Rogue One: A Star Wars Story features a lot of stunning images, and perhaps the most stunning of all was the sight of Darth Vader with all his life-giving armor removed, floating in a bacta tank like the one used to revive Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. Given Vader’s menacing and powerful presence, seeing him in a position of utter vulnerability was interesting to say the least.
Like every other aspect of Rogue One, the Vader scene with the bacta tank is being picked apart by fans looking to go deeper and deeper into the Star Wars mythos. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards has his own thoughts about these characters and the best way to represent them on film, and he has talked about some of the decision-making behind not just the Vader scene but other moments in Rogue One.
Edwards revealed in an interview with Empire the exact reasoning behind his decision to show Vader stripped of his armor and reduced to an almost pitiful level of vulnerability. According to Edwards, he wanted to show this different side of Vader in hopes that the audience would see him as more than just the villain in the mask with the deep voice:
I’m jealous of moments like in Empire Strikes Back where you see the back of [Vader’s] head and you just go, “oh my God, that is so cool,” and wanted to try and find something like that in our film. [The bacta tank scene] was actually a Chris Cunningham-inspired thing of the idea of being in milk [like in the Bjork music video] All Is Full Of Love. He’s really a burns victim, and it’s not going to be fun for him when he’s not in the suit – he’s going to be uncomfortable. I love the idea of showing that he’s vulnerable as well. Vader’s very, very bad, and so you try and just glimpse something of him that gives him some humanity, or it makes you empathize with him. Just seeing those scars and realizing that he’s, you know, an amputee, and just reminding you of that before he does all his stuff, it makes you torn, I think. He’s just such a rich character, in so many ways.
The Vader moment in the bacta tank may not have quite the same impact as the first sight of him with his helmet off in Empire, but it’s still a crucial moment in Rogue One, as it gives us a chance to see inside Vader’s life in his Mustafar Castle. All these little details flesh out the character and give fans more to mull over, and possibly serve as a tease for a future Darth Vader anthology film. It’s also interesting to see inside Edwards’ visual thought-process and realize some of the weird inspirations behind some of the images in Rogue One. Who knew there was a connection between Darth Vader and Bjork?
Of course later in the film, Vader goes back to being his usual very bad self, unleashing the full power of the Force on some hapless Rebel soldiers who are trying to get away with the Death Star plans. As interesting as it may be to see Vader stripped of his armor and rendered essentially helpless, it’s kind of a relief when he gets to put his suit back on and return to being a villain.
The shot of Vader in the bacta tank goes by very quickly and the argument could be made that it doesn’t really have a chance to impact the viewer as much as Edwards obviously hoped it would. Another moment later in the same scene, when Vader makes a bad pun, showed yet another side of the character we hadn’t thought about. Whether you agree with all of Edwards’ decisions or not, you have to admit that Rogue One succeeded in giving us lots of new angles on Darth Vader.