The Darth Vader of ‘Star Wars: Rebels’

In an earlier post I analysed Hayden Christensen’s and Jake Lloyd’s portrayals of Anakin Skywalker from the point of view that our expectations of the character of Darth Vader may determine our response to the acting. In that post, but also in one on connections between Anakin and Jar Jar, I presented a Darth Vader who grew out of the naïve and genuine, yet damaged and wounded soul of the slave-boy and jedi-outcast who was Anakin Skywalker. In this weeks premiere of Rebels we saw the first major re-appearance of Darth Vader after Revenge of the Sith. And what a reappearance it was as reviewed here. I want to briefly focus here on the question what this reappearance tells us about Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader.It’s about the Apprentice, Stupid!

For those who followed the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series the moment of Ahsoka leaving the Jedi Order was a heart-breaking experience. But within the context of our current question it is not about the emotionality of it for us as fans, but Ahsoka-Leavesabout the profoundness of the link between Anakin and Ahsoka that was so clearly revealed. Ahsoka’s “I know …” to Anakin’s remark regarding his desire to leave the order was saying so much more than just that she factually knew it. It was an acceptance of his rogueness and his existence as a near-outcast within the Jedi Order. It was an acceptance of the fact that she shared that with him, most probably also partially due to his mentorship. Their Master-{adawan relationship was not just the functional relationship that Jedi consider it to be, but it was one involving a lot more attachment. Ahsoka was more Anakin’s little sister than ‘just another apprentice’.

There has been an Awakening

Ahsoka and Anakin went through crucial experiences together during The Clone Wars whose combined impact was neatly visualized in the AnakinsavesAhsoka'slife-AOMMortis Arc of season three. First of all towards the end of that arc Ahsoka falls to the Dark Side and dies, yet Anakin re-awakens her from Death due to the sacrifice of the Sister representing the Light Side of the Force. Note that such a re-awakening is a completely singular event in Star Wars canon. It has never happened anywhere else or to anyone else. This was authored by Lucas and Filoni and it would be unwise to view it as ‘just another visual scene’. Furthermore we know from subsequent episodes, including the very last in Season 6 that Anakin has a good an detailed memory of the events occurring on Mortis. The only thing that was erased from his memory was what he saw of his own future.

An appearance of ‘old Ahsoka’ from her own future disclosed to her that her future would be bleak if she would stay with this Master Skywalker. Just after Ahsoka’s fall, in that arc, but before her resurrection by Anakin, clonewars316-3she battles him after trying to win him over to the dark Side as well. In that fight you can see how well she knows Anakin’s style and strengths and how well he knows hers. So the two characters have been through an experience of dissent, conflict, death and resurrection together. Not only would you expect that to be extremely bonding, but also something that will come into play massively if they meet again on opposite sides after Ahsoka’s departure from the Order.

“The Apprentice lives”

In the Star Wars: Rebels premiere to season two, towards the end of the episode, Ahsoka and Darth Vader recognize eachother. Ahsoka_senses_Darth_VaderAhsoka responds in an extreme way. The revelation clearly shocks her down to her core. Was this just the shock of ‘Oh my goodness, my former Master turned Sith Lord’? Or was this also a Mortis-related after shock that things are coming to pass that she has been forewarned about? That there is a situation in her future ahead that she has lived through once before, but in a mirror image?

Vader senses his former apprentice as well, but in a sudden change of tone he talks about ‘the apprentice’ that lives and not ‘my (former) apprentice’. But interestingly enough, his following command to the Imperial Fleet commanders is not ‘destroy that Rebel Scum’ but is ‘I want them alive’! There are two later instances, in the Original Trilogy, in which Darth Vader wants to see prisoners brought to him alive and in both cases it involves Luke and Leia. In a very direct way, Vader is still the Anakin that responds to ties and attachments. Anakin-Skywalker-SW-ep-III-Sidious-Revealed-anakin-skywalker-13346680-852-480What binds him to the Emperor is not an attachment, that was broken explicitly in Revenge of the Sith. Not only does Anakin express a desire to kill Palpatine when the Chancellor discloses himself as a Sith Lord, he also immediately offers Padme to join Anakin in a quest to kill the Emperor and rule as a couple. There is no attachment any longer between Anakin Skywalker and Palpatine after the events of the End of the Republic.

“Join me …”

When Darth Vader faces Luke in The Empire Strikes Back he asks Luke to join him, as his son(!) to replace the Emperor. Though this may seem like the typical Sith treachery it is different. If Darth vader would have been the typical Sith traitor he would have found plenty of good possible Apprentices to try and turn to his side when exterminating everyone in the Sith Temple. Yet he raised his weapon against them before he even asked. When he engages in the duel with Luke on Bespin, he already knows. This is not a duel that should decide who lives and who dies. This is a duel to turn Luke over to his side. He raises no weapon against Padme until after her rejection of him and even then, his attachments stand in the way of what he probably has believed he had done … kill her. obi-wan-kenobi-and-anakin-skywalker_86937_1His first force-choke of the Saga is as much an emotional act of anger as are all his later force-chokes. But note how Obi Wan ignites his weapon before Anakin does. He does not offer Obi Wan to join him explicitly, but he does say it between the lines. Anakin lives by his attachments, his loyalties and the ones he invites to join him to destroy the Emperor are always only those that he feels attached to.

