Darth Vader came to bring the pain in Rogue One’s epic final moments.
Before we dissect the experience of absorbing all that new Vader goodness in Rogue One into your brain - where Vader’s mastery of the Dark Side has no doubt been replaying over and over since you left the theatre, causing you to immediately text your best friend and try your best not to ruin the Vader surprise for everyone else on social media - let’s go back to the moment you found out there would be Star Wars standalone films.
Many fans gleefully realised that any movie that takes place in Star Wars’ past had the distinct possibility of giving us some brand new Darth Vader lightsaber action. It was a long shot, but imagining Darth Vader in his fear-inducing prime with some modern choreography and 21st century special effects with a lightsaber in his hand could give any Star Wars fan a rush.
Honestly, I’d have been happy with Vader lighting up his lightsaber to check the battery (we’ve all been there) or to slice bread.
But throughout the countdown to Rogue One’s theatrical release we were reminded that this was not a Darth Vader movie and his appearance would be brief.
So when we finally see Darth Vader midway through Rogue One with a stern message for Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), it would have made sense for you to tell yourself that this scene was all the Darth Vader you were going to get.
That first Vader scene gave us plenty. New Vader dialogue. Sarcastic and snide comments (a Dark Side trait). Force chokeholds. A look at Vader outside of his black armor bathing in a vat of liquid goo that was probably designed to help him with the burns he suffered in his battle with Obi-Wan in Episode III. A reminder that the Sith lord, despite being all powerful, is always in constant pain, and not just of the broken heart variety. We even get to see Vader’s eyes while he’s in the goo.
That’s a lot of new Vader moments and it’s enough to feed the hunger for more. But as the movie heads toward a dark final act, Rogue One’s biggest accomplishment so far is being good enough that you thought to yourself that sliver of Vader would be enough.
And at the movie’s end, when we are now realising that the only way to get the Death Star plans to the rebels is for everyone involved to make the ultimate sacrifice, well, at that point you’re dealing with an emotional tug that few Star Wars movies have ever been able to pull off. You’re too far gone in your feels to ask for more Vader.
You've just watched perhaps the deepest and darkest Star Wars movie ever. You’re realising Rogue One worked as a standalone film. You’re even debating if it’s better than The Force Awakens. You’re in such a trance you’re not ready for what happens next. You’re exactly where Rogue One director Gareth Edwards wanted you to be.
The plans for the Death Star, they weren’t in the right hands just yet. There was still time for one last attempt to keep the Death Star’s secrets within the Empire.
Rebels running around like kids trying to get the plans where they needed to be?
Don’t worry. Lord Vader will handle this.
And handle it he did.
Although we would bear witness to a rare Darth Vader failure, his attempts to get those plans and end the rebellions hopes were breathtaking. Literally, folks in the theater were gasping. Why?
Because there he stood. Darth Vader. Out of the darkness and not a word being said.
Just heavy breathing.
Vader’s silence is perfect. His mere presence is intimidating enough. There’s no need for words. Why would he speak when every person on screen and in the audience can already feel the emotion that is the ultimate path to the dark side: fear.
Anyone who wished for new Vader action in Rogue One realises that wish is about to come true.
That is the moment you realise he’s about to turn on the lightsaber.
Never has the humming sound of sure death sounded so amazing in a movie. That glowing red lightsaber was the cherry on top to a movie you weren’t expecting to make it to your Mount Rushmore of Star Wars cinema, but it did. Now you’re ordering Rogue One posters online.
Edwards gave us not only something we never thought we’d see - Vader slicing and force-shoving his way though all that stood in his way - but something no Star Wars fan will ever forget.
We got Vader in his rawest, most brutal form, if only for a few seconds, but enough to make a lifetime Star Wars memory right up there with "I am your father."
Rogue One didn’t need Darth Vader to be a good movie, but seeing the Sith lord in action like never before cements its status of achieving undeniable Star Wars greatness.