While fans eagerly await the release of Rogue One this December, there’s been no shortage of Star Wars-related content to tide us over in the meantime. We’ve already gotten a handful of exciting new comics from Marvel, a bunch of novels, and even another animated series. So what’s the one thing the TV show, comics, books, and Rogue One have in common? The answer is Darth Vader. [Update, 8/19/16: Added first full-length ‘Rogue One’ trailer that reveals Darth Vader at the end (see below).]
Going down the list, we’ve seen Lucasfilm double down on bringing back the iconic villain in every possible medium. The “why” is simple enough: because it works. Star Wars: Rebels got good the second that Vader became an integral part of the story. His standalone comic series is incredible. His book, Lords of the Sith, is the best peek inside the helmet of a fully realized Vader we’ve ever gotten. And knowing this, making the Sith Lord a prominent part of Rogue One was a no-brainer for all involved. [Update, 10/13/16: Added second full-length trailer (see below).]
What’s intriguing is the thought process we saw play out for Rogue One‘s decision to include Vader in the first place. The initial rumors we saw outlined his role as mainly a background player, giving way to different characters and a new story. We quickly saw that develop though, until news broke that Vader would be “expected to have a larger role than originally thought.” It was the final piece of the Darth Vader rebirth puzzle, further solidifying his place as the key cog in Disney’s new-look Star Wars franchise.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that we arrived at this place. Two of 2015’s top 10 best-selling comics were Vader stories. The demand is clearly there, and Lucasfilm is well aware of that. The challenge then becomes figuring out a way to make an old villain seem new again. Lucky for us, the studio had that figured out by delivering him in a host of new media. Suddenly, a character that had never before existed outside of the original trilogy was getting approached from a different set of angles, and it ended up working beautifully.
This strategy has been expertly executed from the start, and it’s rooted deeply in showing us a different side of Darth Vader. Whereas before he was contextualized in his relationship with Luke and his past as Anakin, we’re now seeing him act as an individual. Even more, he’s acting independent of the Skywalker storyline, giving us a much-needed look at Vader at the peak of his badass-ery. Gone is the whiney, poorly-written Anakin from the prequels, replaced with a veritable force of nature that captures the undeniable cool of his special brand of villainy.
Take the Darth Vader comic series for example. The story goes as follows (spoiler alert for those who haven’t read it): Vader discovers that the Emperor has been training a new generation of apprentices specially modified to replace him. He then systematically hunts down and kills each competitor, while periodically crossing paths with our Rebel heroes at key junctures. At one point, he comes across an entire Rebel battalion of tanks, soldiers, and ships. When they tell him he’s surrounded, he responds with the bone-chilling observation, “All I am surrounded by is fear … and dead men,” before subsequently killing the ever-loving hell out of everybody.
Imagine that version of Darth Vader in Rogue One. This isn’t the redemptive Anakin who atoned for his sins in his final hours circa Return of the Jedi. And nor is he the fun-loving yet flawed Jedi Knight from the prequels. No, this is a Vader that crushes Rebel skulls and takes no prisoners, realized in full-blown surround-sound on a movie screen. He’s the Sith Lord that made Empire Strikes Back such a great movie. More than that, he’s a villain who will cut off a guy’s hand before reminding him that he’s literally your daddy, and then extending an offer to join him in taking over the whole goddamn galaxy.
We’ve already seen the beginning stages in motion with Star Wars: Rebels too. The animated series brought back Anakin’s apprentice from The Clone Wars, Ahsoka Tano, where she went toe-to-toe with what remained of her former master. In the end, it was the deepest the animated series has ever ventured into the main trilogy, and it worked to perfection on a fundamental level. That timeline also just so happens to bring us straight into Rogue One..
In the past, we’ve advocated for Lucasfilm moving past the need for Darth Vader. More specifically though, our ask was for an advancement past the “Fall of Anakin Skywalker” narrative, and tying Vader’s character into his Sith Lord days rather than his redemptive arc does exactly that. Essentially, the issue hasn’t been that he’s been overused, just that he needed to be used the right way (i.e., sans Hayden Christensen). We’re now seeing that in spades, and the Star Wars universe is far richer for it.
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