When he first strode down the hallway of that rebel ship at the start of A New Hope in 1977 (known merely as Star Wars back then), Darth Vader redefined the movie bad guy. His presence was felt the moment he stepped through the smoke and over the bodies of rebel soldiers, confronting Princess Leia over the missing Death Star plans. He was so iconic that moviegoers booed when they first saw him in that pivotal scene.
Since then, we’ve learned that there’s much more to the Sith Lord than being a 6-foot choking hazard with a bad throat condition. Over the course of three (much-maligned) prequel movies — as well as more than a couple of shocking twists in the original trilogy — we learn about his former life as Anakin Skywalker, and his tragic turn to the Dark Side. These revelations showed a different side to the villain, highlighting his vulnerabilities, showing that he’s not the unstoppable force of darkness that we were introduced to. This has prompted another look at Vader’s history across movies, comics and games, and we at CBR have uncovered that Darth Vader isn’t as foreboding as he first seems. Here are 15 times Darth Vader was a coward, or lost!
15. TURNING TO THE DARK SIDE
Let’s just address the elephant in the room, shall we? The man that was Anakin Skywalker lost the moment he embraced the Dark Side of the Force, becoming a Sith apprentice under Darth Sidious. Choosing to turn his back on the Jedi was the coward’s way out, there’s no two ways about it; and because of that decision, everything that follows would always be a loss.
There’s no denying that Anakin’s back story, involving the tragedy of his upbringing and the hubris of the Jedi Council that bordered on arrogance all played a part in his downfall. Master Yoda wasn’t lying, however, when he talked about the path to the Dark Side. Fear, anger, hate, suffering were all on Anakin’s path to becoming Darth Vader, and had he chosen the braver yet absolutely harder path of the Jedi, Palpatine would have failed.
14. CAN’T TURN HIS SON
Something that reinforces the first entry on this list, the comparisons between father and son, Anakin and Luke, were scattered throughout the original trilogy. The foreshadowing of Luke’s visions on Dagobah were proof that young Skywalker was only ever a moment of weakness away from the Dark Side, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
Palpatine knew it, too. He played Luke like a fiddle because he knew that there is no such thing as a person made entirely out of good or bad, and that the line between the two is always razor-thin. Luke’s ultimate victory, however, only served to highlight Vader’s defeat. Luke proved that you can face the Dark Side and defeat it, something that Anakin was always doomed to fail at because he was far too afraid to succeed.
13. SPUN OUT AT THE BATTLE OF YAVIN
The first real confrontation between the rebels and the Empire in the original trilogy was the Battle of Yavin. In this pivotal final scene of A New Hope, the rebel pilots, pursued by Vader, travel down a tight trench along the Death Star’s hull, attempting to fire torpedoes into an exhaust port. Luke switches off his targeting array and chooses to trust in the Force, and Vader seizes his moment. Drawing close for the kill, Vader is suddenly taken out by a last minute interjection of Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon.
Wait, how did Vader miss the arrival of the Falcon? This is a Sith Lord, the most powerful Sith Lord in the galaxy, under his master Sidious. The truth is, Vader was both cocky and afraid that this young pilot (Luke) could succeed; this clearly clouded his judgement and his connection to the Force.
12. BERATED BY PALPATINE
After the destruction of the Death Star, you don’t see Darth Vader again until he’s tracked down the rebels to their new base on the ice planet of Hoth in the start of the sequel, Empire Strikes Back. Thanks to the new canon of the Marvel comics, however, we get to see the consequences of the Empire’s first major loss to the rebels.
In the very first issue of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca’s Darth Vader series, the Emperor gives Vader a stern telling off, declaring the loss of the Death Star as the “greatest military disaster in all my Empire’s history,” that his Imperial rule has never come closer to complete failure, and that it’s all Vader’s fault. There’s some minor (unsuccessful) protesting on Vader’s part, but the expansion of this pivotal time is key to understanding just how disappointed the Emperor really is.
