One of the reasons I love fictional stories so much is that they remind me that Good will always win, no matter how hopeless the situation looks. But for it to do that, the characters need to be up against others who are constantly trying to stop them and discourage them. Sometimes, I feel like the bad guys of a story get foiled a little too easily, and while the “dumb sidekick/villain” character can be funny, I don’t enjoy seeing them very often. That’s not the kind of opposition we face in our daily lives. In this post, I’m going to talk about ways certain fictional bad guys stand out, whether all are redeemable, and ways writers have made me like some of them, even if I don’t agree with their actions.
Darth Vader – Star Wars Saga
What makes Vader such an iconic villain? His famous breathing, unique mask, and “theme song” (technically it’s the theme song for the Empire, but according to my little brother, it’s Darth Vader’s song) certainly help make him a memorable villain. But what really makes him special is that we know his entire backstory. We see his life from the time he’s nine years old all the way to his death. We are a part of his battles during the Clone Wars, his friendships with Obi-Wan, Padmè, and Ahsoka, and see the person he was before his fall.
I always love redemption stories, but knowing the character before they got on the wrong path, and seeing others try and fail to bring them back, makes the moment they do finally choose the light even more impactful.
Anakin’s story shows how easy it is to start off doing something with good intentions, only to become consumed by the little thing that wasn’t supposed to go so wrong. It’s also an example of how powerful fear is. Anakin is so worried about Padmè’s life that he goes against what he’s been taught as a Jedi and allows his emotions to control his actions. He doesn’t trust that everything that will happen was designed to happen, and fear leads him to believe he could fix the problem. The most important point of Vader’s story is that no one is ever, ever, ever beyond redemption, no matter what they’ve done. Before Return of the Jedi, I really hadn’t ever read or watched the antagonist of a story do such a complete turn around. That moment is my favorite one in the entirety of Star Wars and is one of the biggest reasons I love it so much.
Sauron – The Lord of the Rings
Sauron is a totally different type of evil guy than pretty much all the others I can think of. He doesn’t have a tragic backstory, we never saw him as a nice guy even when he did have a human-type form in The Silmarillion, and for almost all of his time in The Lord of the Rings he’s a burning eye with a creepy silhouette in the center.
I’ve mentioned before how Tolkien’s antagonists usually give off a very dark feeling, that they’re not acting out of fear, or good intentions that have gone wrong, but just pure evil and selfishness. I can work up some sympathy for Sauraman, Kylo, and I can even convince myself to have a microscopic amount for Maul, but not for faceless evils like Sauron. Writing a character this way creates a villain that doesn’t go as far as to give you nightmares, but one that you know is a big problem and makes you realize just how hard the heroes are going to have to fight to win.
Another thing I like about Sauron is that he’s not defeated in a simple way. The thought that the Ring would be destroyed never crosses his mind, not because he isn’t planning well, but because he would never be able to give up that kind of power. Even when it is destroyed, it takes people working together and comes at a large cost to the heroes. Tolkien’s stories show that it’s not just “Evil is overthrown! And everything is completely perfect after that!” No, there are always costs for the defeat of evil, and things don’t always go smoothly after it’s initially defeated. Only when the story reaches its complete end, and evil cannot possibly make a reappearance, can we say that everyone lived happily.
Kylo Ren – Star Wars Saga
Like with his grandfather before him, we have been given pieces of Ben’s backstory, and some of the things that led to his fall. We know that he felt that his parents were afraid of him, that they didn’t really care about him. I don’t believe for a second that this is true, but their busy lives, their choice to send him away to train with Luke, and the fact that they never told him about his family’s history, caused there to be a gap in their relationship with him. On top of that, Ben had Snoke constantly trying to manipulate him. While their motivations for turning may have been different, both Anakin and Ben made the choice to succumb to the Dark Side.
We all know how Vader’s story turned out, but will Kylo’s end the same way? He’s certainly had chances to turn back. His family has already pleaded with him to come home, his master is dead, and he’s in charge of the First Order. He has shown that he’s not as strong as he seems to be, but it still hasn’t pushed him to recognize that he’s wrong. At this point, I’m not sure what it would take for him to change, but I do know that having him die in his current state would be a lousy way to end the Skywalker Saga.
Thrawn – Star Wars Rebels
Another villain that stands out as being unique from others is Grand Admiral Thrawn. Firstly, it’s extremely rare to see a non-human as an Imperial, so for Thrawn to have risen through the ranks so high must mean he’s doing something right. Other Imperials are overconfident like Tarkin, or overly ambitious like Orson Krennic, but Thrawn is smart and patient. He studies his targets, testing them to see how they react, instead of jumping straight in and attempting to take them out with one swipe. He does still underestimate the Rebels, and ultimately fails, but only due to completely unpredictable circumstances.
I enjoyed Thrawn’s character in Rebels because he wasn’t defeated all in one season; he had some victories that caused real problems for the new Rebellion. His calm, calculating demeanor is the exact opposite of the fiery tempers of Vader and Kylo, and because of that, the moments where he loses his cool are more terrifying than Kylo slicing up a wall. He has the ability to see the big picture but still notice small details. Every bit of his personality makes him a formidable enemy. If it wasn’t for Ezra and purrgil, I believe that defeating the Empire would have taken far longer, and would have been made even more difficult.
Loki – Marvel Cinematic Universe
Loki is an interesting villain because you never know exactly what he’s going to do next. He could be trying to get his brother kicked out of Asgard, taking over the earth with an army of aliens, or helping defeat an evil sister. A lot of what he does stems from selfishness, but occasionally he will do something that could almost be called heroic.
During one significent portion of his life, Loki felt like his family didn’t love him or appreciate him, that they would only ever see him as a monster. This led him to make poor choices. In his mind, if they were going to see him as inferior to begin with, then the only chance he would have at respect would be through force.
Besides his unpredictability, another thing I love about his character is his relationship with his brother. Having another character who cares about the villain, and who the villain, deep down, also has affection for changes the way you view them. It also makes them more human, because most can’t entirely throw away feeling for everyone. Loki also has a dry, sarcastic sense of humor I’ve never seen in someone who’s supposed to be the bad guy, and watching Thor and Loki banter is hilarious. But he is also extremely smart, “cunning” perhaps being the best word for it. He’s good at staying one step ahead of others, creating a plan to come out on top. Unfortunately, those plans usually involve deception and manipulating people.
I think a big contributor to how his character changes over the movies, and why he starts feeling accepted again, is because of how Thor never gives up on him, just like with Luke and Vader. Loki is a character you want to see make good choices, but you also don’t want him to go completely heroic, because it would take away some of the great complexity of his character.
This article was written by Audrey L., Staff Blogger for The Elven Padawan, and first appeared on ElvenPadawan.com.
Who is your favorite fictional villain? What is your opinion on a Kylo Ren redemption? What were Thrawn’s true motives? Would Loki make a good hero? Discuss with us in the comments below!