How to be a Star Wars Villain

So, you’ve finally figured out a career you want to pursue. Congratulations. It’s about time; you’re graduating in the next couple weeks and your family has been nagging you about what you’re going to be for years.

It’s a good career for you. The money’s good, the hours aren’t awful, and you get to wear a snazzy outfit. It’s something that allows you to act how you’ve always secretly wanted to, but been prevented by society.

You are going to be a Star Wars villain.

You probably already have your evil name picked out, and have started on the long application process, but you’ll need advice. This is the place for it. For starters–keeping a running total of the ants you’ve stepped on? Not impressive. Keep that information far away from your resume.

Here are a few tips for how to act once you get the job.

1. Call everyone you don’t like scum.

This is very important. Even if you haven’t yet had the screen time to show by your actions how evil you are, if you call people scum, your audience will get the hint. Rebel scum. Jedi scum. Scavenger scum. Person-who-butters-their-toast-Wrong scum. Everyone can be scum, except for you and your underlings. Not that your underlings will have an easy time of things, of course.

2. Kill people who don’t need killing.

Not because you don’t see them as people. You have to know they’re people, and kill them like moths. Kill all the villagers who happen to be near you. Kill any underlings who make mistakes, however innocent or unavoidable. Kill some planets while you’re at it. And if someone is needed for plot purposes later on? Don’t kill them. Torture them. For absolutely no reason, of course. How is anyone to know how evil you are if you aren’t sowing senseless carnage everywhere?

3. Make yourself seem less than human.

Unless they are a budding young villain like yourself, no one wants to think themselves capable of the things you do. So distance yourself from the audience. Be a cyborg, because that isn’t rude to amputees everywhere. Get some really noticeable scars. If you’re cursed enough to be attractive, wear a scary mask. Be careful not to take it off, though, or viewers might start to think you’re jus misunderstood. And whatever you do, do not make any reference to a tragic backstory. Your childhood was perfect, understand?

Follow these guidelines, and you may just become a worthwhile villain, one you audience will love to hate and cheer for the death of. Oh. Erm…maybe set your affairs in order before you start.

Strength and weakness

During Stan Lee’s time writing the Avengers comics, Thor shared a body with a Doctor Donald Blake. Nothing out of the ordinary, in a universe that featured super soldiers, radioactive superpowers, a creepy-eyed guy who showed up to watch big events, and of course magical space Vikings, but looking back over those comics that detail catches my eye. See, without Mjolnir, Thor would revert back to Donald Blake, and so whenever something separated him from his hammer during a fight he panicked. He didn’t want his teammates to find out that, when he wasn’t being Thor, he was a small man who used a cane and looked utterly un-godlike.

Angst like that was common in the Avengers at the time–Iron Man didn’t want the team to find out about his heart condition, for instance. But the characters evolved, and Thor and Donald Blake parted ways, so it wouldn’t be relevant if the hammer and title of Thor were not currently being carried by Jane Foster–as of the last time I caught up with the series, anyway. It’s been a few months.

When Jane holds Mjolnir, as far as anyone cares, she’s Thor. Maybe not the same Thor as the other superheroes have worked with in years past, and definitely not the Thor that Odin wants, but she has the same powers and does the same work to protect people, so there isn’t much to be concerned with. The biggest difference seems to be that Iron Man tried to flirt with her. She’s physically imposing, wears almost practical armor, and looks really really cool, like every good superhero-deity should.

Separate her from the hammer, though, and not only is dear Jane a small, frail, human, she is also dying of cancer. And the transformation between Thor and her own body is just making her more sick.

I have mixed feelings about the incorporation of cancer into Jane’s story. On the one hand, cancer is real and it’s not going away soon, and reflecting that in the stories we tell is only reasonable. Stories may contain fantastic, unbelievable elements, especially superhero stories, but they also have aspects of the things their storytellers see in real life.

On the other hand, cancer is real and it keeps interfering in far too many of the lives of people I care about, and I’d like it to stay out of my fiction if possible. Along with tarantula hawks, most forms of paperwork, and broken guitar strings. But if this were a dissertation on the representation of cancer in fiction, I wouldn’t be starting with the Thor comics.

Despite my misgivings, showing the dual nature of Jane’s strengths and weaknesses in such an overt way in these comics is effective in raising the questions it’s meant to, I think. What are your strengths? It asks readers. How do your strengths make the impact of your weaknesses more dangerous, in a twist of cruel irony? In the case of Jane Foster, the questions refer to literal strength, but it can also be applied to other types of strength–strength of courage or or endurance or integrity or character as a whole, and weakness of the same.

Tony Stark’s strength and weakness stem from the same place: he is highly intelligent, and unfortunately, he knows it. Percy Jackson’s strength is his loyalty to his loved ones, but it also puts him in danger all the time. Luke Skywalker’s strength is in his love, but his love for and faith in his father nearly gets him killed. Actually, I think he inherited that strength-weakness from Anakin to begin with.

But the weaknesses can come from a place completely different from the strengths. Kaladin Stormblessed’s strength is in his magic and his protective nature, but the betrayals and failures of his past threaten to take away both. Frodo’s strength is his endurance, which is tested and broken by the One Ring.