11. LOSING THE HIGHER GROUND
This is the moment where Anakin was truly lost, at least in his former master Obi Wan Kenobi’s eyes anyway. Their climactic battle on the volcanic hellscape of Mustafar was a tense, dramatic and action-packed sequence that fans had been promised for nearly 30 years, and for the most part it did not disappoint.
In what feels like a recurring theme for this list, once again, Anakin — officially accepting the new mantle of Darth Vader at this point — let his emotions (his fear and his anger especially) overwhelm him, and made a poor strategic decision, allowing Obi Wan to claim the higher ground. Obi Wan, being a learned student, has pulled himself out of worse situations (in his battle with Darth Maul in Episode 1, he won despite literally hanging on a ledge below the Sith warrior), but Anakin, in his terror and blind rage, cannot pull himself back from defeat.
Less of a moment of failure for Darth Vader the person, this was more of a failure of Darth Vader the character. As mentioned previously, when he was first introduced, Vader was a mysterious, scary and unstoppable villain. By the end of the prequel trilogy, however, we’ve seen every ugly weakness that led him to the Dark Side, and not many moments felt as disappointing as this one.
Having just been rescued from certain death thanks to losing to Obi Wan on Mustafar, Anakin — or what’s left of his broken, charred body — is kept alive thanks to the instantly recognizable black armor of Darth Vader. He truly became the iconic Sith Lord for the first time, and what is his first act? Screaming into the air, shaking his fists in a moment that seems like a betrayal of the character, and is ultimately more funny than tragic.
9. THE EMPEROR’S STOOGE
As we touched on previously when talking about his stern telling off in the comics, it’s clear from the original trilogy that the Emperor has Vader wrapped right around his finger. After failing to turn his son to the Dark Side, The Sith Lord is seen to be blindly serving his master in a cowardly display of fealty, and this is where Vader truly fails.
Near the end of Return of the Jedi — as Luke inches perilously close to striking down the Emperor, Palpatine sits there smiling. That’s what he wants, what his true victory looks like: the defeat of the last Jedi. Vader has always failed him and will always fail him because Vader is content to always be number two, and it’s this lack of courage, this sign of a truly broken man that shows the Emperor he will never be what he always wanted of him.
8. TURNING HIS BACK ON PADME
Not even true love could turn him back from the Dark Side. Some would argue that his love for Padme was just another step on the dark path, certainly his masters in the Jedi Council would. Love is forbidden in the Jedi code, as it can lead to fear and anger and, well, you know the rest. So Anakin kept his love a secret from the Council, and it was a weakness that led to his downfall.
In a set of circumstances that pretty much lays out exactly why love is forbidden for Jedi, Anakin and Padme’s relationship only instills more fear in the Jedi apprentice, he starts getting visions of her death, visions of his failure, and this sense of perma-angst only accelerates his turn towards Palpatine, who promises him that the Sith are so powerful that they can reverse Death itself.
7. ATTACK ON HOTH
When this opening scene of Empire Strikes Back played out, it felt like a decisive victory for the Empire. Facing the destruction of their Death Star at the end of the previous movie, Imperial forces have tracked down the rebels at their new base and — in an impressive show of force with AT-AT walkers — destroy the compound and the Rebels escape, fleeing off the planet.
The trouble for Darth Vader, however, is in that last sentence: the rebels escape. Sure, maybe some of them die in the skirmish and more in the escape, but the majority of them seemingly live to fight another day. What’s more, all of the important players survive. Han, Leia, Luke, not to mention the leaders of the Rebellion forces all make it out alive and ultimately are the ones that strike back. Suddenly Vader’s victory feels a little hollow.
6. NOT KNOWING HE HAD KIDS
It turns out that it’s pretty simple to hide a Sith Lord’s own children from him. Seeming to accept without question the Emperor’s lies that they died with Padme (or at least, not willing to check to see if that was the case), Darth Vader let’s out a large “NOOOOOOO!” and moves on with his life.
Is it hubris? Is it blind faith in his master? Maybe it’s another failing entirely, but Luke and Leia grow up without Vader knowing who they are. It’s never explained in the movies how Vader finds out that Luke is his son, or if the Emperor knew about the kids all along, but it wouldn’t be surprising if that was all part of his master plan. If that’s the case, it just proves that Palpatine was making arrangements for Vader’s failures right from the start.
