Darth Vader is one of the most iconic villains of all time. His name is synonymous with complex, layered antagonists. His imposing form, his powerful strides, his booming voice, his skull-like death’s head of a mask, his signature breathing, have all become culturally ubiquitous. Anakin Skywalker’s actions as Darth Vader drive the plot of the original Star Wars trilogy, while the story of his fall from grace is the central plot to the prequel trilogy. He is heavily featured in the extensive lore created by the Star Wars Expanded Universe of comics, novels, video games, and television series. Vader’s legacy also plays a big role in Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens and he even re-appears again for the first time in over ten years in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Vader is a symbol of evil in popular culture, regularly topping lists of the greatest villains of all time. His image adorns nearly all Star Wars merchandise. References and quotes to the character are made with the understanding that nearly everyone will get the reference. Vader’s earth-shattering line, “No, I am your father,” is instantly recognizable, and he has been the subject of countless parodies and homages. Psychiatrists have even used the character as an example of how to identify borderline personality disorder (BPD). Darth Vader, like Hannibal Lecter, is one of those rare villains that captures the popular imagination.
Before you go see the latest adaptation of Darth Vader in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, here are 15 of the most obscure, little-known facts about everyone’s favorite Dark Lord of the Sith you might not have known. We hope you enjoy, and may the Force be with you.
15. He Had A Special Rank
Everyone knows that Darth Vader is the right-hand man of Emperor Palpatine, but few know that the Dark Lord had his own special title and rank specifically made for him. This position called “Emissary of the Emperor,” allowed him a lot of room to show up somewhere and assume command, the most famous example being the Death Star. Grand Moff Tarkin was in command of the battle station, but Vader being the Imperial emissary meant their command overlapped, with one not being necessarily higher than the other. In typical Sith fashion, playing his servants off against one another was probably just a means of ensuring that Palpatine always sits at the very top.
Being the Emperor’s apprentice made Vader de-facto second-in-command of the Empire, with other titles such as Dark Lord of the Sith and warlord. Lord Vader was Palpatine’s observer aboard the Death Star and frequently made the military officers uncomfortable. His military rank around this time is not entirely clear, but it’s assumed he was granted the title of Supreme Commander sometime afterward when he took control of the Executor, the largest Imperial warship in the fleet, and spent three years leading an attached armada of Star Destroyers on a mission to hunt down the Rebels.
14. Imperial Propaganda Says Anakin Skywalker Died in the Jedi Temple
James Luceno’s book Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader shows that in the immediate aftermath of the events of Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith most of the galaxy believes that the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker – the Chosen One – died heroically on Coruscant during the battle at the Jedi Temple. Imperial propaganda also backed up this official story, and Vader himself spent the next twenty years trying to forget his past and erasing all aspects of his previous self.
Most of the galaxy’s people living under the rule of the new Galactic Empire are also convinced that the Jedi Order not only staged a rebellion against Chancellor Palpatine, necessitating his command to exterminate the Jedi in justified retaliation but that the Jedi also had a hand in starting and even perpetuating the Clone Wars. The true story of Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side and massacre of his comrades in the Temple are almost completely unknown by the start of the original trilogy, explaining why only survivors like Obi-wan and Yoda know the horrible truth.
13. He Planned to Betray the Emperor After Learning of His Children
While fans of the movies know that Vader betrayed the Emperor at the end of Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, his motivations were never fully explained until recently. After the Battle of Yavin, Vader tasked the bounty hunter Boba Fett with finding out more about the rebel hero who destroyed the Death Star. It’s then that he’s informed of the boy’s name: Luke Skywalker. Realizing that Palpatine lied to him all these years and his children are alive, Vader becomes so angered that he cracks the viewport.
This puts his motivations into perspective and explains why he offers to help Luke overthrow the Emperor in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back. Vader planned on ditching Palpatine in the true Sith fashion and ruling the galaxy alongside his son. Even more interesting, Palpatine sensed Vader’s anger against him and reciprocated by openly looking to replace him with Luke as his new apprentice. This backstabbing opportunist arrangement is normal and expected between a Sith Master and their apprentice, as a Sith can never advance until they overthrow their master.
