What the Hell Is Darth Vader's Job?
Is he a military general? A middle manager? A brand ambassador for the Empire?
Part of the rabid excitement for Rogue One is connected to seeing Darth Vader again. This is the first time the Dark Lord has appeared in a Star Wars movie in more than a decade, and, unlike his halting Frankenstein’s monster appearance in Revenge of the Sith, in Rogue One Vader will be doing what he does best: acting like a boss. In the classic Star Wars trilogy we saw Darth Vader force his will upon military officers, seemingly outside of any discernible chain of command. But is Vader’s job description even remotely connected to a real military job?
“Vader has no correlation to the U.S. military,” author Myke Cole told Inverse. Cole should know: His U.S. military service includes three tours of duty in Iraq, and he’s also the author of the Shadow Ops military fantasy novels. As Cole explains: “[Darth Vader] more closely resembles the role of a medieval noble serving in a military force. The closest modern corollary might be Prince Harry serving in the British RAF.”
Still, we know Prince Harry is not the person telling the British military what to do with a secret nuclear submarine, nor would he be the solider sent to track down the blueprints for a tactical weapon at the Queen of England’s command. So, if there’s no real-world equivalent, how is Vader’s job rendered according to Star Wars itself? The original script describes Vader’s first appearance like this: “The awesome seven-foot tall Dark Lord of the Sith makes his way into the blinding light of the main passageway. This is Darth Vader, right hand of the Emperor.”
This is cool, of course, but “right hand of the Emperor” doesn’t describe Vader’s day-to-day responsibilities. Considering there’s not a clear military correlation, here are few possible job titles to describe what Darth Vader actually does for the Empire.
Senior Project Manager in Charge of Evil Superweapons
In A New Hope Vader is definitely commanding the operation to retrieve the stolen Death Star plans, seemingly as a last resort. It’s as though all other channels have failed, and now the project manager (who oversees other project managers) has been brought in fix everything. In all of Star Wars, we always get the impression Vader is there to bust some heads when people are falling behind. In Return of the Jedi Darth Vader shows up on the second Death Star and says to the people in charge: “I’m here to put you back on schedule.”
Supreme Baddass in Charge of Finding the Rebel Base
Literally everything Darth Vader is doing at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back would check with this title and the obvious job responsibilities that would go with it. But how does this job interact with the chain of command in the Empire? And, was this a job Vader created for himself during A New Hope?
In Alan Dean Foster’s ghostwritten 1976 original novelization of Star Wars, it’s mentioned during a conference that Grand Moff Tarkin has the ability to “shake off” Vader which is something “no one else at the table would have dared to do.” This is the book version of a famous scene in which everyone talks about the Death Star. And, it seems to indicate that at least some of the Imperial officials think Vader is doing a good job, and that his job is probably just to find and destroy the Rebels. In the book General Tagge says this: “I happen to think Lord Vader knows what he’s doing. The rebellion will only continue only as long as those cowards have a sanctuary, a place where their pilots can relax and their machines can be repaired.”
Personal Assistant/Assassin to Emperor Palpatine
So, who does Darth Vader report to other than the Emperor? Probably no one, but it’s still possible that someone else gives Vader his end-of-the-year reviews, and that someone is Tarkin. Princess Leia throws some shade on Vader in A New Hope, saying Tarkin is “holding Vader’s leash.” This likens Darth Vader to an attack dog, and further suggests Darth Vader has free reign to do whatever he wants outside of any regular military command structure. But, there’s a degree of oversight in someone like Tarkin. The Grand Moff is a more legitimate administrator in this particular situation, than Vader, and so, Tarkin becomes the de facto manager of Darth Vader. In The Force Awakens, we see something similar with Kylo Ren and General Hux: They both report to Supreme Leader Snoke, but Hux is in charge of logistic operations of the First Order, while Kylo Ren is apparently just running around causing tantrums.
But Kylo Ren’s existence seems fairly well known in The Force Awakens, whereas Vader’s existence might not have been generally known prior to A New Hope. The continuity of Rebels would seem to confirm the idea that Vader is kind of a secret, insofar as his name isn’t widely known to the crew of the Ghost at first. And, even by the end of the second season, Ahsoka Tano can hardly believe that Vader was once her best friend and teacher, Anakin Skywalker. So, prior to A New Hope — which is around the time or Rogue One — Vader’s job is simply this: secret assassin in charge of killing people who cause problems for the Emperor. In this way, Darth Vader is the true replacement for Darth Maul; someone who does dirty work, often in secret.
Brand Ambassador for the Empire
What if Vader is just a figurehead? What if his “job” is just to be Darth Vader? If that’s true, Vader’s job gets even weirder, because inside the command structure of the Empire, he very openly wields the magical abilities of the Force. And that’s something his boss — Emperor Palpatine — seldom does in front of other underlings. “Vader is also a religious/cult figure, and in this reflects the role of military monks like the Japanese Sohei or the Knights Templar,” Myke Cole told Inverse.
The Timothy Zahn Star Wars novels corroborate this comparison too, since Heir to the Empire suggest that the simple presence of “dark Jedi” helped the Empire win certain battles through inspiration from the Dark Side alone. From a tactical standpoint, Darth Vader becomes like a fake symbolic doomsday weapon: someone who freaks out the opposing army through a demonstration or suggestion of power, rather than actually having to wield all that power personally.
Thinking about that, Darth Vader is only a professional symbol of the Empire, a representation of their brand. He’s someone whose actual job is more connected to what he represents rather than what he actually does. Which is probably exactly how we think of him in the real world, too.
Rogue One opens on December 16 where we’ll most certainly see Darth Vader fulfill at least three of these job descriptions.