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Much of the talk coming out of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been focused on the way the movie recreated classic trilogy characters via CGI. However, one of those classic characters was as real as he's ever been and nobody is asking if he got a fair shake. While the man inside the Darth Vader costume was different, the character from the original trilogy was back in a complete form, and he even had his voice back. Was Rogue One a worthy return for one of the greatest villains in film history? Let's see.
First and foremost, Darth Vader isn't in the movie a great deal. One could look at this as either a positive or a negative, depending on how you feel. On the one hand, Darth Vader is a huge name in the history of cinema, and he's an important character in the Star Wars universe. With that, you might think that there should have been a great deal more of him in the film. On the other hand, not overwhelming the story with Darth Vader prevented his return from overshadowing the new characters that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story introduced. In addition, the story line is one that doesn't really insist that Darth Vader be front and center. As important as the construction of the Death Star is, it's not the sort of thing you send somebody like Vader to oversee. You let guys like Director Krennic handle that. When Krennic fucks up you send Darth Vader to kick his ass.
Of course, one of the things that Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had to do while telling its own new story, was match the tone of the original Star Wars. If there's a place where the new film falls short of the original one, atleast as it related to Vader, it would actually be here. It's easy to forget, but in the original Star Wars, Darth Vader is not really the terror of the galaxy that we tend to think of him as. He is subservient to Governor Tarkin, Princess Leia says the Grand Moff holds Vader's leash. One Imperial officer has no problem getting in Vader's face, though he gets nearly choked to death for doing so.
This idea is a bit at odds with the first time we see Darth Vader in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Director Krennic is absolutely terrified to be dealing directly with the Dark Lord of the Sith. Vader has him almost literally quaking in his boots. It's possible that Krennic knows what Vader is capable of more so than others, but there's no explanation given in the movie that explains this as being the case. While it's absolutely true that Darth Vader is an all-powerful badass, we just don't see him this way this early in the Star Wars saga. It's not until Tarkin dies on board the Death Star that we see Vader truly become the Emperor's right hand.
Of course, Star Wars was made by itself, before any sequels or prequels were ever fully conceived of. When you look at the film series as a whole, Star Wars is actually the movie that sticks out as being a little off. We see Anakin Skywalker being groomed by Palpatine in the prequels, and we see Darth Vader as the terror of the galaxy in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This is really the Darth Vader that we should have seen more of in Star Wars.
Never is this more clear than the second time Darth Vader makes his presence felt in Rogue One. At the end of the film we see Darth Vader as we've truly never seen before, but in a way we've been waiting for a very long time to see. In an attempt to get the Death Star plans back directly, Darth Vader unleashes hell on the rebels. It's vicious and brutal and terrible and perfect. For as much as is made about the power that the Force gives Darth Vader, we never really see it completely cut loose like this. He strangles people to death from a star system away. We know that a young Anikan Skywalker slaughtered a room full of children, but we never see it. Even in his battles with Luke Skywalker, Vader doesn't use all of his power. In both cases, he 's trying to turn his son. We know Vader could kill Luke in The Empire Strikes Back but he's holding back. Maybe it's the good that's still in him, maybe it's because he wants to rule the Empire alongside his son, but either way, we never see Vader do all that he's capable of.
There is no hesitation here. Confronted with a hallway full of soldiers and blasters, Darth Vader tears through them like tissue paper. He doesn't simply kill them, he destroys them. This is what Darth Vader is capable of. This is why the galaxy fears him.
They say that in writing, it is best to show, not tell. In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we are shown why Darth Vader is a dangerous force to be reckoned with. He doesn't need to be a larger part of the story, the important parts are there.