When the smoke cleared after the opening firefight of a 1977 movie simply called ‘Star Wars’ audiences first saw Darth Vader. This black, caped and helmeted figure was immediately a cinematic icon. George Lucas had somehow crafted an inspiring, deeply frightening bad guy who would be remembered with characters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. It was pure magic throughout the Original Trilogy.
Then, thirty-odd years of quality films later, Lucas sold Star Wars to Disney. While it initially seemed like things were going to be ok, Disney’s take on Star Wars has been a not so mixed bag of mostly bad over the years since.
Disney’s new characters have all fizzled. The Sequels were hot garbage that divided the fans. Only The Mandalorian has occasionally provided some good old fashioned fun that feels like Star Wars
Vader’s reputation survived through a series of flukes and because the writers were busy destroying other legacy characters. Vader has no real presence in the Sequels. Though Vader was undermined and his achievements were mostly negated by the bad story, he wasn’t actually in these movies to take a real hit. In the hearts of fans Vader was still an amazing, iconic bad guy. Which meant he was still gold to Disney.
The only good trip to the theater Disney has ever provided Star Wars fans was Rogue 1. In that movie we saw Disney handling Vader in a way that was minimal, respectful and fun.
In Rogue 1 James Earle Jones voice sounds noticeably older, but his delivery had lost none of its potency. This enhanced all Vader’s lines and put an otherwise mediocre movie over the top.
While there’s as much to hate in Rogue 1 as there is to love, it didn’t hurt Vader. Still, there were small but legitimate bad signs.
The testing of how to make Vader as cheaply as possible had begun. Rogue 1 is when Disney first strips Vader of his iconic theme written for The Empire Strikes Back. I guess they don’t feel like paying John Williams? They seemingly used an alternate version or decent send-up of his good but sort of generic bad guy music from A New Hope instead. This kind of went under the radar, seeming like a stylistic choice to make it fit better with A New Hope, the movie it prequels.
Though Rogue 1 did mostly deliver, Disney took away all the wrong lessons from the movie. One of them was definitely, ‘there’s a cheaper way to deliver Vader so long as he’s really violent at some point.’
Then we got Kenobi. A shaky story told with uncinematic shaky camera work. Most of the time Kenobi looks and feels far less tactile and convincing than low budget, 1990’s era Star Trek TV. It didn’t ever have a 90’s era Star Trek quality story, though. It was never as good as even the worst episode of Star Trek Voyager, a show that at least had a sense of humor.
The dark sets and bad cinematography gave many headaches and vertigo. Kenobi episodes all bear several warnings that watching it could cause a seizure for several good reasons.
Six destructive, subversive and frustratingly dumb episodes later Disney seemed to have achieved the Sugar High they wanted, but Vader, Kenobi and Star Wars in general are now in dark, uncharted waters.
Little did we know there would come a day when there was just too much Darth Vader and we would all find him tiresome. The good character we knew was destroyed, consumed by Disney.
Tasteless, preposterous, illogical and brutal episode four spiked then dropped interest in this show. It never recovers from the bullying and near torture scenes of young Leia. These bad scenes, bordering on fetishization, were cynical and bloated to boot.
The whole Kenobi show had about 90 minutes worth of story… if you can call a series of unrelated but (mostly) sequential events with no cause or effect ‘A Story’ with a straight face. They stretched and bloated this out for six installments, repeating the same plot beats in successive episodes. For instance Kenobi surrenders about four times with no consequences beyond some inconvenience.
In Kenobi Vader is more “sort of around” than “Large and In Charge” as far as most of his choices and inexplicably lackadaisical attitude. Repeatedly letting Kenobi get away in easily overcomable situations didn’t make Vader seem any more impressive. The result is he’s nothing like he was in the Original Trilogy now.
Disney’s newly passive Darth Vader just accepts disrespect. He also aimlessly let a stupid plan he seemingly had no true curiosity over play out. There’s no way this display of Vader’s new incompetence and petulance hasn’t taken a toll.
Like a fistfight, the real pain doesn’t set in until a bit later, when the adrenaline of seeing “The Guy in the Suit” wears off. When this sugar high ends the show will be regarded as something fans need to forget by the writers. And Disney’s remaining fans will oblige in sufficient numbers for Star Wars to remain what they’ve made of it -a second tier franchise with less excitement and goodwill than Stargate.
