Star Wars villain Darth Vader is an imposing figure, but he's nowhere near the top villain ever created. He's a moron who didn't do a very good job of getting what he wanted.

He was given the "Ultimate Villain" award at the 2011 Scream Awards. The American Film Institute listed Vader as the third greatest movie villain in cinema history.  Since they started it, how does he compare with other great cinematic villains?

Let's break it down.

1. Darth Vader Was Clueless

A great villain like Shakespeare's Iago is a master planner. Death Vader was not. Iago devised a plan to destroy Othello by making him believe that his wife, Desdemona was having an affair. Pretty evil.

Vader is different though. All the evil plans in the Star Wars films are set in motion and organized by others. In fact, at times Vader seems clueless as to why things are happening.

In the first Star Wars film it was Gran Moff Tarkin that committed the most horrific act: killing billions of people on Alderaan. In the other films, including the prequels, the Emperor is behind every evil thing he does.

If anything, Darth Vader was an easily manipulated fool. Not exactly a great trait for a villain.

2. Darth Vader Was Sadistic...Our Was He?

Destroying a planet. Killing kids. Torturing women. Chokin' people out. Truly a sadistic freak. Or was he?

Hannibal Lector, who's listed as number one, is sadistic. He kills and eats people.

What about Baron Vladimir Harkonnen from Dune. That was a sadist. Not only did he install plugs into his underling's hearts so he could easily kill them, he had a smile on his face while he was floating around doing back flips.

Then there's Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest? She was torturing and lobotomizing people for fun.

Darth Vader was a mean guy, but he didn't enjoy hurting people. That's the key to a good villain.

3. Darth Vader's Not A Hustler
Some of the best villains have the motivation of money or power. They go after it with a vengeance like Jay Z in space. Darth Vader wasn't interested in money. He spent it freely and did nothing with it.

We never saw Darth Vader cruising around in his Mercedes Benz with a "Mo' Money Mo' Power" necklace. He could have made some money on the side by breaking into bank vaults or by shaking down planets. He could have said, "It would be a shame if someone destroyed your little planet with a Death Star" and made billions.

So, it goes back to reason one. What was his motivation? Power? He talked about it, but if he really wanted power he would have thrown Palpatine down an elevator shaft a long time ago. He could have even done it easily.

When the Emperor came to check out the Death Star in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi he could have said, "Now we're really proud of this next thing. You have to lean waaaaay over this rail to get a good look at it though." One push and Vader would have been top dog. But, he didn't do it.

Great villains are motivated by money or power and Darth Vader wasn't enough of a hustler to become a great villain.

4. Darth Vader's Scary Looking, But That's Not Enough
So, why do people say Vader's a great villain? We're left with only one explanation: He's scary looking. He is too. His skull-like mask, long cape and booming deep voice is scary. Concept designer Ralph McQuarrie did a great job designing him.

Well, if that's the standard for a great villain, then someone is a great hero because he's handsome. A-Team's Face, played by the sexiest man alive Bradley Cooper, becomes the greatest hero ever.

Yes, Vader's costume and voice are intimidating, but underneath it he's nobody. He's more like Curly from The Three Stooges.

The Wicked Witch of the West, listed as number four below Vader, is scarier looking than Vader. Green skin. Evil cackle. Chilling.

Is Vader scarier than Norman Bates from Psycho or even the shark Bruce from Jaws? To this day, people still avoid taking showers or going into the ocean because of those two.

No one says, "I'm not going into space. Darth Vader might be there!"

So, while Darth Vader is awesome and definitely one of my favorites, he's an idiot who never tried to hurt anybody, make any money or look scary enough to be the greatest villain ever.

What do you think? Is Star Wars Darth Vader the worst villain ever? Let me know in the comments.

[Image source: digitalbusstop]

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AlexJCavanaugh said...

One of the most recognized, maybe. He was always a puppet of someone else though.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Definitely the most recognized.
Subject: [geektwins] Re: Why 'Star Wars' Death Vader Is the Worst Villain Ever ~ The Geek Twins

Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

I think that Darth Vader is one of the best villains ever. He was just so sinister and imposing. And a complete badass in the Empire Strikes Back.

S. L. Hennessy said...

I wish George Lucas hadn't made the second trilogy and ruined Anakin for audiences everywhere. But still, Darth in the original - classic.

Fellow sci-fi nerd here. Great blog. Found you though the Movies 411 award page. Looking forward to reading more posts.

Jro said...

so true

LydiaK said...

Not nearly as evil as others. Great post, you have me convinced. :)

MPax said...

He had potential ... then they made him a puppet, like you said. I wasn't even clear on why he turned & became evil. And the prequels made him not scary at all. Which I found disappointing.

Maurice Mitchell said...

@Michael Empire Strikes Back was a great movie all-around

Maurice Mitchell said...

@ S. L. Hennessy Welcome to the blog. Yours is pretty awesome too!

Maurice Mitchell said...

@LydiaK He's evil for sure, just not all the way evil.

Maurice Mitchell said...

@MPax What's interesting is that after filming Sith Lucas rewrote and reshot the film to make it all about Padme. Much weaker motivation to me.

Drew Nicholson said...

I think you're missing the point. Vader was never really a villain.  He's a classic tragic hero.  

Maurice Mitchell said...

Good point Drew. As a tragic hero Vader is one of the greatest.

Maurice Mitchell said...

you know he tortured his own daughter and chopped his sons hand off right! just saying

Maurice Mitchell said...

Baby Vader, I'm certainly not saying Vader isn't bad. Just that he's not a good villain in the traditional sense. Thanks for joining in!

Slashers666 said...

this blog sucks

LZT1 said...

The dark side of the Force had a grip over him. That is why he could not be disloyal to the emperor.

Only Luke's good overcame it in the end and helped Vader shake off the dark side.

Ashley Holmes said...


Snargle said...

1. Darth Vader Was Clueless

How? Vader was the one who ordered the Falcon to be taken apart, sensed and killed Kenobi, enacted the plan of fighting the rebels ship-to-ship and came within a millisecond of killing Luke and ending the Rebel threat to the Death star, found and destroyed the Hoth base DESPITE the bungling of an underling...the list goes on. Yes, Tarkin was in charge of the grand strategy in the first movie, but Vader was far from clueless. In fact, I can't help you don't list a single example of Vader in a situation where he wasn't either coming up with or in on the plan.

2. Darth Vader Was Sadistic...Our(sic) Was He?

No, he wasn't. Which is what allowed him to be redeemed in the end, which is what makes a tragic villain. Sadism can make a villain, or it can make them belong on an episode of Captain Planet. Vader comes across as scary, competent, and dogmatic without being some cackling madman. That's the Emperor's role.

3. Darth Vader's Not A Hustler

So basically, if a villain has motivation other than money or power, they're not a good villain?

Vader was an indoctrinated patriot of the Empire. He fully believed that i was the best chance for peace and order in the galaxy, and he had no problem climbing on top of a mountain of corpses to maintain it. he didn't do it because it gave him some sick thrill, he did it because he thought it was the right thing to do.

This is terrifying in villain, because it makes us ask ourselves if we could ever end up like this. Good intentions and all.

4. Darth Vader's Scary Looking, But That's Not Enough

Vader isn't a movie monster that's supposed to make you clench in fear whenever you look at him, or even someone you'd be afraid of meeting in a dark alley. Vader is the symbol of authority gone wrong, someone bigger than you, stronger than you, and IN CHARGE of you. He murders seniors military officials with no fear for consequences, that's scary enough for me.


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