Saturday, May 14, 2005

And Also With You.

Amidst the action figures, lightsabers and Lego kits at Wal-Mart, one finds the coolest Star Wars toy of all time: the Darth Vader Voice Changer, or as my five-year-old son calls it, the "Darth Vader Speaker". He begged for and demanded to be given this thing, so my wife bought it just to shut him up (so to speak). On the downside, it means that we don't have to get him anything big for his birthday next month. There is always a price to pay.

Being the generous child that he is, he wanted me to buy one for myself so that we could be Darth Vader together. Why not? Before Luke Skywalker learned of his true heritage in The Empire Strikes Back, he saw his own face inside of the decapitated Vader helmet in the "dark side cave" on Dagobah. There is a precedent. The only thing that stops me from getting another Darth Vader Speaker is the $30 price tag. So I bought him the under $10 red lightsaber. Now he can look, talk and fight like Darth Vader.

If you a grown man, the mask is alright but the helmet is very ill-fitting. It took three weeks for me to be able to get the helmet to snap on top of the mask while I was wearing it. There is a downside to this. When I moved around the house, I was looking at the inside of the mouthpiece/grill as often as I was looking out the "windows".

The "speaker" has three working buttons: Breathing; Voice changer; and actual Darth Vader movie lines. The latter is the best part. The voice changer deepens and robotizes your voice, but does not automatically make you sound like Vader. The button that plays the familiar lines as spoken by James Earl Jones makes you seem more like Darth Vader than any playing around with the speaker can.

The most striking thing about some of the lines is the manner in which they are truncated. This is because they can be used in any situation against any opponent without providing any context. "Your powers are weak, old man" becomes "Your powers are weak". Now you can challenge your opponent's abilities without implying that he is aged Obi-Wan Kenobi. But the line that really challenges me is lifted from TESB, when Luke confronts Vader for the first time. "The force is with you, young Skywalker," intones the Dark Lord, "but you are not a Jedi yet." James Earl Jones delivers the line perfectly: the first half is almost inviting, while the second half is as close to a hiss as Vader's mechanized voice can accomplish.

In order to remove the context, the Darth Vader Speaker version of the sentence is simply, "The force is with you". This not only takes it out of context, but it places it in an entirely different context. Vader sounds like a preacher addresses his congregation during the liturgy. If I wear this thing when I go to church tomorrow morning, stand in front of the sanctuary, and press the button that makes the speaker say, "The force is with you", I fully expect everyone to stand up and chant, "A-and al-so-o wi-ith yoooou".

Yes, I am tempted. But fighting temptation is one of the reasons that I go to church every week in the first place.

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