All I need to know in life I learned from Star Wars. Well, okay, not everything, but a lot of stuff, most of which I didn’t consciously realize had penetrated my cortex until the hubs and I launched Operation: Engeekify Spawn.
Darth Vader by Kieran Gillen, Salvador Larroca, Lenil Yu, Joe Caramagna, and Jordan D. White is a phenomenal book.
It is definitely not aimed at kids and you may want to pre-screen before sharing it with yours to decide if they’ll be comfortable with some of the tougher subject matter. There is a lot of killing, though very little blood, and a couple of seriously sadistic droids, lying, cheating, stealing, bounty hunting, and many other unsavory and potentially upsetting things.
But there are things we can learn from the Dark Side.
The boy is very interested in the character of Darth Vader and I want to foster that interest. No, seriously. He is a really, really good kid and, as a first born, very much a pleaser. Like his mom, he’s a bit of a perfectionist, despite my best efforts to remind him life is a learning process and if we knew how to do everything from birth, it would be super boring.
Interest in Vader and in bounty hunters and space pirates, or even regular pirates, is a safe, and frankly adorable, way for him to explore moral ambiguity and maybe do a bit of role-playing at being “bad.”
As someone who never did anything even remotely “bad” until college and even then confined herself to the typical stuff, and who didn’t manage any sort of comfort level with herself until her mid-thirties, I’m a fan of both safe rebellion and a little harmless naughtiness.
Also, I’d rather he Force choke the girl than headlock her for real, though she’s usually the one who ends up on the top of that pile despite being two-and-a-half years younger.
To this end, Stinky One and I have been reading through Vader together and only together. The “only together” isn’t intended as a restriction; my parents didn’t restrict my reading and I have no intention of doing so with Stinky One and Stinky Two unless there is something harmful in a reading choice they’ve made. I had a whole collection of “grown-up” sci-fi books by the time I was eight, including Ben Bova’s Orion series and I turned out okay. Mostly. I do, however, want to make sure that, if I suspect something one of them is reading might trigger said child in some way, I’m with him/her so we can discuss it right away instead of allowing whatever it is to fester.
This is especially needed for the boy who is currently of the, “Hey, you seem upset, did something happen earlier today?” “I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!” stage of emotional development. If I can catch him at ground zero, he’s more likely to open up, which is why Vader is Mommy and Stinky One time.
What have we learned from this in depth look at the villain?
I’m totally going to pretend you asked.
The Ends Don’t Always Justify the Means
Love is good. It makes the world go ’round, makes people happy. Love between parents and children is, from my experience, the most beautiful thing in the world (bio, adoptive, foster, whatever, all good). The boy absolutely lights up when I tell him I love him and when he tells me he loves me, I forget everything he does that drives me freakin’ batty and all the difficult times, and the fact I didn’t sleep properly for three years after his birth and focus on that very, very special connection.
I love both of my kids more than my own life. I would die without a second thought if it meant protecting them. The only situation in which I’d ever be willing to take someone else’s life is if that person was threatening one of them.
But there is a limit.
(Ahead, thar be spoilers)
The Vader comic takes place in the direct aftermath of Episode IV. It is in the course of this story Vader discovers the man he thought he could trust when everyone else was using him as a weapon to be aimed and fired, and lied to him too.
When Palpatine had Anakin resurrected as Vader after Anakin’s final battle with Obi-Wan, Palpatine told his apprentice that Anakin had killed his pregnant wife (true) and that the children had been lost as well. In the course of the first few issues of the comic, Vader discovers the pilot who destroyed the Death Star is, in fact, a young man of a very certain age and bears the surname Skywalker.
Seriously, how many Skywalkers could there be, even in a galaxy far, far away?
And whose brilliant idea was it for Luke to keep the last name? Come on, people.
Palpatine, it becomes clear, aimed Anakin and fired him just like everyone else; he was simply, and tragically, the best shot.
Vader wants his son back.
Sidebar: It continues to drive me utterly insane that a society with advanced medical technology, wherein the medical droids could tell Padmé was having a boy and that he had all his bits, etc., could miss the fact that there were two heartbeats and two babies. End Sidebar.
What parent wouldn’t want his son back? For Vader, the impact is even greater because impending fatherhood was the last thing in his former life that gave him any joy. As to the reasons he’s so intent on finding Luke? Perhaps we should leave those aside for the purposes of this article and focus on the fact he does.
The discussion, the lesson, comes in with the next bit, with what Vader does in order to find Luke. He launches Operation By Any Means Necessary. He plots against his Master, which I don’t have a problem with, considering who his Master is.
He steals from the Imperial treasury and then does everything he can to lead the investigation astray, including framing non-responsible, if not-exactly-innocent, parties. He orders countless Stormtroopers into action knowing they’ll be slaughtered and cares not a fig.
He is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. The populations of entire planets.
There is no doubt Vader is one of the villains of the piece. I get that. In the original trilogy, that’s all he is and he has the black cloak swirl to prove it. In the comic, however, we get more. We get depth. Rationale.
A man who does have a shred of good left in him but who’s priorities are so twisted that the capacity to love drives him to unspeakable evil.
Is he reunited with Luke in the end? Yes. Does he save Luke’s life? Yes. Do they share a moment of that absolute and utterly magical parent-child bond? Yes.
Is it worth it?
Do the ends justify the means?
Do they justify the means for Vader? For Luke? What must it be like for Luke once he has an opportunity to stop and think and realize that everything happened was done in his name (though absolutely and utterly without his consent and therefore, no fault of his–maybe we’ll get to find out in a couple months). Does Vader ever consider that aspect of his plan?
No. No, he does not.
Do I think my kids will ever face a decision like this one? Sheez, I hope not. If they do, I really, really screwed up somewhere along the line. I mean, the girl likes to get her way, but I hope the limits I set are effective enough to prevent her becoming a world-destroying dictator.
But there may come a time when they encounter a situation in which one of them wants something, perhaps even needs it (I mean actually need, not kid, neeeeeeeeeed) and finds s/he can have it but only if someone else is hurt along the way.
Finds out only if s/he has to do something s/he knows in his/her heart or gut or spleen or whatever part of his/her body s/he is using to gauge such things, is harmful or straight up wrong. I’m not talking about friendly competition or the last piece of candy corn. A job, a significant other, a beautiful piece of art, even a cherished dream… something important. Something special or life changing.
My hope, in sharing this comic with them, is that they look back and think, “It isn’t worth being like Vader. It isn’t worth someone else getting hurt. Nothing is worth that.”
Do I want them to be walked on or over? No, I do not. I’ve spent enough time in my own life as the mat to want anyone, even my worst enemy, to live that way, never mind my kids. Do I want them to go after their dreams, to smash their goals on the way to the next one, to be happy? Absolutely. Have hubs and I told the kids, “Don’t start anything, always negotiate or walk away when you can, but if you can’t, stand up for yourself”? Yes, we have.
But we live in a vicious world and it’s my job as a parent to counter that by teaching compassion and kindness and empathy. The long view. Tough things, even for good kids because kids are programmed for instant gratification; that’s how they make sure they’re going to get the things they actually do need. If I don’t teach them now, however, when they’re willing to listen to what I have to say, I may miss my chance.
As with Kanan, Vader is an example that they can remember. One they can go to when they have a decision to make, when they’re wondering if the thing they want is more important than another person’s feelings. When they’re standing at the cusp of an important decision and trying to decide if they should take the final step. When they’re on the playground and going along with others in targeting another kid is the easier choice, but standing up for a friend is the right one.
Good reminders for us grownups too.
May the Force Be With You.