12. Had Three Masters and Multiple Secret Apprentices
As a Jedi, Anakin Skywalker received brief training from Qui-Gon Jinn and much more extensive training as the Padawan of Obi-wan Kenobi. At some point, he even received training from the revered Grand Master Yoda. Early in the course of the Clone Wars, Skywalker was assigned a Padawan of his own by the Jedi High Council; Ashoka Tano, a gifted Jedi who eventually left the Order. Ashoka would not be Anakin’s only apprentice, however.
After Skywalker’s transformation into Darth Vader, he took a number of Sith apprentices in secret while plotting to overthrow Palpatine as portrayed in The Force Unleashed I and II. His first secret apprentice was Galen Marek, codenamed Starkiller, who was born to Jedi fugitives killed by Vader himself during the Great Jedi Purge. Marek was trained by Vader since childhood, but Marek met his end on the Death Star shortly before the foundation of the Rebel Alliance. After this Vader created a perfect and far more powerful clone of Marek using his genetic template. This clone, called the Dark Apprentice, was trained to take Marek’s place as Vader’s new apprentice. After Marek and his clone, Vader’s next secret apprentice was Tao, a former Jedi Padawan (this story is now considered non-canon). Vader then took on a number of other apprentices, including Kharys, Lumiya, Flint, Rillao, Hethrir, and Antinnis Tremayne.
11. He Was Practicing Living Without the Mask
Many fans remember the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where the scarred back of Vader’s head is briefly seen in his meditation chamber. Vader would often make use of this pressurized meditation chamber, which allowed him to practice breathing without his helm and breathing apparatus. During such sessions, he felt the perpetual pain that his duel with Kenobi had inflicted upon him, and he used the pain to feed his hate and become stronger with the Dark Side of the Force. Vader’s ultimate goal was to become strong enough with the Dark Side that he would not need the mask for breathing.
He was only able to go without his armor for a few minutes at a time, as he would always be “happy” to be able to breathe normally, and hence would lose the ability to control his breathing through the Force because the Dark Side is not about being happy. By the time of Return of the Jedi, one of Vader’s goals in trying to turn Luke is to overthrow the Emperor with their combined strength, and also finally be able to abandon his armor prison.
10. His Identity Was A Well-Kept Secret On Set
Darth Vader being Luke Skywalker’s father is perhaps the most famous plot twist in history, and it’s easy to see how it was a closely-guarded secret during the making of The Empire Strikes Back. The filmmakers went to such great lengths to keep Vader’s true identity a secret that only five people on the set knew the shocking twist: George Lucas, Irwin Kershner (the director of ESB), co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, actor Mark Hamill (who needed to give a believable reaction), and James Earl Jones, who would speak the famous lines.
Everyone else, including Hamill’s co-stars Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, didn’t know the truth until watching the film at its premiere. While filming the iconic scene, Vader’s physical actor David Prowse was instructed to say the line, “Obi-wan killed your father,” and the line, “No, I am your father” was dubbed over at a later time. Hamill was reportedly warned not to tell anyone else on the set for fear of the big secret being leaked to the public.
9. Seven Different People Have Played Darth Vader
Actor James Earl Jones provides the world-famous deep, booming voice of Darth Vader, but in the original Star Wars trilogy, he was played by David Prowse. The 6′ 6″ British heavyweight champion Prowse provided Vader’s imposing height, build, and physical motions, but had his voice dubbed over with Jones’ because of his thick Bristol accent (about which he was reportedly furious). Bob Anderson was also brought on board as a stunt double for Darth Vader’s lightsaber battles in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi since Prowse kept breaking lightsabers during filming.
Sebastian Shaw played the unmasked Vader and appeared as his Force ghost at the end of Return of the Jedi. Jake Lloyd played the young Anakin in The Phantom Menace and Hayden Christensen played the older Anakin in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Spencer Wilding plays him in the new movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, currently in theaters.
