With Obi-Wan Kenobi thrusting Darth Vader back into the limelight, it’s about time we got a video game that does justice to the Emperor’s becloaked, black-clad enforcer. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed initially casts you as a Wookiee-choking Vader, and if you fork out enough Fortnite V-Bucks, the Dark Lord of the Sith can teabag a sentient banana. But they’re all missing out on something crucially important — for Darth Vader, a former Jedi crammed into a bargain-basement support suit, nothing comes easy anymore.
James Luceno’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader, though its post-Disney canon status is questionable, paints a grim picture of his new status: “The incessant rasp of his breathing interfered with his ability to rest, let alone sleep. And sleep, in the rare moments it came to him, was a nightmarish jumble of twisted, recurrent memories that unfolded to excruciating sounds.” And that’s just the tip of the Sithberg.
Luceno describes the way that Vader’s suit, constructed for function as opposed to comfort by inexperienced droids, snags every other time he moves along and lists its many other imperfections. At the end of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, we see the mask descend on Anakin Skywalker’s face, bathing his world in a red glare. Aside from the stretches of downtime when he can remove it, that’s the way he’s forced to experience the world.
While the third- and fourth-degree burns he suffered might have destroyed some of his nerve endings, he’d likely still experience chronic pain. To date, the movies have never shown him running, and while EA’s reboot disagrees, the original Star Wars: Battlefront has him using the Force to move faster. There’s a huge contrast between the acrobatic Anakin Skywalker and the bruiser that he becomes, robbed of his limbs and a large portion of his skin.
I’d love to see a Star Wars game set during Vader’s early days that acknowledges his fall from grace and the manner in which he now has to function. It’d be a far cry from EA’s Star Wars Battlefront where you can dash around at will, leaping into the air with wild, bucket-headed abandon.
Some small part of me wants a Darth Vader QWOP game where you have to manage every step, but given the franchise’s problematic use of disability, that might be a little too on the nose. Instead, why not deliver an action adventure video game set shortly after the end of Revenge of the Sith that focuses on what truly drives Darth Vader – hatred and anger?
Hate is almost certainly what kept Anakin Skywalker alive long enough for the Emperor to resurrect him as Darth Vader. And it is, after all, the way of the Sith. But would you keep Vader enraged, like some bin bag-clad Hulk, enough that he can power through the pain of his new condition? And how could you prevent him from wallowing in guilt, culpable as he is?
Don’t Nod’s Remember Me could have the answer: have Anakin delve into his own memories, perhaps even reframing or editing them in such a way that Obi-Wan or the Jedi bore the brunt of his anger. And then there’s the Emperor — as has been elaborated in the comics, Vader is more than aware of his part in all this.
This memory mechanic could weave the narrative in and out of Star Wars’ “real” world, alongside a pain factor that, if it eclipsed his anger-fueled will to persevere, would stop Vader in his tracks. As for controlling his movements? You can forget about Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order’s wall-running; Vader should move like one of Battletech’s clunky tank-on-legs mechs, at least until he’s found his feet (sorry).
Hate would fuel each of Vader’s blows in combat as well. Watching the latest episode of Obi-Wan Kenobi, you can tell there’s not a great deal of finesse behind Vader’s blows. But the strength behind them, and Obi-Wan’s fear, has the Jedi on the run even before Vader employs his Sith abilities. He’s a powerhouse, and mastering that would be a real rush.
On the subject of fear, the movies paint Darth Vader as a menacing figure, established as the Emperor’s right hand. But by setting a video game early in the career of Darth Vader, the player could be tasked with building that reputation. You’d choose which people to choke and which to release, so they could tell all their friends about you.
And for atmosphere, you could add in red Vader-o-vision as well as his familiar breathing pattern, letting players disable them if they become too much. Given that Anakin Skywalker was fond of tinkering, to the point where he was able to construct C-3PO, might as well throw in a few mini-games where you have to tweak the suit so it’s less of a nightmare. You’re good to go.
So what’s the catch? Disney could be one major obstacle; Darth Vader is such an iconic character that the company, which owns the rights to Star Wars, would likely want to dictate exactly how the character would be portrayed. That, in turn, could potentially rule out giving the player any real choice. Though, given the events of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s third episode, they’re not averse to having the character be truly brutal.
Still, with Hayden Christensen expressing interest in a series and the Star Wars franchise now open to other developers, there’s no time like the present to delve into Darth Vader’s journey from mechanically reclaimed whiner to menacing Sith Lord.