I was thinking about characters and what makes a character a good or a bad person whenever I had a moment of reflection on why I like the types of characters I do in movies.
Most people are drawn to a movie because of the hero character. They want to see what happens, how the hero saves the day, gets the girl, i.e. wins the movie. That point of view is all fine and dandy for those that feel that way but I find myself drawn to another type of character.
To me the movie is based completely on how well the villain, or in the words of Kristen Lamb, the Big Boss Troublemaker, is portrayed. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the type of person who just sits around and watches movies about violent bad guys all the time but I do like to have a villain that grows with the story. That is what makes the movie complete.
For example, I’m going to be using two different sets of Star Wars movies to show how this works.
In the prequel trilogy of the Star Wars Universe, we meet the boy who would later become Darth Vader. What a concept, people had been waiting 30 years for this sort of reveal. But did the movie draw me in? No, no it didn’t. The reason was the entire build of Darth Vader, from a little force sensitive kid all the way to the man who changes the course of the galaxy, was very flat. Poor writing and bad dialogue made the stories tolerable at best, and some say not even that.
So instead of getting this awe inspiring story of watching a good boy turn into something much darker and sinister, you actually saw a boy that sounded more whiny and the audience didn’t feel anything during his entire fall to the dark side. The audience should have felt anger at what he had done, or at least despair about how he had no choice but to go down that path. Instead the viewer barely felt anything.
Now shift backwards to the original trilogy, more specifically, The Empire Strikes Back. The saga has just come off A New Hope where the Death Star was destroyed and five years have moved on and the Galactic War finds it’s way to Hoth.
Darth Vader becomes the character that everyone remembers during this movie. In the first movie he played the bodyguard to Grand Moff Tarkin, but never had any real substance to who he was and what he was wanting. Through the conversations of Yoda and Luke on Dagobah, we find out a lot more about Darth’s history and Luke’s potential tie to the Dark Lord (through the force tree scene). After catching Han and Leia in Cloud City, you can see the depth of his hatred as he sacrifices Han, after his interrogation, in just testing the trap for Luke. This building of Darth Vader’s story in Empire is what has drawn me to that movie and made it the best in the series so far, in my opinion. And of course, the reveal!
So in parting, I believe that the villain’s story can play as crucial a role in the success of a movie or story as the heroes. The villain makes the hero’s story make sense, it brings everything together. Without a good villain story, there is no reason for the hero to be doing what he is doing. They work together. It’s easy to just focus on what makes the hero a good character but don’t forget to tell the story of the villain as well.
Oh, another example that popped into my head, the Joker from the Dark Knight. Enough said…