As if the new Star Wars movie wasn’t looking enough like an exercise in nostalgia with the rumors about the return of the original core cast, now we’re being told that Darth Vader may be back from the dead in the still-untitled Episode 7. It’s so almost a good idea, but ultimately so far from being one…
As with any kind of attempt to bring back a much-beloved character, there are obvious reasons for and against the idea. Let’s start with the most obvious, most blunt fact in favor of a reborn Darth Vader: He is, by far, the most memorable character in the entire series, at least in terms of visuals (I think you can make an argument in terms of characterization, as well, even if you ignore the prequel trilogy all together; Vader goes from essentially-silent enforcer in the first movie to central character of the series by the end of the third, after all); his absence is keenly felt in the prequel trilogy, with the various attempts to replace him falling flat for various reasons (including, in General Greivous’ case, the fact that he looked as ridiculous as he did threatening. “Oh, it’s a skinny droid with a lot of arms!”). Bringing him back for the new movies not only has a certain merchandise-friendly appeal, it also fills a gap that impacted the previous three movies.
And then, the most obvious con: Darth Vader is dead.
Okay, maybe that looks like a cheap shot when put that bluntly, but still: Bringing back Darth Vader undoes the narrative arc of the six movies that already exist – or, at least, the redemptive arc for Anakin Skywalker that runs through at least The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi – by either retconning Vader/Skywalker’s rejection of his servitude in favor of protecting his family (Something that has narrative echoes with Anakin’s ridiculous Sandpeople rampage in Attack of The Clones) and subsequent appearance as a ghost in his Anakin form at the end of Return of The Jedi as… well, something that wasn’t really Darth Vader for whatever reason, or else by bringing the character literally back from the dead as some form of undead boogieman, which just seems to undercut the inherent optimism of the Star Wars series altogether: Even if you do the right thing in the end, you’ll end up staying a bad guy, because… that’s what you were for awhile.
And yet, thinking of things like that brings up the obvious realization that bringing Vader back makes a lot of sense because Star Wars as the movie series stands now is entirely a story about the character (or Anakin Skywalker, if that’s how you prefer him); his story, and it could be argued the story of Star Wars in general, ended in Return of The Jedi – After all, the wars of the title had ended in that movie – and continuing it without him feels a little… odd, perhaps? I’d write “unnecessary,” but I think that’s been pretty much covered already by the announcement in general.
The solution, perhaps, is for the new series to have a different Vader. It is, after all, a title and not a name, and the character’s look allows for anyone to be under that outfit without it impacting the visual recognition fans will get whenever he’s onscreen. As long as any potential Vader II has (1) good enough motivation for taking on the identity and (2) enough presence to fill the role without merely seeming like a retread of the original, it might be the best of all possible ways for the new movie to have its cake and eat it, too. Now, how quickly can someone convince Mark Hamill that Luke can only return to the new series if he turns evil and takes on his father’s legacy pretty damn quickly…?