Why is one of the most memorable villains so memorable? He is part of one of the most popular franchises in cinema, yes, but I believe that before Star Wars became what it is today, the story and characters found the hearts of viewers because of the way they were presented. Something about Darth Vader made viewers want to talk about him, pretend to be him and know more about him.
Darth Vader's first appearance in the 1977 film is the perfect villain entry. Through a white fog of smoke strides the tall, caped black figure and we see him for the very first time. I recently watched that film again and I have to say, Darth Vader is still the strongest character possibly out of the whole movie. Why? Here are some of my reasons:
- He is a mysterious character. From the moment we see him, we are intrigued by him. Why is his face covered? Why does he command the respect he does? Why the weird breathing thing? Don't give away everything about your villain immediately - draw it out during the course of your story. Keep the audience guessing and waiting for more information.
- He is a stress ball. Yes. He may be the most evil man in a black plastic suit ever but one of the things that I find interesting about him in the 1977 film is that he does show a weakness and that weakness is that he seems constantly paranoid. He trusts no one and his entire energy appears to be driven by the fact that he's concerned something will get in the way of his plan. This makes him an interesting villain because it makes him human. I stress over my plans, I can relate to Darth Vader here. Make your villain relatable on some level.
- He has the best costume. What your bad guy wears, in fact what every character wears is VERY important to your story. Talk to any actor and they will tell you that stepping into a costume allows them to step into their character. It helps with their movement and thinking. How you dress your villain is important because it tells the viewer who your villain is. Vader's past is secret yet important to the plot. His costume covers him up, keeping him hidden, much like his past. Costumes make villains more real and more memorable.
- He is, quite literally, on the dark side. It helps that Star Wars has a power that can be used for good or evil. Usually the good and evil in a film is a little bit more subtle than that. Here we have evil force versus good force. It means the characters can land squarely on one side of the line and Vader is quite clearly (at least in the 1977 film) on the dark side. His goal is to stop the good guys. Give your villain a clear goal.
- He has a complicated past. Don't we all? Darth Vader's past is a complicated one because it kind of clashes with who he is now. The entire story of Star Wars hinges on his past, which is why it is so clever. Think about this when weaving your villain into your story. He or she should not just be evil for evil's sake. There is always some choice that pushes us to decide for good or evil. We have both in us as humans and your characters should always reflect that. It's the decisions they make that define them.