In the topic of greatest villains of all time, it is almost guaranteed that Darth Vader will show up within the top 10, and for good reason. The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker is one that almost mimics Shakespearean drama, and had a profound effect on my view of villains.
The story of the man who would become Darth Vader is not one of happiness. Anakin Skywalker was a young force sensitive boy that was taken in by two Jedi: Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was seen as the Child of Prophecy: a child born of the Force, that would bring balance, and destroy the Sith. Through training, Anakin soon grew to be a fantastic Jedi in his own right, but was not granted the rank of Jedi Master, even becoming the first member of the Jedi Council without that title. This was due to Anakin’s emotional state. Emotions play a vital role in Star Wars, and heavily amplify the Force. Anakin was more emotional than all of the other young trainees in the Jedi Academy, often ridiculed for it. The dark side of the Force specifically feeds off of emotions. Frustration, anger, hate; all amp the power tapped into by the Sith. Following the death of his mother at the hands of the ruthless Tusken Raiders, Anakin lashed out in a fit of anger and fury, massacring the village responsible. Men, women, children, it did not matter to Anakin. He was merciless, brutal; a sign of the future for Anakin. He further fell from grace in the eyes of the Jedi when he was coerced by Chancellor Palpatine to kill the Sith Lord Douku. A momentary lapse of judgement that Anakain felt remorse for immediately after. This tarnished his reputation in the eyes of the Jedi Order even further, which is when the order would promote Anakin to a council seat, without the title of Master. Frustrated and plagued with new nightmares of the love of his life dying, Anakin slowly fell into moral turmoil. When promised a way to save her, Anakin placed his trust in someone he never should have: Chancellor Palpatine, the undercover Emperor of the Sith. With his new found power of the dark side of the Force, Anakin became the newly anointed Darth Vader.
Darth Vader’s first act was to help carry out the fateful Order 66: the extermination of every Jedi. Blood was now on his hands, and the life he once knew was all but forgotten. Ultimately he would lose a battle with Obi-Wan, leaving him for dead and without most of his limbs. The Emperor would rescue him on the lava planet of Mustafar, and transform him into the man that we have come to know as Darth Vader. With his new cyborg body, Darth Vader would become the strongest member of the Empire, and one of the strongest of the Jedi or Sith.
Vader’s storyline comes to a close during the last of the Original Trilogy movies: The Return of the Jedi. Vader does his best to persuade his son, Luke, to the dark side, and help him take down the Emperor so that they can rule the galaxy together as father and son. After a brief duel with Luke, Vader loses (having not put his all into the fight because he didn’t want to kill him), and the Emperor tries to kill Luke. Vader sacrifices his life to kill the Emperor, and ultimately ends up fulfilling the prophecy that plagued his life. The balance of the Force, which had been in a constant state of flux since before Anakin’s time, was finally righted. No longer were there the overly virtuous and emotionless Jedi Order, and no longer were there the hateful and vengeful Sith. The Force was finally free from the extremist attitude of both sides. Anakin had brought balance and destroyed the Sith.
What I enjoy about Darth Vader is that he is quite possibly the most intimidating and iconic villain to ever exist. The scene that always comes to mind whenever I think of Darth Vader is the hallway scene of Rogue One. Nothing can quite strike fear into your heart than the illumination of that red lightsaber in a pitch black hallway. At that point, there was no escape, no chance of survival for the rebel soldiers. Moving away from the movies, another scene that helps illustrate just how terrifying and cold Darth Vader can be, is from the Vader Down series published by Marvel. The scene in question sees Darth Vader surrounded by Rebel troops. They call out for him to surrender, and Vader simply responds by igniting his lightsaber and spouting one of the coldest, greatest one liners of all time: “All I am surrounded by is fear, and dead men.” They never stood a chance.
Darth Vader is quite possibly the epitome of great Villains in media. There’s a reason why he is consistently in the top 5 of every “Greatest Villain of All Time” list. He is cold, calculating, and ruthless. But we have also seen him grow up, and become the man he was before his turn to the dark side. He had the potential to become the greatest Jedi of all time, but for once, the hero turns to the side of evil, and stays there. A welcome change to the formula, and one that makes him all the better.