In my opinion, there is no movie villain more recognizable than Darth Vader. His unique mask, iconic respirator hiss, and the ever-magnificent voice of James Earl Jones mean that everyone knows who he is and the fear and dread he brings to the galaxy.
There’s an awful lot of content spanning the life of Anakin/Vader. As such, in this Darth Vader bio, I’ve stuck relatively close to the main episodes of the Skywalker Saga, only referring to the most critical information from additional sources like Rebels, Rogue One, and more.
Darth Vader is the central character to Star Wars, as the fallen Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker. He was first introduced to viewers in December 1977 with the original film showcasing the adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, Ben Kenobi, C-3PO, and R2-D2.
His domineering presence would frighten even the Empire’s most powerful elite, as he answered only to the Emperor and Grand Moff Tarkin.
Those who weren’t afraid should have been.
Key Details Up Front
Obi-Wan tells Luke that Darth Vader “betrayed and murdered [his] father.” Vader himself tells Ahsoka in Rebels,
Anakin Skywalker was weak. I destroyed him.
“From a certain point of view,” Anakin and Vader are two entirely separate people. Anakin manifests the light in his life, rejecting the evil; Vader rejects the goodness, showing forth the dark.
Following on from the Anakin Skywalker post a few days ago, this article will focus on Darth Vader as the Sith Lord. Check out that other page to learn more (or reminisce) about Anakin as a Jedi.
Darth Vader would dramatically join the Dark Side in an attempt to save his wife’s (Padme’s) life after feeling betrayed and rejected by the weak and politically-controlled Jedi Order. To learn the power he would need to save her life, he committed unspeakably evil acts, embracing the darkness to become more powerful more quickly.
However, he would destroy Padme in his rage, leading to her death and the hurried hiding of her and Anakin’s children. Obi-Wan Kenobi, his old master and friend, would then defeat him in a duel, leaving him to burn in the lava river.
As a result of his terrible injuries, Vader was placed in a mechanical suit that allowed him to walk, breathe, and generally function.
From here, as the Republic merged into the Galactic Empire, Darth Vader stood at the right hand of the Emperor as the regime inflicted terror across every world they reached.
Despite his apparent strength, he was no more than a pawn in his new master’s eyes; someone he would replace without question if a stronger Force user came along…
At the end of his life, Vader redeemed himself to save the life of his son, Luke, although it cost him his own. Finally, Anakin Skywalker arose and defeated Darth Vader. The Chosen One prophecy was fulfilled, and the galaxy saw peace.
Darth Vader Overview
The Rise of Darth Vader
The rise of Darth Vader coincides with the demise of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. Anakin suffers from terrible visions of his wife, Padme Amidala, dying in childbirth. These visions are exactly the same as those he had before his mother’s death when he lacked the power he needed to heal and save her.
His marriage to Padme was secret, with only C-3PO and R2-D2 aware of their true bond. Obi-Wan, as a mentor and deeply close friend, had his suspicions but kept them quiet.
Attachment (such as marriage) is forbidden by the Jedi because from it wells up jealousy and hatred. Anakin, therefore, can’t directly ask a Jedi for their help.
He would be expelled from Order, and he knows that the politically-led mindset of the majority on the Council would refuse to help him anyway. Surrounded by war, they have forgotten compassion.
With no options left, Skywalker turns to the only glimmer of hope – in his eyes – he has. The Chancellor, who has been a trusted father figure since his arrival on Coruscant, has mentioned the legends of the Dark Lords of the Sith and how one, Darth Plagueis, had the power to control life itself.
Desperate to “learn this power”, Anakin turns the information over in his head, deeply conflicted between his moral values and saving Padme’s life.
While Obi-Wan and Yoda (Anakin’s only two real friends and guides) are away fighting the Separatists, Palpatine makes his move. He tells Anakin openly that he is the Sith Lord the Jedi have been looking for. Skywalker, hurt and betrayed, reveals this information to Master Mace Windu.
Windu takes three Jedi Masters to arrest the Chancellor. Although Kit Fisto, Saesee Tiin, and Agen Kolar are quickly killed, Mace defeats the Sith and holds him at lightsaber point.
Anakin arrives at this moment and is forced to make a decision. If he allows Windu to execute Palpatine, his visions tell him that Padme will die. He needs the Chancellor to learn how to save her life.
