I have been a devoted admirer of the character of Darth Vader, and what he represents, ever since I first saw him on the big screen as a boy of 11 or 12.
Are You Scared, Darth Vader? was written by Adam Rex and printed by Disney-Lucasfilm Press in mid-2018.
Adam Rex, a long-time resident of Tucson AZ, began his career illustrating fantasy and role-playing games. He would later become an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s books.
I do not normally read nor consider children’s books to be typical subjects for a blog post on Old Sins Cast Long Shadows. Although, when I saw an advertisement for this book I became interested. While the subject did intrigue me, it is still a children’s book. I’m talking for maybe four-to-eight year olds! Sometime later, however, when I saw a review of it on YouTube, I changed my mind.
Could it be, I wondered? Could this kids’ story have captured (intentionally or by happenstance) the emotional cornerstone of what made Darth Vader one of the most iconic villains of cinematic history?
The text of the book is offered here, complete and unabridged. The format of its presentation is entirely mine.
It’s midnight. There’s a full moon.
THAT’S NO MOON.
Whatever. Are you scared, Darth Vader?
I DO NOT GET SCARED. NO ONE HAS THE POWER TO FRIGHTEN LORD VADER.
But what about. . . . . . . . .now! Rar!
WHAT IS THAT? IS THAT A WOOKIE?
It’s a wolfman. Are you scared, Darth Vader? Ar Rarar.
I AM NOT AFRAID OF A WOLF, AND I AM NOT AFRAID OF A MAN, SO NO, I AM NOT AFRAID OF A WOLFMAN.
It could bite you. Ruh.
IT COULD NOT. I AM WEARING ARMOR.
Then what about a VAMPIRE? Bluh! Yeah! VAMPIRE! Are you scared, Darth Vader?
WHAT DOES A VAMPIRE DO?
It…bites you –
It can turn into a bat.
SO, A MUCH SMALLER THING THAT BITES YOU.
Okay but look! A ghost! Booooowoo! A spooky ghost! Are you scared, Darth Vader?
IS THIS THE GHOST OF OBI-WAN KENOBI?
OR YODA? IT IS SHORT LIKE YODA.
I think it is just a ghost.
NEXT. WELL THIS IS JUST AN OLD WOMAN.
She’s also a witch! Are you scared, Darth Vader?
LET ME GUESS – SHE BITES YOU?
No, she casts spells! She could curse you!
I AM ALREADY CURSED.
Are you okay, Darth Vader?
IT IS FINE.
You’re breathing kind of hard.
I SAID IT’S FINE.
Are you afraid of spiders?
IS THAT A JOKE?
So you’re not scared, Darth Vader?
I AM NOT SCARED. I WILL NEVER BE SCARED. WHO COULD POSSIBLY SCARE LORD VADER?
All right, kids, I guess that’s it – you can take off your masks.
MASKS? WHAT? STOP. STOP THAT. THAT IS NOT A TOY. AAAAAAHSTOPITSTOPITSTOPIT!
They’re only children. Are you scared, Darth Va –
OF COURSE I AM NOT SCARED!
Then you wouldn’t mind if more children came to play? Pew pew pew.
I AM MOST DISPLEASED.
I am most displeased!
ARGH! ALL RIGHT! ENOUGH! MAKE THEM GO AWAY!
He’s no fun. Let’s go.
AHEM. YES. THOSE CHILDREN ARE LUCKY THEY LEFT BEFORE I SHOWED THEM MY TRUE POWER.
But look, Darth Vader. There’s still one kid left – the one who’s about to close the book.
CLOSE THE BOOK? I WILL NOT ALLOW IT!
What’s the matter?
LISTEN TO ME, CHILD! YOU DO NOT WANT TO TURN THE PAGE!
Wow, I guess this kid has the power to trap you inside the book! Almost like you’re frozen in carbonite or whatever.
CHILD! THE POWER OF THE DARK SIDE COMPELS YOU! JOIN ME AND TOGETHER WE CAN RULE THE GALAXY!
Only one page left. Now are you scared, Darth Va –
OF COURSE I AM! AHHH! STOP! DO NOT TURN THE – NOOOOOOO.
