It’s almost the end of the year, so it’s time to announce the winner of the coveted (not) 2022 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
Let’s have a bit of background: I have been informally awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award since sometime in the 1980s with the earliest awards being retroactive. Over the years, the list of winners migrated from a handwritten page to various computer file formats, updated every year. Eventually, I decided to make the winners public on the Internet, because what’s an award without some publicity and a ceremony? The list of previous winners (in PDF format) up to 2017 may be found here, BTW, and the 2018 winner, the 2019 winner, the 2020 winner, the 2021 winner and the 2022 winner were announced right here on this blog.
Warning: Spoilers for several things behind the cut!
But before we get to the awards, let’s talk a bit about the portrayal of parents and parent figures in popular culture in general.
I started this award, because I noticed a pattern that there were a lot of terrible parents in popular culture and I started the companion award, the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award (2023 winners to be announced tomorrow), because I noticed that there were also a lot of really good and examplary parents in popular culture.
Looking through the last of past winners, runners-up and honourable mentions for both awards, it’s notable that a lot of them originate in media that was originally aimed at young people, even if later spin-offs were not. Part of this is simply due to what I was watching and reading at the time, cause if I don’t know about a character’s existence, I can’t give them an award. But it’s also true that media aimed at young people features a lot more parent figures both good and bad, dead and alive, absent and present.
Of course, parents are far more important in the lives of young people than they are for older people, so it makes sense that we see more parent figures in media aimed at young people. These characters serve a multiple purpose. The bad, but not completely terrible parents show kids that they’re not the only ones who are having trouble with their parents, but that their heroes are facing the same issues. Okay, so your parents won’t see you for who you truly are, but are constantly disappointed that you are not what they want you to be. Guess what, He-Man has the same problem.
The cartoonishly evil parents, meanwhile, show kids that no matter how bad their relationship with their parents may be, at least their parents are not Darth Vader and don’t blow up entire star systems. But these characters also serve another purpose, namely to show kids that they need not be defined by who their parents are. They can be different, they can be more. Luke Skywalker could grow up to become a Jedi knight, even though his biological father did his utmost to exterminate them. Adora could overcome a lifetime of gaslighting to become She-Ra, the heroine she was always meant to be. Particularly to kids growing up in less than ideal circumstances, these are very powerful messages.
The good parents, meanwhile, serve as role models, to show what a good and loving parent looks like. Again, this is particularly important for kids who may not have a good parent or even any parent at all in their lives. But even for kids from happy families, seeing good parents in the media they consume reinforces and confirms what a good parent is.
That’s also why I always roles my eyes so very hard, whenever someone complains that Marvel movies or Star Wars films or whatever are just about characters with daddy issues. Well, considering the original target audience, that’s only to be expected. Also, if you never need to see a favourite character go through issues with their parents and come out stronger on the other side, good for you. Because there are many people who weren’t so lucky and who needed to see those stories, see them told over and over again.
Of course, particularly the Darth Vader Parenthood Award has also had several winners who originate from works that were never aimed at kids and young people in the first place, particularly the various soap opera characters who won several times during the early years. Interestingly enough, those characters – Blake Carrington, Hans Beimer, Dr. Ludwig Dressler, Chase Gioberti – were usually not supposed to be evil. In fact, the audience, a then middle-aged audience of so-called Boomers and the WWII generation, was probably supposed to sympathise with them. Viewers were supposed to sympathise with poor Blake Carrington whose son and heir had the gall to be gay and whose daughter was not willing to be married off to some guy, so Blake could get his oil wells. We were supposed to sympathise with Hans Beimer whose kids didn’t want to participate in his terrible holiday music sessions and whose daughter wanted to have an independent life and date whoever she pleases. We were supposed to sympathise with Dr. Ludwig Dressler who kicked his drug-addicted son out of the house – after treating him to terribly for years that he took to drugs in the first place. However, while these characters were not supposed to be villains, they sure as hell seemed like villains to me who was forced to watch that stuff, because my parents did. And coincidentally, Joachim Luger, the actor who played Hans Beimer, reported that he got a lot of blowback from viewers, particularly for a storyline where Hans dumped his wife and mother of his kids in order to start an affair with a neighbour and have even more kids with her.
But enough about parent figures in general and why they matter. Let’s get to the actual awards, starting with the 2023 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents. I originally created the Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award as an anaologue to the Retro Hugos in 2020 to honour terrible parents who either did their villainous parenting before the award was a thing or who were overlooked in the past for unfathomable reasons.
Though the reason our 2023 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award winners was originally overlooked is that I simply wasn’t aware of the character or at least not of the fact that they were a bad parent at the time. This winner will probably also be a little controversial, for while he has usually been portrayed as a decent person, his parenting decisions and his tendency to favour one of his kids over the other also caused untold harm – not just to his family, but to an entire planet.
