Fleet commander. Survivor. A human face of the Empire. That’s how one could sum up the character of Captain – later Admiral – Piett. The man who got promoted as his predecessor struggled for breath in the background, the man who actually used his brains and found the Rebel base on Hoth despite his superior’s obstructions and scornful disbelief. There are so many levels in which this man in uniform raises sympathies. Despite being a minor character and a bad guy, one can relate to how he must have felt – first, the position of being laughed at by those above him despite telling them what he knew to be the truth; later, the genuine concern and fear as he was forced to work under Darth Vader, having witnessed first-hand what happens to those who fail.
Admiral Piett has been kind of a fan favourite minor Imperial character since his appearance in Empire Strikes Back. The testament to that is the fact that he was not originally meant to reappear in Return of the Jedi, but George Lucas had decided to add him into the script after receiving many letters from the fans who expressed their desire to see more of Piett.
So what is the reason for such great impact on the audience? Piett’s actor, Kenneth Colley, has always claimed that he puts a strong emphasis on making his characters more human. Especially as far as villains are concerned, because that is what makes them believable and more than just a bunch of evil enemies to be destroyed. And that approach is clearly visible in Piett’s case. His tip-toeing around Darth Vader, his uncertainty showing in such subtle things as small shift of the eyes, avoiding direct contact with the dreadful Sith lord, at the same time his obvious attempt to do his job well and be praised for it – all of this makes Piett more than just another guy in the uniform.
In Return of the Jedi, we get to see Piett a lot less, but in the few scenes, it is clear that his character had gone through some development. That is once again the work of Kenneth Colley’s brilliant acting and him taking the role seriously. The actor himself had said that it was his initiative to make Piett seem more self-confident. It is only logical that after serving under Vader for a time, Piett would have to come to terms with the ever-present dread, as well as fully embrace his role as an Admiral. Just look at any two scenes from the different Episodes and compare. Piett’s commands in Episode VI are delivered with much more authority behind it, and he no longer looks like he might melt the next time Darth Vader glances at him.
I guess what makes the audience notice Piett in the first place is a very simple thing: he stays. Especially in Empire Strikes Back when the Imperial officers keep falling like ripe fruit from a tree, even a random viewer notices: hey, it’s that guy again. And he is still around. He is a survivor with genuine human emotions, fear and uncertainty. That makes him more than just your average evil officer.
Here is to hope that future Star Wars films will find their actors investing as much into their roles as Mr. Colley did.
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