So, all of you five people that are reading this should be thankful this blog isn’t “Hess goes on dates”, because that is not something anyone wants to read, definitely not the ladies that go on the dates.  The reason I mention this is I want to make absolutely clear that this will never be the “and now hear about my personal life” blog.  What a horror personal lives are.

However!  I was on a very very pleasant little social occasion last week, when I saw freaking DARTH VADER.  I know you’re thinking like, shutup Hess, go back to Disneyland, but no.  I was at my favorite dimly lit escape when the lady, who I had graciously given the seat that could see the rest of the restaurant rather than being locked into my damn marzapan face, says, “Ok, I need you to tell me if I’m crazy, but I’m pretty sure I see James Earl Jones behind you.”

So I do the backwards, nondescript elbow twist move with my drink, and fuck me sideways if  rat bastard Darth Vader wasn’t standing there, annoyed and waiting for the men’s room, in a white v-neck undershirt and khaki pants no less!  He looked like Terence Mann from Field of Dreams, except without the charming anecdotes.

So, we dork chortled for a while, and clinked glasses and reveled in our own frothiness, which is, what dorks do, and the rest evening went on, but I mention it because of what it reminded me about Vader and Star Wars and movie villains.  Right now I’m going over my MFA paper, which is on “The power and significance of masks in American Horror film”, and I’m very caught up in the idea of masking, and the boogeyman, and anonymity and shit.  You see, the act of masking has a lot of very powerful, documented, atavistic effects.  There are both effects for the individual employing the mask, and conversely for the audience on the perceiving end of the masked performance, which overlap but are not the same list.

Darth Vader is powerful for a lot of reasons:  force-choking, badass saber ninja skills, advanced family demolition, minion abuse, robot body,  etc., but the reason he is iconic is the mask.  If Vader was just some dude standing around in that big black ATM machine getup and you could see his face while he was being all “Whatever, fuck the rebels”, you could access him, and he’d lose the majority of his power.  Instead, the shark stays in the water, and every badass thing he does is amplified in the echo chamber of your mind as you go “What the frick is going on in there?  I want to know, I need to know”.  And then, when you finally do know, it’s all anti-climax.  “Oh, he’s some fat foreskin-faced English dude, and his voice just lost all its awesome.”  Let it be noted, that other than for the purposes of education by way of Red Letter Media, I do not acknowledge the existence of any Star Wars related films created after the year 1990.  Furthermore, if I am put in a situation where I have to view any of the THREE existing Star Wars films, altered post-birth by George “You don’t even know how much I can ruin this” Lucas, and any computer generated landscapes appear in my view, or any characters suddenly start monologuing out of their CGI face holes, I am immediately moved to curse profusely, grab another drink, praise the unknowable Yog-Sothoth before returning to my seat.

Anyway, the point of all of this is:  Did last year’s Superbowl utilize an epically cute “Han Solo” car commercial?  Did Disneyland pull the R2D2 and C3PO for their campaign to introduce the Star Tours opening?  No, and not just because Vader is masked, therefore reproducible, whereas Solo and Luke are not.  Obviously R2 would work, and without the gag—graphics investment–of Yoda, but because Vader is synonymous with the gravity of Star Wars.  He’s Hannibal Lecter, he’s Leatherface, he’s Michael Myers.

There wouldn’t be anything to fear in Star Wars without Vader.  As a kid, were you shaking in your boots at the prospect of the rebels getting ‘sploded by the upper echelon of the Empire’s military ranks and their pointy grey hats?  Get the fuck out of here, you weren’t.  It was Vaaaaaaader.  Also, to a lesser extent, it was Boba Fett, who again demonstrates the perfect truth of mask = badass.  Jabba is scary, but it’s scary like when you’re thirteen and you accidentally find yourself at the party of like your friend’s drunk cousin, and there are guys in Journey t-shirts drinking Mad Dog and sucking whip-its and on your way to the bathroom you go past that room with the cracked door where the really creepy shit is going down.  That’s what Jabba’s place is like, but you know that if you can stay away from the Rancor, your shit will remain intact.  (Somebody somewhere needs to write about how Star Wars is a gay  manifesto expressing the fear of the vagina, but that’s for another time)  It doesn’t hold the same kind of heart-dropping anxiety of whatever Lord Vader might do to you, purely because you have no-flipping-clue.

This all breaks down to the adage that a hero is only as good as the villain (s)he’s up against, and in the case of Skywalker, not even that.  I think a better illustration is Hans Gruber and John Mclane.  Could anybody be as simultaneously austere and unctuous as Gruber?  Methinks not.

So, like most of these, I went on a long rant to get to what seems like a basic point:

I need a big, fat villain.  I don’t want an 80s teen dramedy villain.  Brad, Chuck, or Biff won’t do.  I need something mystical and otherworldly, and something hidden behind a veil.  The medium of the online videogame, of ENGINES OF VICTORY, allows at least a double layer of this veil, and nearly endless possibilities for cute little dualities, where your’e trying to deduce which “real life” character is the giant  villain online, “OMG, it’s a GURL!”, but I don’t even want to cut myself that short. I want to make it somehow truly dreadful, like freaking Lawnmower Man and Robocop 2 shit.  Something truly Master Blaster (again, masks!).

Since I don’t play WoW, or any of that shit, does anybody have any anecdotal thoughts on characters, or just as good, the kinds of characters that they’ve encountered that are genuinely spooky in these worlds?  The main problem is, that in a world populated by anonymity, everyone dons the elven cape of mystery to some extent, so it’s nearly impossible to build mystique.

As I discussed with my friend Mike recently, I intend to the world of ENGINES OF VICTORY to be a more continuous one than WoW, in the sense that you’re beholden to the identity to your character over time, rather than switching between a palette of various characters, and that your resources and reputation are much more like in real life, so that people genuinely amass armies and kingdoms and shit.  The smash and grab politics of WoW just doesn’t have the capacity to reach anthemic, Lord of the Rings style epic-ness, so we eschew it.

To summarize:  I need a big, mysterious, iconic villain—sans irony, and once that idea clicks in, it will answer a litany of other questions.

Because last week I was assaulted by ennui, and failed to post, this week you’re getting two for the price of one.  Tomorrow…OUTLINING!!!



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  1. My favorite was Mr. Brooks, Kevin Costner style. The scariest mask/veil is the one you wear on a day-to-day, normal guy basis. Your evil is held in check like a damn werewolf. I know this isn’t exactly what you’re looking for but…

  2. As for the Star Wars movies, I recall that The Emperor scared the shit out of me as a kid. Don’t know why- perhaps it was the mystery surrounding him (also ruined, I feel in the later movies).

    Also, anecdotal: Your post made me look back on an unfinished screenplay I was working on years back- a thriller in which the villain was unknowable to the protagonist as well as the audience, due to the hero’s particular affliction, prosopagnasia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia), or face blindness. I intended it to be filmed through the protagonist’s eyes, meaning the features of all the other characters would be in some way obscured. At this point, I don’t know if the idea is, in fact, frightening, or if it’s just a trite plot device.

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