That sort of shitty parenting deserves an award, therefore I’m thrilled to announce that the winner of the 2023 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents is…
Miro of the House of Niros, High King of Eternia
Some of you may now be asking, “Who?”, while others may be wondering “Why?” Like I said, this winner will probably be a little controversial.
So who is King Miro? Well, he is the father of 2021 honourable mention King Randor of Eternia and grandfather of Adam and Adora. He first appeared in the He-Man episode “Search for the Past”, where we learn that King Miro went abruptly missing many years earlier. When Randor comes across a bracelet that used to belong to Miro, he goes in search of his father and finds him still alive, but imprisoned by a villainess called the Enchantress.
Miro appeared again in the She-Ra episode “King Miro’s Journey” where he and Adam travel to Etheria to meet Miro’s granddaughter Adora and lend a hand to the Great Rebellion.
The two Filmation episodes portray King Miro as a loving father and grandfather and indeed, the moral sements of both episodes stress the importance of family and grandparents. So how on Earth did King Miro manage to win himself a Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award?
Well, for that we have to look at the 2002 He-Man series. Miro himself only appears in that series in a single episode in a flashback scene, rebranded as Captain Miro of the Royal Guard, and he only has a single line of dialogue, ordering his troops to attack. However, Miro wasn’t the only character to be rebranded for that show. The show also established that the villain Skeletor had once been Keldor, King Randor’s older half-brother and Miro’s first-born son. Which means that Skeletor not only has a very good reason for wanting to conquer Eternia, he’s also in the right, because he rather than Randor should have been king.
There are at least two versions of how Keldor came to be born. The most common one is that Miro crashlanded his Windraider on the island of Anwat Gar and was rescued by a local woman named Saryn (who has an interesting and murderous backstory of her own). Saryn nursed Miro back to health, one thing led to another and they had a child, Keldor. Eventually, Miro left Anwat Gar and left Saryn behind, though he took his son with him to raise him in the royal palace. Then Miro married a more acceptable human women (the blue-skinned Gar are not very well regarded on Eternia) and had Randor as well as at least two other children (we meet an uncle and three cousins of Adam’s in the Filmation cartoon).
The conflict started when Miro quite blatantly favoured Randor over his first-born Keldor and made it clear that Randor should be king and Keldor could serve as an advisor to his brother. Keldor was obviously not happy about this. Things came to a head when Miro vanished, Randor became king and Keldor wound up (supposedly accidentally) killing Randor’s mother and his stepmother, whereupon Randor banished Keldor from the royal palace and Keldor swore revenge, which culminated in a massive battle and in Keldor hurling a vial of acid at his brother, only for it to backfire and burning off Keldor’s face, turning him into the skull-faced villain we all know in love.
So in short, all the terrible things Skeletor did, including the shitload of characters both named and unnamed he murdered in Masters of the Universe: Revelation, are all down to King Miro, first because he could not keep his dick to himself and then because he would not stand by Saryn and Keldor, because – gasp – they were blue.
Such shitty parenting deserves an award and therefore King Miro is the winner of the 2023 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
ETA: After having watched Masters of the Universe: Revolution, not only was I extremely prescient in giving the Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award to King Miro, but Queen Amelia is just as deserving. Honestly, pretty much every terrible thing that happened on Eternia in the past thirty years or so is directly or indirectly their fault.
Applause errupts around the auditorium. Only the actual 2002 winner Gloria DeLauter from Chesapeake Blue by Nora Roberts (always one of the weaker winners) as well as 1985 winner Hans Beimer boo. And honestly, we wonder why Hans Beimer keeps attending these ceremonies.
Unfortunately, King Miro was not able to accept his award in person – either due to being imprisoned in the tower of the Enchantress or being stuck in the hellish dimension of Despondos – so his son Prince Keldor accepted on his behalf. And yes, he showed up as Keldor, clad in his familiar armour and flowing cape, that shows off his light-blue Gar skin.
Keldor kissed Evil-Lyn, who’s sitting next to him, clad in a gorgeous purple gown. Then he mounted the stage and accepted the award, an ugly vase, and gave the following speech.
Oh, were you expecting someone else? My shitty brother Randy perhaps? Well, I’ll have to disappoint you then, cause it’s just me, Keldor, the black or rather the blue sheep of the royal family.
Believe me, I’m so glad that someone finally realised what a shitty parent my father really was. Cause it’s always “King Miro the good, King Miro the kind, King Miro the gentle.”
But was he ever good or kind to me? No. For as long as I could remember, I was always the outcast, the other, the blueskin, the royal by-blow whose mother was not good enough to marry.
In the front row, Evil-Lyn rolls her eyes. “Oh please, not the lecture about the poor oppressed Gar again.”
