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Darth Vader explained — the Sith Lord’s origin and powers in Star Wars

Check out our complete guide to Darth Vader in Star Wars. Here's everything you need to know about the evil sci fi movie Sith Lord and his backstory and powers.

Darth Vader in Obi Wan Kenobi show

Here’s our full guide to Darth Vader in Star Wars. Few characters are as iconic or recognizable as the wheezing bad guy from a galaxy far, far away, but there’s so much still to learn about him.

Can you imagine Star Wars without Darth Vader? Of course not. It wouldn’t work. Ever since his he first stepped onto Leia’s Corellian Corvette in A New Hope, the cybernetic warlord has been the best Star Wars character. He’s pure menace, dressed head-to-toe in black, but while he may be presented as one of the best Star Wars villains, Vader’s arc in Star Wars is a good deal more complicated than that.

From watching the main Star Wars movies in order and all the various spin-offs, you can learn a lot about the mighty Sith including just how powerful he can be with a lightsaber in one hand and the power of the Force coming through the other. But if you want to know even more, we’ve compiled everything you need for the complete Darth Vader explained guide that makes the Dark Side only a little tempting.

Darth Vader explained silhouette in Empire Strikes Back

What is Darth Vader’s origin?

Before he became a genocidal space fascist, Darth Vader was a lonely boy named Anakin Skywalker. He was born to Shmi Skywalker (a slave on the planet Tattooine) possibly through Palpatine’s manipulation of the Force and midi-chlorians. However, the ambiguity around this means that in canon we never know the exact truth about Anakin’s father.

Young Anakin Skywalker Darth Vader explained

Both mother and son are sold around as property, eventually landing in the hands of Watto, one of the best Star Wars aliens, yes, but a greasy and untrustworthy mechanic nonetheless. Anakin proves a strong asset through his proficiency with robotics and general mechanics, and his sharp reflexes make him a formidable pod-racing pilot. It’s at home here that he starts building what would one day become C-3PO, one of the best Star Wars droids around.

When Anakin is nine, the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn appears with Padmé Amidala. They need help fixing their ship, and when Watto refuses to deal with them, Anakin steps in to assist. He offers to try to win a new cooling unit in a pod race, much to his mother’s chagrin. She relents, however, and Anakin enters the race.

Anakin Skywalker Revenge of the Sith Darth Vader explained

As Anakin races Qui-Gon becomes increasingly convinced of the child’s power with the Force, and once the race is over the Jedi Master barters for Anakin’s freedom and tells the young Skywalker that he’d like to enroll him to train as a Jedi. Shmi convinces her boy to take his chance and live the dream.

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After Qui-Gon is killed in the fight to defeat Darth Maul, Anakin becomes Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s apprentice. They’re inseparable, working for the Jedi Council as political matters worsen within the Trade Federation. Through his teen years and into adulthood, Anakin serves as a loyal member of the Jedi. However, he begins a romantic relationship with Padmé which tests his loyalties.

The fate of his mother haunts him. Eventually, he abandons his official duties in order to find Shmi. She’d actually been freed from slavery by a moisture farmer, but tragically, before Anakin got there, Tusken raiders had kidnapped her.

When he finds her, she’s in a bad state and dies in his arms. In retaliation, he kills the Tusken tribe, a move that shatters him emotionally. Later, amid the Clone Wars, he has visions of Amidala dying, something that Emperor Palpatine manipulates in Revenge of the Sith by hinting that the powers of the dark side can preserve life.

Darth Vader vs Luke in Empire Strikes Back

It works, and Anakin betrays Mace Windu by defecting to the Sith in order to find the power to protect his wife. Palpatine names him Darth Vader, and as part of Order 66, the new Sith lord sparks the galaxy-wide eradication of the Jedi. Trying to bring him back to the light, Obi-Wan and Padmé find him on Mustafar, a planet covered in molten rock. They plead with him, but it’s no use.

In the ensuing lightsaber duel, Obi-Wan outdoes his former Padawan, in one of the most emotive moments in the entire franchise. Anakin, now missing some limbs, cries out in pain and anger as fire consumes him, while Obi-Wan and Padmé eventually leave. She gives birth to twins in secret — Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker — but Yoda and Obi-Wan decide to separate them to hide from the Galactic Empire.

Meanwhile, Anakin is treated for his wounds and is given a custom jet-black suit of armor to mask the damage. His transformation to Sith lord is complete.

Darth Vader in Obi Wan Kenobi series

What are Darth Vader’s powers?

Vader is one of the most powerful Force users in Star Wars. His status as the chosen one has always been an indicator of his strength. Even in the Original Trilogy, when the force was ill-defined, his wielding of telekinesis and force choking made him terrifying because, well, how many can do that? And to that extent? Not many!

He can send and absorb energy blasts, catch and deflect them in kind, and use telepathy. He can use Force shields, send out waves of Force energy like a living bomb, and uses Force cloak if needed. His lightsaber abilities are among the most dangerous, with heightened strength, power, and agility, and that’s before you add the cybernetic additions to his suit.

The one move he isn’t great at is Force healing, and that’s because a reprieve from the physical side of his injuries grants him such mental clarity he loses touch with his own rage and frustration. He needs to feel the totality of what he did to himself, coupled with the memories, in order to tap into the maximum amount of the dark side of the Force. Gnarly.

A complete list of Darth Vader’s Force powers:

  1. Force telekinesis
  2. Force choke
  3. Force-enhanced strength
  4. Force barriers

Darth Vader explained Vader in Obi Wan Kenobi

When is Darth Vader’s next appearance?

Hayden Christensen stars as Darth Vader (and Anakin) in the new Star Wars series Ahsoka. He has appeared in the Ahsoka cast already, in a most fascinating form. Ahsoka Tano sees a version of Anakin via the World Between Worlds, and he appears to be more in line with what we will call his better days.

The actor, who played the character in the prequel trilogy, returned to the role in the Obi-Wan Kenobi cast in 2022, as well. The two Star Wars series present a duality: in Obi-Wan Kenobi, we got pure Darth Vader, freshly knighted and seething. Between them, we get a fuller picture of Darth Vader as the complicated, terrifying, tragic antagonist that he is.

You can also find Darth Vader, as played by Spencer Wilding and Daniel Neprous, and voiced by the iconic James Earl Jones, in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on Disney Plus, where he unleashes fury in one of the best Star Wars scenes of all time.

That’s it on Darth Vader for now. For more on Star Wars, check out our guide to the new Star Wars movies, our ranking of the Star Wars movies, or look ahead to what’s coming from the best sci-fi series of all time with our guides on the Andor season 2 release date and The Mandalorian season 4 release date. Or, for a different kind of aliens entirely, here’s everything we have on Avatar 3.