I was born the day I saw Star Wars, and Darth Vader made me. Sure, he's a jerk. And an emotional nightmare. And he's made some really unhealthy choices in his life. But he's my muse. And I do want to own his helmet.
A few years ago I went to Star Wars Celebration IV, which was held in Los Angeles. I swore I wasn't going to go. I was over Star Wars. But at the last minute I bought a weekend pass and went. One thing that made the whole thing worth it was DKE Toys' The Vader Project. At first, I didn't know what it was. I just walked into a room, and I was stunned. There were rows upon rows of Darth Vader helmets. But while the shape of them were all familiar, they weren't black. They were painted, scuffed, amended. They were pink, green, blue, red, gold. They were pieces of art. They were not serving their purpose, masking an evil villain's horrible disfigurement. They were unmasking him. Here before me was the true essence of what Darth Vader was.
I weaved in and out of the rows, examining the minutiae and attention to detail each artist had done. I was amazed by the sweetness, the soul, the darkness, the rage that the masks wore on their faces for all to see. It was as though everything that made Darth Vader whole was being unpeeled, and every layer, every demon and thought, was carefully displayed before us to see. As if the room was saying, "You thought you knew Darth Vader, and now you know more." All of these Vaders made me respect how important a figure Darth Vader was to me.
The idea was simple. Dov Kelemer of DKE Toys, who came up with The Vader Project, gave a hundred artists— including Shag, Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, Paul Frank, Ron English, Jeff Soto, Michelle Valigura, and Frank Kozik—a Darth Vader mask, and told each of them to use the mask as a blank canvas. The artists came back with something more than just a piece of art, they had each captured a sliver of Darth Vader's soul. Now, after four years, this July 10th, DKE Toys is auctioning off these delicious pieces of pop art.
I want one. I want one of those helmets so badly that I can taste it. But bids start at $1,500.00. And I don't have $1,500.00 to spend on a piece of art.
My bid will have to be my thanks. Or my homage. Or my declaration. Or my profound gratitude for Darth Vader. I would say my heart, but I can't give that to him. Darth Vader disappointed me in the end. (Episodes I, II, and III. ‘Nuff said.) But when I stood looking at these rows of Vaders, I remembered that when I first saw the poster for The Phantom Menace, the one with a young Anakin Skywalker standing in Darth Vader's shadow, every part of the child inside of me buzzed with joy. The promise of the story of how Darth Vader would rise and fall reminded me of how I fell in love with telling stories. Never mind that those new movies didn't live up to my expectations. I'm older. I get to tell stories now.
Sometimes, my story is a straight-up comedy: Girl sees Star Wars, girl gets mind blown, girl writes an indie rock song about it. (The title was "Nerdy Girl" and the chorus was "Bring the Wookie to me.") Sometimes, it's a quirky coming-of-age fable: Girl sees Star Wars, girl gets mind blown, girl lives on sidewalk for six weeks to see Episode 1, and while waiting, girl falls in love. The post-script: Girl gets disappointed (in life, love, and cinema) but that's another story. Or girl sees Star Wars, gets mind blown, grows up and becomes an author.
The moment in Star Wars: A New Hope, when Darth Vader goes spinning off at the end, that was the moment I decided I wanted to be a writer. That I wanted to tell stories. I wanted to write that story! And then when The Empire Strikes Back came around and Han Solo got frozen in carbonite, Lando betrayed his friend, Luke got his hand chopped off, and Darth Vader turned out to be his dad, my sense of where a story could go was completely shocked. But the budding writer in me was inspired.
Sure. I loved Luke and Leia and Han Solo. (Oh! Han Solo!) But it was Darth Vader—this complex, hidden, man whose life hinted at terrible things—who intrigued me when I saw The Empire Strikes Back. I discovered that I didn't need a happy ending. The dark side could be tempting. Things could be different than what they seemed. Good and Evil were not so clear.
And what never went away for me, was the idea of this epic story - how does someone become Darth Vader? What is the moment that makes you so twisted that you would want to be a servant to evil? What happens that makes you fall to the dark side? For me, Darth Vader embodies every interesting artistic question. I find that when I begin a new project, that feeling that I got about Darth Vader in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back is what comes bubbling up again. It's the most thrilling thing in the world.
That is why I want one of the helmets from The Vader Project. Because my creativity comes from balancing the light and the dark side. Because it reminds me that even when wearing an evil dark mask, we can't hide our soft parts. Because the tension between the fall of a person and their bursts of color is my favorite story to hear and tell.
If I had The Force, I would use my power, stick out my hand and make one of them float over to me. Because to me, a Darth Vader helmet embellished and re-imagined by an artist (maybe the one by Tim Biskup!) is cut from the very same cloth of what nourishes me to do the thing that I do. Write. I want to love the darkness in Vader. I want to stare at his face splattered with paint and images as I sit at my desk writing, dreaming, imagining. Because it reminds me that in the real stories are told in the crooks of our souls, in those moments where we have the choice of dark over light.
So I want one of those helmets because even though Darth Vader isn't my father, he is my daddy.
The Vader Project http://www.thevaderproject.com/ exhibit can be seen in Philadelphia, July 5th through 9th, 10:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. daily at Freeman's Auction House, 1808 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The auction takes place at Freeman's on July 10th at 12:00 noon EDT.
–Cecil Castellucci is the author of novels and graphic novels for young adults including Boy Proof, The Queen of Cool, Beige, and the PLAIN Janes series. Her newest novel Rose Sees Red and her first Picture Book, Grandma's Gloves is due out in August 2010. She has a Queen Amidala tattoo, a large collection of broken Star Wars action figures and still sleeps with her Star Wars comforter. See her Flickr set from the Vader Project here.Her website is MissCecil.com.
Are you a Red Room author and have a 500-words or less essay you’d like to submit for our homepage? We run essays on a variety of topics, from serious social and political issues from a personal perspective, to tips on writing, editing, and publishing. We prefer exclusive, original content, but sometimes consider reprints. We don't offer monetary compensation to our authors for their essays, and authors retain copyright and reprint rights to their work. We appreciate your submissions, although we can’t run them all. Please email submissions to email@example.com. Thanks!
Causes Cecil Castellucci Supports
Interstitial Art Foundation
Doctors Without Borders