Has Darth Vader Been With Ben Solo All Along?
For a movie series that didn't rely much on images of eager, perhaps even unwitting students holding the helmets of their beyond-the-grave teachers, the Star Wars saga has just gotten a major injection of them. As Lord Momin's story unfolds, artist Giuseppe Camuncoli depicts Momin claiming his "perfect" creation with the unnamed Jedi gazing upon his helmet. At the same time, returning to show Darth Vader taking the same stance to hear that story from Momin - just as much a student to this teacher from within the Dark Side of The Force. But both scenes only appear after Star Wars: The Force Awakens made the worship, or veneration of a Sith helmet speak volumes.
Three generations of masked servants of the Dark Side - but are these echoes depicting the same actual message? Thanks to this new piece of Star Wars canon, it's impossible to observe Kylo Ren looking upon his grandfather's helmet, seeking guidance in how to defy the Light, ultimately driven to feed the Dark Side his own father, when the time comes. Those interested in our theory that it was Vader, not Snoke who claimed Ben Solo for the Dark Side can follow the link above. But ignoring all outside theorizing and expectations of the sequels, it definitely seems that the lore of the comics is giving the imagery of the movies greater significance. Having read the comic - which Lucasfilm certainly wants fans to do - it's hard to see Kylo's veneration of Vader as anything but a parallel to Momin.
Of course, there's one major problem with assuming that it's all a set-up for Vader's true role to be revealed in Star Wars 9...
How Can Vader Return, if Anakin Was Redeemed?
It's a fair question to ask: isn't every theory based on the immortality of 'Darth Vader' fundamentally flawed, since the villain was redeemed in the final scenes of Return of the Jedi? Heck, even Anakin Skywalker's Force Ghost appears alongside Yoda and Obi-Wan to Luke, confirming that the Jedi Knight has found peace after death in The Force. And on a broad level, in its most simplistic form, a viewer could presume that story is wrapped up neat and tidy. But the fact that director J.J. Abrams pulled the face of Darth Vader out of the flames, and planted it squarely in front of Kylo Ren's (also covered in tribute to the Sith) means nothing should be taken for granted.
In fact, the actual themes and dialogue of the original Star Wars trilogy and its prequels are done a disservice, if it's assumed to all reduce down to 'Anakin was good, did bad, but then remembered he was good at the end, and everything was fine.' And it all begins with the prophecy claiming Anakin was the boy promised to "bring balance to The Force," or as the 'heroes' of the prequels interpreted it, "bring the Jedi a win for the Light Side only, now THAT's what we call balance!" It's a fundamental flaw that the movies never reckoned with, and one that might actually be better understood through Obi-Wan's claim that his former pupil "ceased to be Anakin Skywalker, and became Darth Vader."
The existing lore backs up the idea of Anakin and Vader as two distinct people on a thematic level, if not overtly a literal one. When Luke protests Obi-Wan's opinion and claims "the good man who was his father" wasn't destroyed, Kenobi doesn't entirely dispute the idea. He simply shoots back that "He's more machine than man now. Twisted and evil." And fans of the larger mythology and science surrounding Vader know Obi-Wan is right. Even if Anakin's spirit existed somewhere within his physical form, enough to take action and free itself to rejoin The Force, Darth Vader's body is another matter entirely.
Aside from Vader's armor, mask, and robotic parts functioning as life support, it was common knowledge that Palpatine had saved Vader's life through the use of "Sith Alchemy." That detail has yet to be explicitly confirmed to still be the case, but Wookieepedia defines the dark art through use of "the Dark side of the Force to permanently alter an item or living being. It is rejected by the Jedi as an act of treason against the Force's will." That word "permanent" should stand out in this context, since it casts serious doubt on the idea that Anakin's spirit was redeemed... while the body constructed to keep his body alive as a servant of the Dark Side was prosthetics and armor, nothing more.
Of course, to make the idea of Vader surviving to play a role in Star Wars 9 seem at all believable, the Dark Side of The Force would need to be characterized as more than just power and knowledge to be understood and used, then given up and apologized for later. That the Dark Side that created 'Darth Vader' was alive. That it was hungry. And that it would demand to be fed by its servants even after death. Which is exactly what Lord Momin's story has added to Star Wars canon.
Even if Star Wars fans can't buy into the idea that Anakin didn't "cease to be," but that he also didn't just change his name and mind, the practical evidence still makes this potential twist for Star Wars 9 perfectly plausible. Fans may not like the idea just yet, but if the comics are providing context for the new Star Wars universe, it's probably best to consider it a possibility.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019