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The entire Darth Vader story finally explained

In 1977, movie audiences everywhere were awestruck when a cape-clad, black-helmeted villain strutted into the corridor of a starship and earned his spot in movie history. Darth Vader quickly became the ultimate symbol of evil in pop culture and one of the most popular villains in movie history, but as we all know now, there turned out to be much more to his story than a red laser sword and creepy breathing. 

For one thing, we all know that Darth Vader wasn't always an evil presence. He was once a young boy, possessed of tremendous talents and a deep love for those closest to him, and it was only through extraordinary circumstance the he became the Dark Lord we love to fear. As time has gone on and Vader has been incorporated into more and more Star Wars films, shows, comics, and books, we've also learned that even his darkest moments were not without nuance. Now, it's time to chart his entire course from slave boy on Tatooine to the inspiration for the galaxy's current reigning big bad. This is Darth Vader's story, explained.

Darth Vader is a child of the Force

Darth Vader first appeared in 1977's Star Wars, but he was actually born four decades before the events of that film as Anakin Skywalker, the child of a slave woman named Shmi Skywalker. Years after his birth, Shmi told the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn that "there was no father" in Anakin's conception, leading Qui-Gon to deduce that Anakin had been conceived by the Force entities known as midi-chlorians. Though it hasn't been conclusively stated, it's heavily implied that Anakin's conception was in some way caused by the Dark Side Force manipulations of the Sith Lord Darth Plagueis and his apprentice, Darth Sidious

Young Anakin showed tremendous intelligence and skill from a very young age, and was so adept at mechanics and repairs that he began working for his mother's master, Watto, in his shop on Tatooine. Anakin's mechanical skills were so advanced that he began building the protocol droid C-3PO for his mother before he'd turned ten. He was also a skilled podracer, making him a rarity as human reflexes were usually too slow to allow them to survive in the sport. 

However, Anakin's quiet life of slavery was disrupted when, at the age of nine, he met a pair of Jedi Knights for the first time.

Anakin is the Chosen One

While on a mission to escort Queen Padme Amidala of Naboo from her homeworld to the Republic capital of Coruscant, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, encountered Anakin in Watto's shop while searching for parts for their starship. Qui-Gon took an immediate interest in Anakin and tested his midi-chlorian count, revealing his midi-chlorian level was off the charts. Convinced of Anakin's potential as a Jedi, Qui-Gon made a wager with Watto that the boy could win his own freedom in a podrace. Anakin won the race and accompanied Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan to Coruscant, but he mourned having to leave his mother behind. 

Qui-Gon took Anakin before the Jedi High Council, convinced that the boy could be the Chosen One who would bring balance to the Force, but Masters Yoda and Mace Windu were wary of Anakin's age and his fearful demeanor after having been separated from his mother. Qui-Gon pleaded for the opportunity to train him anyway. 

In the Battle of Naboo, Anakin piloted a starfighter against the Trade Federation, proving that his skills extended beyond podracing. After the battle was over, he discovered that Qui-Gon had been killed at the hands of Darth Maul, and Obi-Wan made a vow to train Anakin himself, in keeping with his lost master's wishes. The High Council consented, and Anakin became a Jedi Padawan.

Fear leads to anger, and the story starts getting dark

Anakin spent the next decade training as Obi-Wan's apprentice, and proved himself an immensely skilled Jedi who also had a tendency towards recklessness. On top of that, he continued to harbor fear over what had become of his mother in his absence. As a young man, he reconnected with then-Senator Padme Amidala on Coruscant, when he and Obi-Wan were tasked with guarding her life after an assassination attempt.

While Obi-Wan sought to track down the people behind the attempt on Padme's life, Anakin stayed behind as her personal bodyguard and escorted her back to Naboo. The senator and the Jedi soon fell in love, but Anakin's darker tendencies intruded as he became tormented by visions of his mother. With Padme at his side, Anakin traveled to Tatooine, where he learned that a now-married-and-freed Shmi Skywalker had been abducted by Tusken raiders. 

Anakin tracked down the Tusken tribe and his mother, who died in his arms after seeing him one last time. In a rage, Skywalker slaughtered the entire tribe, and vowed to Padme that he would become powerful enough to prevent the people he loved from dying. It was the beginning of a descent into darkness that he wouldn't recover from for decades.