8. He Originally Had a Different Name and Different Voice
Being the central character that he is (one of the few to appear in some form in all the films), it’s not surprising to learn that Darth Vader was the first character created by Lucas for the Star Wars trilogy. But what some may not know is that in Lucas’ early drafts of the script, he was named Anakin Starkiller (this name would later be used in the Star Wars game The Force Unleashed for his secret apprentice).
The original 1976 trailer for Star Wars was narrated by legendary film director Orson Welles. Welles was George Lucas’ original choice to voice Darth Vader, but this idea was rejected by producers because they felt his voice would be too recognizable. The role was eventually given to James Earl Jones, who was just starting out as an actor at the time and the rest, as they say, is history. The Dark Lord has also been voiced by seven different people in the spinoff video games and television shows, including Scott Lawrence (Star Wars: Battlefront II), Kirby Marrow (LEGO Star Wars), Matt Levin (Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds), Mat Lucas (Star Wars: Clone Wars), Thomas Morley (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian), Matt Sloan (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Soul Calibur IV) and Matt Lanter (Clone Wars).
7. There’s a Theory That He Was Created by Palpatine and Plagueis
Anakin Skywalker’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, claims in The Phantom Menace that she carried and gave birth to Anakin without any father. Qui-Gon Jinn is understandably mystified by this claim, and after testing Anakin’s blood for midi-chlorians comes to believe that he was conceived purely by the Force. Much of the audience took this story of a “virgin birth” at face value; after all, it would explain Vader’s powers, his high midi-chlorian count, and his status as the “Chosen One” who would bring balance to the Force.
But a fan theory claims a darker and more realistic possibility. In Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine tells Anakin the tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise, who could use the midi-chlorians to create life. The theory goes that either Plagueis or Palpatine (who learned everything his former master knew) may have created Anakin by attempting to manipulate the midi-chlorians to create a powerful Force user as a part of Sith experiments. Seeing Palpatine’s early interest in Anakin and how both he and his master liked to set up plans far in advance, it’s certainly a possibility.
6. Great Detail Was Put Into His Armor and Sound Effects
Lucas did not originally envision Darth Vader having a helmet; he was instead going to have a black scarf wrapped around his face. The helmet itself was supposed to be worn as part of Vader’s spacesuit as he moved from one ship to another, but soon that was changed to him wearing it all the time. Vader’s iconic “deaths head” mask was designed by Ralph McQuarrie, and Lucas made the change when looking at some of his alternative concept art. The inspiration for the design of Vader’s helmet (as well as the uniforms of the entire Imperial military) came from the uniforms of Nazi Germany, with added inspiration for the helmet portion coming from Japanese warlords. The mask was too large to fit over David Prowse’s face properly, so it was padded with foam. During Revenge of the Sith, Lucas deliberately made the version of the famous suit used for the film top-heavy to make actor Hayden Christensen appear like he wasn’t accustomed to it.
Vader’s signature heavy breathing was developed by sound designer Ben Burtt, who placed a small microphone in the mouthpiece of a scuba regulator and recorded the sound made by his breathing. In The Empire Strikes Back, the hissing sound made by Vader’s helmet as it’s lowered onto his body was made by someone slowly putting their hand over a running vacuum tube.
5. His On-Set Actor David Prowse and George Lucas Hate Each Other
The feud between George Lucas and David Prowse has become the stuff of Star Wars legend. To start with, Prowse thought they would be using his voice for Darth Vader, and was reportedly upset by having his lines dubbed over by James Earl Jones. During the filming of episodes V and VI, Prowse made life difficult on the set, not bothering to read the lines as written and instead said gibberish. For example, Prowse recalled, “I had to say to the captain something like ‘Asteroids do not concern me, I need that ship!’ for of course I still had to speak all of Vader’s dialogue so the other actors could respond to me. Only instead I said, quite sternly, ‘Hemorrhoids do not concern me, I need to s**t!’”
Prowse also became upset when he was replaced in fighting scenes because he kept breaking lightsabers while filming. Later, Lucas blamed Prowse for leaking that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. The actor was also not happy when he found out that his face would not appear on screen as the unmasked Vader. The strained relationship between Lucas and Prowse finally reached a breaking point when Prowse appeared in the 2010 anti-Lucas film The People Versus George Lucas. Reportedly, this was the final straw, and Lucas banned him from all future Star Wars events.