The rhymes are whimsical and endearing. I especially enjoyed the little sound effects. It was so easy to imagine James Earl Jones’ deep delivery accompanied by the ever-present mechanical breathing sounds. Yet, with a single sentence about halfway through the above dialogue, this children’s book stopped being for children.
The images that follow are extracted from the book and are taken from Consumed by Star Wars Feelings (https://gffa.tumblr.com/post/175784377974/are-you-scared-darth-vader-jesus-christ-this) and are used only to illustrate the principal thesis of this post. The images reveal that point where this book stopped being a kids’ book anymore, bringing up seriously mature themes. Then, almost as fast, the story snapped back to being for children.
“I am already cursed.”
Those four words, with the associated imagery, shifted this book out of the realm of children, a silly kids’ story poking fun at the scary monster, and transformed it into something entirely different and profoundly grown-up. That one line turned Vader into a tragic and sympathetic being. For readers familiar with the character, Vader is not meant to invoke empathy—at first.
Vader is power.
Vader is might.
Vader is without fear.
And yet… as the audience/reader learns more about Vader’s tragic life, they are almost compelled to feel (if not outright sympathy), at least a measure of compassion for the Dark Lord.
What makes Darth Vader a sympathetic figure?
In the first of the prequel trilogy films, The Phantom Menace (1999), Yoda explained to the boy, Anakin, the danger of holding on to fear for a jedi:
Fear is the path to the Dark Side.
Fear leads to anger.
Anger leads to hate.
Hate leads to suffering.
I sense much fear in you.
The film-goer is already aware of the final fate of this cute kid and thus on the lookout for the small tells or clues that step young Anakin closer to his ultimate destiny. As the character of Darth Vader evolved through the original trilogy, he is transformed from an enforcer to a harsh military commander and finally settles on the figure of a man tormented by regret—especially as it pertains to his children. A clear image of a tortured soul emerges - Vader’s disgust, in particular with his own weakness, combined with his regret and remorse for past deeds leads to suffering. For me personally, I can certainly relate.
Much more than the selfless hero or even the charming rogue, the vaster part of the audience can relate to a flawed character. Most people experience, and thus can relate to, failure, regret, fear and anger. And, unless dealt with (with regards to mental and spiritual health), can lead to feelings of self-loathing, self-hatred and disgust, as it did with Darth Vader. .
The simple fact that I relate to this tragically flawed figure, perhaps, reveals why so many hold a measure of sympathy for Darth Vader. It is a simple fact of the human condition to possess powerful and negative emotions.
This book is marketed towards young children, yet few children have developed enough emotionally to truly understand remorse, regret and failure. Let alone, be able to properly deal with them in a healthy manner. These are things whose understanding only come with age and maturity.
Rex, Adam. Star Wars: Are You Scared, Darth Vader? Glendale: Disney-Lucasfilm Press, 2018.
~. “Are You Scared, Darth Vader?” Consumed by Star Wars Feelings. Web. 19 December 2019. <https://gffa.tumblr.com/post/175784377974/are-you-scared-darth-vader-jesus-christ-this>
Breznican, Anthony. “Inside the creation of Adam Rex's new Star Wars storybook Are You Scared, Darth Vader?” Entertainment Weekly. Meredith Corporation. 03 July 2018. Web. 15 December 2019. <https://ew.com/books/2018/07/03/inside-the-making-of-the-star-wars-storybook-are-you-scared-darth-vader/>
Floyd, James, “What Frightens a Sith Lord? Are You Scared, Darth Vader? Dares to Ask.” Starwars.com. Lucasfilm Ltd. 3 July 2018. Web. 17 December 2019. <https://www.starwars.com/news/are-you-scared-darth-vader>
Letslipthehounds. “Isn’t this supposed to be a Children’s Book?” Running With No Destination. 05 July 2018. Web. 13 March 2019. <https://letslipthehounds.tumblr.com/post/175590818312/isnt-this-supposed-to-be-a-childrens-book>
Little-lackadaisical. “This is by far the best piece of Star Wars literature ever made.” Artfully Amused. 17 July 2018. Web. 16 March 2019. <https://little-lackadaisical.tumblr.com/post/176006583331>