The first sign of Darth Nikolayevich Vader's approach is the distant sound of the Imperial March from Star Wars, playing from a speaker on his motorcycle. The music grows louder as he appears, riding upright in a black chariot-style sidecar. A storm trooper drives the bike.
Vader (or is it Darth?) is running for mayor of both Kiev and Odessa in Sunday's elections in Ukraine on the ticket of the Internet Party. He wanted to try for president, but his application was rejected. It seems his papers weren't in order.
Some minions unload Vader's "throne" from a truck. It's a plastic copy of the character's chair from the Star Wars movies. He sweeps his black cape behind him and settles in to take questions, speaking through the voice processor in his helmet. It turns out that the Dark Lord of the Universe speaks Russian and is funny, for a Sith.
A reporter asks Vader who his backers are — somebody put up the 2.5 million hryvnia ($210,000) fee for him to apply to run for president. "Don't forget my friend Chewbacca and all the other Wookies," Vader says.
Speculation is rife as to who the man behind the plastic mask may be. (An electrician from Odessa is the favorite rumor.) Whoever he is, he changed his name to Darth Nikolayevich Vader to run for office. He says he isn't an old-guard politician who robbed the nation and is now trying to get back into power undetected. He does understand, however, why people would make the mistake of thinking he was already in politics: "As Galactic Emperor I give a lot of orders."
I ask when he was born. "I'm not sure, it was so long ago," he says. "But I will absolutely check my passport."
Isn't his candidacy just a joke? On the contrary, says Vader, "for 20 years Ukraine was a circus." He has a point. His candidacy is a satire, not a joke.
Ukrainians have discovered since the recent uprising just how bizarre, not to mention corrupt and brutish, the leaders they elected were. When President Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies fled the country in February, for example, they left behind portraits of themselves dressed in Roman and old military costumes (or in Yanukovich's case, naked), painted at great cost and hung prominently on the walls of their mansions.
The Darth Vader-for-president idea isn't new. It came from parliamentary elections in 2012, when there was no such candidate and yet many voters scribbled the name on their ballots, to protest a sham democratic process.
Darth Vader in the flesh promises cheap salo, a Ukrainian staple of pure pork fat. He has also pledged to appoint his friends and family, including Chewbacca and Princess Leia, to his cabinet — a dig at the rampant nepotism and favoritism of Ukraine's previous leaders.
Naturally, Darth Vader is also a law and order candidate, in a country where the police and courts are synonymous with corruption. His party's website includes clips such as this one, in which he and his associates embarrass the police by breaking into a drug-selling den operating openly.
His satire is pointed at Russia as much as at Ukraine. "I alone can make an empire out of a republic, restore former glories, return lost territories and pride in this country," Vader said in a statement, after he was excluded from the presidential race.
The election, of course, is a serious matter. It may be a last chance to build a democratic society in the nation of 45 million. Armed pro-Russian separatists, who want to prevent voting in the east, killed at least 11 Ukrainian soldiers in a checkpoint ambush today. Darth Vader is serious, too, however, even if he makes the point with silliness.
The Sith Lord, or perhaps electrician, strides back to his motorcycle sidecar. His storm trooper driver has trouble making the kick starter work and Vader gets his cape stuck in the wheel. Eventually they leave and the Imperial March fades away.
To contact the author of this article: Marc Champion at [email protected]
To contact the editor of this article: Lisa Beyer at [email protected]