Darth Vader Goes Viral

Disney "Darth" video is latest to turn the force into farce. But does exposing the lighter side of the dark side sap the legendary villain's power as a cinematic symbol of evil?

Darth Vader has undergone a major image transformation in the nearly 30 years since the last of the original "Star Wars" movies – and not just because of the prequel trilogy.

The one-time cinematic symbol of evil has become a potent figure of mirth, thanks to fun TV satires like the "Robot Chicken" and "Family Guy" spoofs of "Star Wars." But the comic Vader also has gone viral with the instant classic Volkswagen "Force" Super Bowl commercial (nearly 40 million YouTube views) and last July's brilliant Improv Everywhere stunt in which Princess Leia confronts Vader on a New York City subway (more than 5.6 million hits).

We're getting new laughs at the latest entry in the viral Vader annals, a short we’re dubbing "Darth in Disneyland." In the video, which we stumbled onto via Mashable, Lord Vader arrives at the amusement park a tad early for the re-opening of the Star Tours attraction. He manages to occupy himself by visiting Cinderella's Castle and taking a trip on the Dumbo kiddie ride, two Stormtroopers in tow.

The video, which has notched more than 600,000 views in less than a week, is a blatant commercial for the recently revamped Star Tours. But the clever juxtaposition of the Death Star denizen in the Mouse House is enough to make us overlook the ad aspect.

The video and the other parodies, though, make us wonder: Do looks at the lighter side of the dark side sap the legendary villain's power as a screen icon?

The answer might be as complicated as Anakin Skywalker himself. George Lucas, who sanctioned the “Robot Chicken” parodies, seems to be on the side of humor – he’s working with the show’s creators on an animated “Star Wars” comedy series.

The new show and the video's Disneyfication of Darth risk smoothing the edges of characters who inspire feelings of attachment that border on ownership by the franchise’s most fanatical devotees (this phenomenon is explored in “The People vs. George Lucas"). Perhaps Lucas realizes our willingness to chuckle at Vader’s expense speaks to the power of the enduring, haunting figure he created, a man, to say the least, of contradictions.

A strong defense against fear, in fiction and real life, can be laughter. Maybe that's the real force behind the farce. Or perhaps that's over thinking parodies of a longstanding pop culture figure. Check out Vader's Disneyland romp below and decide for yourself whether Luke's father, in his old age, has become a granddaddy of comedy.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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