Who’s the man behind the mysterious mask? An interview with the Emperor’s right-hand man Darth Vader, page 16
When Darth Vader arrived on Coruscant for the first time as a ten-year old boy, it took his breath away. “I had never imagined in my wildest dreams anything remotely like it,” the Emperor’s right-hand man told our reporter in a recent interview. “The lights, the sounds, the species from all over the galaxy, the sheer size of the buildings—it all combined to literally knock me speechless!”
He had little time to see the sights; a Jedi apprentice, he was immediately immersed in the rigorous training of the order. “The Jedi was your life while you were in it,” Vader explains. “There was very little time for extracurricular activities.” As a six-year-old, he had been recognized by the Jedi as a youth of impressive potential and they recruited him aggressively. They even made an exception to a long-standing Jedi rule just for him: Normally, six years is too old to begin Jedi training, but so impressed were the top Jedi that they decided to admit young Vader. “It was very flattering,” he says, “but also a little overwhelming. You ask yourself, ‘Am I good enough? Will I live up to the faith all these people have in me?’”
The answer was yes, and then some. Darth Vader quickly displayed outstanding talent in the Force, which according to Jedi tradition is what gives them their fighting skills, and he mastered the lore, the fighting techniques, and the code of the order. When the Clone Wars broke out he fought with distinction, making the difference in several key engagements between the Imperial Army and secessionist forces. “We won some battles due to Lord Vader’s presence,” says an Imperial officer who fought alongside him in several engagements. Vader soon was recognized as a superb tactician, strategist, and fighter pilot. “He’s not just among the best pilots,” says the officer, “he’s the best.”
Darth Vader: Fast Facts
Title: Formally, he is Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith. Normally one would address him as Lord Vader.
Rank: Special assignment, reporting directly to the Emperor.
Bio: Details must be closely guarded to prevent Jedi assassination attempts.
The Sith: An order of Force-sensitive individuals like the Jedi. The Sith believe one should humbly accept the Force in all its aspects, instead of arrogantly trying to judge that some aspects of it are “good” and some are “bad,” as the Jedi did.
Emperor Palpatine, always quick to notice and encourage exceptional talent, took the youth under his wing and became Vader’s trusted mentor. And late in the War, Lord Vader became the youngest Jedi ever admitted to the Jedi Council, the group of senior Jedi who headed up the order.
But all was not well. Vader began to have doubts about the Jedi when he realized they were focused more on increasing their own power than protecting the defenseless. “I didn’t realize it all at once,” he says. “It was an incident here, an incident there. It built up over time.” The Jedi resisted any oversight from neutral third parties, interfering with or outright refusing Emperor (then-Chancellor) Palpatine’s attempts to bring them on board the democratic process. Lord Vader explains, “The Chancellor wanted me to be the Senate’s representative in the Jedi Council. The Jedis’ response to that was to ask me to spy on the Chancellor for them!” Vader’s conscience wouldn’t let him, and he warned the Chancellor about the Jedis’ increasingly aggressive attempts to amass power. And he reluctantly began to consider the possibility of resigning from the Jedi.
But even Lord Vader and the Emperor didn’t realize just how vicious the Jedi could be until the Jedi tried to assassinate the Emperor. A particularly dangerous Jedi Master named Mace Windu was tasked with killing the leader of the galaxy. Vader, who witnessed the whole thing, recalls what happened: “They [the Jedi] actually brought me in on their plan. Apparently it didn’t occur to them that I might find it morally wrong to kill the leader of the Galaxy! So I was in the room when Windu tried to assassinate the Emperor. He had his lightsaber inches from the Emperor’s face!” With the leader of the galaxy moments from death, Vader instinctively shoved the menacing Jedi away from the Emperor. Still snarling with hatred, the would-be assassin fell out a window to his death.
Vader has no regrets. “The only reason the window was open to the air was that he [Windu] shattered it when he swung his lightsaber at the Emperor. If he hadn’t tried to kill the Emperor he would still be alive.” He pauses and then adds, “It’s bad enough to be obsessed with power. But when you try to take advantage of the strife and chaos of a civil war to increase your own power, well, that’s just over the line.”
The assassination attempt was the last straw. From that moment Vader realized he could no longer in good conscience remain a Jedi, and he broke with the order. “It was a real eye-opener,” he says.
So who is this mysterious former Jedi Knight hidden behind the confining mask? That must remain a closely guarded secret, and here’s why.