Instinctively, he activates his lightsaber and slices off Mace’s hand, sparing Palpatine from the finishing blow and leaving the Jedi Master defenseless against the Sith Lord’s powerful Force lightning.
In this moment, caught unawares, Skywalker has made his fateful decision. Despite falling to his knees – “What have I done?!” – the damage has been done.
He knows that he’s effectively murdered the second most important Jedi in the Order. With it, he’s labeled himself an enemy of all his former friends. He’s done all this to protect Padme.
He can’t see another way out other than to commit himself to the Sith. To learn the power he needs to save his wife’s life, he must fully embrace the Dark Side. Kneeling before the scarred Palpatine, he is given a new mission and a name: Darth Vader.
Having finally realized his ambition to turn the strong Jedi to the Dark Side, Palpatine is ready to execute Order 66. The Jedi are declared enemies of the Republic for what he paints as an assassination attempt.
The clone troopers serving under them across the galaxy will turn on them, mercilessly cutting their friends down by shooting them in their backs. The Clone Wars shows how inhibitor chips were inserted into the clones’ brains to force them to act in this way.
Vader has now risen, replacing Anakin Skywalker. Darth Sidious tells him he must confront and kill every last Jedi – even Obi-Wan – if he is to truly learn the Dark Side. His first task is to lead the 501st into the Jedi Temple and kill the relatively few members of the Order that are there.
Most of the powerful Jedi are away, fighting across the galaxy in the Clone Wars. Darth Vader will be responsible for murdering the stronger Masters and Knights. He will leave the clones accountable for the execution of most Padawans and Younglings.
However, even when faced with children, Vader shows no mercy. He cuts them down with ease, leaving their bodies scattered throughout the halls of the once magnificent Jedi Temple.
When Obi-Wan and Yoda see the security holograms later, they discover how far their old friend has fallen. They know that Anakin Skywalker is dead, consumed by Darth Vader.
After wiping out the Jedi on Coruscant, Sidious sends Vader to the lava planet Mustafar. Here, the former Chancellor has gathered all the remaining Separatist leaders, leading them to the slaughter like the pawns they are in his game. Vader is to execute them, bringing a swift end to the Clone Wars. This he does.
Meanwhile, Obi-Wan confronts Padme about Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side. He knows he is the father of her child, and leaving, he tells her, “I’m so sorry.”
He is sorry for the pain, conflict, and betrayal she is feeling – but mostly sorry because he knows he is using her emotions to lead him to his old apprentice and friend, where he will try to kill him.
As Kenobi predicted, Padme flies straight to Anakin on Mustafar. Obi-Wan stows away on her ship. As Padme confronts Vader, begging him to “come away” with her into hiding “while they still can”, he refuses.
His new powers mean he believes he is even stronger than Sidious. He has no regrets about his actions – he loves the feeling of power coursing through his veins. With horror, his wife acknowledges that Anakin Skywalker is indeed dead.
At the same moment, Obi-Wan emerges from the ship. Consumed with rage, Vader chokes his wife, leaving her unconscious on the ground.
The two old friends then engage in the most incredible duel of all Star Wars, in which Kenobi emerges victorious. He cuts off Vader’s remaining arm and legs, but unable to kill him, leaves him to burn to death in the lava river. He takes his lightsaber and disappears.
Vader, however, survives and is rescued by his new master, the Emperor. He is placed into a suit that allows him to breathe. When asking about Padme’s welfare, Sidious tells him that “in his anger, [he] killed her.”
The very reason Vader turned to the Dark Side was now gone, but the darkness within him had utterly defeated Anakin Skywalker. He was now a committed servant of the Sith.
Purging the Jedi
Order 66 oversaw the executions of most Jedi across the galaxy – but a few survived. Vader was now leading the Inquisitors, who, on his orders, hunted down and slew most of the Jedi outcasts.
Darth Vader came face to face with his old Padawan, Ahsoka Tano, at one notable stage. Now over 15 years since he’d last seen her, the encounter unsettled him.
Ahsoka had believed Anakin died during Order 66, with no way to contact anybody who had been with him in his final days. In a shocking realization, her worst fears were confirmed.
