How Star Wars is overusing Darth Vader recently


Star Wars fans don’t lack for stuff to watch these days, and there’s plenty more on the way: the third season of The Mandalorian, separate series about Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano, movies directed by Patty Jenkins and Taika Waititi, and much more. On top of that, the latest The High Republic multimedia initiative is going strong, and a new slate of video games set in the Star Wars universe will make gamers happy!

While this abundance of Star Wars content is fantastic, I’ve noticed a troubling trend: Darth Vader is showing up too often. This wouldn’t be an issue by itself, but too often it seems like writers try to insert Vader into scenes where he doesn’t fit in order to appeal to nostalgia and manipulate the audience.

Darth Vader in Rogue One and Jedi: Fallen Order

This trend started in 2016 with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While it had many distracting callbacks to previous entries in the series, namely C-3PO, R2D2, and Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba from A New Hope, the most memorable cameo was from Darth Vader, who had one of the most iconic scenes in recent Star Wars memory when he massacred a group of Rebel soldiers towards the end of the movie.

While Vader’s hallway scene was tense and horrific, his role in the movie feels forced. He doesn’t do much in the film and shows up in the end to kill some people we don’t know. The marketing for the film took advantage of his appearance to hype up the fanbase. It is a shame because Vader has a rich history, and to see him reduced to a scary robot-man with a laser sword does a disservice to his character.

Another example of Vader unexpectedly popping up is his cameo in the 2019 video game Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order. In the action-adventure game, players control Cal Kestis, a former Jedi padawan who survived Order 66 and is enlisted to reform the Jedi order while evading the Empire. The game explores Kestis’ trauma and his journey fighting for the Rebel alliance.

The main antagonist is the Inquisitor, the Second Sister. While she is introduced as a generic Sith, her character becomes more three-dimensional as more of her backstory is uncovered. She was the former apprentice to Cal’s companion Cere Junda, and was tortured by the Empire following the end of the Clone Wars. Her cruel and disturbing treatment transformed her into a ruthless killer who hunts down the remaining Jedi and other Force-sensitives. She goes from a one-note Sith wannabe to a full-fledged character with depth.

After the final fight with the Second Sister, or Trilla, Cal and Cere try to turn her away from the Dark Side. I was invested in Cere and Trilla’s story at this point in the game, especially Cere trying to rectify her past mistakes. When it seems like they are about to make amends, none other than Darth Vader walks in, interrupting the scene and murdering the Inquisitor.

His appearance was out-of-nowhere enough to make me geek out, but after I finished the game, I thought of how shoehorned in his cameo was. First, he prevents a satisfying conclusion to both Cere and Trilla’s arcs. Then he takes up his familiar role as an unstoppable murder robot. The player cannot fight him as he is too powerful, so they are forced to run away. This feels like yet another attempt at fan service without adding much to Vader’s character.

How can you add to his character if we already know how his story begins and ends? How can Vader not be regulated to a terrifying man with a lightsaber? Well, you start taking notes from Dave Filoni.

Darth Vader in Star Wars: Rebels and The Clone Wars

The only times Vader cameos are used correctly and not for fan service is during projects created by Dave Filoni, who’s currently working on The Mandalorian. In both Star Wars Rebels and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Vader serves Anakin or Ahsoka’s character arcs. The season 2 finale of Rebels has Ahsoka fight her former master and friend. While the fight is flashy, it also serves as a prominent character moment for Ahsoka, as the last time she saw Anakin was before he became Darth Vader. It’s difficult to see her former master like this, and it hurts her to fight him. It’s a powerful moment for Ahsoka as she has to put her feelings aside to defend herself.

Additionally, Vader’s appearance at the end of The Clone Wars TV show served as the perfect ending to Anakin’s arc. While Vader says nothing during his short scene, his examination of Ahsoka’s lightsaber, which he gave to her, and the clone trooper helmet get the audience to reflect on Anakin’s journey. That part of Anakin is long gone as he has accepted his new role as a Sith lord.

Vader is used effectively here. I wished more Star Wars content used the opportunity of a Vader cameo to further explore the character instead of just making him an invincible, homicidal brute.

Thankfully, it seems like Star Wars will be focusing on stories that take place either before or after the Galactic Civil War era in the future. This means fewer opportunities for writers to force Darth Vader into their stories. However, I am not totally objecting to cameos from everyone’s favorite Sith lord. I want him to be incorporated into a story organically and not for fan service.

Recently, we learned that Hayden Christensen will reprise his role as Anakin Skywalker for the Obi-Wan Kenobi TV series. On the animated side, Matt Lanter hinted that he would return to voice Anakin in an upcoming project. While I am excited to see them again, I worry that the character may be shoehorned in for no reason other than fan service. I hope this isn’t the case, as more exploration into Vader’s character in a meaningful way will bring this fan so much joy.

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