Star Wars Speculation: Vader in Rogue One

by Joseph J. Langan

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As the energy and excitement J. J. Abrams launched into the franchise with The Force Awakens tapers out while we wait for Rian Johnson’s hopefully slower and more thought-provoking Episode VIII in 2017, we’re left to speculate on what’s left in the middle. Star Wars: Rogue One, the first of an anthology of spin-off “Star Wars Stories” is set to release Dec. 16 later this year.

The film will be a prequel to the original Star Wars, focusing on a band of freedom fighters who steal the plans to the Death Star, supposedly leading right into the plot of the movie we all know and love. With Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) directing, it stars Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker and Diego Luna, all in unknown roles. While other than that, the plot is basically unknown, but as to be expected, many rumors have been circulating. The most significant of which is undoubtedly the inclusion of cinema’s most iconic villain, Darth Vader himself.

For years we’ve all wondered about how Darth Vader would inevitably “hunt down and destroy the Jedi Knights” as Obi-Wan explained in the original. Revenge of the Sith only gave us a brief montage of this. The video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed unveiled the secret apprentice Vader was training to shoehorn into the role of Jedi hunter. The apprentice, Starkiller (originally Luke’s intended surname) assassinates Jedi like Shaak Ti and ironically even helps found the Rebel Alliance. This is all non-canon now. The animated TV series Rebels has Imperial Inquisitors out hunting Jedi, although it’s unlikely that there will be any Jedi in this movie. But for all of those wondering when we will finally get to see Vader kick ass on the battlefield, Rogue One may be the droid we’re looking for.

While it’s not confirmed that Kylo Ren’s grandfather will even make an appearance in the film (and probably won’t be confirmed either way until the first trailer drops) it’s been heavily suspected.

But what could including Darth Vader in Rogue One do for the franchise and for this particular film? A lot, actually. Let’s take a look at a couple different ways Vader could be presented onscreen for a new generation.

VADER AS THE INSURMOUNTABLE FORCE:

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Han Solo was wrong when he said, “hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side.” Darth Vader is one of the strongest Force-users in all of Star Wars and after Han’s death in The Force Awakens, he’d be the perfect villain to show just why a lack of faith in the Force is disturbing. Director Edwards, famous for big monster movies like Legendary Pictures’ Godzilla reboot in 2014 and 2010’s indie flick Monsters, is perfect for depicting Vader as an unsurmountable “force.” While Godzilla wasn’t a perfect film, it was undeniably better than the 1998 Roland Emmerich disaster. Although a little short on the human drama, Edwards excelled at depicting Godzilla as a force of nature and a force to be reckoned with. Could he do the same for cinema’s other big baddie? Rogue One is set to be more “grounded” than previous Star Wars ventures. Instead of focusing on Jedi, we’re likely to see the view from the ground forces. Some have even gone as far as to call Rogue One a gritty, Star Wars “war movie.” While the accuracy of that description remains to be seen, the opportunity to have an over-powered Vader seen through the eyes of the regular boots on the ground is tantalizing. Imagine Darth Vader mowing through rebel forces in the claustrophobic corridors of Polis Massa, or taking out X-Wings left and right from the cockpit of his signature TIE Fighter. While technical limitations at the time kept Vader from showing the full extent of his Force powers, Edwards could give them a modern update with respect to the source material. Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One, is one of the most powerful Force-users of all time. The prospect of seeing a more violent Vader slicing through rebel soldiers in open combat, using the Force to levitate bodies as human shields or to strangle enemy generals from afar could be a great new direction for the series. Rebels could see Vader up ahead with a patrol of Stormtroopers and just turn around, hopeless of getting past him. It would definitely be interesting to see how the average joes of the Star Wars universe saw Vader. Was he depicted like a legend, a fear-driven myth passed from soldier to soldier with little chance of verification because he left so few survivors? Did any rumors spread about his Jedi past? This remains to be seen, but witnessing Vader as an unstoppable behemoth from the eyes of typical soldiers would be a rare opportunity filmmakers would be wise to capitalize on. 

