Darth Vader, the Indisputable Icon
Trove of Characters
Since the debut of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope’ in May 1977, countless characters have defined the fabric of Star Wars universe. Heroes and villains alike in the forms of Jedi, Sith, bounty hunters, politicians, criminals, industrialists, military officers and archetypal characters from every layer of civilization in the galaxy far, far away have been created and crafted to the smallest detail, thanks to the brilliant minds of storytellers in the franchise such as George Lucas, Timothy Zahn and Paul Dini. These storytellers are not only responsible for the creation of characters, but also to breathe life into the characters and how well they fit into Star Wars narratives.
Some of the characters are fortunate enough to be granted frequent exposure to a legion of fans in different forms of medium over the years, such as in books, TV series and games, leaving behind lasting impression of the characters on the fans. From the Original Trilogy, the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett were given continuity after ‘Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi’ in the Expanded Universe (EU)/Legends. The Clone Wars multimedia project focused the spotlight on characters from both sides of the conflict such as Chancellor Palpatine, members of The Jedi Order, Clone Troopers, and Separatist figures. From the Old Republic era, actions of key figures such as Darth Revan, Satele Shan, and Shae Viszla give birth to consequences that will shape the future of the galaxy. Without a doubt, any devoted fans of Star Wars should face little to no trouble in reciting the names of the numerous characters as well as their place and significance in the rich narratives of Star Wars universe.
The Universally Known Darth Vader
Among all the characters that have ever existed in Star Wars universe, the name Darth Vader stands tall above everyone else. Darth Vader is a perfect example of a fictional figure whose influence does not only resonate within the circle of Star Wars fan base but also to the casual followers of Star Wars and the uninitiated. Star Wars aficionados can identify and relate themselves to the likes of Darth Malgus, Prince Xizor, Freedon Nadd, Jaster Mereel and Jaina Solo, but to an outsider, these names carry no meaning to them whatsoever. Interestingly, once the fictional names that appeal exclusively to Star Wars fans are switch to Vader’s, instantaneous correlation is conjured between Darth Vader and Star Wars, even in the minds of the casual followers and the uninitiated. Any person who takes the pilgrimage into the core of Star Wars fandom will inevitably stumble upon the subject matter of Darth Vader. Feel free to ask any 5-year old kid who is recently introduced to Star Wars to name 3 characters; chances are 1 out of the 3 names will be Vader’s. It’s almost like Darth Vader is the impeccable embodiment of Star Wars, just like Superman as the embodiment of superheroes, Led Zeppelin as the embodiment of rock and roll, and Albert Einstein as the embodiment of genius. So, what gives?
Factors behind Darth Vader's Fame
1. First Impression is Everything
When it comes to making a flawless first impression, Darth Vader is a guru. His debut in ‘Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope’ is perfectly executed on the big screen. The first scene after the opening crawl visualizes the attack of Vader’s Imperial Star Destroyer on Tantive IV which transports Princess Leia and the stolen plans to the first Death Star. After a brief skirmish in the corridor of Tantive IV between the Rebellion troops and the Stormtroopers with which the latter have no trouble taking care of, Darth Vader makes his appearance in the corridor in the most grandeur way a villain could make in cinematic history. The stark contrast between Vader’s top-to-bottom black attire against the white-paneled corridor and the white-armored Stormtroopers accentuates his role as the one in charge in that particular scene. Coupled with the accompanying background theme the moment he shows up in the corridor is nothing short of a perfect introduction of a cinematic villain who will continue to dominate Star Wars landscape 4 decades later.
While the ominous presence of Darth Vader can be felt throughout ‘A New Hope’, Darth Vader only appeared for a total of 12 minutes in the film. This speaks volume on how influential Darth Vader was in setting the tone for the rest of the film.
2. Darth Vader's Impact in Star Wars
Original Trilogy and 'Star Wars Rebels'
Since Vader's impressive debut in 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope', fans knew from that point on that he is a force (pun intended) to be reckoned with. He doesn't need prolonged lines of dialogue or extended screen time to make you feel his presence. Watching Vader in 'A New Hope' is like observing the pacing of the film anchored to this single character; a few intimidating one-liners, a brief lightsaber duel with Obi-Wan, a force choke to an Admiral who should know better than to belittle the Force, and suddenly you’re taken along for a ride inside Vader's TIE Advanced in the Battle of Yavin! Even with the Death Star and his TIE squadron reduced to space dust, he survives the dogfight intact and you could feel his anger building up within him even with that expressionless mask and helmet on.