I think that Darth Sidious knows this to be true about Darth Vader. I actually think it is a key reason why the two Sith Lords of the Empire do not rule it as a union of two. From his first appearance in A New Hope it is perfectly clear that Vader is not the second in command in the Empire. Leia even muses that Tarkin is holding Vader’s leash, which of course he indeed is. Tarkin is much closer to being a second in command than Darth Vader. It is a subtle sign that deep inside Darth Vader the Anakin Skywalker who joins people he feels attached to is still alive. The Emperor knows this to be true … and fears it.

A New Apprentice?

With the return of Ahsoka Tano into Darth Vader’s life, painful memories of who Anakin could have been are also stirred within Vader. Yet he responds consistently as he always has. The attachment he feels to Ahsoka stops him in his chase to destroy the Rebels. Just like he reports Luke to the Emperor and pleads for a chance at ‘turning Luke’ so does he eagerly follow the Emperor’s suggestion that a living Ahsoka is of more use than a dead one. The Emperor underestimates Ahsoka Tano, which is most clearly illustrated by the fact that he believes a further Inquisitor can actually do her any harm … if he only But Darth Vader cannot be mistaken about Ahsoka’s capacities with a lightsaber, he has trained her. Palpatine has underestimated their bond before, in the trial in season 5 of The Clone Wars, just as he underestimated the bond between Anakin and Obi Wan aboard the Invisible Hand during the Separatist attach on Coruscant. Killing his own Master in his sleep, Darth Sidious knows everything about treachery and nothing about attachment.

Anakin Skywalker knows this, he experienced Palpatine’s treachery first-hand when he ordered him to kill Count Dooku, of which he must have realised later that this was Sidious’ apprentice. He feels no attachment to Sidious, only hatred and, probably, a deep and unsettling sense of guilt. Ahsoka can still touch his soul such that Anakin feels it, as we have seen in Star Wars: Rebels now.

In the Rebels Recon of Siege of Lothal it is clearly expressed by the people ‘on the story’ that Darth Vader will sense a threat from and a hate for Ahsoka as she connects him to who he was. But evidently this is not the cold and dis-attached hatred Vader feels for Palpatine. This is the hatred coming from pain that he screams out at Obi Wan (and which Obi Wan responds to by disclosing his broken attachment!). Padme’s broken attachment to Anakin leads her into the solitude of death, Obi Wan’s broken attachment to Anakin leads him into the solitude of Tatooine’s Jundland wastes. Anakin’s broken attachment to Palpatine leads him into the solitary darkness of Darth Vader’s suit. But within that singular loneliness his attachment to Padme survives (the much maligned “Noooo!!” of Revenge of the Sith testifies to that) as does his attachment to Ahsoka.

The Darth Vader of Rebels is a Darth Vader in the prime of his battle prowess, who clearly is put on a second-rate position within the Empire. A decade of distrust from the Emperor on his shoulders. This is the Vader who would have fought the Emperor with Obi Wan, who would have betrayed the Emperor for Padme and who will fight Sidious with Ahsoka if she accepts his offer to turn to his dark side. We know that half a decade after the current moment in Rebels, Darth Vader is still subjugated to Tarkin. However this wonderfully exciting face-off between the Darth Vader of Rebels and Ahsoka Tano plays out, Anakin Skywalker’s attachments to Ahsoka will be crucial and if the Emperor had any inkling of the formidable team these two could form … all his season 2 and season 3 nights would be sleepless. The Darth Vader we see a few minutes into A New Hope is the one that has come out of this confrontation with Ahsoka!


5 thoughts on “The Darth Vader of ‘Star Wars: Rebels’

  1. In Clone Wars when the Daughter (the Light Side of the Force) is sacrificed to save Ahsoka (the one Anakin is ‘attached to’), this seems to very much parallel what occurs in Revenge of the Sith when Anakin sacrifices the Light Side of the Force within himself to join the Dark Side in order to save the one he’s attached to (Padme). I’m not certain if this was intentional after-the-fact foreshadowing on the part of the writers of the Clone Wars, but it certainly makes sense given the nature of that entire arc in the Clone Wars series since the whole thing is basically a metaphor packed with foreshadowing of what is to come later in the Star Wars saga.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of Darth Vader’s confrontation with Ahsoka. I’m sure there will be moments of emotional exchanges and debates about switching sides which is great, I just hope there are also some epic Force/Lightsaber battles between the two. I’ve been waiting for this ever since Ahsoka left the Jedi Order and escaped Order 66.

    The Padawan has returned and I’m hopeful that when she does clash with her former Master, that she will leave him with some kind of long lasting scar(s), especially since it will most likely result in her death. ‘Snips’ owes Anakin for abandoning everything they spent all those years fighting for and turning on his teachers and dearest friends. We know that Anakin will survive this conflict to one day fulfill the prophecy of the chosen one (since he is after all the one who actually ‘destroys the Sith’ by dispatching the Emporer in Return of the Jedi and all, NOT Luke Skywalker, thus bringing balance to the Force), but Ahsoka deserves to get her licks in after what she’s been through, most of which has come to pass due to her former Master’s betrayal of the Order.


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