truly scary sense that anything and anyone, even the best of us, can go spiralling down to hell, possibly never to return. That’s why Darth Vader is a lousy pitchman for cheese crackers. Now Yoda, maybe.