He feels that she had betrayed him, leaving him virtually alone in the ever more politically corrupt Jedi Order. From his point of view, she abandoned him. If she had been with Anakin, he might have had the strength to fight the darkness. After their duel, Ahsoka tells Vader,
I won’t leave you. Not this time.
Then you will die.
Darth Vader is disturbed after his supposed killing of his former Padawan (in fact, Ahsoka was rescued by Ezra Bridger). A flash of Anakin Skywalker had shown through when he offered Tano mercy in exchange for information.
Much more had been on display when, after Ahsoka damaged his helmet, he said, “Ahsoka.” His eyes had softened – just for a moment.
Vader had triumphed over Anakin this time, but there had been the slightest indication of the good shining through.
The Death Star
The Death Star was first designed by the Geonosians and was a massive, expensive project overseen by Director Orson Krennic. Grand Moff Tarkin seizes the battle station and credit for its construction at its triumphal completion, betraying Krennic and leaving him to die on Scarif as the Rebel Alliance takes a copy of the plans.
Darth Vader begins boarding the rebel ships, cutting down soldiers with ease and carving his way through their ranks as he tries to grasp the technical plans. However, the Alliance just about manages to escape with them.
Princess Leia Organa (unbeknownst to him, his daughter) hides them with R2-D2 and sends the droids to Tatooine.
For the moment, Vader has failed. He holds Leia for interrogation on the Death Star. As they hold her home planet, Alderaan, to ransom, the Princess tells him and Tarkin the Rebel base is on Dantooine.
Tarkin gives the command for the Death Star to blow the planet up anyway, killing Leia’s adopted family, friends, and everything she knows.
Luke Skywalker (Vader’s son), Ben Kenobi (his old master), Han Solo, and Chewbacca sneak onto the Death Star, where they rescue Leia. Ben turns off the tractor beam, allowing the Millenium Falcon to escape, but Vader confronts him on his return to the ship.
Rather than break free, Obi-Wan chooses to engage his former apprentice as long as possible, allowing the rest of the party to escape. He doesn’t fear death, having learned from Qui-Gon how to preserve his identity through the Force.
When Vader slices through his old friend, Kenobi’s body instantly disappears. Vader, puzzled, pokes the cloak and lightsaber lying on the ground, filled with dread as he discovers how powerful his old master truly was (and still is).
The Rebels escape aboard the Millennium Falcon, but the Death Star traces them to Yavin IV. The desperate group mounts an all-out assault on the only weakness they’ve found in the plans, the tiny exhaust port.
Vader launches his Advanced TIE Fighter and engages the X-Wings in space. However, he can’t prevent Luke from sending a proton torpedo deep into the weapon, blowing it up.
Vader’s ship is then hit by a blaster bolt from the Millennium Falcon as Han and Chewie return to the fight. His TIE spins off into space, where he’s picked up later by the Empire.
Empire Strikes Back
A few years later, Vader goads Luke into a trap. He’s desperate to force his son to come over to the Dark Side and join him. He captures Luke’s friends at Cloud City on Bespin after they seek assistance from Han’s smuggling friend, Lando.
Luke unwisely sets out to rescue them, against the advice of Yoda and the Force ghost of Ben. Here, Vader corners his son and easily defeats him, slicing off his hand in the same way as he suffered at the hands of Count Dooku. With Luke hanging over a precipice, Vader delivers that iconic line:
I am your father.
Luke then chooses to fall rather than join his father, but Vader is confident of turning him to the Sith sometime soon.
The Empire had started building a second Death Star above the moon of Endor. After learning about it, the Rebels launch another massive assault, hoping to destroy the battle station before it becomes operational. However, they’re deceived. While appearing unfinished, the weapons system aboard Death Star II is in complete working order.
Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca plan to assault the Death Star’s shield generator on Endor’s surface, but Luke recognizes that his presence puts the mission in danger. Vader can sense him. Before leaving and surrendering himself to the Dark Lord, Luke informs Leia that she is, in fact, his sister. They are both children of Vader.
After surrendering himself to Imperial stormtroopers, Luke is brought to his father. They then travel to the Death Star, where Vader tells him he will be forced to join the Sith – just like he was. Again, a glimpse of Anakin Skywalker shines through as Vader hesitates in the face of Luke’s appeals to Anakin, to the light within him.