Begun the Clone War has

After the whole Tusken raider incident, Anakin and Padme left Tatooine and traveled to Geonosis, hoping to rescue Obi-Wan who'd been taken prisoner by Separatists after discovering who'd hired Padme's assassin. Unfortunately, the new couple was soon captured by Separatist leader and Sith Lord Count Dooku, and sentenced to death, but as they began trying to fight their way out of a Geonosian arena, reinforcements arrived in the form a clone army. These clone soldiers had recently been discovered by Obi-Wan, and under the leadership of Yoda and Mace Windu, they defeated the Separatists in what would become the first battle of the Clone Wars.

With the battle still raging, Anakin and Obi-Wan engaged Dooku in a lightsaber duel, but Anakin's recklessness got the better of him when he tried to fight Dooku alone. The Sith defeated Anakin, cutting of his right arm, only to then be beaten back by Yoda. 

In the days that followed, Anakin was given a new synthetic arm, and he then retreated to Naboo with Padme. They were married in secret — with the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 serving as witnesses — because the Jedi Order forbade such romantic attachments. Anakin's increased fear of losing those he loved, coupled with his brushing off of Jedi rules, would soon create further friction between the young Jedi and his superiors.

Anakin's apprentice

As the Clone Wars gained intensity, Anakin was promoted to Jedi Knight and became a key general for the Republic. His abilities and confidence grew, but so too did his recklessness and, by extension, his fear of losing those he loved. In an effort to help, Yoda suggested Anakin could learn how to let go of people by taking on an apprentice of his own who would one day ascend beyond his training. He was paired with a young Padawan named Ahsoka Tano, and while the two initially had friction due to Ahsoka's feisty nature, the two ultimately became friends. 

Ahsoka rose in prominence alongside her master as the wars went on, becoming a respected military leader and Force user in her own right, until she was framed and arrested for a bombing at the Jedi Temple that was actually carried out by one of her friends. Ahsoka was expelled from the Jedi Order, but Anakin and Padme believed in her innocence, and were ultimately able to gain evidence that led to her acquittal at trial. 

Though she was offered re-admission to the Jedi Order, Ahsoka was disillusioned after her trial, and she chose to leave the Jedi behind. Witnessing the treatment of his former apprentice only served to further frustrate Anakin, who was himself beginning to lose faith in the wisdom of the Jedi High Council.

The rise of Darth Vader

Anakin's growing abilities and his purported status as the Chosen One had, by the end of the Clone Wars, caught the attention of the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, who was manipulating the entire war from behind the scenes via his dual roles as a Sith and as Sheev Palpatine, the chancellor of the Republic. Palpatine, who'd amassed great power via emergency wartime legislation, finally made his move on Skywalker in the waning days of the war, urging him to kill Dooku in cold blood in the midst of space battle above Coruscant. 

Anakin complied, decapitating Dooku, and Palpatine continued grooming Anakin as his agent by appointing him as his emissary to the Jedi Council. The council submitted to the chancellor's wishes, but they refused to grant Anakin the rank of Master, further inflaming his frustrations. This, coupled with Anakin's frequent visions of Padme — who was then pregnant — dying in despair, led Palpatine to finally reveal himself to Anakin by convincing him that he could stop the death of his loved ones by using the Dark Side of the Force. 

Conflicted, Anakin first revealed to the Jedi Council that Palpatine was a Sith Lord … and then helped Palpatine kill Mace Windu in the hopes that Palpatine would teach him how to save Padme. Though distressed by his betrayal of Windu, Anakin submitted himself to his new master, who in turn dubbed him Darth Vader.

Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi

Consumed by fear of losing Padme and hatred of the Jedi Council, who he felt had held him back, the newly christened Darth Vader was willing to do anything for his new master if it meant he could learn how to save Padme. So Palpatine dispatched Vader to the Jedi Temple as part of his Great Jedi Purge, where Vader brutally slaughtered any Force user in his path, including the younglings in the Temple. 

Vader then journeyed to Mustafar to kill the last Separatists and end Palpatine's engineered war. Obi-Wan and Padme, learning of his betrayal, followed him there to stop him. Enraged by the idea that his old master and his wife were working together to betray him, he used the Force to choke Padme into unconsciousness, then engaged Obi-Wan in a duel. Ultimately, Obi-Wan gained the high ground in the fight, severed both of Vader's legs, and left him near a lava ditch to die. 

