The Dark Path (02-07)
By Their Costumes Ye Shall Know Them (08-11)
Going for the Neck (12-15)
Children of the Jedi (16-20)
Gabrielle and Luke -- Kindred Spirits (21-26)
Tartarus or the Elysian Fields? -- Sins of the Past (27-30)
It Is Your Destiny (31-33)
 Why bother comparing our favorite Warrior Princess and Star Wars' Dark Lord of the Sith? Would it not be more appropriate to compare, say, Ares and Darth Vader? I do not think so, and hopefully the reasons will be made clear -- at least pending any further episode with more intrigue about Ares. Xena and Darth are two dark armored peas in a pod.
The Dark Path
Yoda he is.
"Anger, fear, aggression. The Dark Side of the Force are they. Once you start down the Dark Path, forever will it dominate your destiny." They made a choice. However their destinies may have seemed set in stone, both Xena and Vader had a moment of decision at which the choice to follow the Dark Side was made.
-- Jedi Master Yoda
 Xena's choice was not made when she decided to form an army to repel the warlord, Cortese. Nor was it made when she pillaged the surrounding villages to fortify her position, and neither when this domino effect led her to conquer further. These were factors in her conditioning to be sure, but not the result of conscious evil. Bad, morally wrong, and reprehensible, perhaps, but the choice to become an agent of evil had not taken place.
 If we refer to the Xena: Warrior Princess episode DESTINY (#36) we discover when it was that Xena made her decision. After being on the verge of death, having been tortured, and nailed up by Caesar in an act of betrayal, Xena is rescued by M'Lila, the woman who taught Xena about pressure points and defying gravity. Laying on what should have been her deathbed, Xena recovers through her exceptional strength of will. M'Lila is murdered before Xena's eyes, and it is at this point that Xena declares her new purpose in life, death. In spite of her broken and battered body, her pain, and any memories that may remain to her about who she once was, Xena slaughters Caesar's men. Thereafter she became Xena "Destroyer of Nations" and servant of the God of War. She acted not out of defense or as a result of unforeseeable and uncontrollable excess, but because she had consciously chosen the Dark Side as her new direction in life.
 Darth Vader's choice is harder to document, as his past has not yet been fully revealed to us. (Spring of 1999, Star Wars: Episode One, people!) But there are certain similarities -- given his past as recounted by Obi-Wan Kenobi. As Anakin Skywalker, this future Dark Jedi was a talented, "cunning warrior", a "great pilot" who fought alongside Kenobi in the Clone Wars. But something sparked a disturbance between him and Obi-Wan, who taught him the ways of the Force. Apparently, as the novelization of "Return of the Jedi" tells us, Obi-Wan became disturbed by Anakin's dabbling in the Dark Side sorcery of the Sith and fought him in a lightsaber duel. Anakin was knocked into some kind of a molten pit, and Kenobi assumed him dead. Needless to say, he was not. He survived, "kept alive by his own black will." The future Emperor found him, and supplied him with all the life support equipment he needed, as well as a new identity: Darth Vader.
 Vader must have made his choice at the point when his body was being healed, when his own anger and perception of injustice against him swayed him to swear allegiance to the man who saved his life, the man who would become the Emperor and who would use him as a tool for power, like Ares used Xena. I would like to hazard a guess that Anakin had been cultivated by the Emperor; that the Emperor taught Anakin things that gave him power, and that the Emperor earned Anakin's trust during traumatic events when Anakin was a young man.
 So, Xena and Darth both made their choices to follow evil after extreme hardship, after having suffered immeasurable pain in mind and body, and having been on the verge of death. Xena had M'Lila's death as a rationalization for acting upon vengeance and anger, since M'Lila had saved her life. Vader, when he was rescued by the Emperor, used this as a reason to continue along the path of evil. Loyalty, even when it is twisted, is a motivating factor in each subject's life, as are anger, revenge, and later, the fear of having to face one's own past.
By Their Costumes Ye Shall Know Them
Xena adds a little light to the darkness in WARRIOR...PRINCESS.
"I like dark." Every villain needs a good wardrobe. Xena and Darth are no exceptions to this rule. Both sport fashionable leather and metal outfits, as functional as they are deadly. Xena may have renounced her bad side, but she continues to sport smashing duds. Xena's outfit does not have the fringe benefit of being a fully self-contained life support system, however.
-- Xena, WARRIOR...PRINCESS (#15)
 There may be inherent weaknesses in each character's clothing, i.e., Vader cannot remove his mask without dying, except when in a specially designed hyperbaric medical chamber (like the one seen in The Empire Strikes Back), and Xena's seems to attract suitors (Hower!), which can be a nuisance when she is trying to right wrongs [A DAY IN THE LIFE (#39)].