4. A Darker Alternate Ending Had Luke Become The New Vader
While the version of Return of the Jedi we know has a bright, upbeat ending where the good guys win and everyone parties. But at first, Lucas pitched a much darker conclusion for the sci-fi saga. In this alternate version, the battle between Skywalker and Vader and the subsequent scene with Vader and the Emperor’s death unfolds the way it does in the final version. Vader still sacrifices himself to kill the Emperor, and Luke helps him take off his helmet as he dies. However, in the alternate ending, Luke puts on his father’s mask and helmet himself, turns to the Dark Side, destroys the Rebellion and becomes the new Emperor.
If this bleak alternate idea sounds unbelievable, rest assured it comes straight from the mouth of Lucas himself. In a reported transcript of a story session between Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of Empire and Jedi. In the transcript, Lucas says: “Luke takes his mask off. The mask is the very last thing — and then Luke puts it on and says, ‘Now I am Vader.’ Surprise! The ultimate twist. ‘Now I will go and kill the [Rebel] fleet and I will rule the universe.'” Kasdan then responds, “That’s what I think should happen.” Many fans and those involved with the film loved the idea for this much darker ending, but Lucas ultimately dropped it because he felt Star Wars was a film series meant for children.
3. There’s An Alternate Version Where He Wears White Armor and Becomes a Jedi Again
Speaking of alternate endings, the comic book series Star Wars Infinities has one of the most unique “what if”s ever conceived for the Star Wars Universe. The entire premise of the series is to propose alternate scenarios to what classically happened in the plot of Star Wars, but by far one of the most radical changes happens with Vader during the Infinities version of Return of the Jedi. This time, both Leia and Luke are brought before Palpatine, who orders Vader to kill Leia. He is stopped by Luke, and they have a lightsaber duel which ends with Vader losing an arm and Luke revealing to him that he and Leia are his children, and boldly declares he will not fight Vader anymore.
Here’s where things get really interesting: Vader to fall to his knees and begs forgiveness, turning back to the light side of the Force and once again becoming Anakin Skywalker. The Emperor escapes as the second Death Star is destroyed, but Leia, Luke, and Vader all escape the station together. The group meets back onboard the Home One, where Anakin Skywalker, a Jedi once more and wearing an all-white version of his famous armor. Skywalker then agrees to help hunt down and kill the Emperor with his two Jedi children, which, we have to admit, would make a pretty unstoppable team.
2. He’s The Most Profitable Star Wars Character
Star Wars merchandise has been insanely profitable for the franchise. Every main character from the series has an extensive toy and product line and even bit characters have whole biographies and Wookiepedia articles several paragraphs long to their name. But no single character is more iconic or has made more money than Darth Vader. Lucasfilm themselves have stated that Vader is the most popular and profitable character in the Star Wars Universe. His instantly recognizable mask adorn countless pieces of Star Wars merchandise, from action figures to watches to toasters and speakers.
While it is unclear how much of the money Darth Vader made on his own, as of 2015, profits from the sale of various forms of Star Wars merchandise are estimated to be over $27 billion in total. Given the fact that the Dark Lord appears on pretty much every piece of merchandise, we can assume Vader’s net worth is well into the billions.
1. His Image Appears in a Cathedral
The image of Darth Vader doesn’t just appear on Star Wars merchandise; believe it or not, there’s a gargoyle of his classic helmet on the exterior of the northwest tower of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. While the limestone grotesque is very difficult to spot with the naked eye, it can be seen looking down from the tower with the aid of binoculars.
So what’s the story behind this oddly out-of-place yet instantly recognizable gargoyle? It seems in the 1980s the National Cathedral held a contest for children with National Geographic World Magazine. Kids submitted their ideas for the construction of decorative sculptures on the northwest tower. One boy named Christopher Rader won third place in the contest with his drawing of Darth Vader. As a result, the likeness of everyone’s favorite Dark Lord of the Sith was created by sculptor Jay Hall Carpenter and stonecarver Patrick J. Plunkett.