The Jedi were furious at Vader for foiling their assassination attempt and in revenge they sent a new assassin to kill him, as well as another assassin to attack the Emperor. Both of the intended victims escaped alive, but Lord Vader was badly wounded in the fight with his assassin. The wounds inflicted by the vicious Jedi included damage to Vader’s lungs, necessitating a special breathing apparatus of which the mask is a part. But the mask has a silver lining, in that it shields his identity from remaining Jedi who might have been away from Coruscant when events unfolded and so don’t know who Vader is. “It’s a way of making it harder for them to get to me,” he explains.
Lord Vader admits that it can be a burden. “It definitely can be frustrating at times because it cuts you off from human contact. I’ve always been a guy who likes to look people in the eye, you know, make that connection. But now it often feels like there’s a barrier there.” When you’re a people person like Darth Vader, it’s especially grueling.
But he’s still upbeat: “There’s a lot to be happy about. Hey, the good guys won the war and we held the Galactic government together. Ultimately, the Jedis’ assassination attempts and efforts to take over failed. The Galaxy went through a rough patch in the last few years, but in a lot of ways we’re stronger for it.”
In one last act of vindictiveness the Jedi planted rumors against Vader as they fled Imperial police forces. “I’ve heard all kinds of things,” he recounts. “I’ve heard people say that I’m really a secessionist spy, that I killed younglings, that I tried to kill the Jedi who was sent to kill me, that he was just fighting in self-defense. And when they’re not saying stuff like that they’re trying to make me look ridiculous. One rumor I’ve heard is that I wear the mask just because I’m so darned ugly!”
Darth Vader: Myth vs. Reality
• Was formerly a Jedi Knight. Status: True.
• Fought with distinction in the Clone Wars. Status: True.
• Took part in a “Jedi purge” in which many Jedi were massacred in cold blood. Status: Myth. Almost all Jedi fled justice or were arrested, tried, and jailed. A few were killed resisting arrest, and this eventually gave rise to a rumor about a “purge.”
• Is Emperor Palpatine’s right-hand man. Status: True. “Lord Vader is an extremely capable man, and the Empire is lucky to have him,” the Emperor has said.
• Saved the Emperor from a Jedi assassination attempt. Status: True.
• Was the intended victim of an assassination attempt by his own former Jedi master, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Status: True. Kenobi remains at large and should be considered extremely dangerous. If you know of his whereabouts, do not attempt to apprehend him yourself. Notify the local Imperial authorities.
• On the Emperor’s orders, slaughtered unarmed Trade Federation members near the end of the Clone Wars. Status: Myth.
Do these nasty rumors bother him? “Not really,” he says philosophically. “In the long run I think this sort of thing will hurt them more than it hurts me.” What about the story that Imperial forces murdered innocent Jedi in cold blood? “That’s a total lie!” he exclaims. “First of all, there were no innocent Jedi; they were all in on the plotting. And secondly, a few were killed resisting arrest by Imperial police forces. The Jedi who didn’t resist arrest were unharmed. They were put in protective custody and they all got fair trials.”
“But I’d like to add something,” he continues. “I don’t mind so much when people spread these rumors about me; it just bounces off. But the Imperial troops who arrested the Jedi are brave and competent professionals. The Jedi can be very dangerous fighters, believe me; I know! The troops that pursued them were risking life and limb. It really bothers me when the fairness and professionalism of our boys are called into question like that.”
So does he harbor resentment against the Jedi? Not really; while he’ll be pleased to see them brought to justice he’s not handling that matter, leaving it up to Imperial police instead. “Basically,” he says, “I’m too busy to worry about things like that. We’ve got secessionist holdouts in a few places to mop up, the Emperor has plans to reorganize the Senate to make it more streamlined and efficient, and there’s an advanced new defense installation the Emperor has commissioned to make the Galaxy secure against future attempts at destructive civil war.
“Hey, it’s a big galaxy, and we’ve got an Empire to build!” ■
Comment: It’s appalling how easy it is to write this tripe: The opening paragraph with the “gosh-wow” reaction to the big city; the humble “I wonder if I’ll live up to their expectations,” the casual dismissal of “rumors” against oneself combined with noble defense of others when “rumors” are set against them, the combination of truth, half-truth, and outright lies. The good news about this sort of fluff piece is that it’s obvious that it’s tripe (one hopes).
My favorite line: “When you’re a people person like Darth Vader…”