 Each has a trademark weapon. For Xena it is the timeline-challenged chakram, a "selectively razor-edged" flying disc that returns to the owner, via the power of the Force. Vader has his signature red bladed lightsaber, which can be used for chopping the hands off Jedi relatives, or deflecting a blaster bolt. It also returns to the owner via the power of the Force. The personal histories of acquisition of the weapons are obscured in darkness, though we know that Jedi hand craft their lightsabers, and Xena probably learned about the chakram from M'Lila and perhaps had constructed her own.
 Xena and Darth are recognized by their appearances, and their own unique visual accouterments have become trademarks of popular culture. People know what these two look like, in the characters' universes as well as our own. One cannot always say this about good guys, who change their outfits every season, or else wear boring colored tights with capital letters across the front, as if that were original.
Going for the Neck
Father and son having a friendly heart-to-heart.
 There is a curious propensity among those who have traveled the Dark Path. When a weapon is impractical, or when more appropriate action needs to be taken in a given situation, the Dark Side Warrior must go for the throat.
 It is undecided whether deeper meaning can be attached to this practice. Some have attached complex psychological underpinnings to Vader's strangling of officers, suggesting that his own disability in the area of respiration is the impetus for this form of attack. But clearly Xena has no such psychological disturbance. Her method of shutting off the flow of blood to the brain is more often used for interrogation purposes than for killing, though she is capable of using this method as an example of a painful death. As when, in THE PRICE (#44) she nearly lets a member of the Horde die when her dark past almost destroys her resolve to do good.
 Xena's method seems to be more efficient, if predictable to certain of her more perceptive enemies (cf. Callisto). Her quarry, after having received the sharp blows to the neck, retains the capacity of speech, at least until he or she becomes unconscious. Xena can easily attain information this way, and can then release the prisoner with a few well placed hits. Such a skill is deadly in the hands of one who would abuse her power.
 Vader uses the Force to asphyxiate officers under his command who are incompetent. His method is not as efficient as Xena's, it is often applied for petty reasons, or out of spite. The purposes it serves are (1) to vengefully punish an underling who does not live up to Imperial standards of perfection, and (2) to heighten a sense of fear and thus maintain order in the ranks, who dare not disobey for fear of suffering a similar fate. It also provides effective demonstration of one's mystical powers to those who do not believe in the Force.
Children of the Jedi
Solon was *not* a daemon-child.
At least that's what his stepfather said.
 Children exist in the pasts of both the Warrior Princess and the Dark Lord of the Sith. Differences between them emerge now, because while Vader abandoned his children, Xena carried her son within her for nine months before turning him over to the Centaurs to raise. Vader did not have the same connection with his two children that Xena had with her son.
 Xena had given her son, Solon, up in order that he would not become a monster like she was, or seek to follow a warrior's path. In doing that, she saved herself and her son much pain. After having sought her own redemption through the fight for good, Xena encounters her son ten years after she left him in ORPHAN OF WAR (#25). She does everything in her power to sway him toward peace, and toward giving up his hatred of her, because he believes she killed his father. Although she does not tell him that she is his mother, she does, by earning his trust and saving his life, convince him that hatred against her is not good for him, or for his long-dead father, or the mother he thinks he had. He also declares that he is not a warrior. She then leaves his village out of selfless regard for his well-being, even though it causes her tremendous pain to leave him. He is a reminder of the woman she once was, at the same time being a reminder of the good she is capable of.
 The saga of the Skywalkers is told in the Star Wars movies, of course. Who can forget first learning that Vader is Luke's (and Leia's) father? Again, the history is obscured here, Sir George Lucas is not going to let us in on the exact details until later. But, there are fundamental differences in Vader's approach to his children, especially as they grow older.
 It is not known how long after his transformation into Vader that Anakin's children were born, but he seems to have abandoned the children and their mother during her pregnancy. They had to be hidden from him because he knew they would threaten his power with their own. There is no concern for their well-being, because to him, the Dark Side is the only way. He actively seeks Luke out, to convert him to the Dark Side, and to share his power with him. He tells the Emperor that Luke will either join him, or die. Even while she is evil, Xena does not seek that her son shall become as she is, and she still retains enough conscience to protect her son from herself. Vader exercises no such scruples, and even threatens Luke that if he does not turn to the Dark Side, then Leia will. He tortured Leia (without knowing of her relation to him) and cut Luke's hand off, and actively seeked to turn both of them over to the Emperor. His son, however, turned out to be his weakness, as we shall see.
 The fact that Xena is a woman, I think, is the cause of the differences in this scenario. Anakin did not have to carry twins around inside him for nine months, but Xena had Solon as a part of her for that long. The differences may also suggest that Xena even then had a recollection of what it was to do good, and to care about other people. That connection she had with her son did something to Xena that allowed her to give Solon up to her enemies, and to trust them to raise him. Their reactions to their children show both warriors to have a vulnerability, which may help them to confront and overcome past wrongs.
