Darth Vader is one of the most recognizable characters in cinematic history. As the villain of the original Star Wars trilogy, he captivated audiences with his iconic look, voice, and ruthlessness. Years later, his transformation, from the gifted boy Anakin Skywalker to the Sith Apprentice of Darth Sidious, was brought to life in the prequel trilogy.
As Disney and Lucasfilm prepare to revitalize the franchise with even more movies set in a galaxy far, far away, it is unavoidable that Vader will be a part of them, but the question remains: what role will Darth Vader play in films that take place many years after his death? The new trailer for The Force Awakens illustrates that even in death, Darth Vader is a force to be reckoned with.
Darth Vader has charmed fans since he first appeared on the big screen in 1977, but the process of his creation and his influence and impact on popular culture may shock even the most devoted Star Wars fans. We’ve gathered some stories that were surprising, entertaining, and might make you reconsider how you think about the Sith Lord. Here are 12 Facts You Didn’t Know About Darth Vader:
12. MANY ACTORS HAVE HELPED TO CREATE DARTH VADER
David Prowse, who portrayed Vader under the mask, and James Earl Jones, who is the iconic voice of Vader, are only two of the many actors who have played Darth Vader, or Anakin Skywalker, as he was previously known, over the course of six movies, several television shows, and many, many video games in which he has appeared. This includes three actors who played Anakin Skywalker in the films: Jake Lloyd (The Phantom Menace), Hayden Christensen (Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith), Sebastian Shaw (in Return of the Jedi, after Vader is unmasked), as well as Bob Anderson, who played Darth Vader in the major fight scenes of the original trilogy.
Additionally, in video games and television shows, he has been voiced by Thomas Morley (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian), Scott Lawrence (Star Wars: Battlefront II), Kirby Marrow (LEGO Star Wars, as Anakin), Matt Levin (Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds), Mat Lucas (Star Wars: Clone Wars), Matt Sloan (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Soul Caliber IV), and Matt Lanter (Clone Wars).
In total, this means that there were six actors who played Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader in the films, and an additional seven actors who have contributed to his voice to official Star Wars-licensed material outside of the films. Finally, there is also Ben Burtt, the sound artist who designed Darth Vader’s ominous breathing by placing a microphone inside of a SCUBA tank regulator.
11. ORSON WELLES WAS ALMOST DARTH VADER’S VOICE
When George Lucas was choosing the voice of Darth Vader, he originally had Orson Welles, the cinematic giant of Citizen Kane, The Third Man and, uh, Transformers: The Movie, in mind for the role. However, it was decided that Welles’s voice was too recognizable, and so James Earl Jones was chosen for the role instead – and now, James Earl Jones is considered one of the most recognizable voices in cinema. While other voice actors have gone on to be the voice of Darth Vader in animated shows and video games, Jones is remembered for pioneering the Sith Lord’s classic voice, and everyone else lives in his shadow.
Jones’ name did not appear in the credits until The Return of the Jedi. He has said in multiple interviews that he believed that his contribution to the films was too small to deserve credit, and that he considered it a special effect rather than an acting role. Finally, he allowed the filmmakers to include him after they asked him for the third time.
10. HE’S BARELY IN STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE
Even though Darth Vader is often considered the major antagonist in original trilogy, his screen time in Episode IV: A New Hope is surprisingly limited. While his ominous presence is felt throughout the film, he only appears for 12 minutes onscreen – not unlike Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, who only appeared in 11 minutes in The Silence of the Lambs.
Darth Vader is arguably not even the central villain of the original Star Wars film. Instead, Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) features prominently as the commander of the Death Star. Not only is Tarkin responsible for the destruction of Alderaan, but his relationship with Darth Vader is notably not one of equals – when Tarkin gives Vader a command, Vader listens.
9. HE DIDN’T ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET
Darth Vader is known for his iconic helmet, but this was not part of the original design – George Lucas originally imagined the Sith Lord as wearing a black silk scarf over his face. Ralph McQuarrie, who drew concept art for many beloved characters, designed the helmet as an addition or an alternative, imagining that Darth Vader would wear the helmet when moving between ships. Eventually it was decided that the character would wear the helmet all of the time.
A variety of inspirations contributed to how the helmet was designed. Lucas suggested a samurai influence in the shape of the back of the helmet. Costume designer John Mollo also took inspiration from Nazi uniforms when creating the helmet.
8. DAVID PROWSE DIDN’T KNOW HIS VOICE WOULD BE REPLACED
David Prowse is the body actor of Darth Vader in the original trilogy. At six feet and five inches, the British bodybuilder towered over his co-stars. During A New Hope, Prowse thought that he was also the voice of the imposing villain. Carrie Fisher said in the documentary Empire of Dreams that Prowse’s voice was so banal that they would call him “Darth Farmer,” which makes it less surprising that George Lucas would choose to cast a separate actor to voice the intimidating Sith Lord.
After discovering that his voice had been replaced with that of James Earl Jones, Prowse was so frustrated that he stopped learning his lines for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Instead, he would improvise lines, sometimes speaking complete gibberish, forcing his co-stars to respond as if he had said the correct line.
