Look, I am not condoning Darth Vader’s behavior in The Empire Strikes Back – force-choking your colleagues is not cool. In fact, if I were Emperor Palpatine, I would have considered making Vader do some sort of broadcasted PSA where he had to say just that, “Force-choking your colleagues is not cool.” (And, preferably, in that 1980s sitcom, “very special episode” style where the main character is doing some sort of menial task, then looks up, sees “us,” then explains to us the dangers of sniffing glue.) And it’s maybe hard to remember now, but the first time people saw The Empire Strikes Back, it was kind of shocking to see Vader kill members of his own team. Vader only kills two officers in the Galactic Empire, that we see – Admiral Ozzel and Captain Needa; for some reason it seems like more and maybe that was the point – but Vader didn’t force-choke any member of his own military in the original Star Wars. (Though, he did threaten one person with a force-choke, but let him go.) This was a new phenomenon.
So, no, I’m not condoning the fact that Darth Vader force-choked Captain Needa. But, looking at all this from Vader’s perspective, under the rules he had already established, Vader was right to kill Needa. Needa was really bad at his job. We’ll get to that. But first, let’s start with poor Admiral Ozzel.
(I should say here that all this stemmed from a visit to my neighborhood bar that plays movies instead of sports. And, often, they play the Original Trilogy. On this night The Empire Strikes Back was on, a movie I’ve seen so many times now, I almost can’t help but watch it from different perspectives. And, this time, it was from the perspective of “Darth Vader has quite a few nincompoops working for him.”)
Admiral Ozzel was, briefly, the commanding officer in the attack against the Rebel Alliance’s once hidden base on the remote ice planet of Hoth. Now, Ozzel had already caught the ire of Vader for questioning that the Rebels were even on Hoth in the first place. And it didn’t help that Ozzel was pretty smug about the whole thing. If anything, Admiral Ozzel was bad at reading the room. Vader was pretty clear the Rebels were on Hoth, “That’s it. That’s the system.” It takes a special personality to decide to chime in to an unhinged person with magical powers with, basically, “Um, actually, it’s probably just some smugglers.”