Darth Vader’s name may have become synonymous with evil but Dr. Sean Amarasekera loves him anyway. So much so that a statue based upon the character, complete with a glowing red lightsabre and chest and belt panels which actually light up, is Sean’s most prized action figure.
Sean is a collector of such memorabilia – in his display case are other figures from the Star Wars universe, including an Obi-Wan Kenobi frozen forever in mid-duel and an R2D2 droid that turns to the left or right upon a spoken command. However, Darth literally stands tall among Sean’s collectibles (a smoulderingly sexy Sean Connery as James Bond might be his only competition). From his gleaming mask and helmet to his flowing cape, here is the Sith Lord at his most intimidating.
Appropriately enough, Sean considers himself a Star Wars baby. Born in 1977, the year that George Lucas premiered the now iconic ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’, Sean still remembers playing with a small toy version of the droid R2D2 from the film. (When he left home, he would prop up a book in front of R2, so that the droid “wouldn’t get bored while I was away.”) “My parents probably inadvertently, unwittingly got me into it when I was small,” says Sean, who collects 1/4 and 1/6 figures which he admits ruefully can “cost an arm and a leg.” (A doctor specialising in anaesthesia and intensive care, Sean is also a musician and an actor.) He says he enjoys watching how people react to the figures: “usually, when I show it to people, no matter how old they are, everyone becomes a kid…Being an adult just means that now you can afford your own toys. “
Incongruously, it is Darth Vader who always elicits the most gasps. Though you might prefer to fight on the same side as the galaxy’s blonde saviour Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader is easily one of the most charismatic villains to have ever stepped on board a starship. Sean still remembers him from the time he went to watch ‘Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back’ at The Majestic. “I was in awe. With Vader, you didn’t even have to see him. You just had to see the silhouette, he was that recognizable.” Vader appears in every Stars Wars film and his personal tragedy is key to the development of the plot. Before he succumbed to the Dark Side, Anakin Skywalker was a Jedi knight. But by the time he loses a duel to his former master Obi-Wan, the scene is set. Horribly disfigured in both body and mind, Anakin dons the suit and becomes Darth Vader.
The suit is a marvel of engineering that not only keeps Darth Vader alive but also enhances his abilities. It’s a fascinating amalgamation of influences: a monk’s cloak, a World War II German helmet and gas mask, a leather motorcycle undersuit and a medieval metal breastplate all went into the original design. The helmet and mask that allow him to breathe are particularly distinctive, with subtle changes being implemented across the films. “An aficionado can take one look at the helmet and say, this is episode IV or maybe VI,” says Sean, pointing out that the menacing gleam of the mask is actually achieved by a harlequin pattern. “It’s not all black,” he says, pointing out the alternating silver stripes.
The figure is a work of art – each one is painted, costumed, and assembled by hand. The multi-layered, mixed media costume combines fabric, leather, plastic and a body and armour cast in heavy-weight polystone. None of this detail is wasted on fans. On the contrary, they discuss it ad nauseum. “They’re obsessed,” says Sean, adding that one thread he finds in every forum is a discussion on how spouses can be coaxed into accepting their partner’s strange hobby. Sean says his wife indulges him, but that the turning point is often when the spouse understands that the figures are in fact an investment – likely to triple in value within a decade. “It’s annoying when people call them toys,” says Sean, only half joking.
In the meantime, Vader himself continues to lay claim to Sean’s enduring allegiance. When at the end of his life, Vader turns from the Dark Side to defend his son Luke, Sean believes his redemption is complete. “Sure, he’s a fantasy bad guy, an archetypal villain. But when your greatest villain ends up being the greatest hero…then you’ve got it made.”
Published in The Sunday Times on October 9 2011 as part of our Prized Possession series. Words by Smriti Daniel. Pix by M.A Pushpakumara