Darth Vader is one of the most iconic Star Wars characters of all time, and numbers himself among the upper echelon of villains in cinematic history. Despite that lofty status though, much of his backstory is unraveled outside the boundaries of the original trilogy. Vader’s character goes far beyond the limits of his role as Luke Skywalker’s father. We see that fleshed out firsthand in a collection of comics and novels, as well as the animated Star Wars Rebels TV series. That in turn, teaches us a ton about what’s going on inside the helmet of the man formerly known as Anakin Skywalker.
So without further ado, here’s what we know about Vader, outside the normal boundaries of the trilogies.
1. Tarkin knew Vader’s true identity
Anakin Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader may have been well-documented for us in the prequels, but Vader’s true identity wasn’t public knowledge across the galaxy until decades after his death. Even within the Empire, Palpatine kept the secret under wraps.
That being so, Wilhuff Tarkin figured it out on his own before the Death Star was ever constructed, revealed in James Luceno’s standalone Tarkin novel. The Grand Moff was actually rescued from a Separatist prison by Anakin during the Clone Wars, making his recognition of the Sith Lord an inevitability.
2. He battled and was wounded by his former apprentice
The second season of the animated Rebels series on Disney XD prominently featured Darth Vader as the primary antagonist, all culminating in a climactic battle between him and his former apprentice, Ahsoka Tano. His history with Ahsoka dates all the way back to Star Wars: The Clone Wars, when the two parted ways directly before Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side.
The showdown was about as good as it gets in the animated Star Wars universe, with Ahsoka almost coming out on top, injuring Vader and slicing off half his mask before the structure they were in came tumbling down around them.
3. He learned Luke was his son from Boba Fett
When Luke encounters Vader at the end of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, it’s the first time he finds out about his true lineage as Darth Vader’s son. Vader didn’t just automatically know that for himself though, with none other than Boba Fett being the one to relay the information.
In Marvel’s comic series, Fett is tasked with tracking down the pilot who blew up the first Death Star (read: Luke), and in the process discovers that the pilot’s not-so-subtle last name was in fact “Skywalker.” Upon hearing the news, Vader at once realizes that Padmé successfully gave birth before passing, a fact he later confirms when he tracks down the mortician who prepared her body for her funeral on Naboo years ago.
4. Palpatine secretly trained a collection of Vader replacements
Following the destruction of the first Death Star, Emperor Palpatine placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of Darth Vader. His loss of faith in his apprentice led him to form a contingency plan, tasking the nefarious Doctor Cylo with creating a cadre of technologically enhanced replacements, each with their own special set of unique abilities.
This forms the premise of the Darth Vader comic series, as our titular Sith Lord systematically hunts down and murders each of the potential replacements.
5. Vader briefly (and reluctantly) took on a sidekick
Darth Vader isn’t exactly someone who’s known for playing well with others, but in his standalone comic series, he begrudgingly employs the assistance of a sidekick: Doctor Aphra. Aphra, as Den of Geek aptly points out, is the anti-Indiana Jones, as “an archaeologist that steals from museums for her own profit.” More than that, she’s an amazingly constructed complex character with questionable morals, who’s integral to Vader’s survival, providing him with valuable intel in his quest to root out Cylo and his cybernetic apprentices.
6. Leia almost killed Vader before he ever clashed with Luke in The Empire Strikes Back
Luke wasn’t the first of the Skywalker children to go toe-to-toe with Darth Vader. In the Vader Down crossover issue of Marvel’s comics, Leia confronts the Sith Lord during a Rebel raid, seeking revenge for the destruction of her home planet of Alderaan. During that confrontation, she calls in a Y-Wing bombing run that would have killed both her and Vader.
The pair end up surviving the encounter, but it’s interesting to know nonetheless that Princess Leia came dangerously close to killing her father before ever finding out who he really was.
7. Luke isn’t the first Rebel Jedi he encounters
Before Vader ever tangles with his son, his main mission revolves around extinguishing every last Jedi left in the galaxy. That brings him to Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus, the protagonists of the animated Rebels TV series. Kanan and Ezra barely make it out of the encounter with their lives, with Vader making quick work of them before they narrowly escape.
As the series will later tell you, the pair of Jedi will go on to help form the foundation of the Rebel Alliance, leading us to wonder where they were during Luke’s own training.
8. Vader’s castle in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was originally slated to appear in The Empire Strikes Back
You could fill a gallery with drawings from Star Wars artist Ralph McQuarrie, many of which never made it out of the conceptual stage. One such drawing featured Bast Castle, which was originally slated to appear in The Empire Strikes Back as Darth Vader’s sinister lair. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story unearthed McQuarrie’s drawing with a slight retool, putting it on the lava planet of Mustafar.
9. The moment Anakin Skywalker truly died
In the climactic final issue of the Darth Vader comic series, Vader finally faces off against Cylo. Using his technological prowess, Cylo manages to remotely shut down Vader’s suit, rendering the Sith Lord inert and vulnerable.
During his time trapped inside his deactivated suit, he thinks back on his life as Anakin Skywalker, and has a vision of killing not just that part of himself, but Padmé as well. Using the pure evil conjured up by that brutal symbolic act, he manages to overcome Cylo’s control and reactivate his suit through sheer willpower.
10. Marvel has an upcoming comic series that will explore Vader’s early days following Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
Marvel’s first run of Darth Vader comics dealt primarily in the time period between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, showing us a version of the Sith Lord who was a fully-formed evil badass. They’ll take us back even further with their follow-up effort releasing in June 2017, appropriately labeled by its creator as Darth Vader: Year One.
The series will kick off by showing us how Vader came to create his red lightsaber, picking up directly after we see him enter the suit at the end of Revenge of the Sith.
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