By Shane Nicholson
Rogue One has given us, for the first time, two new Star Wars features in the cinema in back-to-back years. But most importantly, it’s given us all something back, something George Lucas gifted to us all those years ago and then ripped away: Darth Vader.
Spoilers ahead if you’ve not seen Rogue One yet (or any of the Star Wars saga, for that matter).
Darth Vader was, by the end of The Empire Strikes Back, the most cold-hearted and vicious villain ever seen on the big screen. He killed wantonly, choked his own subordinates from across the room just to prove he could, cut off his own son’s hand before dropping the bomb of all bombs in cinematic history on him… he was the most complete baddy ever. He was amazing.
The redemption story had to come, of course, and by the end of Return of the Jedi we saw he was nothing but a broken and frail old man, though one who was willing to toss his boss thousands of feet into the reactor core of the second Death Star. Even in his softer more fatherly state, he could still destroy the most powerful man in the galaxy.
But then came the prequels, where Lucas felt fans needed to learn about young Anakin Skywalker: the 9-year-old who would be the Dark Lord of the Sith.
He complained about sand; he fell in love; he was awful. Worse yet, we had to suffer through Hayden Christensen’s ponytail tearing down one of the greatest characters ever created over the course of two terrible films, right up to him losing his legs in a CGI volcano – a hellscape only matched by what Lucas had done to the minds of youths left to grow up thinking Vader was soft and weak, driven to evil by the loss of his one true love instead of being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force.
Well, thank god Rogue One came along this Christmas, because (one pun buried in the middle of the film aside) the real Vader is back. Back back. James Earl Jones and a giant man in that suit back. It’s amazing.
I knew going into Rogue One that the cameos would be a key component, and so with that I almost feared that Vader’s brief appearance with Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic would spell the end of his time on screen. But no, Star Wars fans would finally be rewarded for sitting through Episodes I-III – we would have our redemption for Lucas’s attempt at destroying our childhoods.
After director Gareth Edwards (with the help of righthand man Tony Gilroy) had killed what I assumed was everyone you could possibly kill in a Star Wars film and still keep a PG-13 rating, I let out a breath and awaited the calm, comfortable wrapping up of the first standalone film in the Star Wars universe. Instead, I got a solid minute of Darth Vader absolutely murdering an entire platoon of Rebel Alliance troops trapped in a hallway by a jammed door.
This was Vader, finally. After a decade of having to see him torn down, made more human, made more Hayden Christensen-like, we finally got Darth Vader back. It was the least we deserved.
Rogue One is a very good film, certainly deserving of the Star Wars name. On first watching, I placed it beside Return of the Jedi, behind Empire and the one that started it all, 1977’s Star Wars.
But far more important than validating Disney’s wont to create these standalone features, Rogue One has given a new generation of Star Wars fans what so many of us had missed for so many years now: Darth Vader, the ultimate villain. Thank the maker.