Why Dr. Horrible’s Awesomeness Makes Me a Little Sad about Star Wars
Okay – you’re being warned: I’m about to write about Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and yes, I’m going to talk about the ending, if not all the cool details along the way. So if you haven’t seen it, seriously: Just permalink this post and come back to it after you’ve had some time to watch. It’ll still be here when you get back. Heck, I’ll even post a photo below as filler just so no one’s eyes happen to catch a glimpse of DARTH VADER IS TOTALLY LUKE’S DAD AND RON WEASLEY’S THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE AND ROSEBUD WAS A LITTLE LOST KITTEN SO HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!
Okay, so anyway, here’s a 1980s ad for a Battlestar Galactica (original edition)-style New Warrior’s Jacket, and below that, no kidding, my spoiler-laden thoughts on Dr. Horrible and Star Wars.
Okay, so I finally had time last night to sit down and watch Dr. Horrible in its entirety and I absolutely loved it start to finish. (Sole drawback? I’ve had the opening lines of They Might Be Giants’ “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair” stuck in my head all day long.) I’d been itching to see this project since the teaser came out.
Now I can say it kicked ass and at the same time made me weep just a little for missed opportunities.
Why? First, know this: I write this as a complete Star Wars nut; as someone who clutched action figures by the handful as a kid; as someone who relished the lead-up to every movie release and who still loves double-bladed lightsabers, duels over lava pits and energy cores, space battles with sound effects, Jedi Mind Tricks, podraces, speeder chases and rocket-backpacked bounty hunters.
And yet after I finished watching Dr. Horrible, I realized I’d just seen in 42 minutes all the emotion and powerful storytelling I wanted so badly to find in the six-plus hours of Star Wars prequels.
See, it turns out that Dr Horrible’s story is the Anakin Skywalker “origin” tale I wanted. Yes, seriously.
Consider: From the start, we LIKE Dr. Horrible. Oh, sure, he CALLS himself evil, and he’s aiming to be accepted into the Evil League of Evil, but really, when it comes down to it, he’s just selfish and after a little power – and we get that. Stealing’s okay, but he hedges at killing. So even though we know he’s up to no good, he’s still just a damn likable guy.
What’d we get in Phantom Menace? A likable kid who wants to fly ships and fix stuff, which is okay and all, but we never connect with him, really. I mean, during the podrace, sure, you’re rooting for him, but it’s strictly plot-related – we’ve got no emotional ties because we just met him.
I’ll grant you that George Lucas was working from behind a pretty big eight ball here: After all, going into Episode I, we already know that Anakin winds up going awfully bad somewhere down the line, and creating tension when you already know how the big picture turns out has got to be tough. Would Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog have worked as a prequel? I mean, if, say, Joss Whedon had given us a story about the character we see Dr. H become at the end of this film, and then provided the “Sing-Along Blog” short as a backstory? Hard to say. Still, so far: Dr. Horrible 1, Little Annie 0.
So, with the bad guy/protagonist (which, after all, is what Anakin should’ve been) in play, let’s look at the good guy-as-antagonist. Yep, I said it: Captain Hammer, after all is THE GOOD GUY, strictly speaking. Fighting crime, aiming for justice, etc., etc. All the stuff straight from the Heroes Handbook. Is he a dick about it? Well, yeah. And that’s what makes him such a great nemesis for Dr. Horrible: We can root for the bad guy if the good guy’s a tremendous jackass. Star Wars prequel parallel here? No less than the Jedi council. Examples:
ANAKIN: “Hey, guess what – found that Sith Lord you’ve been looking for through the last two movies.”
MACE WINDU: “Really? Sweet. Thanks a ton. Stay here.”
ANAKIN: “Seriously, Master Yoda – my dreams are all screwed up and I’m dealing with a bunch of pretty heavy demands physically and mentally and emotionally and everything, and really I’m still a hormonal teenager after all.”
YODA: “Let go of everything you fear to lose.”
ANAKIN: “You. Are. Freaking. KIDDING me. THAT’S THE BEST YOU CAN GIVE ME? Sonofa-”
And yet, the story structure of the Prequels has us pulling for the Jedi, even though they play a key role in creating Darth Vader. We just don’t root for Anakin the way we do Dr. Horrible, even though he’s got a Ph.D. in Horribleness.
Next up: Love interest and the tragic loss.
For starters, Dr. Horrible and Penny get more chemistry out of their introductory song in the laundromat than Anakin and Padme get anywhere. And again, for the viewer, it takes no effort at all to get caught up in Dr. H’s crush on Penny and her sweet interest – even when she catches those hints that “Billy” has a sinister side, she can’t help but feel something for him.
Oh, and when she starts dating dickhead Capt. Hammer? AWESOME. What better way to pull us fully onto Dr. Horrible’s side, after all, than to hear the Hammer bragging about bedding Penny? Come on – you freaking CHEERED when Dr. H. hit him with the freeze ray, and when the batteries died and Hammer was revived, your heart sank.
I kid you not: When Penny, dying, whispered “Capt. Hammer will save us,” it was about a hundred times more heartbreaking than anything in the climax of Episode III when Anakin’s making his own turn to the Dark Side. And Dr. Horrible’s final push over the edge into evil – sparked not only by Penny’s death but being forced to take the public blame when it was Hammer who pulled the trigger (while, it should be noted, attempting to gun down a helpless villain in cold blood – very unheroic) – I totally bought into that in a way that I never quite managed to with Anakin’s “I’m trying to save my wife from my bad dreams” turn.
So how’s it end? Dr. Horrible gets what he wants: Power. Recognition. Fear.
He gets almost everything he’s always wanted, and that’s the tragedy.
And dammit, he did it in two-and-two-thirds fewer movies than Anakin.