How did James Earl Jones get involved?
I said right from the beginning that I was looking for a voice for Darth Vader. I went through a lot of different tapes of people, including Orson Welles. But then I landed on James Earl Jones, because he's a superb actor. And I was so worried at that point, because it's minimalist acting in a mask: He doesn't get a huge range of stuff to deal with. I was looking for him to pull a realistic performance out of this constrained reality I had created and really grab the audience. It's one of these horrible acting exercises – sometimes directors put themselves in a corner, and it's thankless for the actor.
The same thing happened with Padmé in Episode I, when she had this very stilted dialogue as the Queen. And also with Hayden in Episode II. He said, "I don't want to be this whiny kid." I said, "Well, you are. You gotta be a whiny teenager."
Like father, like son.
He said, "I want to be Darth Vader." I said, "You gotta be a petulant young Jedi. You're not going to be the guy you thought you'd be when you signed your contract." Hayden was grateful for this last movie, where he actually got to be Darth Vader.
Why do you think people have focused so much on Vader?
People like villains because they're powerful and they don't worry about the rules. And as you go through puberty, you have to break off your social bondage and become your own person. So when you have a film aimed at adolescents, the movie is there to say, "Well, all well and good, but this is what happens to you when you do that. This is why you're compassionate, and why you join together as a group to help each other." These are the same basic stories that have always been told.
It was interesting how many people wanted to see Darth Vader massacre the Jedis.
Well, when I said I was going to do the prequels, everybody said, "That's great, we get to see Darth Vader kill everybody." And I said, "That's not the story." When I announced that the first story was going to be about a nine-year-old boy, everybody here said, "That's insane, you're going to destroy the whole franchise, it's More American Graffiti all over again." And I said, "Yeah, but this is the story."
I don't have energy to just make hit movies. I'm not going to make James Bond Pt. 21 – I'm just not interested. Everybody said to drop the stuff about the midichlorians, it makes it too confusing. But it's a metaphor for a symbiotic relationship that allows life to exist. Everybody said it was going to be a giant turkey: "This isn't going to help LucasFilm at all." I said, "This is about the movie and the company is just going to have to deal with whatever happens." That's one of the reasons why there was so much hype on the first prequel: Everybody was terrified.
Having thought of Darth Vader as this ultimate evil, it was alarming to see him as a cute kid in "The Phantom Menace," as if we were watching home movies of Hitler.
Well, a lot of people got very upset, saying he should've been this little demon kid. But the story is not about a guy who was born a monster – it's about a good boy who was loving and had exceptional powers, but how that eventually corrupted him and how he confused possessive love with compassionate love. That happens in Episode II: Regardless of how his mother died, Jedis are not supposed to take vengeance. And that's why they say he was too old to be a Jedi, because he made his emotional connections. His undoing is that he loveth too much.
Anakin has no father. Do Christ overtones—
Oh, it's not just Christ. Christ is one of a long, long, long line of heroes who don't have fathers. There's a long tradition of mythological heroes.
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