In May 1980, fans were re-introduced to Vader as the baddest boss around in ‘Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back’. This time, we witnessed the true measure of Vader’s calculative approach and cold, malevolent composure. From his ability to Force Choke his underling via video feed, his authoritative presence among the gathering of the galaxy’s best bounty hunters, to the way he blocks Han Solo’s blaster shots with such ease, everything about Vader in this film is about stillness with a menacing edge to it. However, it is his inevitable face-off with Luke Skywalker on Cloud City that ultimately defined the legendary status of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. Vader’s calm demeanor and precise method as opposed to Luke’s sloppy technique in their first lightsaber duel just goes on to show the wide experience gap between them. And the unexpected revelation of their relationship as father and son added another dimension to Vader’s character and became the foundation for the shift in Vader’s character in ‘Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi’.
In the final installment of the Original Trilogy, Vader finally admits to Luke of his consciousness that he’s the bad guy in the conflict. His redemption comes in the form of saving his own son and killing his master, Darth Sidious in the climactic scene towards the end of the film. It was this change in the character of Vader from a remorseless, über-cool villain in 'A New Hope' - 'The Empire Strikes Back' to a conflicted mess of good and evil in 'Return of The Jedi' that grabbed the curiosity and attention from fans and film critics. He is a tragic figure crying out to be saved. For his role in the Original Trilogy, Darth Vader was accorded the following honors:
- American Film Institute placed Vader in 3rd spot on the 2003 list of '100 Greatest Heroes and Villains'.
- Empire magazine placed Vader in 2nd spot on the 2008 list of '100 Greatest Movie Characters'.
- Rolling Stone placed Vader in 2nd spot on the 2015 list of '50 Greatest Star Wars Characters'.
Shortly after the release of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, Darth Vader's name was changed to Lord Fener in Italy. This is because the word 'vader' in Italian sounds like 'toilet'.
The 'Star Wars Rebels' animated series, on the other hand, has its plots focused on a small band of Rebels led by Hera Syndulla and Kanan Jarrus, a Jedi who survived Order 66. Taking place in a period between 'Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of The Sith' and 'Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope', fans had been expecting Vader to show up at any moment in the series. And when he did, we were treated with Vader during his prime. His role in the series so far has been monumental to such great intensity that any sins left from his out-of-place 'NOOOOOO!' scene in 'Revenge of The Sith' had been purged away.
In the animated series, Vader is terrifying, which is exactly the way we like to remember him. Having James Earl Jones voice him only adds to the weight of this version of Vader. He feels much more canon than any novel or comic book can since it’s Vader’s actual voice coming out of your TV. When he's right in the middle of the action, he means business. Toying with 2 novices Jedi in lightsaber duel? Check. Flying alone in a dogfight against a squadron of Rebellion starfighters and emerged victoriously? Check. Survived a rough reunion against his former Padawan, Ahsoka Tano? Check. In short, this version of Vader met our expectations. 'Star Wars Rebels' has a feel to it that it is catered to the demographic of the younger fan base. But when Vader shows up, even the veterans in the fan base are in for a ride.
Prequel Trilogy and 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars'
Vader's backstory is presented in 3 prequel films that began in May 1999 until the finale of the TV animated series in March 2014 . From ‘Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace’, ‘Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of The Clones’, ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ animated series and finally ‘Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of The Sith’, Anakin’s transitions from a slave to Padawan, to his promotion as a Jedi Knight and finally his fall from grace to the Dark Side are presented chronologically. On top of Vader’s complexities in ‘Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of The Jedi’, Vader’s backstory brought the hidden side of Vader’s former identity to the surface, an identity with a fragile nature of human spirit. Beneath the power and menace that Vader has been projecting to the whole galaxy, he is still a broken mortal, one that seeks shelter behind the Dark Lord facade. Anakin’s forbidden love for his wife and his mother becomes the gravity that eventually pulls him down to the bottom of Dark Side abyss.
Besides forbidden attachments, there are occasions from the Prequel Trilogy and ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ animated series that foreshadowed Anakin’s fate as Vader. The impact of Anakin to Vader evolution in the Prequel Trilogy and ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ can be felt from this kind of scenes which were applauded by the fans, as they represent bits of connection in Anakin’s journey to the Dark Side:
- Anakin slaughters the whole community of Tusken Raiders on Tatooine after they kidnapped and tortured his mother to death.
- Anakin’s hatred of his enemies is mirrored in his method of interrogation with prisoners of war. Instead of the Jedi-sanctioned mind probing for intel, his fist rained down on his prisoner as a means to force the intel out. Separatist leader, Poggle the Lesser found out about this the hard way.
