Star Wars 9: Everything We Know About Darth Vader’s Presence

Star Wars 9: The Rise of Skywalker is including Darth Vader in its marketing campaign, but how much can be determined about his role in the conclusion to the Skywalker saga? In terms of imagery, Darth Vader is the embodiment of the Star Wars franchise. The intimidating, distinctly futuristic design counterbalanced with a glowing red lightsaber makes for a striking visual and Vader’s on-screen presence, distinctive voice and overwhelming power only furthered his considerable stature in the world of cinema.

Even in 2019, Darth Vader is, for many fans,  the first character that springs to mind when Star Wars is mentioned, and this is particularly true of casual viewers and those old enough to have witnessed the birth of the franchise in the 1970s. Consequently, it’s only natural that Disney would seek to capitalize on Vader’s brand recognition while marketing their new trilogy, even though the character supposedly died hoisting Palpatine into the bowels of the Death Star in Return of the Jedi.

Related: What Star Wars 9 Needs To Do To End The Skywalker Saga

Vader’s inclusion in the promotion for Star Wars 9 strongly suggests that he will have a role in the modern trilogy’s final installment in some capacity. Putting together what is already known about The Rise of Skywalker and how the likes of Emperor Palpatine and Kylo Ren will develop in the film, what can be gleaned about Vader’s presence in the final chapter of the Skywalker story?

As revealed by the Star Wars 9 D23 footage, Darth Vader’s mangled mask will make its triumphant return. The relic was first featured in The Force Awakens as a treasured memento of Kylo Ren, and the young Sith-in-training could be seen honoring the mask as if it were an effigy of the man who wore it. Kylo’s driving motivation at that time was to honor what he believed was the legacy of his grandfather and praying to the Vader mask seemed to provide an inspirational focus point for that aim.

In Star Wars 9, the crumbling remnants of Darth Vader’s helmet will surface once again, still worshiped and revered by Kylo Ren, who is now the undisputed Supreme Commander of the First Order. There’s no immediately obvious, tangible value in rehashing an updated version of the mask scene from The Force Awakens in Star Wars 9, so Kylo’s feelings towards his deceased grandfather must have evolved over the course of the trilogy.

Perhaps Darth Vader’s mask will be used to highlight Kylo’s progression as both a Sith warrior and as a villain, with the petulant Commander discarding or destroying the mask in the belief that he has surpassed his grandfather’s strength and accomplishments. Alternatively, there are a number of fan theories that suggest Vader’s mask is much more than simply a decoration for Kylo’s personal quarters, and might actually be a conduit for the return of either Palpatine or Vader himself.

Perhaps more significant than the return of Vader’s mask, the villain’s iconic, robotic breathing was also featured in the footage released at D23, and while the mask is just reprising a story first seen in The Force Awakens, the unmistakable sound of Darth Vader in Star Wars 9’s marketing represents something entirely new. While Vader’s breathing could also be heard in the trailer for The Force Awakens back in 2015, those sounds accompanied a shot of his helmet, simply adding audio color to the on-screen visual. In the Star Wars 9 trailer, however, the breathing is isolated and is accompanied by a blackened screen, ensuring all focus rests squarely on the familiar sound effects.

Related: When To Start Your Star Wars Rewatch Before Rise Of Skywalker

This composition strongly hints that Vader will enjoy a more physical presence in The Rise of Skywalker compared to his largely spiritual influence on Kylo Ren over the past two movies. It would certainly be a cheap move if Disney put such prominence on the sound of Vader’s famous chronic asthma in the D23 trailer, only for the character to be no more prominent than he was in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi.

Also noteworthy is the placement of Vader’s breathing, coming directly after some ominous lines from the returning Emperor Palpatine. Interestingly, the Emperor’s appearance in Star Wars 9 was announced in a very similar manner, with Ian McDiarmid’s infamous cackle playing over a completely blank screen in the very first trailer. This would seem to suggest a connection exists between the Emperor’s return and Vader’s presence in Star Wars 9.

Prior to Star Wars 9, Anakin Skywalker‘s Star Wars arc was one of the most celebrated, Shakespearean stories in popular cinema. A formerly just and noble young man is corrupted by dark forces who manipulate the tragic events that befall him but, ultimately, virtue shines through and the man sacrifices himself to defeat the source of evil plaguing the world. As exciting as the Emperor’s return in Star Wars 9 may be, it does ruin this complete and timeless story arc by rendering Vader’s moment of sacrifice entirely pointless.

One of the biggest challenges J. J. Abrams faces is ensuring that the reemergence of Palpatine doesn’t mean Anakin’s story over the past six films was pointless and the easiest way to achieve this would be to have the man himself return alongside his former Sith master in some capacity. Killing Palpatine was supposed to be Anakin’s way of fulfilling the Jedi prophecy and bringing balance to the Force. Evidently, that goal has yet to be fulfilled, and only Vader’s return can make things right. It’s not currently known exactly how, or even if, Palpatine will be resurrected, but to make Vader’s death count for something, Anakin himself must boast a more telling presence than living on as a musty old mask at the bottom of his grandson’s sock cupboard.

Related: Why Rey As Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker’s Villain Could Be A Good Decision

The possibility of Vader’s return could also tie into both The Rise of Skywalker’s title and its billing as the conclusion to the Skywalker narrative. Ending the story of Skywalker without the man who first brought notoriety to that name would be like reuniting Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant on vocals, and if Star Wars 9 is intended as the final piece of a story that began way back in 1977, it’s not only fitting for Vader to return, but necessary. Darth Vader‘s presence could also be the true, hidden meaning behind “Rise of Skywalker.” While most fans are focusing on Rey’s parentage and her possible connection to the name, Anakin could secretly be the figure the title is alluding to.

Return of the Jedi’s happy ending proves that Anakin Skywalker is capable of manifesting as a Force Ghost and The Secrets of the Jedi by Marc Sumerak confirms that Anakin continued to visit his son in new Star Wars canon while Luke was in exile on Ahch-To. With Anakin able to appear in ethereal form thanks to his last-minute return to the good side, it’s inconceivable that Palpatine could return in Star Wars 9 and Anakin wouldn’t have anything to say about it. Anakin should either be paying a visit to Rey to help her overcome the First Order and Darth Sidious, or spooking Kylo Ren and giving him a firm chiding for having completely misinterpreted his grandfather’s will. To some extent it’s odd that the latter hasn’t happened already.

If Anakin’s ghost does turn up in Star Wars 9, Hayden Christensen is almost certainly the actor who’ll be playing him. Four years ago, this possibility seemed desperately unlikely, since Christensen distanced himself from the Star Wars franchise after the prequel trilogy received a generally negative response and vitriol was directed towards the actor personally. In recent years, however, the Star Wars prequels have enjoyed a reevaluation and are now viewed in a more forgiving light. The dynamic between Christensen and the Star Wars faithful has also softened, with the actor afforded a very warm reception during his recent Star Wars Celebration appearances.

As such, Christensen’s return as a Force Ghost in Star Wars 9 not only makes sense from a narrative perspective, but would also be a fitting apology of sorts, allowing the actor to return in an era where his contributions to the galaxy far, far away are much more appreciated.

More: Kylo Ren’s True Identity Could Be His Biggest Weakness In Rise Of Skywalker

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