Eventually, he brings his son before the Emperor, who threatens to destroy all Luke’s friends unless he submits to the Dark Side and kills his father. Luke does defeat Vader in combat but catches and steadies himself. He refuses to bow to the Dark Side, leading the Emperor to attack him with Force lightning.
Once more, Vader is forced to make a decision. If Luke dies, the light within him will also die. If he saves Luke, he will die himself.
In this final moment, Vader picks up the Emperor and throws him down the shaft. In this action, he destroys both Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, finally becoming Anakin Skywalker once more.
The lightning, though, overrides his suit, bringing his life to an end. Just before dying, he asks Luke to remove his helmet, so he can see him with his own eyes. He’s a tired, elderly man, with the relief of decades of burdens falling from his face. His son has saved him, even though it cost him everything.
It’s not the end for Anakin, though. After Obi-Wan became one with the Force, Vader had spent years meditating, learning the power himself. He would join the ghosts of Ben and Yoda as they watched over the celebrating rebels, finally reconciled to his friends, his family, and fulfilling his true destiny as the Chosen One.
- Revenge of the Sith – Anakin has dreams of Padme’s death in childbirth. The Chancellor (Darth Sidious) tells him of a Sith Lord who could save those he loved from certain death.
- Revenge of the Sith – Anakin chops off Windu’s hand, sparing Palpatine but declaring himself an enemy of the Jedi and servant of the Dark Side. He is renamed Darth Vader and leads an attack on the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and the Separatist leaders on Mustafar.
- Revenge of the Sith – Padme confronts him, but he chokes her and leaves her unconscious. He then engages Obi-Wan, who defeats him and leaves him to burn. Although he survives, he must wear a robotic suit from this point.
- Rebels “Twilight of the Apprentice” – Ahsoka engages Vader. He believes to have killed her.
- Rogue One – Vader cuts through Rebel soldiers as he attempts to recapture the Death Star plans.
- A New Hope – he interrogates and tortures Princess Leia (his daughter).
- A New Hope – finally meeting Obi-Wan again, the two old, weary men fight. Obi-Wan sacrifices himself to allow Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie to escape, becoming one with the Force.
- A New Hope – as the Rebels assault the Death Star, Vader fights them from his Advanced TIE. The Death Star is blown up, and Vader’s ship spins off into space after taking a hit.
- Empire Strikes Back – Vader captures Luke’s friends and holds them hostage as he tries to turn his son to the Dark Side. He reveals that he is Anakin Skywalker and asks his son to join him. Luke refuses and escapes.
- Return of the Jedi – Luke surrenders himself to Vader and tries to turn him back to the light. At first, he’s unsuccessful, with Vader believing that Anakin is genuinely lost. However, after Luke spares him in combat, Vader intercedes to save his son from the Emperor’s Force lightning. In this moment, Vader is finally overthrown, and Anakin Skywalker re-emerges.
- Return of the Jedi – Sidious’s Force lightning destroys Anakin’s suit. He looks at Luke with his own eyes “just once” before passing away and becoming one with the Force. He then manifests himself in his younger, unscarred body, joining Obi-Wan and Yoda as they smile over the victorious Rebels.
Abilities and Powers
Darth Vader would forever be known as the second most powerful person in the galaxy, behind only the Emperor. This was a source of incredible frustration to Palpatine.
The defeat at the hands of Obi-Wan in Revenge of the Sith meant that Darth Vader could never truly fulfill his Dark Side potential. The injuries left him scarred, unable to use certain Force powers, and made movement rigid and demanding.
Nevertheless, he was still far superior to anyone else in terms of his Force connection and skills with a lightsaber. However, he had to modify his fighting technique around his heavy suit and life-altering injuries. His use of Form V was even more powerful than Anakin’s.
Sidious had the man who was once unequivocally the most powerful person in the galaxy. Now, though, he believed someone even stronger could take his place.
When Luke Skywalker emerged, clearly having inherited his father’s deep connection to the Force, Palpatine noticed. He had no qualms about pitching the two against each other, taking only the strongest as his apprentice.
What the Emperor hadn’t counted on, though, was Luke’s inherently good nature and guidance from Obi-Wan and Yoda. By refusing to give in to the Dark Side, Luke defeated both Sidious and Darth Vader. The suppressed light within Vader shone through, and the two Skywalkers turned on the galaxy’s ruler.
