Warning: Spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The fact that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story would take the experimental franchise spinoff plunge with the safety harness of Darth Vader appearances was a well-publicized aspect of the film. While expectations were meager, with fans dismissing Vader’s inclusion as an obligatory cameo designed to facilitate his inclusion in the film’s marketing, the result was surprisingly profound. Now, director Gareth Edwards explains his motivation for utilizing the galaxy’s wheezing, rampaging Sith Lord.
On the Empire Podcast, Edwards breaks down the artistic merit of including Darth Vader, a character who is not only the most famous villain in the ever-growing Star Wars franchise, but in all of fiction. While aware of the titanic task of stewarding this iconic character, Edwards intended to explore poignant new aspects of Vader, notably in his initial appearance, shown – in a manner like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back – immersed in a therapeutic Bacta tank bath in all his burned glory, minus his cybernetic limbs. As Edwards explains:
“I’m jealous of moments like in Empire Strikes Back where you see the back of [Vader’s] head and you just go, “oh my God, that is so cool,” and wanted to try and find something like that in our film. [The bacta tank scene] was actually a Chris Cunningham-inspired thing of the idea of being in milk [like in the Bjork music video] “All Is Full Of Love.” He’s really a burns victim, and it’s not going to be fun for him when he’s not in the suit – he’s going to be uncomfortable. I love the idea of showing that he’s vulnerable as well.”
Of course, with Vader’s redemption finally occurring much later in the climax of Return of the Jedi, Edwards is obviously not trying to reinvent the wheel of pathos. Yet, with the Bacta tank scene taking place in Vader’s hellish private abode on the lava planet Mustafar, where his injuries were sustained in the epic final battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi, his vulnerability and desire for isolation contrast with a buzz-heavy scene taking place later in Rogue One in which Vader utterly decimates an array of Rebel troopers, attempting to nab the Death Star plans. As Edwards continues:
“Vader’s very, very bad, and so you try and just glimpse something of him that gives him some humanity, or it makes you empathise with him. Just seeing those scars and realising that he’s, you know, an amputee, and just reminding you of that before he does all his stuff, it makes you torn, I think. He’s just such a rich character, in so many ways.”
From a practical standpoint, Vader isn’t exactly THE villain of Rogue One, with his scenes occurring relatively deep into the film. That honor goes to Ben Mendelsohn’s Death Star overseer Director Orson Krennic. In fact, Vader is seen as a reluctant (but crucial) cog in the wheels of Empire’s Death Star operation who simply wants to get the job done so he can go back to his lava castle, sulk and lament the past. – Those Rebels he slaughters with unprecedented ruthlessness on the ship just happened to be in his way.
In an interesting sidenote, Edwards also reveals that a legendary film visionary in the director of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, Peter Jackson, happened to be in town when Rogue One was shooting the Darth Vader sequences in Iver, U.K.’s Pinewood Studios. Thus, he just couldn’t resist having him onhand to witness the historic revival of the character, as played by Spender Wilding, who some may remember as the alien prison guard who stole Star-Lord’s Walkman in Guardians of the Galaxy. According to Edwards:
“I was there, about to shoot that scene, and I thought, “ahh, you know what, screw it”, and I just wrote an email saying, ‘Peter, about to film Darth Vader if you want to come, it’s happening now’, and he’s like, ‘I’ll be there in half an hour!’ And then he perfectly timed it, he walked in literally for that shot where it goes from darkness to the lightsaber turning on. Whatever I do in my career, whatever happens next, it’s gonna be hard to top the honour of getting to direct that scene.”
Not only did Rogue One: A Star Wars Story overcome the bad press generated from its much-discussed reshoots to become a box-office-dominant $789.7 million global hit after just 3 weeks, but it managed to successfully show compelling and believable new aspects of a character the world has known for 40 years in Darth Vader. The film can be seen at theaters now.