VADER AS THE COMMANDER:

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While this isn’t far from the role he played with the Imperials in the original trilogy, fleshing out this position is ripe with storytelling potential in Rogue One. Darth Vader was always a leader in the first three films, barking baritone orders from behind his sinister mask or storming the enemy grounds beside Stormtroopers, like a Nazi SS officer coming to clean up the mess. But we never got to see the character development behind this position. We don’t get to see enough of the relationship he had within the Empire’s hierarchy. Besides simply fearing him, how did his subordinates view him?

Original drafts of Return of the Jedi had more character development for Vader and Admiral Piett. George Lucas originally planned to depict a rivalry between the two commanders, both fending for Emperor Palpatine’s favor, similar to how Kylo Ren and General Hux will likely compete for Snoke’s attention in the sequel trilogy. Piett, having risen through the ranks with Admiral Ozzel’s death after he failed Vader for the last time in The Empire Strikes Back, was ready for a competition with the Dark Lord of the Sith. But we never got to see it. Lucas opted for more focus on the final showdown between Luke, Vader and the Emperor instead. These sorts of dynamics are bursting with creative potential in Rogue One. We could see Vader rising through the ranks in the Empire, a space opera House of Cards, as the Dark Lord manipulates his way to the top. While we’ve seen him in combat to some degree, witnessing his strategic prowess would be a great way to expand on his character.

What hard decisions would he have to make as a commander of legions of Imperial forces? Would he have any lingering regrets, still tugging at him from the Jedi Code? He could have to battle through these doubts while simultaneously hiding them from the Emperor and greedy allies who don’t trust him, eagerly waiting to hop on any chance to topple the black-masked tyrant and take his place at the Emperor’s side. Would his love for Padme still flicker to life behind his chest plate in that charred, broken heart of his? How would this play a factor? He would certainly have to disguise these persisting sentimentalities. Would he bury this dwindling humanity behind his brutality and his strength? Perhaps Rogue One could give the merciless side of Vader more depth and motivation than we see in the films.

General Leia Organa was hardly in The Force Awakens. Hopefully, we’ll get to see more of her in Episode VIII. How she leads The Resistance against the First Order, how she handles the covert politics of the New Republic who’ve largely turned their back on her, all while battling her grief for Han and waging a war against her son. One thing we know from the original trilogy is that Leia is tough. She doesn’t buckle easily and neither does Vader. Rogue One and Episode VIII have the opportunity to show parallels between father and daughter. Luke and Vader are related through their shared Jedi teachings, but Leia and Vader can be connected through their shared ingenuity and resilience as commanders. Both have to fight wars against their own children. I’d love to see a link between the two characters in the films coming out this year and in 2017. It would be fascinating to see how they both have to make similar, tough choices. Maybe their leadership and battle tactics will complement each other.   

VADER AS A CAMEO:

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Definitely the least exciting option on the list, but a real possibility nonetheless. Rumors have spread that they’re reviving Peter Cushing’s likeness for an appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One. Since the actor has passed, it’s unlikely that his digital recreation will have excessive screen-time. It wouldn’t be absurd to assume Vader would suffer a similar slight, since this film is believed to be largely told from the rebel grunts’ perspective. However, even as a cameo, Vader’s powerful presence could still cause enough of a disturbance in the Force to satisfy our cravings. If used carefully and sparingly, Vader’s relegation to a cameo role may make an even bigger impact than if he was a main character.

Imagine the motley crew of rebel freedom fighters at the end of Rogue One, having just beamed the plans to Leia’s Tantaive IV orbiting above. They think their mission is accomplished. They wait in a dimly lit bunker for rescue, dead Imperials and elite Death Troopers all around them. Suddenly, the shadows are singed with the ignition of a blood red lightsaber. Vader’s signature breathing blasts through the theater sound system. Imagine watching all of the heroes we’ve followed for the entire film, cut down one by one by a furious Darth Vader in an enclosed space. It would be a little like the ending to Halo: Reach, which leads into the original Halo in a surprisingly similar way to how Rogue One’s ending might bump into the beginning of A New Hope.

Exactly how, or even if, Darth Vader will play a role remains to be seen. But a suit for him has been supposedly built for the production and with the film releasing in December, a trailer for Rogue One is likely to drop any day now. Stay tuned with Aiguille Media for an in-depth trailer analysis when we finally get our first peek at the most highly anticipated film of 2016. 

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