7. PROWSE AND LUCAS DO NOT GET ALONG
Prowse’s voice being replaced was apparently one of many disputes between Prowse and Lucas. Prowse was also replaced by fight choreographer Bob Anderson, who donned Darth Vader’s suit in Episode V and Episode VI to portray Vader fighting. Prowse claims that he was replaced to let a more experienced fighter do his stunts, but rumors suggest that it was because he kept breaking the prop lightsabers by swinging them too hard. Prowse also criticized the casting of Sebastian Shaw as Darth Vader’s face in The Return of the Jedi.
Even after filming, Prowse continued to criticize Lucas, claiming that he had not been paid enough for Return of the Jedi. Their feud finally led to a confrontation that got Prowse banned from all Lucasfilm events, including official conventions. Prowse was repeatedly outspoken about his dislike of Lucas and has repeatedly criticized the prequel trilogy. Prowse claims that Lucas never gave him a definitive reason as to why – only that he had burned too many bridges, but many link Lucas’s decision to Prowse’s candid appearance in the incendiary documentary The People vs. George Lucas.
6. HIS CHILDREN WERE A WELL-KEPT SECRET
J. J. Abrams isn’t the only Star Wars director to try to keep the plot of his movie secret. It is hard to imagine now, but the fact that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father was a big secret that the filmmakers went to great lengths to protect from getting leaked. According to Hamill, only George Lucas, Irwin Kershner, and himself knew when they were filming, in addition to James Earl Jones, who would later speak the famous lines.
Hamill claimed that he needed to know so that his reaction would be believable, but was warned by Kershner that if he told anyone, including his costars Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, they would know that he had leaked the story. On set, David Prowse had been instructed to say “Obi-Wan killed your father,” so a majority of the technicians, actors, and crew members did not know the truth until the film premiered.
5. HE HAS NO FATHER
Darth Vader’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, claims that there was no father. If she is telling the truth to Qui-Gon Jinn, as The Phantom Menace leads its audience to believe, then Anakin Skywalker was conceived purely by the Force, or by midi-chlorians. This would explain his extraordinary powers, his notable high midi-chlorian count, and would further cement his status as “The Chosen One” who would go on to destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force.
In an ironic twist of fate, Anakin Skywalker becomes the Sith apprentice to Emperor Palpatine and ends the Sith when he betrays the Emperor and dies protecting his son, Luke Skywalker. He is able to destroy the Sith only by destroying himself.
4. HE TIES FOR “MOST LIMBS LOST”
Over the course of the six films, the loss of a limb is a repeated motif: someone loses a limb in every film, from Luke Skywalker in Empire Strikes Back to the Wampa on Hoth. Darth Vader is tied with C-3PO for the loss of the most limbs, each totaling five lost limbs over the course of the six films. Interestingly, C-3PO and Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker are two of only four characters who appear in all six films, the other two being Obi-Wan Kenobi (who appears briefly as a Force ghost in Episode V And Episode VI) and R2-D2.
In Darth Vader’s case, he loses all of his limbs to lightsabers: one arm to Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, the other arm and both legs to Obi-wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith, and finally a cybernetic arm in a duel aboard the Death Star II with Luke in Return of the Jedi. C-3PO loses an arm against the Tusken Raiders in A New Hope and then all of his limbs to stormtroopers in Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.
3. HE IS THE MOST PROFITABLE STAR WARS CHARACTER
Lucasfilm has said that Darth Vader is the most popular and profitable character in all of the Star Wars universe. Immediately recognizable, his likeness has inspired a variety of popular Star Wars merchandise, including some outlandish items from burgers to toasters to luxury watches.
However, it is unclear how much money Darth Vader has made on his own. Lucasfilm did not go as far as to release a number, but Star Wars profits are estimated to be worth over $27 billion total when accounting for the various forms of merchandise. Given those numbers, chances are that Darth Vader’s monetary worth is in the billions.
2. YOU CAN SPOT HIM AT THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL
Merchandise is not Darth Vader’s only likeness in the real world – his classic helmet appears as a gargoyle on the exterior of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. While he is difficult to spot, he can be seen (with the help of binoculars) looking down from the northwest tower.
In the 1980’s, the National Cathedral held a contest with National Geographic World Where children could submit ideas for decorative sculptures. One boy, Christopher Rader, submitted a picture of Darth Vader, and he was selected as the 3rd place winner of the contest. The Sith Lord’s likeness was created by artists Jay Hall Carpenter and Patrick J. Plunkett.
1. HIS STORY ISN’T OVER
Darth Vader’s story isn’t over – whether or not he appears in The Force Awakens, the new trailer illustrates that the action takes place in his shadow. Darth Vader has become a legend, and is apparently a source of inspiration for The First Order’s Kylo Ren.
Darth Vader also appears as an antagonist in the ongoing Star Wars: Rebels Television show, and he is the central character in the Marvel Darth Vader comic. There are ever-increasing chances of new possibilities and appearances for him in the new expanded universe, where much of his story, especially between Episode III and Episode IV is still unclear.