Rogue One is a great movie. A magnificent ensemble of actors bring this gritty, grounded universe far, far away. It has fantastic acting, stunning visual design and a story so heartfelt and heart wrenchingly beautiful, I dare you not to cry at the end. But what surprised me a lot, was the feeling when I left the cinema: I truly feared Darth Vader again.
From the moment I became familiair with the character, I came to understand that he was supposed to be scary. Emphasis on supposed. Because he wasn’t scary or intimidating anymore.
I didn’t grow up with Star Wars. My parents and my older siblings were not into sci-fi and fantasy, and I only watched George Lucas’ space opera in my late teens. I enjoyed the iconic bad-guy exactly for what he was: an iconic bad-guy. Because that’s what Vader was now most of all: a pop culture phenomenon, a staple character like Dracula or the Joker. These guys already lived for decades, been put through dozens of interpretations and slapped on so many pieces of merchandise you can’t tell them from My Little Pony or Donald Duck.
Not to mention, Darth Vader has been put through so many pieces of satire and caricature, it’s hard to take him fully serious. From Chad Vader, the parodies of Family Guy and Robot Chicken to Revenge of the Nerds and countless other sketch shows, sitcoms and internet memes, the Dark Lord of the Sith hardly strikes fear in our hearts anymore. His outfit has been worn by too many drunk frat boys on Halloween and YouTubers with a set of bagpipes.
So yeah, when I see Darth Vader I understand how intimidating and sinister he used to be back in the late seventies, early eighties. How much the audience hated him when he killed kindhearted mentor Obi Wan Kenobi and how creepy the scene on Dagobah was, when he suddenly appeared in Luke’s spirit journey. Darth Vader was a frightening character because we didn’t know exactly who he was and why he did what he did. With the conclusion of the original trilogy and his origin story detailed in the prequel films, this mystery was lifted and I suppose that’s where he lost a bit of his myth and allure.
But then there was Rogue One. The first scene he appeared in, I still suffered from the aforementioned problem. His appearance made me smirk in appreciation. It felt like a fan service: it was cool to see Vader, but it wasn’t necessarily beneficial for the plot of the film. He still wasn’t that ominous menace that the movie wanted him to be. But then came his second scene at the end of Rogue One and things changed. Nobody expected him anymore. “Okay, we’ve seen Vader”, everyone thought. “We’ve had our Easter egg. That’s it.”
But then he was there again, and he was terrifying. He was horrendously villainous and a genuine terror. Now we didn’t see that mumbling LEGO character or that bitchy teenager from episodes 2, this was the Dark Lord of the Sith and he was being a truly bad, awful person deeply submerged into the dark side of The Force.
How did Vader become scary again? Because he appeared when we didn’t expect it and he did something we didn’t think he would do. I believe that was the feeling of dread he originally conveyed when Star Wars fans watched Empire Strikes Back; that constant fear of him appearing again and the underlying terror of not knowing what he was going to do. Because Rogue One generally excelled in rekindling that sense of wonder and surprise again. In that way it was better than Episode 7: The Force Awakens. Although charming, last year’s movie was slightly predictable and sought the safe route a lot. The story of Jyn Erso took us to places and showed us interpretations of the Star Wars universe that we didn’t expect, that were new and interesting and tingling to the imagination. It dared to cross borders where it made us a little scared again and unaware of what was going to happen.
Rogue One stands tall, proud and self secure like Darth Vader in that narrow corridor. His lightsaber buzzes and flashes red in the dark, his cape flutters as he watches Leia’s ship leave and he clenches his fist, determined to destroy anyone in his way. Fear Darth Vader.