Now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is in theaters and all we can do is sit back and marvel at how fast it is printing money for Disney, we have an excuse to look to the future of the Star Wars franchise, which is bright indeed. Outside of the Episode movies like The Force Awakens, we’re going to get a series of standalone Star Wars Story movies. Next up in the expansion of that far, far away galaxy is the first of these, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and though we don’t know much about it at this point, there are a number of rumors. One of these is that one of the most iconic villains in movie history, Darth Vader, may play a significant role, and we’ve been wondering just how big this will be, and if it’s even a good idea or not.
Given the timeline and subject matter of Rogue One, it is certainly possible that Darth Vader will appear, or at least have some presence in the movie. Set in the years between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV, the plot, as we understand it, revolves around the group of Rebels who steal the plans for the first Death Star that Luke Skywalker and company use to subsequently blow it out of the sky. This is part of a larger strategy of bringing some of the shadowy corners of the Star Wars universe into the light and will show us events and action that we’ve only just heard about.
Last summer a report from Birth.Movies.Death. made the rounds indicating that Darth Vader will be play a substantial role in the movie, though, "he will not be the main antagonist but he will be working behind the scenes, pulling strings and will appear onscreen." This is the type of role that makes the most sense. We’ve heard that Ben Mendelsohn’s as-yet unidentified character will reportedly be the primary baddie, and that he’ll be the one the heroes have the most direct contact and conflict with.
It would be damn near impossible to tell this story in this era completely without Darth Vader having at least some impact. He’s the Emperor’s right hand man, he’s intimately involved with the construction of the Death Star, and he’s just kind of all over the place as far as the Empire is concerned. The standard logic is that Vader’s role in Rogue One will be similar to Palpatine’s, that he’ll be a looming threat that casts a shadow over the entire movie, but that his presence in the foreground will be limited.
One rumor that has gained some traction is that, once the plans for the Death Star have been swiped, presumably by Felicity Jones’ character and her team of grubby Rebels, Darth Vader dispatch those bounty hunters we’ve heard so much about to go get them back.
All of this may explain how Darth Vader could show up in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but perhaps the larger question is, should he? Should he play a bigger role? To be fair, with Kylo Ren’s obsession, his presence is still felt in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but one big complaint about that movie has been that it places too much emphasis on the past—some have even said that it watches like fan fiction wish fulfillment. (I don’t necessarily agree with that stance, but I can see where people are coming from.) If Rogue One winds up being more focused on Darth Vader, it could very well fall into the same trap.
I understand the necessity of him being there to some degree in Rogue One, but I hope that he’s not a primary player. This is badass, Force choking underlings, getting shit done Darth Vader, and while that’s awesome, I’m of the camp that thinks it would be a bad idea to include too much.
I’m a fan of the idea that his presence is felt, that he plays a role, but that he doesn’t take up too much foreground real estate. A good approach might be to follow what the animated Star Wars Rebels has done with he character. Set in a similar time frame, prior to Episode IV and Rogue One, Darth Vader—voiced once again by the great James Earl Jones—has popped up on Rebels to make sure that his influence is felt and to remind everyone of who is really in charge, but he isn’t a huge player. He’s had his time as the primary antagonist, he even has his own series of comics, so anything more than a small part in the larger drama of Rogue One might be overkill.
One of the things we’ve heard about the Star Wars Story movies is that they reportedly won’t focus as much on the Force and the Jedi, the Sith, and their ilk. Rogue One has even been described as a gritty war film. We have the continuing saga of the Skywalkers and such in the Episode films to deal with the Force, and if the idea of the spinoff movies is truly to expand the world, to show fans what else is going on—and there are a ton of stories and tales that have nothing to do with the Force—I like the idea of keeping this side of the galaxy, which necessarily includes Darth Vader, largely out of the movie. There will obviously be some cross over, but the idea of exploring other things is too intriguing to hamstring by shoehorning in nostalgic plot points, even though it would be cool as hell to see Darth Vader squeeze the life out of a hapless subordinate who disappointed him.