One of cinema’s most foreboding and memorable villains, Darth Vader, terrorized the imaginations of a whole generation with his imposing, expressionless presence, and the haunting, labored breathing that underscored the voice of James Earl Jones. Throughout the classic Star Wars trilogy, Vader was a formidable presence, and though others embraced the dark side in the prequels and others will in the new films, you can’t top the original. So with that in mind, here’s a look at some of the most iconic moments that earned Vader a place as one of the defining forces of evil.
He wastes no time after boarding a rebel ship.
Vader, on the hunt for stolen Death Star plans and clearly not buying the line about a “diplomatic mission to Alderaan,” effortlessly lifts a rebel soldier off the ground with one hand while calling his bluff. The soldier doesn’t have time to answer before he has the life squeezed out of him, and Vader tosses him aside before ordering his Stormtroopers to tear the ship apart in order to find what could exploit a critical weakness: The Empire’s ultimate weapon.
He nearly strangles an Imperial officer to simply make a point about The Force
At a meeting room in the Death Star, Vader warns that the officers not be too proud of the “technological terror they’ve constructed,” as its power, however massive, was “insignificant next to The Force”. While Admiral Motti scoffed at Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways,” Vader simply proceeded to suffocate him from across the room to demonstrate the power of The Force. The moment is punctuated by Vader’s “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
He faces his old master, Obi Wan Kenobi, proclaiming “Now I am the master!”
As Luke and company sneak aboard The Death Star, Vader admits to having sensed “a presence I have not felt since…” before abruptly stopping. Knowing full well that a scanning crew won’t locate what he’s after, Vader goes off to find what he’s looking for on his own. When Vader finally crosses paths with Kenobi, the man who taught him the ways of The Force, it’s a quiet, contemplative face-off. As Vader boasts his own profound ability, Kenobi still manages to subvert his opponent, all while making good on his promise to “become more powerful than he could possibly imagine.”
Vader climbs into the cockpit to go after the rebels himself.
For a guy who was willing to force-choke an Imperial Officer while standing still across the room, it’s not surprising that Vader would promptly take to the cockpit of his custom TIE Fighter to end the rebel attack on The Death Star himself. Darth Vader was never one to be afraid of getting his hands dirty.
He force-chokes another Imperial officer over a strategic miscalculation.
The Empire Strike Back starts rather bleakly, and we’re told “It is a dark time for the rebel alliance” pretty much right off the bat. As Vader and his Imperial fleet descend on their secret rebel base on Hoth, they’re able to begin an evacuation that indicates a tactical error in their attack. Believing the fleet came out of light speed too close to the system, the last words Admiral Ozzel would hear end up being “you’ve failed me for the last time, Admiral.”
He convinces the Emperor to turn Luke to the dark side under the guise that he would make a “powerful ally.”
After the Empire’s invasion of Hoth, which sent rebel forces scrambling in every direction, Vader suggests to the Emperor that convincing Luke to defect would be the the wisest move. The Emperor is quick to see the advantage this would provide and happily accepts the idea. Vader’s seemingly personal interest also provides a bit of foreshadowing to the film’s unforgettable climax.
Desperate for any leads as to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, Vader takes it upon himself to hire some of the galaxy’s most nefarious bounty hunters to aid in his search. While the Imperial officers openly deride their presence, Vader issues a command to take any prisoners alive. However, his specific command to Boba Fett speaks volumes to both the legacy and shared history of these two characters.
A rather profound family secret is revealed.
While Luke trains in the swamps of Dagoba with Yoda, his vision of his friends in trouble prompts him to leave prematurely in order to help them. Yoda warns that he may need to confront Vader if necessary, something he fears Luke is simply not ready for. After Luke arrives on Bespin, he’s led into a trap inside the city’s carbon freezing chamber. After a tenuous duel, Luke proves to be ultimately outmatched, just as Vader sheds some light on a bit of family history, delivering one of the most unforgettable moments in cinema history.
The Emperor’s arrival reverts Vader to a subservient position.
With the second Death Star nearing completion, The Emperor arrives to oversee the final stages of its construction. The scene, with the vast hangar layered with row after row of Stormtroopers, officers and Imperial Guards, is a stark contrast to the playful and goofy world of Endor that dominates Return of the Jedi. To see Vader not only resume a subservient position, but be apologetic about the lack of progress in locating Luke Skywalker, spoke volumes about Vader’s true place in the Imperial pecking order.
In a last minute moment of redemption, he saves his son’s life, kills the Emperor and brings balance to The Force
After being baited into another long, drawn-out lightsaber duel against his father, Luke ends up turning the tables on Vader, manifesting his rage to the Emperor’s satisfaction. While it seems that he is primed for seduction into The Dark Side, Luke refuses, which the Emperor doesn’t take kindly to.
As Luke lays dying, Vader, hearing the pleas of his son, intervenes. He spares Luke’s life while killing the Emperor in the process, saving the rebellion, and ultimately redeeming himself, the man once known as Anakin Skywalker.