Study Guide

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Darth Vader (James Earl Jones)

Darth Vader (James Earl Jones)

Before we get into this, we've gotta ask: Raise your hand if you think of James Earl Jones when someone mentions Darth Vader. Are you all raising your hands?

Put 'em down, cause James Earl Jones is not the only Darth Vader out there.

In fact, Darth Vader is portrayed by a whole slew of actors throughout the Star Wars movies. Vader is actually played by three different actors in Return of the Jedi alone. Here's who we've got:

  • James Earl Jones as Darth Vader's voice
  • David Prowse as Darth Vader all suited up
  • Sebastian Shaw as Darth Vader unmasked (a.k.a. Anakin Skywalker)

You were kind of right that James Earl Jones is Darth Vader. At least his voice is the one consistent thing we have going here. You can put your hands… halfway up.

Now that we've got that cleared up…

The Darth Side

Darth Vader proves that, sometimes, we really do get a second chance to make a first impression. He starts the film as the Emperor's icy guard dog, but, by the end, Vader is reduced to a repentant puppy.

Darth Vader's introduction in Return of the Jedi screams "evil." He's decked out in black armor from head to toe, dons a menacing, skull-like mask, and speaks through a voice box that lowers his tone a couple of ominous octaves.

Vader struts onto the Death Star like he owns it, and wastes no time in threatening the crew:

DARTH VADER: You may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander. I'm here to put you back on schedule.

MOFF JERJERROD: I assure you, Lord Vader, my men are working as fast as they can.

DARTH VADER: Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them.

It's clear that when he says "motivation," he's not talking about installing a frozen yogurt machine on the flight deck. For Darth Vader, intimidation is the name of the game.

The Force is strong in Darth Vader—even stronger than it is in Luke or Obi-Wan—and Vader uses it for personal gain. He's #TeamDarkSide all the way, placing him in stark contrast to his son and his former mentor. Vader uses anger and fear to control everyone with whom he comes into contact… and he does so in a cold, calculating, almost rational way that's ten times scarier than if he was an unhinged, bloviating nutjob like the Emperor.

Think about it: When you were a little kid and broke a dish, spilled Hawaiian Punch all over the rug, or blew off curfew, it was way more frightening when Mom didn't get upset, right? Sorry for comparing your mom to Darth Vader.

Somebody Get This Dude Some Self-Help Books

What gives, then? Why is Darth Vader such a stone-cold menace? In short, he's given up on himself. Yoda warns Luke that if one heads down the path to the Dark Side, it's virtually impossible to make a U-turn. That's exactly where Vader is: He's stuck. He's convinced that he's a lost cause. "It is too late for me, son," Vader tells Luke as he hands his own kid over to a pack of Imperial stormtroopers. "The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force." Vader is resigned to his fate as the second-biggest baddie in the galaxy. Womp womp.

Ironically, for all of the fear he cultivates in others, the biggest scaredy-cat in the galaxy is actually Darth Vader himself. Luke insists that there's a good guy buried beneath all those yards of black fabric, but Darth Vader denies it—and by "it" we mean not just Luke's claims that Vader isn't a lost cause, but also Luke's love, period.

When Luke says to Vader, "I feel the good in you, the conflict" he hits the nail on the head. Darth Vader wants to change his ways—you know, like stop murdering people and being a deadbeat dad—but he's too chicken to try. The Force may be über-strong in him, but his faith in himself? Not so much.

Better Late Than Never

Ultimately, Darth Vader is a tragic figure—and we're not just talking about his fashion choices. When Vader saves Luke from the Emperor—and then tosses the Emperor down a reactor shaft for good measure—he starts atoning for his past mistakes and purging himself of the decades of havoc he wreaked on the galaxy. Then, when he asks Luke to remove his mask so he can look upon his son with his own eyes, Darth Vader dies. Not literally—that won't happen for another minute or so.

Rather, we mean Darth Vader, in all of his over-the-top evil Sith posturing, kicks the bucket. Just check out this loving Papa Anakin (played by Sebastian Shaw) that comes out:

DARTH VADER: Now, go, my son. Leave me.

LUKE: No, you're coming with me. I'll not leave you here. I've got to save you.

DARTH VADER: You already have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister you were right.

Suddenly, Anakin's a family man, focused on righting wrongs with the son he tried to murder and the daughter he never met. The timing may royally suck, but Anakin Skywalker is reborn and ready to be redeemed, if only for a moment.

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