Is Darth Vader a good, well-written character? Yes. Is he conflicted? No. But what about Anakin? Ah, another good question. Vader and Anakin are so different, so separate; there’s more of a difference between Anakin and Vader than the droning voice, the armor, and the iconic respirator.
Why am I so weird? You’re not gonna get an answer for that one outta me, buddy.
But seriously; Vader is a good, well-crafted villain. I haven’t had much of a chance to speak on villains, but Vader is simple yet interesting. When I say “simple”, I mean that his parts are easy to see and that he doesn’t have any quirks or irregularities. His character is constant.
That is the first thing I want to speak (write, I guess) on. Vader is proof that simple, constant characters can entertain; sometimes better than more complex ones. I’m not saying this to speak down about more complex characters. They do have their place, but what is it about Vader’s simple character that makes him so cool?
Easy. He’s evil. “Oh, but it can’t be just that.” You say knowingly. Nice try, but no. Vader is good because his writers stick to the evil in his character. Humans like what they know, and are afraid of what they do not. If you could look a character in the eye and decide safely that they are evil, then it’s easy to appreciate them.
However, a constant character is easy to get wrong. That is, a character who is so fully devoted to one thing can get predictable. In this sense, Vader is in fact not predictable. Yes, he’s bad enough to be trusted to always do the wrong thing, but he’s smart and mysterious enough so that you don’t necessarily know what that wrong thing is.
Having a constant character (either for the hero or the villain) is always a good idea, but a creativity shrouded in that constancy is even better. If the constant villain is evil, make them do evil things in ways that the reader won’t expect. That way, the reader won’t have a doubt in their mind as to the allegiance of the villain, but they won’t be able to predict him or her fully.
It’s also worth mentioning that Vader is a prime candidate for orchestrating plot twists. He has that “mysterious” element that keeps him from being predictable, but that mysteriousness also allows him to pulls plot twists out of a hat…unpredictably.
Consider this: plot twists have to make sense and still be unpredictable, right? Since Vader is so mysterious, only few of his motives are revealed. Ah, but that’s the key: you can make easy use of the fact that Vader is Luke’s father, while you may not know many other things about him.
Taking this fact, you can then see how Vader’s betrayal of the Emperor makes sense. However, you probably didn’t see it coming. This just goes to show how constant characters with a mysterious element are perfect for plot twists.
From Vader’s character, we learn two lessons: One, a constant character with no gaps is something to shoot for, and if you can add a mysterious element then the character is made that much better, and two, this kind of thing can be used to make truly great plot twists.
Good luck, and happy writing!