As a continuation from this week’s #GUChat, I’ve been thinking about villains and monsters. The question was asked:

In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace…
Is this guy a villain or a monster?

So, that’s the question. Is Darth Maul a villain, or a monster?

This really got me thinking. What makes a villain different than a monster? Since I’ve been spending a lot of time writing and constructing fiction lately, I began to think of it in terms of story construction. Obviously, both villains and monsters are antagonists. They’re both obstacles for the hero(es) of the tale.

So, why do we make a distinction?

Everyone had different impressions, of course. For me, though, it instantly became a question of the role in the story.

VILLAINS

This guy’s a villain.

So’s this guy.

And this one.

These guys are masterminds. One’s misguided and obsessed, one’s holding an impossible grudge, and the third is just genuinely evil. These are villains. They’re intelligent, dangerous and amoral. They’re the source of the problem, the core antagonist. They actively work against the hero(es) with both body and mind. They are a foil to the hero. They are villains.

Now let’s look at monsters.

MONSTERS

Monster.

Monster.

Monster.

So what’s the difference?

The difference is the role played in the story. In Mass Effect, Saren is not a villain. He’s an obstacle. The real villain of Mass Effect is SovereignSaren has no mind of his own. He’s  completely dominated by a power greater than he can imagine. He doesn’t even know that he’s indoctrinated for most of the game, but Saren is not the villain. He’s under the complete control of the villain. He takes the role of the monster.

In Babylon 5, the Shadows are the villain. Morden is merely their mouthpiece. Much like Saren, he has no will or agenda of his own. He is a rare example of someone appearing fully human playing the role of the monster.

Same with the Juggernaut. He’s rarely presented with motives beyond “break something”. He’s almost always under the sway or control of someone else. He’s extremely dangerous, but the only real threat he poses is physical. He’s the monster.

Villain.

Monster.

That’s how I construct it. It doesn’t matter what the creature or character looks like. If they have no will of their own; if they are entirely controlled by the villain or entirely subservient to them, or if they pose no challenge beyond a physical one, that character/creature is in the role of the monster. On the other hand, if they are actively working against the heroes, plotting and planning and devising their downfall, they are playing the role of the villain.

So, to answer the original question: is Darth Maul villain or monster?

Can you guess?

The answer: within the strict confines of The Phantom Menace, Darth Maul is a monster. He doesn’t even have any dialogue, for crying out loud! He is entirely subservient to the will of Darth Sidious/Palpatine, and dies before the end of the movie. That’s strict monster territory, folks.

Step out one level into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, however, and Darth Maul has been given characterization. He’s been given motive, background and more than just a strangely-painted face. In the EU, Darth Maul is a villain.

QED.