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Friday, 14 September 2018

The original Darth Vader back story – before he was Luke's father

The back story of Darth Vader, as presented in the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly, issue 2

Star Wars told us relatively little about its mysterious villain, Darth Vader.

We knew he was a young Jedi Knight who turned to the dark side, murdered Luke's father and helped the Empire hunt down and destroy the other Jedi. But was he human, alien, part-machine? What was under that mask, and why did he make that mechanical breathing noise?

So much remained untold that it was thrilling to see a magazine article that gave us Darth Vader's back story  even if it was different from the one that would be developed in The Empire Strikes Back and afterwords.

Darth Vader's back story, 1977-style

The Star Wars Official Poster
(US edition), issue 2

There was an article in the second issue of the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly that was electrifying for a young Star Wars fan.

The headline ran: "Darth Vader Lives! But will he return?"

Looking at the text today, I can see that the author, John May, had to fashion a substantial article out of very slight information. But he did so in memorable fashion.

The introduction began:
Like a figure out of some galactic nightmare, Darth Vader dominates the dark side of the Star Wars universe. Gigantic in stature, robed in black and able to command powers beyond human understanding, the Dark Lord of the Sith is an evil force to be reckoned with.
May then started Darth Vader's story by telling us about the Old Republic that was once guarded by the Jedi Knights. He was really recounting facts that are contained in the movie. But then, the surprises began.

After explaining that Vader had been consumed by the dark side of the Force "for reasons that are unclear", May wrote:
It led him to that fateful day when, in a fierce battle, he killed Luke Skywalker's  father."
So, surprise number one: The killing of Luke's father had not been the result of a sly murder, but a fierce battle. But there was a bigger revelation coming.

The article went on:
What is less well-known is that Vader himself was then almost killed by Ben Kenobi, who was understandably enraged at his disciple's fall from grace. Vader's life might have ended and then and there with a quick stab of a light sabre; instead, during the fight, Vader stumbled backwards and fell into a volcanic pit where he was nearly fried alive. What remained of his human body was dragged out and preserved by encasing it in an outsize black metal suit  virtually a walking iron lung. His face, now too horrible to behold, remains permanently hidden behind the sinister metal breath screen from which his red eyes glint unmercifully. Only his heavy, rasping breath reveals the suit's true function.
Now we knew why Vader and Kenobi had squared up to each other the way they did in the film. And we knew just how Vader had ended up behind that mask. 

How horrible did he look? Too horrible to behold.

The piece described what happened after that confrontation:
There was no hope of Vader ever returning to the path of Light after this. A Fallen Angel with his control of the Force intact, Vader turned against his former brethren and everything they stood for, aiding successive evil Emperors in their task of destroying the Republic.
Finally, the article gave us a slightly embellished version of Vader's exit from the film. It told us that "Vader's end is fitting", as his TIE fighter's controls melt down.
With one last, breathy scream, the evil one is propelled out into the endless reaches of space.
One question remains  is it possible the Dark Lord still survives? Is it possible that one day he may return, like a nightmare, once again to haunt the freedom of the galaxy? We can only wait and see.
It certainly seemed as though we had read a powerful piece of the Gospel According to George. But where did all this information come from? In fact, it was all really in the public domain already.

How the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly sourced its Darth Vader story

Rolling Stone of August 25, 1977
led on an interview with George Lucas

As we saw last time, the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly was created in the UK, where a small editorial team sent the content to the States for the American magazine to be printed.

John May and his colleagues often had little material to work with as they prepared the stories which, in his words, would "fill in the spaces between the pictures".

Part of that 'Darth Vader Lives' article comes from the movie, of course.

The reference to the succession of Emperors destroying the Old Republic? That's in the prologue to the novelization of the film script.

But the back story about Vader and Kenobi, and the duel that caused the Dark Lord to fall into the volcanic pit? That information can be found in a source that the younger fans would probably not have seen at the time 
 an interview with George Lucas, conducted by Paul Scanlon, in the August 25 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.

In that interview, Lucas said of Vader's history: "It was a whole part of the plot that essentially got cut out. It may be in one of the sequels."

Asked "What’s the story?", he said:
It’s about Ben and Luke’s father and Vader when they are young Jedi knights. But Vader kills Luke’s father, then Ben and Vader have a confrontation, just like they have in Star Wars, and Ben almost kills Vader. As a matter of fact, he falls into a volcanic pit and gets fried and is one destroyed being. That’s why he has to wear the suit with a mask, because it’s a breathing mask. It’s like a walking iron lung. His face is all horrible inside. I was going to shoot a close-up of Vader where you could see the inside of his face, but then we said, no, no, it would destroy the mystique of the whole thing.
Craig Stevens, in book The Star Wars Phenomenon in Britain, notes that John May had these sources to draw on when he fashioned his compelling account of Vader's story.

How Vader's story turned out

That confrontation between Kenobi and Vader would finally be rendered on screen, of course, 28 years later, in Revenge of the Sith. But the story of Darth Vader would have changed by then. 

If George Lucas was intending to reveal that Darth Vader was really Luke's father, it's quite feasible that he would not have shared this with Rolling Stone, or anywhere else in public. But when he briefed Leigh Brackett on writing the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back, he made no mention of this idea, and she even wrote a ghostly appearance of Luke's father into her script.  It's overwhelmingly likely that Lucas had not thought yet thought of his great plot twist.

Back in 1977, we were given a glimpse into a fascinating Darth Vader back story. And it did not involve him fathering Luke Skywalker. 


SaturdayMorningFan said...

THANK YOU! I've had that snippet of text about Vader stumbling backward into a volcanic pit in my head for the past 41 years, wondering exactly where I had read it. I mistakenly thought it had come from an issue of Starlog, glad to know where it's really from. You're right, I was unaware of the Rolling Stone interview because I was only 9 in '77, so I must have read it in this poster magazine. It does look very familiar, but I don't remember the poster hanging on my wall. I probably just read the thing cover-to-cover in my local book store (Reading & Greeting) without actually buying it. We weren't particularly well-off so I had to be choosy about what magazines I bought, and poster magazines were low on my list. I would likely have bought the then-current issue of Starlog instead.

Darren Slade said...

Ha! Really glad I could help you clear that up. I think we all have half-remembered bits of Star Wars trivia in our heads, don't we?