It was a Star Wars-crazed time—or at least it was if you were a six-year-old—and Empire Strikes Back, arguably the most-anticipated sequel in movie history, had just released in theaters. It was a box office smash and, more importantly, a critically acclaimed film in Lambeth Riding, the subdivision in Hockessin, Delaware where my family lived at the time.
From the backyards to the swing sets to the local pool, endless afternoons were dedicated to the reenacting of various scenes and scenarios from the movie, whether it was through Star Wars action figures or through the elaborate duels we choreographed using Whiffleball bats as lightsabers. Pretty much every kid in the neighborhood wanted to be either Luke Skywalker or Han Solo—you know, one of the good guys.
I wanted to be the guy with black mask and the raspy breath. I wanted to be the ultimate intergalactic villain.
I wanted to be Darth Vader.
I would walk around, imitating his heavy breathing like some kind of crank-calling pervert. I would sing “The Imperial March” during our lightsaber sessions (“Dah-dah-dah, dunt, dah-dah, dunt, dah-daaaaaaah!”). I would imagine myself with legions of Stormtroopers at my disposal and an Imperial Starfleet at my command.
I had a life-sized Darth Vader cut out in the corner of my room—all six-foot-five of it—even though it scared the crap out of me at night, when the lights were out. I repeatedly told my friends, “You have no idea the power of the Dark Side.”
Sometimes, when I could get away with it, I would steal my mother’s black leather gloves—the nice ones she saved for formal occasions—because it made me feel more like Vader. I was a nut for capes.
Mind you, this was all at a time when we had no clue about Vader’s full back story—that he had once been a good-looking guy played by Hayden Christensen; that he had shacked up with Natalie Portman; that he had been looked upon as a force for good whose grief over the loss of his mother and, subsequently, of Natalie Portman, turned him bad. (And, really, losing a babe like her would knock any guy for a loop).
No, no. All that Episode I-III stuff was only alluded to in the vaguest of ways. There was nothing redeeming about the Vader we knew at all. He was just evil. Pure and simple. He sliced Obi-Wan Kenobi clean in half. He air-strangled people who disappointed him. He hacked off his own son’s hand. He was a Bad Dude.
And I couldn’t get enough of him.
In retrospect, I realize this kind of fascination with evil was only going to lead one of two places. And thankfully it ended with a life of crime writing, not a life of crime.
But even though I don’t write the darkest of material—my WASPy, preppy, wisecracking protagonist, Carter Ross, isn’t exactly a noir-style anti-hero—Vader did help me get in touch with my own Dark Side at a very crucial time in my development. For that, I will always be thankful. And I’d like to think there’s a little bit of Darth Vader in me somewhere.
Though I should probably stop doing all that heavy breathing on the phone.
This may very well explain a lot. And if you see someone at the Bouchercon bar in a cape this year, it's probably Brad.
Brad Parks is a winner of the Nero Award and the Shamus Award. His latest book, The Girl Next Door, released from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books on March 13. For more Brad, sign up for his interns’ newsletter http://www.bradparksbooks.com/newsletter.php, like him on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/BradParksBooks or follow @Brad_Parks on Twitter.