When it comes to the original 1977 Star Wars, which was only retitled A New Hope in the years after its theatrical debut, Darth Vader was in his prime as a villain. And it was the first time audiences were introduced to the Sith Lord and the dark side of the force. The heavy breathing and black armor all return this Christmas in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and it promises to give us a transformed Anakin Skywalker at the height of his dangerous powers. In the past few weeks, it has been confirmed that Vader will be a key figure in the Rogue One plot. But what, exactly, is his role in the movie?

This week's issue of EW features a Rogue One cover story, and in it, we get to learn just that. We know from previous rumors that this version of Darth Vader is screen accurate to the one seen in A New Hope with the original costumers recreating the iconic Sith armor as it first appeared to audiences. This will be the first time Vader has been seen on the big screen since 2005, when Anakin Skywalker finally transformed into the hulking menace at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

It makes sense for Rogue One to bring back Darth Vader, as the movie reenacts the opening crawl of the first Star Wars movie, showing the spy mission that resulted in stealing plans to the dreaded Death Star. The adventure takes place in the weeks leading up to the victorious raid on the space station, and ends just moments before A New Hope begins, making it a true prequel in every sense. So, what was Darth doing right before he kidnapped his daughter, Princess Leia Organa?

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That's a good question. What we know thus far is that original voice actor James Earl Jones will return to reprise this iconic villain, while a number of different body doubles will step into fill the frame originally occupied by David Prowse. But don't expect to see too much of the Sith Lord on the big screen. His role is being called a cameo, and we likely won't see any photos of him until after the movie is released. Though, it sounds like it will be more screen time than Luke Skywalker received in The Force Awakens, which clocks in at exactly one minute from the second we first see him until the credits roll. According to Kathleen Kennedy, Darth had to be used very sparingly.

"I think we can talk about Vader...He will be in the movie sparingly. But at a key, strategic moment, he's going to loom large."

Rogue One takes place roughly 19 years after Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, at a time when Darth has gained quite the reputation as one of the galaxy's biggest badasses. When this first of the Star Wars stories kick off, Vader is looming in the background of the galactic politics scene. He is basically the muscle, with his role being referred to as 'A Fixer'. He's also a 'breaker' when the situation calls for it. The Rebel forces are making their first advances, with Emperor Palpatine using Darth to help these soldiers from rising up. Rogue One is the first big screen movie in the Star Wars saga that does not directly revolve around the Skywalker bloodline. Thus, Vader is not meant to be one of the main players this time out.

During this period of Civil War, the Rebels aren't quite aware of Darth Vader and what he is capable of, though rumors are starting to spread far and wide across the galaxy. Even within the ranks of the Galactic Empire, this Sith Lord is seen as more of a legend than an actual presence. Until he starts showing up at unexpected places, proving he is very real, ,and very deadly. Says director Gareth Edwards.

"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."

While Darth Vader is not the main villain, there is another raising through the ranks. Though, his legacy seems solely tied to this standalone adventure, so we can guess that Director Orson Krennic's fate is not a good one. Played by franchise newcomer Ben Mendelsohn, Krennic is an ambitious Imperial officer with 'Machiavellian tendencies'. Like Vader, he is fighting for a place at the Emperor's side. Producer John Knoll says about the new figure, dressed in white, draped in a flowing cape.

"There is a lot of palace intrigue going on in the Empire, with people conspiring to move up the ranks and sabotaging each other. There's not a lot of loyalty there."

It's very likely that Krennic and Vader share a scene that is not necessarily friendly. And if one had to wager, Orson might even get a strong taste of Vader's force grip. The pair are far from buddy buddy. In fact, you could barely call them allies, with Krennic clearly threatened by the Sith Lord's very presence. Kiri Hart, Lucasfilm's chief of story development, says this.

"Vader doesn't really play by the rules. He's present in the military structure, but he's not beholden to it. He's not accountable to anybody, really, except Palpatine."

Darth Vader will be as angry and violative as he was in A New Hope. This is Vader in his prime. And it's because he has such a grip on the Empire that Orson doesn't mind going out of his way to stop the Rebels in their mission, for the sole fact that he could get stomped on by Vader at any moment.

There were rumors that Darth Vader was originally supposed to show up in The Force Awakens. But those stemmed from the fact that Darth Vader screen tests were ongoing during that film's production, as the filmmaking team experimented with the best ways to light the Sith Lord's dark armor against the shimmering backdrop of the iconic Imperial-style architecture that is on display in both movies. About those sessions, and getting Vader just right, Edwards explains this.

"He's got more in common with lighting a car than a person, so we wanted to get it exactly right. We had the breathing sound just to inspire everyone. I just got massive goosebumps. I was so nervous to turn the corner and see him. You have to pinch yourself. Everyone became children again, so easy. You just go straight back to being a 4-year-old, like, in a heartbeat. There's all these rules about security on set, but I couldn't help it. I got my phone out and started taking pictures of him, and pictures of me with him, because I felt like no one would ever believe that I'd met Darth Vader."

So, Darth Vader will definitely live again this December, when Rogue One hits theaters everywhere. Just don't expect him to dominate the scene. This isn't his movie. He's just a background player in most of the action. That said, his presence will still loom large over the proceedings. And it's even possible that we'll see him reunite with his daughter in the final moments of the spinoff. EW promises to release more new photos from Rogue One later today and tomorrow. So stay tuned for that.

B. Alan Orange at Movieweb
B. Alan Orange