Of course, most characters and all people have more than one strength or weakness. Reading stories like these Thor comics encourage me to try to identify all, which is looking to be a lifetime’s work. Hopefully, it will be worthwhile.

Icarus

Icarus  flew

too close to the sun, and

fell,

A stream of

melted wax

breaking wings

a father’s love.

Did someone,

one of Poseidon’s people,

anyone,

find him?

Did they wonder

at all the things

around him?

The story doesn’t say.

Icarus

was a boy.

They turned him

to a lesson.

They forget–

Icarus flew.

Icarus flew.

It’s more

than most can claim.

You are a collage

You start off as a blank sheet of paper. Maybe you’re a different color or texture than other sheets. That’s okay. Every paper is covered in potential. You are no different.

You make yourself into a collage, finding bits and pieces of things that look like they’re worth making a part of you and sticking them on. Sometimes they turn out to not be such a good fit, or to be absolutely terrible in the long run. That’s okay, too. You peel off what you can, and put better things over what you can’t.

Sometimes life happens. You get dirty, or splashed with paint, and the design you planned for yourself becomes impossible. Sometimes other people come and glue things to you without your consent, maybe covering up the parts of yourself you were most happy with in the process. And sometimes you’re in a place where there’s nothing, nothing you want to add to yourself around.

But you are your own collage. You can get out of those places, peel off or cover up the things that don’t belong on you, move forward. You can remove or cover the things that shouldn’t be a part of you. You can cut things that don’t look quite right into new shapes before you stick them down. You can plan a new design. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the effort.

Collages are made up of the different things an artist runs across, the candy wrappers and funny phrases and images that stood out to them, things that wouldn’t go together if the artist hadn’t decided they did. People are like that too. Each has interests and experiences and ideas that no one else in the world can precisely match.

I think that’s beautiful.

The above collage is titled “A Request Of The World”. 

People Watching

Twice this week I’ve passed the same large man  curled up asleep in the same tiny chair, oblivious to the noisy students around him. A black bag and a set of crutches lean against the wall nearby.

As powerful as my imagination is, that isn’t an image I would have come up with with on my own. When I want to enhance my stories and artwork, I find it best to use details that I notice when people watching.

For instance:

A man wearing glasses has placed his laptop near the middle of the study table, so he had to lean forward to type. Under the table, his socks are striped, blue and red and white. He’s kicked his shoes off.

A young woman with a pale braid and a laptop not much larger than her two hands eats Greek  yogurt in the library. It’s against the rules.

There’s a coat slung over one chair that’s half inside out. Its outside is a no-nonsense matte black, which matches the owner’s crew cut and button-down shirt in a sort of well-dressed practicality. The inner lining is a reflective silver that drops me back into high school, learning disco songs for choir.

Someone wearing a brightly patterned scarf looks at their phone as they walk. They look up, turn around. They’ve passed whatever they’re looking for.

A young mother holds her baby while looking at a map of the building. Her toddler crawls over the map, sitting on a computer lab.

A woman looks at a menu while wearing a navy cloak with brass buttons at the collar. With it she wears skinny jeans. Obviously.

Three youthful men wearing handwritten name tags pass by. They’re speaking Arabic, but it’s too quick for me to understand. I haven’t been practicing much (Sorry, Dad).

A man with long legs and an Air Force ROTC uniform  walks a lot faster than I can. On his backpack is a camouflage-patterned Rebel Alliance symbol. I want to be his friend.

I might use variations on these real-life characters in my art or my stories-especially the woman with the cloak–but even if I don’t, I’ve still got more new images and ideas in my head to play with.

Testing Limitations

“Make an installation.”

That was my assignment, one for which I had two weeks and no budget. I’m an artist most comfortable with two-dimensional and digital arts. I barely ever even make sculptures, and installations have to be aware of their space in ways that are different from sculptures.

“Make an installation.”

Okay.

My last day of high school, I glued Starburst wrappers to the cover of my yearbook. It was fun, and so since then I tend to save any candy wrappers and other conveniently collage-able materials I come across. I had quite a collection.

The university newspaper is free every week. I love using it for collage, since there’s something delightfully evil feeling about chopping apart something called “The Universe.”

I had a few cardboard boxes and some sidewalk chalk. Family members helped me get more boxes. I grabbed some glitter while looking for school supplies.

The rest–bells, a flashlight, a beanie–were already in my possession.

The result was a miniature city, plastered with the side effects of a college student’s life. Viewers could go round to the backdrop and sit against the wings,  sweep the flashlight over everything and run across a cactus drawn in glitter on the side of one “building.”

The title was “Destroying the Universe to Build a City of Stars.” I made it to represent my perception of the noise and complexity of university and city life, when I’m unused to both.

It doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a handful of photos on my phone, a number in a grade book. Boxes in the recycling bin. Memory. I don’t even know if I did all that well. There were dozens of little ways I would have changed it, rearranged the setup, altered the collage work, now that I’ve done it once.

But the point of the class I did it for isn’t specifically to make a good installation. It’s to test my limitations as an artist, all the ways that I can use concept and theory. It’s to learn.

I think life could use more experiences like that.