Palpatine journeyed to Mustafar to save his apprentice, then outfitted him in a life-preserving suit of armor, transforming him into the half-machine Vader we all know and love. Palpatine also told Vader that he'd accidentally killed Padme and their unborn children back on Mustafar with that Force choke. In truth, Padme had died of a broken heart, but not before secretly giving birth to Anakin's twin children, Luke and Leia, who were hidden away from him as they grew up. Vader then took his place at Palpatine's side as the Republic became the Galactic Empire, although he still harbored a desire to bring Padme back at all costs.

The power of the Dark Side

Two decades passed as the Empire continued to rise, and Anakin Skywalker adjusted to his new life as Darth Vader. He continued his efforts to eradicate rogue Jedi (with the help of the Imperial Inquisitors), but he also had to deal with Palpatine's schemes to encourage his competitive nature by drafting other warriors who could serve as Vader's replacement at the Emperor's side. All the while, his suit of armor actually enhanced his pain and therefore his anger, making him stronger in the Dark Side. 

Perhaps the most important development of this era came when Palpatine gifted Vader a mask belonging to Momin, an ancient Sith Lord and artist, whose spirit still possessed the mask. Momin communed with Vader as he was attempting to build a home over an ancient locus of the Dark Side on Mustafar. Momin himself schemed to use the locus to harness Dark Side energy and resurrect his own body, but his plan was foiled when he chided Vader for his own Dark Side practices, and Vader responded by crushing Momin's resurrected form. 

Vader then used the gateway opened by Momin to search for Padme's spirit and bring her back, but instead, he found darkness as her form disintegrated before his eyes. Vader came out of the experience convinced that both Padme and Anakin Skywalker were dead, and that his past no longer mattered. However, the vision showed him one other thing — a beacon of hope in the form of an unidentified young man who he'd soon meet.

The rise of the Rebellion

While Vader pursued his own interests in the Dark Side and continued to eradicate rogue Jedi, a revolutionary movement formed, blossoming into the Rebel Alliance, a group which sought to wage all-out war against the Empire. Its followers were numerous and included Ahsoka Tano, who Vader dueled to what he believed to be her death. 

The Rebellion gained an unexpected advantage 19 years after the fall of the Republic, when it managed to seize the plans to a planet-destroying battle station called the Death Star. Vader led the pursuit of the Rebels and managed to capture one of their leaders, Princess Leia Organa, who unbeknownst to him was his long-lost daughter. Grand Moff Tarkin, the Death Star's commander, had Vader torture Leia and even destroyed her adoptive home of Alderaan as they tried to gain the location of the Rebellion's secret base. 

Vader then had an unexpected encounter with an old friend. When a small group that included Obi-Wan Kenobi infiltrated the Death Star to rescue Leia, the master and the apprentice decided it was time for a rematch. Tragically, Vader killed his old teacher, but the rescue was successful, and the Rebels were clear to use the Death Star plans to attack, while Tarkin tried to get the Death Star in range of the newly revealed Rebel base on Yavin IV.

In the ensuing battle, Vader nearly stopped the destruction of the Death Star by almost killing Rebel pilot Luke Skywalker (his still-unknown, long-lost son). Luke was saved at the last moment by the smuggler Han Solo, and Vader's starfighter was sent hurtling into space after taking a couple of shots from Solo's ship, the Millennium Falcon.

The story takes a turn when Vader learns a secret

The destruction of the Death Star was a major victory for the Rebellion, but it also sent Vader down a new path of discovery. After the attack, Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Han Solo went on a mission to blow up an Imperial facility when they encountered Vader. Luke attempted to duel the Sith Lord, and in the process, Vader recognized Luke's lightsaber. After all, Obi-Wan Kenobi had given that very lightsaber to Anakin years ago. 

Curious and a bit alarmed, Vader used his agents — including bounty hunter Boba Fett and archaeologist Dr. Aphra — to find out more. Aphra learned that Padme had actually given birth before her death and that her postmortem pregnancy was faked, while Fett learned that the name of the boy who'd destroyed the Death Star and dueled Vader was Skywalker. 