- The Republic’s harsh treatment on his framed Padawan, Ahsoka Tano in the Jedi Temple bombing incident erodes Anakin’s trust in the Republic and Jedi Order.
- His execution of Count Dooku makes him feel guilty deep inside, as it is not the Jedi way to kill an unarmed opponent.
- Anakin’s refusal to accept Yoda’s wisdom after he confessed his nightmare of dying Padme is his rejection of Jedi Order teachings.
- The Jedi Order expects a lot from him, yet ironically deny him a seat on the Jedi Council which further flames his anger at the Council.
Ultimately, it is Supreme Chancellor Palpatine’s actions in manipulating Anakin’s malcontent that pushed Anakin further to the edge of the cliff. The evolving relationship between Anakin and Palpatine is also a foreshadow of their tied destiny as the 2 ruling Sith in the Galactic Empire.
'Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens' and 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'
Even after his death in 'Return of The Jedi', Darth Vader's influence still carries a significant weight in the recently released 'Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens'. Prior to the film's release, fans speculated on how Vader's absence will play out in the upcoming trilogy. Interestingly, this is another measure of Vader's impact in the fandom; we expect Vader's legacy to stay alive after his demise, or else Star Wars wouldn't be the same without him. And the answers are quite promising, judging by the Kylo Ren - Vader relationship. To the best of limited knowledge that we have at this point, Kylo Ren has devoted his life to 'finish' whatever Vader had started a long time ago. In a way, the writers of this film had successfully kept Vader's legacy alive for future Star Wars project by passing the 'villain' baton to Vader's own bloodline, which was a smart move on the writers' part. The cameo of Vader's charred helmet is also a brilliant touch, as it provides a visual connection to the scene of Vader's funeral pyre on Endor in 'Return of The Jedi'.
With the expected release of 'Rogue One: A Star War Story' in December 2016, fans will take a step back in time once more to witness Vader at his prime. Set before the events in 'A New Hope', the thought of seeing Vader in the flesh again is a cause of exciting anticipation for the film. Various sources have suggested that this version of Vader will push the boundary that defines the Vader that we know; a more direct and brutal aggression in Vader's actions against the Rebel Alliance. Suddenly, waiting for December 2016 to come seems eternal, isn't it?
Kylo Ren originally would have been a dark Jedi called the Jedi Killer, who was more akin to Darth Vader and would power up by directly absorbing the energy of a star. At one point he was even going to be a straight up Vader impersonator, wearing a exact copy of his suit in order to mess with Luke.
3. Having a Half-Man, Half-Cyborg is Good for your Brand
It helps a lot sporting a looks that is cyborg-like. In fact, visually, nothing about Vader looks human. Instead of his charred face, Vader wears a mask that has black orbs in the place of eyeballs, excessive angular ridges in the place of cheekbones, and a concave silver surface in the base of the nose with a triangular grill growing out from beneath it in the place of the mouth, further contributing to its skull-like appearance. His helmet has a raised ridge that ran from between his eyes to the back of his head. His suit follows an ancient Sith tradition, in which the warriors of the Dark Side of the Force would adorn themselves in heavy armor and cape. When he speaks, his deep metallic voice commands undivided attention from his subordinates and extrude intimidation to his foes. In silence, hearing his raspy breaths is a confirmation that the Sith Lord is just around the corner. Apparently, these cyborg-like aspects of Vader’s appearance helps a lot in gaining his status as the perfect Star Wars poster boy.
John Mollo, the costume designer for the Original Trilogy, took inspirations from the armor of samurai, World War 1 trench armor and Nazi’s helmets in the design of Vader’s looks.
The point being; to successfully promote a brand as big as the Star Wars franchise, having a unique recognizable face or a poster boy to represent the franchise helps a lot in making the fan base and stakeholders connect themselves to the fandom. One face, one image is all it takes for new and current fan base to recognize the brand and invest their emotions and resources for the product of the franchise. And who’s better suited to be the poster boy of Star Wars than the Dark Lord himself? His visage is one-of-a-kind, a copyright property of Disney and Lucasfilm. Every single time when Darth Vader makes an appearance in person or in the media, everyone will automatically connect the dots back to Star Wars.
