With the release of the Disney+ original series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader is back in the spotlight. That is great news as far as we are concerned. Years ago, we (Rambling Ever On writers) conducted an internal tournament to determine the greatest villain in film history. Spoiler alert: Darth Vader won. Brought to life by the intimidating physical presence of David Prowse1 and voiced with awe-inspiring authority and gravitas by James Earl Jones, Darth Vader is more than iconic. He is legendary. Everyone knows Darth Vader. Everyone has their own Darth Vader impersonation. In the annals of pop culture, I would argue there are very few characters more well-known and revered than Darth Vader.
Every Star Wars’ fan will have their own favorite Darth Vader moments, but my guess is, my list will overlap with most. I don’t claim this list is definitive. Frankly, I could easily list a dozen other incredible and iconic Darth Vader moments if I wanted to. But for today, five will suffice. So, in no particular order, here are the five most awesome Darth Vader moments.
“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
This is the first time we get to see the power and intimidation of Darth Vader on display. And, it’s not even an elaborate moment. It’s a board meeting of sorts and Vader is standing behind Grand Moff Tarkin as he listens to the various military leaders talk strategy. He seems both impatient and bored. That is, until some nimrod decides to take an unprovoked shot at the Force. And as everyone knows, Darth Vader won’t tolerate any Force slander. So, he Force chokes the buffoon and utters one of the most iconic lines in film history: “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”
Vader exerts total dominance and he barely lifts a finger. Is anyone in that boardroom, including Grand Moff Tarkin, ever going to challenge Vader after that? Not if they don’t want to get Force choked, they won’t.
Darth Vader chokes Admiral Ozzel through a viewscreen.
What’s better than a great Force choke and an iconic line? How about a Force choke through a viewscreen? In most ways, The Empire Strikes Back is a better movie than A New Hope. The stakes seem higher. The character development is deeper and more impactful. Vader is more impressive and terrifying as well. So, instead of simply trying to “one-up” the best moments of the first film, George Lucas and company decide to carve a new path.
While this second Darth Vader scene doesn’t have the iconic line accompanying a great Force choke, the choke itself is hard to top. Due to Admiral Ozzel’s attempt at surprising the Rebels, he has ruined Vader’s plans. Darth Vader doesn’t tolerate incompetence. So, he calls Ozzel up on his viewscreen, and he Force chokes him to death. To be clear, they aren’t even on the same starship. Distance is no obstacle to Darth Vader and his Force chokes.
Vader does drop a pretty awesome “farewell” to Ozzel with “You have failed me for the last time, Admiral.” Vader is not going to allow the ugliness of having to Force choke one of his subordinates to lower the decorum of a proper “goodbye.”
Rogue One final fight.
I am hesitant to write too much about this one; I cannot do it justice. Visually, it’s as good as any Darth Vader moment in any of the Star Wars films. The sheer terror on the faces of the Rebel troops really makes this scene work. Not to mention the incredible lighting, using shadows and darkness to full effect. There is a reason the entire galaxy feared Darth Vader. This scene is the perfect encapsulation why. Seriously, just watch it.
“No, I am your father.”
This is the big one and if I were listing these in order of awesomeness, it would likely take the top spot. The moment Darth Vader (the primary villain) reveals to Luke Skywalker (the primary hero) that he is Luke’s father is quite possibly the biggest plot twist, jaw-dropper in the history of film. No one saw it coming. In fact, like Luke initially, we all had a very hard time believing it was true. How could Darth Vader be Luke’s father? Obi-Wan said Darth Vader killed Luke’s father, didn’t he? Who is lying? This moment – “No, I am your father” – rocked our collective minds. It still does.
But, it would be a disservice to one of the greatest films of all time to only focus on one moment from the climax. To me, everything about that final confrontation is pitch perfect. From the early cat-and-mouse fight in the chamber where Han Solo was frozen in carbonite, to the realization that Vader is far too powerful as he effortlessly tosses random things at Luke using the Force. Darth Vader is almost toying with Luke at this point. It’s not a fair fight; Luke is in way over his head.
Up to this point, we believed Vader was powerful and strong and intimidating. But, we also believed Luke was the hero of this story and the hero wins in the end. The Empire Strikes Back smashes our expectations and gave us something grander and more rewarding than we could have envisioned. The hero loses. Not only that, but he also finds out the world, the people he trusts, and everything in his life are far more complicated than he ever could have imagined.
“No, I am your father” opened new worlds for storytelling. It shattered and then remade the long-established hero’s quest. It proved, once and for all, that crowd-pleasing entertainment didn’t have to stick to the tried and true. Rules could be bent or broken. Risks should be taken. This moment changed movies forever.
Darth Vader defeats the Emperor and saves Luke’s life.
We come full circle. In the end, the villain remembers who he is and what that means, and he saves the hero and the rest of the galaxy. Throughout the original Star Wars films, we don’t get a deep dive into Darth Vader’s psyche. His transformation from terror-inducing Sith lord to a father who sacrifices himself to save his son is painted in broad strokes. We are never privy to internal dialogue or introspective flashbacks. Yet none of that matters. What we are given is enough to not only make us believe but to care. And this is all the more impressive when we consider that Darth Vader is masked for his entire character arc.
In the climax of The Return of the Jedi, the Emperor is on the verge of completely wiping out the Rebel forces as well as either turning Luke to the Dark Side or killing him. Luke makes his choice, refusing the Emperor’s offer, so the Emperor begins to gleefully torture him. As he hits Luke over and over with Force lightning, Darth Vader looks on. Every emotion we need to feel as an audience is somehow, magically, communicated with body language, music, and camera angles. As fellow Rambling Ever On writer, Daniel Speer, put it to me, “The way [Dark Vader] looks back and forth in the mask, you can FEEL the conflict within him.”
Vader’s internal conflict is written all over his mask, all over his body, and all over the film. He reaches a breaking point and finally chooses to make the right decision for the first time in decades. He picks up the Emperor and tosses him down a reactor shaft. Darth Vader saves his son and the day. Knowing who this character has been for three films, we feel the immense weight of this moment. As a kid, Darth Vader’s decision to save his son spoke volumes to me. It declared that hope is never lost, forgiveness is possible, and redemption is always right around the corner.
What about you? Let us know in the comments your favorite Darth Vader moments in the Star Wars films. We always love to hear from our readers.
(All images and videos are property of Disney and Lucasfilm.)
- Primarily. There have been other actors to don the Darth Vader costume since the original trilogy. ↩