Gabrielle and Luke -- Kindred Spirits
Luke Skywalker -- The Gabrielle of Star Wars?
 I want to briefly examine the similarities between Luke Skywalker and Gabrielle of Poteidaia. These two exceptional young people provide arguably the most influence upon our subjects in their quests for atonement.
 Both start out as naive adolescents, Luke becoming a Jedi "mostly because of [his] father" and Gabrielle stating to her sister that she wants to follow Xena to become a warrior. Although Gabrielle seems to have reconsidered the warrior bit and Luke becomes a Jedi in spite of the resentment of knowing that it is Vader who is his father, and not some saintly man, they are both loyal to the people they care about.
 We see Luke and Gabrielle grow into powerful individuals. Gabrielle's strength is Xena's support when Xena's past catches up with her and she reconsiders her choice to follow good, and when she questions her rights to even be alive after having caused so much death. Gabrielle has turned Xena back from the Dark Side quite often. From hitting her over the back with a pitchfork, to talking with her by the fire, and to teaching by example, Gabrielle keeps Xena on the side of good, and makes Xena acknowledge her own worth. Xena is not alone as long as she has Gabrielle.
 Luke, we think, has got to be insane for saying that Vader still has good in him. He is the only one who thinks so. Vader's former master Obi-Wan Kenobi does not think Vader has any redemptive qualities, and Leia tells Luke not to confront him. But he plunges headlong into the fire in order to save the man who is his father. He gives himself up to the Emperor in order to turn his father back to the good side.
 This self-sacrifice for the sake of another exists in both Luke and Gabrielle. They exemplify the good, but are not perfect. Everyone seems to be threatened by the temptation to give into hate and fear. It is only by giving into his hatred that Luke is able to strike Vader down, but it is his inherent good that prevents his killing him. Gabrielle is enraged enough to attack Callisto and hold her at sword point, but she will not take a life. By overcoming the rage, they become firmer bastions for their friends. Although they fight, they do not use their weapons for attack, they use them only in defense.
 Without Gabrielle and Luke, neither Xena nor Vader can embrace the good.
Tartarus or the Elysian Fields? -- Sins of the Past
Gabby jots down notes from the latest adventure.
Watson to Xena's Holmes?
 Can they possibly overcome all the bad they have perpetrated in the past, all the people who have died, and all the pain that has been caused? Will Xena make it to the Elysian Fields? Can Vader become Anakin again, and join his Jedi friends at one with the Force?
 Xena committed crimes against all walks of life, she destroyed lives, was the catalyst in the development of more evil warriors, she alienated her family and friends, she lost any sense of self-worth she may once have had, and she lives daily with her past deeds at the back of her mind, spurring her on to atone.
 Vader destroyed all the Jedi Knights, killed innocent individuals on countless planets, helped in eradicating all opposition to the Emperor, betrayed his friends and everything he had once stood for, killed Obi-Wan Kenobi, nearly killed his children, and renounced his true self in favor of the persona of a ruthless Dark Lord.
 If there is one thing that the tale of Pandora's Box tells us, it is to never give up hope. Even the most evil, can, by doing good, reclaim themselves. Existentialism? Probably! But it works.
It is Your Destiny
Darth Vader -- man of a single colour -- black.
"It is your destiny." Xena saw the monster she had become, and decided to change, to renounce evil. She gives much of the credit to Hercules, to be sure, but he has been gone for a couple years, fighting his own battles, and it is ultimately Gabrielle who is the outside source of her own resolve. Yet when Xena dies in DESTINY (#36), she is in Tartarus, because her past choice for evil still haunts her -- in a sense, she has condemned herself because of her self-loathing. But M'Lila appears to her and tells her her destiny is to live, and fight for good; and Gabrielle's love for her reaches her. It is at this point at which Xena decides to return and not accept this destiny. She will make it into the Elysian Fields, have no fear of that.
-- Darth Vader
 Darth is of the Dark Side until the very end, and he has to make a choice of his own. Luke has defeated him in combat, and has refused either to kill him or to join the Emperor. The Emperor throws evil Force lightning at Luke, in order to kill him. But the Emperor intends to make it a painful death and prolongs Luke's suffering. Vader has to choose between his Master or his son. After an agonized and flailing self-questioning, he picks up the Emperor and tosses him into a reactor shaft, thereby sacrificing himself for the sake of another. His life-support unit is irreparably damaged, and he dies after revealing his human face to Luke. Luke symbolically burns him on a pyre, as he did not completely vanish from the physical plane like Obi-Wan and Yoda did, and Luke sees a vision of the three Jedi together in the Force. Somehow, Anakin made it to the Jedi Elysian Fields.
 Xena and Anakin will be there together. Maybe they will spend eternity questioning their actions, but they will have overcome the Dark Side. They are truly conquerors. All in a life's work for pop culture icons.