After Mace’s death –
What have I done?!
To Padme –
I don’t want to hear any more about Obi-Wan. The Jedi turned against me. Don’t you turn against me.
To Obi-Wan –
Don’t lecture me, Obi-Wan – I see through the lies of the Jedi. I do not fear the Dark Side as you do! I have brought peace, freedom, justice, and security to my new Empire!
Obi-Wan and Vader –
I have failed you, Anakin. I have failed you.
I should’ve known the Jedi were plotting to take over!
Anakin, Chancellor Palpatine is evil!
From my point of view, the Jedi are evil!
Well, then you are lost!
Obi-Wan and Vader –
It’s over, Anakin. I have the high ground.
You underestimate my power.
Don’t try it.
To Director Krennic –
Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.
About the Death Star –
The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.
To Imperial Admiral Motti –
I find your lack of faith disturbing.
To Lando Calrissian –
I am altering the deal. Pray I don’t alter it any further.
To Luke Skywalker –
No. I am your father.
To Luke Skywalker –
You don’t know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.
Question: What Does the Name Vader Mean?
Answer: George Lucas claimed that Vader is a corrupted form of the Germanic word Vater, meaning “father”, after the release of Empire Strikes Back in 1980.
The word “Darth” stems from the English word “dark”, so Darth Vader really means “dark father”. The clues were there all along.
That’s if you believe that, of course. It’s probably more likely that the name Vader happened to sound like the Germanic word for father, which influenced Lucas’s decision to write this into the story.
Question: How Did Darth Vader Turn Evil?
Answer: Anakin turned into Darth Vader through the manipulations and temptations of one man: Palpatine. By playing on Anakin’s frustrations and encouraging him to lash out (such as executing Count Dooku), he planted the Dark Side seeds.
He used Anakin’s attachments to his mother and wife to put him off balance. At the same time, he instigated the Clone Wars, controlling both sides to force the Jedi to lose their focus and position as guardians of peace and protectors of all.
In this situation, the Jedi couldn’t offer Anakin help, and Sidious knew that the Chosen One’s only option would be the Dark Side.
Unable to face life without Padme, Anakin effectively killed Mace Windu and was rechristened as Darth Vader.
Question: How did Darth Vader Become a Force Ghost?
Answer: There’s no confirmed canon answer to this question yet, but there are a couple of well-backed theories.
Qui-Gon, when explaining how he became one with the Force in the Return of the Sith novel, says it’s all about selflessness and compassion. A person whose spirit is filled with these attributes can retain their conscience and personality through the Force. At his death, Anakin saved Luke at the expense of his own life, perfectly embodying selfless compassion.
That’s the theory I subscribe to. Some believe that Palpatine himself taught Vader how to become a Force ghost after his duel with Obi-Wan on the Death Star. Others suggest that Ben appeared to Anakin in his final moments and explained how he could do it.
The answer may well be delivered in one of the many upcoming Disney+ projects.
Conclusion – The Good Within
As Vader and Luke talk quietly before they face the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, their conversation confirms some of my points earlier in this article. It’s worth quoting some of the exchange in full to really appreciate the depth of the discussion in this article’s context.
I’ve accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.
That name no longer has any meaning for me.
It is the name of your true self. You’ve only forgotten. I know there is good in you – the Emperor hasn’t driven it from you fully. That was why you couldn’t destroy me.
Some more dialogue passes before Luke says,
Come with me.
Obi-Wan once thought as you do. You don’t know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.
I will not turn, and you’ll be forced to kill me.
If that is your destiny.
Search your feelings, father; you can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you – let go of your hate!
It is too late for me, son.
This conversation absolutely confirms Vader’s reason for being a Sith: Anakin Skywalker is defeated, hidden so deeply inside the darkness that he can’t even find that person within him.
Vader was manipulated and tricked by Palpatine into betraying everyone he loved in exchange for power. Now, he has nothing left, and Sidious has complete control over him.
Darth Vader – Anakin Skywalker – isn’t an evil man. He’s a good man that has been so profoundly spiritually twisted and scarred by the Emperor (an ironic metaphor considering the events on Mustafar) that he truly believes there is no light left in him.
Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Ahsoka all agree. Only Luke opens himself up to the possibility of the good hidden deep inside. Ultimately, it’s this that saves him.
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