Vader has sank to the level of any rival Boba Fett had due to the dumb Kenobi show.
Where once we had a formidable villain of iconic standing we now have a character who; while looking (essentially) the same; just doesn’t have the gravitas and potency we remember.
Disney’s Darth Vader is all style and no substance. The differences continue with the underwhelming physical portrayal.
In the Original Trilogy we had a combination of a genius voice actor and an impressively tall body builder (and a couple of gifted stuntmen) backed up with a genius score creating a believably menacing cyborg genius who also happened to have very strong Force powers.
Disney’s Vader now leads with his trait as a very powerful Force user, which is a shame. The idea always seemed to be the opposite. Vader was an obvious formidable physical threat and solid military thinker. He certainly shows it Empire Strikes Back. All done with the kind of practiced menacing aplomb of the very finest movie villains the Bond Franchise once traded on.
A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back show a super competent, focused and driven villain who has yet to show much, if any weakness. Return of the Jedi has a solid Vader storyline and he never encounters an Ewok on screen. Since Palpatine’s the one calling the shots even critics of this film can’t impugn Vader over the bad plan that lost the Battle of Endor for the Empire. That’s all on Palpatine.
While he was often emotional as Anakin before the battle against Obi-wan on Mustafar, after that defeat he was said by Lucas and his EU writers to have been more focused than emotional. That’s exactly what we saw for two and three fourths George Lucas movies and Disney’s Rogue 1.
Sadly, Kylo Ren is as good a villain as these writers can come up with. Due to this, they’ve simply imposed Kylo’s traits, like super Force strength, emotional outbursts and military incompetence, on to Vader. It doesn’t improve flawed Kylo Ren and Vader is diminished by it.
They did know enough to put Vader through some profitable, toy selling poses and had him say his money lines in a ‘box checking” way though. It was kind of like we remembered, just worse. Still, “The Guy in the Suit Did the Thing” and it was good enough for a few too many fans.
Disney is banking on a few Key Jangles and mere “Population Theory” along with a vindictive social media campaign to paint Kenobi as a success. They’ve had so little of it so far that the modicum of success Kenobi did have is sure to make all this worse.
The cynical bid by Disney worked on enough people to turn a profit ( its slow story coincidentally stretched over two billing periods) and make dismal Disney Plus momentarily appear relevant.
We’ve never gotten a Darth Vader that’s as good as what we got in “Rogue 1” from Disney again. In my mind that movie would have been a great time to say goodbye to Vader, letting him leave on top with his dignity intact. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
While I guess remains clever, that’s still a pretty big demotion from genius. In episode 5 of Kenobi, Vader seems to have set Reva up. He beats her easily in a fight but stupidly lets her live. This is more complete incompetence.
This brings us to the next real difference in Original Vader and Disney’s Darth Vader- uninspired writing.
Where once we had an iconic villain written by a genius, we now we have a near ad hoc generic bad guy whose crowd sourced lines are mostly delivered by a computer.
Darth Vader’s more machine now than character, twisted and evil. From the flawed writing process to his sound-a-like yet emotionlessly delivered illogical lines, this guy is no longer scary. This wasn’t helped when he let subordinates back talk him or lacked the competence to use representative military forces for situations or ever launch so much as one Tie Fighter despite the obvious logic of these moves.
Disney has traded mystery and competence for edgy-ness and rage. Now Vader spends his time in a Bacta Tank instead of the sphere filled with anesthetizing gas we saw in The Empire Strikes Back. In that movie he was aboard a ship rather than at his palace on Mustafar, where he should have some pretty advanced tech. Instead, he has the same healing technology as lowly Boba Fett on remote Tatooine.
This seemingly subtle change in setting is actually drastic. Instead of intently communing with the Force like we saw in the movie, he’s submerged in fluids having nightmares. This robs Vader of much of his dignity.
How much worse it gets from here is anyone’s guess, but it will happen. Disney’s Darth Vader WILL Return.
They simply don’t have much else.
Well, thanks for indulging my perspective. We love Likes and Follows here, so feel free to hit those like & follow buttons if you enjoyed what you read!