How Rogue One Provided the Template for Darth Vader Appearances
Vader’s appearance in 2016’s Rogue One lays out a pretty clear framework for how the character can best play a supporting role in an anthology film. The Dark Lord of the Sith’s first scene in the movie — in which he talks with Director Krennic — is a great example of using the villain unnecessarily. Seeing him was exciting, because he hadn’t appeared on-screen since 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. However, his role could have been filled by Grand Moff Tarkin or any other ranking Imperial. Although the scene helped flesh out Krennic, it didn’t actually do much for Vader’s character or the plot. A more story-driven scene could have done the same thing for Krennic’s character, and potentially another, lesser seen, character.
In contrast, the ending scene — in which Vader cuts down a group of Rebel soldiers as he boards the blockade runner on which A New Hope starts — worked well because it helped tie Rogue One directly into the original trilogy. As Rogue One was about setting in motion the events of A New Hope, it makes sense to involve Vader in this context in order to tie the two movies together. Vader’s purpose in that scene is less about character development and more about helping to orient the audience by putting the movie’s events in context. Depending on the film, it might not always be necessary to have a scene like that. It just so happens that Rogue One and A New Hope are heavily linked, so the former benefits from having one.
The problem with bringing Vader into the Han Solo movie is that it’s difficult to see why the character might be necessary to the spinoff. It’s unlikely that there will be any clear ways to tie the two movies together, as the time-gap between the Han Solo film and A New Hope means movie probably won’t end with Han in a Mos Eisley cantina waiting for Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi to walk in. The movie is meant to explore Solo and his companions/enemies as characters rather than to bridge the gap between two films, so Vader can’t possibly serve the same purpose that he did at the end of Rogue One.
Having Vader in Han Solo also poses problems to the original trilogy. There’s no indication that Solo knew Vader by anything other than reputation at the start of A New Hope, and how much he knows and understands about the Dark Lord of the Sith is vague at best. Throughout the original trilogy, Solo doesn’t seem to understand Vader’s powers or the Force until he’s seen them firsthand. Early in A New Hope, Solo tells Luke, “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” It’s clear from that interaction that Solo doesn’t think much of the Force or lightsabers. This is further illustrated in The Empire Strikes Back; following an attempt to shoot Vader with a blaster, Han is surprised when the Sith rips it from his hand using the Force. It wouldn’t make much sense for Solo to have seen Darth Vader in action and to remain so naive about the villain’s abilities and the Force. As such, any significant interaction between the two risks creating some pretty monumental plot holes.
So with an interaction between Solo and Vader all but an impossibility, how might the Dark Lord of the Sith factor into the film? There’s a chance that he could interact with a new character — much like he did with Krennic in Rogue One — or even Lando, who betrays Han in Empire Strikes Back. However, as with Krennic, it may be better to save that time for interactions between the new characters so as to flesh them out more. The dynamics between Solo and those important to his story at this stage in his life are important; Darth Vader isn’t. Even if it’s only one scene, it’s better to have that interaction occur between characters whose stories matter to the film rather than as fan-service.
Vader’s role may only be a short cameo, but that still sets a dangerous precedent for future anthology films to elevate fan-service over good storytelling. It’s always exciting to see Vader in a Star Wars movie, but continuing to use him will result in his value fading. He’s simply not necessary to many potential anthology stories, and relying on him too much risks depriving filmmakers of the opportunity to explore situations and characters that might never come into contact with important people from the main series.
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