5. ORDER 66
This was a loss for the Empire period, but a failure on Anakin’s part, specifically. Following Palpatine’s rise to power in the senate, a quiet order is given to all of the troopers in the Republic’s Clone Army. A seemingly innocuous code — Order 66 — is given, and with that the troopers turn on their Jedi allies, slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands of warriors.
Anakin Skywalker had recently bent the knee to Palpatine, and rose as his new Sith apprentice Darth Vader. One of his first acts was to engage in Order 66, storming the Jedi Palace and mercilessly killing the Younglings — Jedi Children. A cowardly move in and of itself, but his obsession with Obi Wan and Padme leads him to abandon his duties, leading to his defeat on Mustafar and as such, Order 66 isn’t nearly as thorough as the Emperor would have liked.
4. BEAT DOWN BY A JEDI WARRIOR
If you’ve not been reading them, the Darth Vader comics from Marvel over the last few years have been consistently great. The first series (mentioned earlier) filled in the gap between episodes IV and V. This new series, by Charles Soule and Giuseppe Camuncoli, picks up right where episode III left off.
Entitled “The Chosen One,” the first arc in the series sees Palpatine send Vader on his first real mission as his apprentice: round up and wipe out any remaining Jedi following Order 66 (see above.) The first Vader encounters is a disciplined warrior named Kirak Infil’a, and it’s safe to say he wipes the floor with Vader. Thoroughly beating him, the Jedi Master crushes Vader’s mechanical legs from under him and throws him into a canyon to his death. The dark lord rises back up from the ashes, but a hard and painful lesson is learned that day.
3. LOSING AN ARM TO DOOKU
Taking place prior to Anakin’s turn to the Dark Side, this early defeat in his career as a Jedi would haunt him, emotionally and physically, and only serve to accelerate his transformation into Darth Vader. During the lead-up to the Clone Wars, the Jedi forces descend on the nefarious Count Dooku, leading to a lightsaber battle between him, Anakin and Obi Wan at the end of Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Dooku is an experienced student of the Dark Side, however, and Obi Wan is soon taken out, leaving the relatively inexperienced Anakin to face Dooku alone. The Count senses the darkness in the young Jedi, but a protracted battle ends in Anakin losing his arm thanks to Dooku’s saber. Not only does this begin his long journey of cyborg enhancements, but it leads to a hatred of Dooku that reaches a fatal climax in Episode III.
2. BETRAYED BY STARKILLER
In the awesome (but sadly no longer canonical) Star Wars: Force Unleashed games from Lucasarts, a secret plot line is uncovered that bridges the gap between Episodes III and IV. In this story, it transpires that Vader — whilst rounding up and killing remaining Jedi after Order 66 — comes across a child strong in the Force. Unbeknownst to the Emperor, Vader raises this child and trains him as his apprentice.
Vader’s ultimate goal, while using “Starkiller” to murder any remaining Jedi, is to train him so that together they can overthrow the Emperor and rule the galaxy. This kind of strength is only explored once in the movies, when Vader attempts to turn Luke, but similarly to that moment, Starkiller also refuses the accept the Dark Side. His betrayal is a major blow to Vader and, with Starkiller’s help, the Rebellion is truly born.
1. LOST THE DEATH STAR PLANS
Bringing us right up to date with the movies, and full circle in terms of the actual timeline, we always knew that Darth Vader couldn’t prevent the plans for the Death Star falling into the hands of the rebellion. It is, after all, the incident that sparked off the events of the very first movie back in 1977. Thanks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, however, we get to see just how bitter that defeat was.
Rogue One has been praised by many for being a prequel that improves the original movies, and it’s easy to see why. The final few moments only serve to increase the tension felt at the start of Episode IV, due to just how close Vader came to securing those plans. His swath of destruction is relentless, but in the end he is defeated, and that failure permeates through the rest of the films.
Do you think Vader deserves his fearsome rep, or was he just a cowardly failure? Let us know in the comments!
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