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Who is Darth Vader: Tracking His Development from Prequels to the Present

The dichotomy between Darth Vader in the original trilogy and Anakin in the prequels is undeniable.

Whether you’re into sci-fi or not, there’s no way you haven’t heard of Darth Vader; he’s become a household name. Intimidating, cold-hearted, conniving and with a nightmarish voice to boot — he’s the embodiment of evil, and everyone knows it. Considering Vader’s image, it’s no surprise that his upcoming reappearance in Rogue One is so highly anticipated.

But aside from seeing a familiar face (or mask, in this case), it’s also an opportunity for Vader’s character to at least partially redeem himself. Up until the prequels, he was seen as the kind of guy you just wouldn’t want to mess with, but over the course of those three movies, his evilness was diluted into that of a whiny, ill-tempered problem child. So at this point, who is Darth Vader and, more importantly, will he regain his old image?

Conflicting Personalities

When Darth Vader’s character makes his first appearance in A New Hope, there’s no question in anyone’s mind that this guy is a hardcore villain. Nothing in his personality indicates weakness or empathy, but the prequels are another story.

In Phantom Menace, we’re introduced to Anakin, who’s so pure and innocent that it’s just plain unrealistic. You would think that someone capable of being a genocidal sociopath would at least show some kind of deviant behavior. After all, Yoda himself said in The Empire Strikes Back that Anakin had “much anger in him.” But no, instead he’s infallibly altruistic. How could someone with those kinds of principles be willing to abandon them so easily? He doesn’t have to be mutilating banthas or anything, but a little stubbornness, rebelliousness or selfishness would have helped.

Worse still, Anakin’s mother reveals that her son’s birth was mysterious — an immaculate conception. Anyone who understands Christianity knows what that entails, and who it alludes to. Thanks to this ridiculous precedent, we have to watch Episodes IV through VI with Vader as some sort of Messiah in disguise, who steps up to the plate at the last second to fulfill a prophecy, which, frankly, George Lucas pulled out of a tauntaun’s backside.

Fast forward to Attack of the Clones. We now see some inkling of Anakin’s impatience, quickness to anger and violence, but it’s overshadowed by his petty squabbling, whiny nature, and hormonal sexual harassment.

Darth Vader isn’t a baby; he never complains when things don’t go his way. Instead, he resorts to strangling, intimidation, and torture, depending on which character is on the receiving end. Anakin, on the other hand, isn’t calculating at all. Sure, he slaughters an entire tribe of Sand People, but later confesses it to Padme with tears in his eyes. Furthermore, it’s the result of a dramatic emotional overreaction, not a twisted way to achieve his goals. At this point, we at least get an indication of the conflict inside him, but all of that evaporates when the third installment comes along.

A Step in the Wrong Direction

In the first movie, Anakin is sickeningly sweet. By Episode II, we see some buildup to the Darth Vader we all know and love. But once we Anakin returns in Revenge of the Sith, it’s like he’s reverting back, if ever slightly.

In the opening space battle, Anakin is willing to risk his life and his mission by helping some clone pilots who are getting shredded. In fact, it’s Obi-Wan who tells him to ignore their deaths and focus on what’s at hand.

CLONE PILOT 2: I’m on your wing. Break left. Break left. They’re all over me. Get them off my . . .

ANAKIN: I’m going to go help them out!

OBI-WAN: No, no! They are doing their job so we can do ours.

That’s arguably one of the coldest (but understandable) things we see in the series, yet it comes from a Jedi who never turns to the Dark Side. In fact, it’s not the first time Obi-Wan displays this attitude, considering he lets Padme fall from a transport mid-battle on Geonosis in Episode II, and won’t take two seconds to retrieve her. Even Yoda suggests that Luke allow his friends to die for the Rebel cause, rather than risk compromising his Jedi training in The Empire Strikes Back. But if Vader is any indication, it’s Anakin who should be saying “tough luck, we have a job to do.”

But perhaps the most jarring discrepancy between Anakin and Vader is the fact that — harsh as this sounds — Anakin isn’t too bright. Throughout the second and third movies, he befriends Chancellor Palpatine, yet fails to see the signals of the future emperor’s true intentions. You’d think a man who uses Sith legends as anecdotes, constantly tries to extend his power and belittles the Jedi, might be enough to catch Anakin’s attention, considering he belongs to said group. But no, Anakin can’t see through the facade until he finally has an epiphany in Return of the Jedi.

That, however, was not the only VR related Star Wars news from Celebration. During the ILMxLAB panel, it was also revealed that David S. Goyer (a name loved, feared, hated and just about everything else-ed in comic and movie circles) is working with them on a VR movie centered around Darth Vader.

“What character is so iconic that we need to know more?[Where] we can’t sleep at night and want to experience things that can’t [Click here to read more…]

This brings us to the final nail in the coffin of Darth Vader’s character. According to Obi-Wan, Anakin “…was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.” You’d think this means he took the “quick and easy path” to glory, as Yoda so aptly describes it. But in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin isn’t seduced, he’s manipulated. There’s a big difference between temptation and trickery. The fact that he sacrifices everything he works for and commits mass murder (all on an unfounded promise of saving his wife) means that Anakin stumbled, rather than fell, from grace. In the end, his turning to the Dark Side isn’t so much a tragedy as it is a contract — it cements his loyalty to the Emperor and the Sith ideology.

A Chance for a Comeback

Considering how Darth Vader’s character was affected in recent years, it’s still ambiguous as to how he might be portrayed in Rogue One. Frankly, though, there seems to be hope. If Episode VII was any indication, the Star Wars franchise seems to be recovering its former style — no fart jokes to be seen.

If we want to scrub Anakin’s whiny teenage angst from our minds, Rogue One will have to do a good job of portraying Vader as the intimidating sociopath that we all know and love.

Final thoughts

Whether you agree with this analysis or not, the dichotomy between Anakin and Vader is undeniable. Naturally, there are supposed to be differences in the two characters, but Anakin’s character lacks consistency in the prequels, while Vader stays true to himself until the end. This could easily be blamed on bad writing, but it’s hard to believe how badly George Lucas warped what is easily the most iconic Star Wars character in the saga.

Whether we like it or not, Anakin’s contradictory and undesirable personality is cemented in canon. The best we can hope for is that, as time goes on, we can push this from our minds as much as possible.

Featured Image: Livio Ramondelli / Instagram

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