Last week, a friend of mine posted a link for the Billy Joel; Live at Shea Stadium concert on her Facebook wall. I commented about how I wished Billy Joel had made a DVD of the Millennium Concert. And within seconds of my post, one of her friends responded with the following comment, “OMG, Doug – I just quickly glanced past your name and was SURE it said Darth Vader! hilarious :)”
Hilarious?! I think not.
Star Wars hit the silver screen in 1977 and my father was one of the first people in line to watch the movie. I think he had seen it about eight times before he finally he took my brother Paul and I to see it. And I was hooked!
It was an awesome movie and every game I played for the rest of the weekend was Star Wars related. And when I walked into my second grade classroom on Monday morning, I realized that everyone in my class had seen the movie over the weekend as well and by lunch recess, my new nickname was Darth Veeder.
Star Wars had become both a curse and a blessing! I had been typecast and I hadn’t even stepped foot in a Third Grade classroom yet!
On the playground, I was Darth Vader. I never chose to be Darth Vader; I was told that that was my role. All of the other kids were the rebel alliance and they all had one job; capture me! Wasn’t I the lucky one?! You know, you begin to take stock in your place on the social spectrum when you are being chased around the playground by twenty second graders who keep screaming, “Kill Darth Veeder!”
Being the villain gets old after awhile, so I started studying the methods of the Jedi Knight. I wanted to make twenty kids stop chasing me around the playground every day at recess. So I thought that if I could pick up another child from fifteen feet away while making a pinching motion and saying, “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” well, then, maybe, just maybe, they might decide to play a different game after all.
But as hard as I tried to grip random items from across the room and lift them, the more frustrated I became. It was impossible. The more I studied, the less successful I was. And after all of my attempts at becoming a Jedi Knight, all I ever did was get a cramp in the crevice between my thumb and forefinger from trying too hard to make my pinching motion actually lift something off the ground.
And so, for the longest time, I was chased around the playground as the Evil leader of a fictional Empire.
After years of jokes and comments about Darth Veeder, I decided to turn to the theater to shake off the stigma my name had created. If I could play one great role, maybe people would forget about my nickname and embrace the new me. But as luck would have it, faculty directors weren’t any help either because the second the Director heard my name, that funny look came across his or her face as they randomly mumbled, “hmmmm… Doug Veeder, Darth Vader… I have the perfect role for you!”
Great! I knew what was coming next and it was never the perfect role. There is not one review of any play that I starred in where the author wrote, “The lead was awesome and the girl in the main role was great but off in the background was this crazy, obscure character that was played by the amazingly talented and world famous Darth Veeder! He was outstanding! It was the greatest performance this school has ever seen!”
Nope! It never happened. That great role was always a dud. I was the obscure, twisted, slightly evil character that few ever rooted for. One year, though, I decided to take matters into my own hands and during a final dress rehearsal, I burst into the middle of the stage and picked up the lead actress (who was the damsel in distress) and said, “I’m Luke Skywalker and I am here to rescue you!”
“You’re who?” she asked in utter disgust as the Director screamed “CUT!!!!” at the top of his lungs.
I got a bunch of laughs at first but after the Director chewed me out for fifteen minutes, I ended up making an interesting observation about improvisation in a seventh grade dress rehearsal; going off script leads to a behind the scenes role. I never saw the stage for any of the real performances and it is true what they say, “The show must go on!” It just went on without me.
But I didn’t care because for the first time ever, I got the girl. There wasn’t a great review of my performance and a real crowd never saw the finished product, but I know it was a great moment in American Theater. And when I look back now, I believe there was a hint of admiration and interest hiding behind the lead actress’s utter disdain for my theatrical improvisation!
But taking cues from Darth Vader never helped with girls anyway. You can’t call a girl on the phone and ask her to go to the movies while trying to imitate the heavy breathing apparatus of Lord Vader. It just doesn’t work. If the loud, shrill scream followed by a dial tone doesn’t give you a hint that this was a bad way to ask out a seventh grade girl, the angry phone call from her father a few minutes afterward will hammer home the point. I tried to explain that I was being creative and funny (two things I had heard that women liked in men), but her father didn’t seem to share that same vision for my approach. Lesson learned; the hard way.
So as I headed to high school, I shunned my lifelong nickname. I tried to stuff it in a closet and make it go away. But it came up from time to time and I begrudgingly found a way to take an awkward moment and make it humorous. But for the most part, I wanted Darth Veeder to slip into total obscurity and disappear.
It wasn’t until many years later, when I was working for a non-profit organization in Lowell, that I decided to fully embrace the Dark Side of the Force. I was working through some issues with the Principal at one of the schools where I was expanding our program and we were failing to see eye-to-eye on the outcome of my proposals. Somewhere in the middle of our deliberations and growing pains, he decided to send me a formal letter that read, “Dear Mr. Vader…” before he went on to explain point by point exactly why he disagreed with my analysis.
Having been ‘outed’ professionally as the Evil Overlord Darth Vader, I sent the following response: “Dear Mr. Principal, Yes. I am Luke’s father and the Force is strong with both of us. So we can mutually agree to my stated positions now or I have my ways for helping you to see things from my point of view in the future.”
Luckily, I had a good relationship with the Principal of the school and knew he had a good sense of humor. But we were still at an impasse over my proposal. Within a couple of weeks, we had a face to face meeting where the Principal said, “this is my final decision, take it or leave it.”
I sat for a moment and looked at him. Then I waved my hand in his face and said, “This is not my final decision.”
“This is not my final decision,” he replied
Casually waving my hand once more, I said, “I like Mr. Veeder’s idea better.”
“I like Mr. Veeder’s idea better,” he said in agreement
“There is nothing more to discuss, we’ll go with Mr. Veeder’s plan,” I said with one more wave of my hand.
“There is nothing more to discuss, we’ll go with Mr. Veeder’s plan,” he replied. And with that, we happily agreed. He finally saw things from my point of view and the project went off without a hitch (I love those Jedi mind tricks, they work wonders!)!!
And from that one negotiation, I finally accepted my place in the world. I am Darth Veeder… I mean Doug Vader… err, I mean Doug Veeder and Darth Vader; I am he! And I have finally realized that I will forever be tied to the character that James Earl Jones’ unique voice made a charismatic, lovable villain.
I only have one regret, though. I wish I had named my son Luke because honestly, how cool would it be to walk into his room in the dead of night with my Darth Vader breathing apparatus and say, “Luke, I am your father!”??