This December, moviegoers will flock to theaters to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and with it, they'll see a familiar face on the big screen once more. It was recently confirmed that Darth Vader will appear in the first live-action spinoff film, which is set right before A New Hope in the Star Wars timeline. His inclusion in the movie was always logical, and it would have been a bigger surprise if the Sith Lord was not in Rogue One (particularly for marketing purposes).
The prospect of seeing Vader back at the multiplex is a thrilling one for fans, and many are now wondering just how substantial his role in the project will be. Like The Force Awakens before it, Rogue One is focusing primarily on a fresh batch of characters in the galaxy far, far away, trying to blend the old with the new. On Episode VII, Lucasfilm was wise about how they incorporated returning legacy characters, avoiding the pitfalls of shoehorning in fan-favorites. From the sound of it, that'll be the case for Rogue One as well.
EW's rollout of Rogue One information continues with a breakdown of Darth Vader's part in the film. According to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, the villain "will be in the movie sparingly." That may be disappointing for some to hear, but director Gareth Edwards is going to make the most of limited screen time "But at a key, strategic moment, he's going to loom large," Kennedy added, perhaps teasing an action sequence of Vader in his prime fighting the Rebels.
Within the context of Rogue One, Vader is still a minor player in the overall conflict. He's more of a legend that's scarcely talked about than someone constantly involved with the operations. Edwards elaborated on Vader's standing in the galaxy at this point in time, giving people a clearer picture of where things are:
“Within the Rebellion, it’s not commonly spoken about. Within the Empire, there is the culture of knowing of the existence of Darth Vader. There’s definitely an underlying feeling that there is a power – a dark power – available to the Empire and that if you overstep your mark, you will suffer the consequences.”
Since Vader is primarily a background figure who's only used when it's absolutely necessary, the main antagonist of Rogue One will be Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Described as an "ambitious Imperial officer" desperate to be in the good graces of the Emperor, Krennic's place in the Empire's hierarchy will be interesting to watch. Producer John Knoll told EW that there isn't much loyalty in the organization, as people are frequently looking for any advantage they can get over others. Krennic is attempting to figure out the strong connection between Vader and the Emperor in a (probably ill fated) quest to "acquire the most-favorite status." The officer is under extreme pressure to perform well and prevent the loss of the Death Star plans, and the wrath of Vader is always a threat that looms around the corner.
So while fans shouldn't expect Vader to be the central villain of the narrative as he was in the classic trilogy, he's still an important piece of the puzzle and should be one of the most memorable aspects of Rogue One. After Lucasfilm handled the returns of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia gracefully in The Force Awakens, they've earned the benefit of the doubt and will most likely be smart about they way they work Vader into this latest installment. Rogue One was already one of 2016's most anticipated productions, and this Dark Side element gives viewers yet another reason to be excited.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in U.S. theaters on December 16, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25, 2018, Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019, and the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.