The Hunchback of Star Wars

(Here There Be Spoilers)

Having just seen the 1997 television adaptation of Victor’s Hugo novel, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, I have to say I love this story:  the crippled, deformed servant of a creepy but powerful old man turns against his master and drops him from a great height to stop him from murdering the one person who loves the servant; but the servant takes mortal wounds in the process of this rescue and dies under the tender hands of the beloved.

Yes, that’s my favorite scene in “Star Wars.” 

I also like it in this 1997 adaptation of “Hunchback,” starring Inigo Montoya Mandy Patinkin as Quasimodo, Richard Harris as Frollo, and Salma Hayek as Esmeralda.

In some adaptations of Hugo’s novel, Quasimodo actually lifts Frollo over his head before flinging him to the streets far below.

In the novel and in most of its adaptations to big and small screens, Claude Frollo is only in his mid-30s or thereabouts.  In the 1997 movie he’s an old man, with wicked amounts of power (more than any archdeacon ever had), which is what made me think of Emperor Palpatine.  If not for that, I don’t know that I’d ever have made the connection with “Star Wars.”

There are a couple of other connections, at least, between the stories. Palpatine tells Vader to bring Luke in; Frollo commands Quasimodo to kidnap Esmeralda (the kidnapping is the closest that we get in “Hunchback” to the forced combat between Luke and Vader). Frollo tells Quasimodo that Esmeralda is an evil witch, just as Palpatine informs Vader that they have a new enemy in the Force, Luke Skywalker. Of course, Palpatine nevertheless wishes for Luke to join/serve him, just as Frollo is willing to free Esmeralda if she will only love/serve him. Palpatine and Frollo both declare openly that the object of their deadly wish will either accept their most-generous offer or be destroyed.

(Spoilers ahead for those who have not read the novel.)

I think the connection started to form in my mind when I finished reading the novel last week: Claude Frollo is pushed off the very top of Notre Dame’s north tower after Quasimodo notices him laughing diabolically at the moment of Esmeralda’s hanging on the streets below, an event the two men have been watching from the tower; Frollo catches hold of a water spout briefly, and Hugo notes the “abyss” between the archdeacon and the pavement over two hundred feet below.

I wonder if any of the Hunchback movies or the novel influenced George Lucas, even unconsciously, when he made “Return of the Jedi”.

I have to admit now, I like thinking about Vader as Quasimodo.

The great difference here is that Quasimodo, while vicious to strangers who are vicious to him (meaning, nearly everyone), is never evil and does not show any interest in going that way.  Vader is something else, and arguably a completely different story.  But it’s in the relationship to the master that you see similarities.

Quasimodo was taken in as a deformed infant by Frollo and would surely have not survived otherwise; Vader was saved by Palpatine as a charred body almost dead on the volcanic planet Mustafar.  Frollo shelters Quasimodo within the walls of Notre Dame while educating the hunchback himself; Quasimodo is hidden away, to the point that the general populace fears him superstitiously and even regards him as a kind of demon.  Palpatine saves Vader’s life and shelters, really imprisons him in a life-sustaining suit; only on rare occasions is the ugly flesh beneath uncovered.

And both men, Vader and Quasimodo, develop a loyalty to the master that proves nearly impossible to break. 

I will have much more to say about Hugo’s novel in later posts.

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