At that moment, Vader realized that he'd been deceived, and he tore his own starship apart upon hearing the news that he did indeed have a son, though he wasn't yet aware that Padme had delivered twins. In keeping with the Sith "Rule of Two," in which apprentices killed their masters to ascend to masterhood themselves, Vader began planning to convert his son to the Dark Side, kill the Emperor, and take his place as the ruler of the galaxy.

Darth Vader reveals the truth to Luke

Three years passed until Vader finally tracked down Luke, and by extension the Rebels, at a hidden base on the ice planet Hoth. The Empire invaded the planet while the Rebels evacuated, and Luke once again escaped Vader's clutches. Palpatine revealed his knowledge of Luke to Vader soon after, and the two began working to bring the younger Skywalker over to the Dark Side. To achieve this, Vader launched a campaign to find Luke's friends on board Solo's ship, the Millennium Falcon, at all costs. With the help of bounty hunter Boba Fett, he eventually captured Han and Leia on Bespin and used them as bait to lure Luke, who'd been training with an exiled Yoda on the swamp planet Dagobah. 

The plan worked, and Luke arrived on Bespin to battle Vader and save his friends. Vader defeated the young Jedi in a lightsaber duel, severing Luke's right hand in the process. And that's when Vader decided to reveal that he was Luke's father. Luke refused to believe it, and instead of joining the Dark Side, he decided to fall to his death instead. Fortunately, he dropped through the bowels of a Bespin mining facility where he was rescued by Leia in the Falcon.

Anakin Skywalker redeemed

Vader returned from Bespin to help oversee construction of a second Death Star, which would be christened by the Emperor himself. Palpatine planned to use the new superweapon as bait to ensnare and defeat the Rebellion by making it look more vulnerable than it was, while also using it as a lure for Skywalker, who'd been quietly pushing forward with his Jedi training. 

Skywalker re-emerged on the forest moon of Endor, where he was captured by Vader and taken the Death Star. Luke was now fully aware of who his father was, and he was determined to redeem Vader, just as Vader was determined to convert his son. Vader brought Skywalker before the Emperor, who attempted to provoke anger in Skywalker by revealing his plan to trap his Rebel friends and allies. After all, anger leads to the Dark Side.

Vader and Luke dueled once again, and during the fight, Vader sensed in his son's mind that he had a sister, Vader's second child. Using this knowledge as leverage, Vader drew Luke's anger out, and Luke defeated Vader in the duel. But seconds before slaughtering his dad, Luke realized he was becoming just like Vader, so he tossed his weapon aside, refusing to join the Dark Side. This didn't sit well with Palpatine, who responded by using Force lightning to electrocute Luke. Watching his son die, something suddenly switched inside Vader. Weak and wounded, Vader managed to throw his master into the core of the Death Star, seemingly killing him.

Gravely injured by all of Palpatine's Force lightning, Vader didn't have much longer to live. But with his dying breath, Anakin Skywalker returned from the Dark Side and told his son that he was right about him all along.

Darth Vader's legacy continues to impact the Star Wars story

As Vader, Palpatine, and Luke Skywalker fought on the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance succeeded in their mission to destroy the battle station, and Luke escaped with his father's body just before the space weapon exploded. The victory marked the beginning of the end for the Galactic Empire, and it kicked off a galaxy-wide celebration of the end of Palpatine's reign. 

Though the decades that followed were relatively peaceful, Vader's legacy as a Dark Side legend lived on and took root again in the form of his grandson — Leia and Han's kid, Ben Solo. Ben caught the eye of Snoke, a powerful Dark Side user and scholar who'd taken up leadership of the remnants of the Imperial military in the Outer Rim, forming them into the First Order. Snoke sensed the Dark Side potential in the Skywalker bloodline, and he sought to cultivate it within Ben Solo. He succeeded, and Ben Solo rose up against his uncle, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, ending Luke's attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order. 

When he fully turned to the Dark Side, Ben Solo changed his name to Kylo Ren and vowed to "finish" what Darth Vader had started: the eradication of the Jedi. He adopted his own red lightsaber and black helmet, setting himself up as Vader's successor. In fact, Kylo even acquired Vader's old helmet, which had been partially burned in his funeral pyre. Though there may be some good still left in Kylo Ren, his determination to live up to Vader's legacy hasn't dimmed a bit.