My father and my brother Randor were always all about the laws of Eternia, fighting battle after battle to uphold them and to vanquish the likes of Prahvus or Count Marzo who’d flaunt our laws and tried to take the planet over for themselves. But guess which law they were always only too happy to ignore. Yes, the one that says the first-born son shall be king. First-born. That’s me, not Randor.
Could Father not at least have given me Dyperia, if he wouldn’t let me have Eternos? But no, he had to give Dyperia to my brother Stefen, who’s so bland and boring that Father forgets he exists half the time and so does everybody else.
What makes the whole thing even more aggravating is that Randor never even wanted to be king in the first place. He was perfectly happy being Captain of the Royal Guard and sleeping in the barracks with his men… – well, not that way, though it would explain a lot. And it’s not as if I would have kicked Randor out of the palace, because I am not him. He could have been my general, my Man-at-Arms and he probably would have been pretty good at it.
But no, Randor decided that he wanted it all. He took the crown and banished me, his own brother. And yes, there was that unfortunately thing about my stepmother, but as I told him, it was an accident. Why did that damned woman, who never had a kind word for me anyway, have to run into my swords?
Anyway, let me take this opportunity to say, Father, wherever you are, I hope it’s some form of hell, because you deserve no less. And Randor, don’t get to complacent, because I’, coming for you and I’m coming to take back what’s mine.
Keldor briefly frowns at the ugly vase.
Now what am I supposed to do with this… this thing?
“Target practice!” Tyrion Lannister yells in the front row, but no one pays him any heed. “It’s a joke, you know? Our parents were terrible people and in the end, all we get is an ugly vase or three.”
I guess I shall put it in my private chambers in Snake Mountain, as a daily reminded of what my dear father and dear brother did to me.
As he leaves the stage, the 2022 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award winner Hordak sidles up to him.
“Good speech, my former apprentice.”
“Get lost, Hordak. I got what I needed from you and I’m not going to help free you from Despondos. Say hello to my dear Dad, if you see him.”
“So you don’t want the perfect weapon to deal with your wayward brother once and for all? Cause here I have a vial of acid that melts the flesh of everything it touches, including Randor. If you want a demonstration, we could try it out on that Beimer fellow over there.”
Keldor’s interest is piqued.
“Really? And you’re just giving this to me out of the goodness of your heart, I guess.”
“Consider it a gift to the future ruler of Eternia. And now farewell, my former apprentice. We shall meet again.”
Excuse me, gentlemen, but there will be no villainy plotted at the awards ceremony. It’s one of the rules.
Anyway, now that the Retro Award is out of the way, let’s get to the main event, namely the 2023 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
As I’ve noted in previous years, every year there seem to be fewer and fewer Darth Vader Parenthood Award candidates and more and more candidates for the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award, which will be handed out tomorrow.
Another trend I’ve noticed last year is that we increasingly see fictional parents who are neither cartoonishly evil nor saintly good, but who are just people who clearly care for their kids and yet mess up anyway and drive them away.
One example of a fictional parent who is not good but not really evil either is Elora’s Danan’s absentee Dad from Reservation Dogs. Elora learned early in season 3 that her biological father was not dead, as she had believed, but still alive and also a white guy with the very white guy name Rick Miller. In the penultimate episode of the season, Elora finally meets her father and he turns out to be not really a bad person (plus, he’s played by Ethan Hawke), but just someone who was overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for a kid and ran away. He tries to bond with Elora – who only wants him to sign some papers for her college application – and even introduces her to her three half-siblings. Rick Miller is certainly not a good father, but Darth Vader he’s not.
Another example of a someone who’s not a good parents, but also not terrible enough to win an award is Hera Caine from the comic mini-series Masters of the Universe: Forge of Destiny by Tim Seeley and Eddie Nunez (detailed review coming in the new year). Hera Caine is the leader of the reclusive Eternian island nation of Anwat Gar – yes, them again – and mother of a teenaged son called Dash Shel. Dash and his mother don’t get along at all. Hera Caine basically wants to be left alone and keep her technologically advanced island enclave separate from the rest of Eternia. Dash, meanwhile, wants to connect with the rest of Eternia. Dash is also an artist, while Hera is an engineer – a conflict that many artistically inclined kids from non-artistic backgrounds can sympathise with.
So Dash decides to rebel by forming a minstrel revival troupe with a couple of friends. Yes really, all the poor kid does is want to be an acrobat. Hera finds all this terribly embarassing and basically kicks Dash and friends out of her quarters. She also tells Dash that she wants an heir less embarassing than Prince Adam to present during her upcoming summit with King Randor. Which is just painful, especially since Adam is no more embarassing than Dash, they just happen to be different from their parents.
