Darth Vader's Long Goodbye in 'Star Wars'

Is it a good thing that the iconic villain's presence is seemingly required in all major 'Star Wars' endeavors?
Salvador Larroca/Marvel Entertainment

There is a strange inevitability about the Entertainment Weekly confirmation that Darth Vader will be a "looming" presence in this winter's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

It's not just that the original Star Wars movie showed that he had a particular interest in the theft of the Death Star plans, which is the central plot of the new movie — it's that Darth Vader's presence is seemingly required in all major Star Wars endeavors.

Vader, of course, anchored the original movie trilogy, and his origin story dominated the prequel trilogy. As Anakin Skywalker, he was one of the protagonists of Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, and as Darth Vader, he's been a significant presence in the second season of the subsequent Star Wars: Rebels series on Disney XD.

His legacy — and crushed helmet — were one of the prime motivators of Star Wars: The Force Awakens' villain Kylo Ren, and it's to be expected that he'll loom large over Episode VIII and IX as well, considering his familial and inspirational connections to the main players of the new trilogy.

In comics, too, it should be noted that Marvel launched its massively successful line of Star Wars titles with two monthly comics: Star Wars, which featured Vader as the primary antagonist, and Star Wars: Darth Vader, which obviously placed him front and center as the series protagonist.

All of this is fine and good — Vader is not only arguably the most recognizable Star Wars character (His heavy breathing even allows you to know he's there even without seeing him), but one who sums up a lot about the series' appeal, representing both the "Dark Side" of the faceless, authoritarian Empire/First Order, and also the supernatural/religious overtones of the Force, albeit from the Sith side of things.

However, making him the ever-present face of the franchise feels reductive if Star Wars is to successfully expand into a cinematic universe, as opposed to a number of movies expanding the same story in different directions. The more Vader is used, the more it seems that Star Wars is limited in what it can be.

Rogue One seemed, at first, to be the movie that would break the mold and redefine the franchise. "The absence of the Jedi is omnipresent in the film. It hangs over the whole movie," director Gareth Edwards said in April last year, introducing the concept of the movie, which was described as very much a war film with no clear-cut heroes or villains. "It's called Star Wars," he emphasized.

The first trailer hinted at the movie that description suggested, with a troublemaker of a protagonist and the tease that she would end up joining "the bad guys." But that was before reshoots were ordered, because the movie "felt ... tonally off with what a 'classic' Star Wars movie should feel like." With that in mind, it's unsurprising that Vader will show up in the movie — he's become the metaphorical security blanket of the franchise.

(It's possible that the Rogue One reshoots are less of a big deal than many think; talking to THR, Disney CEO Bob Iger said, "I've seen Rogue One. I've seen not only an edited picture but I've seen significantly more footage than was even in that picture. That's actually going to be a fine film." Of course, perhaps he's saying that because of Vader's reassuring — reassuringly unassuming, maybe? — presence.)

At this point, it'll be more important — and more surprising — to see a Star Wars movie that can cut the cord from Vader and the entire Skywalker legacy entirely, and focus on everything else that exists within the universe that George Lucas created. With the Han Solo project headed into production next year, that might be about to happen, as long as no one sneaks in a Vader or kid-Leia cameo. (Resist that urge, Lucasfilm. Please.) Even if it doesn't, though, at the very least, audiences will have more Star Wars movies that feel like the old Star Wars. As The Force Awakens demonstrates, there are worse things that could happen.

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