On the other hand, making use of other characters as poster boy might work, but the impact may not be as big as with Vader’s. Case-in-point, Han Solo. Harrison Ford’s features might be used as the background for Star Wars merchandising and marketing purposes, but the problem with Harrison Ford’s features is ambiguity, as is the case with other unmasked characters. We also have to keep in mind that Ford also starred in other films and franchise, such as ‘Blade Runner’ and the ‘Indiana Jones’ franchise. In simple terms, his looks is not unique to Star Wars alone. Fans and film critics can still associate Ford with his characters as Rick Deckard or Dr. Henry Jones, not just to Han Solo. This ambiguity simply does not apply in the case of Darth Vader, because Vader was, is, and will always be the face of Star Wars.
On the other hand, Vader is hardly the only one in Star Wars that dons a mask and helmet. Other characters who sported masked and nonhuman appearance includes Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, Clone Troopers, Darth Maul, General Grievous and countless other obscure characters from the canon and EU/Legends. But no matter how much they are glorified in their own right, we can't deny the fact that these characters don't play a pivotal role as much as Vader does in canon Star Wars narratives. Furthermore, Vader's impressive track record of influence in Star Wars history and popular culture since his debut in 1977 supplanted any potential contest from other characters for the honor of Star Wars icon.
Darth Vader in Popular Culture
Besides his everlasting presence in Star Wars franchise, a testament to Vader's status as the indisputable icon of Star Wars can be found outside the boundary that encompassed Star Wars. The following list are a few instances where Vader made cameos in popular culture. While some of the cameos have Vader depicted in person, some others have subtle or obvious references to Vader:
- Dreamscape (1984)
Alex (Dennis Quaid) is taken to a secret, futuristic lab and says, "Who’s your decorator, Darth Vader?"
- The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
Darth Vader is one of the action figures that comes to life in the magic cupboard.
- Chasing Amy (1997)
Hooper X (Dwight Ewell) speaks at a comic convention about Darth Vader being a metaphor for how poorly sci-fi treats black people. He is especially offended that Vader, the "blackest brother in the galaxy", reveals himself to be a "feeble, crusty old white man" at the end of 'Return of the Jedi'.
- Toy Story 2 (1999)
Emperor Zurg's character was inspired from Darth Vader.
- Daddy Day Care (2003)
Marvin (Steve Zahn) plays lightsaber duel with the kids as Darth Vader.
- Jarhead (2005)
One of the soldiers is seen wearing a gas mask and imitating Darth Vader's voice and breathing sounds, and saying some of his lines to a fellow soldier.
- Ted 2 (2015)
Star Wars cosplayers, including Darth Vader nearly got run over by Samantha's (Amanda Seyfried) car.
- Freddy Mercury perched on Darth Vader's shoulder (1980)
The famous image of Darth Vader and Freddy Mercury during Queen's live performance was captured by photographer Tom Callins on 10th August 1980.
- 'Do It' by Beastie Boys, from the album 'III Communication' (1994)
Darth Vader's name appeared in the lyrics; "Like gravy to potatoes, Luke to Darth Vader, I'm a souped-up sucker and I'll see you all later"
- 'Rain Man' by Eminem, from the album 'Encore' (2004)
Darth Vader's name appeared in the lyrics; "I had one of those twenty five cent stickers on my refrigerator, Right next to Darth Vader and Darth must have put a hex on him for later"
- 'Move if You Wanna' by Mims, from the album 'Guilt' (2009)
Darth Vader's name appeared in the lyrics; "I don't undrestand how can I have so many haters, Knowing I'm their father like my name is Darth Vader"
'Vader' is the name of death metal band from Poland. The band was formed in 1983 and is still active today. No point in guessing which figure inspired the name of the band, right?
3. Video Games
- Guitar Hero World Tour (2008)
One of the guitar designs is named 'Dearth Fader', a reference to Darth Vader.
- Soulcalibur IV (2008)
Darth Vader, Yoda and Starkiller (Galen Marek) are playable Star Wars characters.
- White House's Darth Vader (2006)
US Vice President Dick Cheney referred to himself as 'Darth Vader of the Bush administration' when discussing his unpopular approach in combat against terrorism.
- Ukraine's Darth Vader (2014)
Darth Vader (seriously) represented the 'Internet Party of Ukraine' in the 2014 mayoral election for the city of Kiev and Odesa. His/her attempt at Ukrainian presidency failed hilariously because he/she refused to reveal his/her true identity during the candidate registration process.
- Energizer (1994)
Apparently, even a technology masterpiece such as the lightsaber runs on regular batteries.
- Target (2004)
You can just sense Vader's excitement by being close to Heidi Klum in the 2004 commercial by Target.
- M & M's (2005)
The Force Choke even works on beings without a neck!
- Volkswagen (2011)
One of the most memorable Super Bowl commercial. And it comes with a miniature Vader!