Hera’s rejection makes Dash vulnerable to manipulation by the Evil Forces of Skeletor. He lets himself be persuaded into stealing a magical element from the royal vaults with his friends to prove that they’re more than just circus freaks, only to find himself on the receiving end of the Evil Forces of Skeletor.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with this,” Evil-Lyn declares from the front row and we think she does protest a bit too much.
“Me neither”, Keldor adds and turns to Evil-Lyn. “Uhm, Lyn, what is she talking about?”
Dash’s friends are killed, Dash survives and is grievously injured. And due to more manipulation by the Evil Forces of Skeletor, Hera Caine is led to believe that Prince Adam is responsible for the attack on her son, so rather than maybe ask Randor and Adam what actually happened, which could have cleared up the whole thing, Hera Caine declares war on Eternos, sends her forces after Randor and Adam and scorches the villages of a completely innocent tribe of panther people in the process. Oh yes, and she forms an alliance with Skeletor, too.
“And you people wonder why no one likes the Gar,” Evil-Lyn whispers in the front row, “Maybe it’s because most of you are arseholes.” Keldor glares at her.
However, Hera Caine does not win the award this year, a) because she learns better, though she was still willing to start a war over something she pushed her son to get himself involved with, and b) there was someone a lot worse.
So let’s get to our 2023 winner of the Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents. This year, a clear frontrunner emerged early on and remained in the lead until the very end. So the winner of the 2022 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents is none other than…
The High Evolutionary
As played by actor Chukwudi Iwuji in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, the High Evolutionary is obsessed with creating the perfect society via genetical engineering. His initial test subjects were several animals, including future Guardian Rocket Raccoon, as well as the otter Lylla, the rabbit Floor and the walrus Teefs.
The High Evolutionary’s experiments are extremely painful for his test subjects, which is bad enough (and yes, though otherwise light-hearted, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 is at heart a film about terrible animal cruelty). However, when the results of his experiments don’t match whatever high-minded ideas of the perfect world he has, the High Evolultionary tends to kill them and bombs the Counter-Earth, where his genetically engineered creations live, too. He does this more than once.
If all this wasn’t terrible enough, the High Evolutionary also wanted to vivisect Rocket to harvest his brain, equipped Rocket with a kill switch and he murdered Rocket’s friends Lylla, Floor and Teefs. What is more, the High Evolutionary also murders his own henchbeings, when they mutiny against him.
By the time the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Ravagers finally shut down his operations, the High Evolutionary had graduated to experimenting on human children, all of whom as well as more genetically engineered animals were rescued and adopted by the Guardians and will hopefully have happy and productive lives far away from their abusive creator.
That sort of villainy deserves an award and therefore I name the High Evolutionary the winner of the 2023 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Terrible Fictional Parents.
Amazing, the High Evolutionary actually survived Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, since Rocket is a better person than his creator would ever be. Therefore, he was present to accept his award in person.
He ascended the stage, clad in his familiar purplish-blue armour, and delivered the following speech.
Thank you. It is so gratifying that my great work is finally being honoured.
Deoxyribonucleic acid. It’s so tiny and yet the stuff that all life is made of. And I can change and rewrite it like a composer, an artist. I can improve nature, make it better, make it perfect.
And I ask you, dear audience, what can be so wrong about the pursuit of perfection? Isn’t that what we all crave? Perfection?
Yes, occasionally my test subjects get hurt in the pursuit of perfection. And sometimes I am forced to euthanise them. But how does the saying go? You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs. And you can’t have perfection without wasting a few test subjects.
As for those accursed Guardians who interrupted my experiments, you can keep the children and the animals. I was going to destroy them anyway, because they were not perfect. But you cannot stop me in my eternal quest for perfection, the ultimate perfection.
Thank you very much.
The High Evolutionary descends the stage, blowing kisses to the audience, while clutching his ugly vase to his chest. As soon as he sits down again, the 2022 Darth Vader Parenthood Award winner Dr. Adam Soong sidles up to him.
“I hear you’re a geneticist and underappreciated genius. So am I. And I think, my friend, we need to talk. For together, we can create the genetically perfect human being. Or raccoon, if that’s what you prefer.”
“The raccoon was only an early test subject. Completely disposable, until he decided to run out on me and play at being a hero. So, where do you source your test subjects?”
“Daughters, my friend. I made 23 of them and the last one actually survived into adulthood, though that ungrateful bitch ran out on me and deleted my files, too. But let me tell you about my latest project, codenamed Khan…”
Okay, it seems there’s more villainous plotting going on there, so it’s time to call it quits for tonight.
And that’s it for the 2022 Darth Vader Parenthood Award. The companion prize, the Jonathan and Martha Kent Award for the Fictional Parent of the Year will be handed out tomorrow.
Who will win next year? You’ll find out in this space.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just gave them an award and wrote an acceptance speech for them. All characters and properties are copyright and trademark their respective owners.