Obi-Wan Kenobi has fully brought Darth Vader into the fold, giving Star Wars fans the darkest look at the Sith Lord yet. Hayden Christensen's villain is singularly focused on hunting down his former master and inflicting as much pain on him as possible, which "Part III" demonstrated from start to finish. The iconic voice of James Earl Jones, aided by new Respeecher technology, dialed up the fear factor for the audience and Kenobi.
Vader's slaughter of Rebel troops at the end of Rogue One set a precedent for showing the Emperor's enforcer in all his fury, something the original trilogy largely just implied. Pre-suit Vader's slaughter of the Jedi younglings and Separatist leaders go down as some of the darkest moments in the franchise, but the latest additions in Kenobi have earned a spot alongside them. Mercilessly killing civilians to weed out Obi-Wan is as evil as anything the character has done.
It wasn't just the snapped necks that made Vader's appearance terrifying. He was a menace in the dark as he pursued Obi-Wan, who ignited his lightsaber not out of defensive reflex, but to feel safe. As Vader said, the years made Kenobi weak, and the Jedi was easily defeated in what can barely be considered a fight before being ruthlessly burned in fire as the Sith Lord once was. Fans have frequently noted how horrifying Vader was, but the series' writer revealed there was originally even more where that came from.
Obi-Wan Writer Reveals Vader Was Originally More Horrifying
In an interview with Vanity Fair, writer Joby Harold addressed the terrifying nature of Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi, citing Rogue One as the point of reference:
"It was a thousand percent the intention. From a Vader point of view, we're all living with the memory of the end of Rogue One, and how effective that was. It was very gratifying to see Vader finally be unleashed in a sequence like that, so we wanted to try to trump it if we could. It was a lot more extreme, at one point."
Harold had to be reigned in a bit by Lucasfilm, but his intention was to show Vader in an unpolished state:
"I got pulled back a little bit on that. It was so important to define Vader's anger and rage. There's an emotionality to the choices he's making that are a little further than we're used to seeing with Vader. He's pushed a little more than the Vader we know. Obi-Wan isn't the finished article before [the original Star Wars], and we can look at Vader in the same way. "
Vader represents fear itself, making it necessary for his pursuit of Obi-Wan to be haunting:
"He is emotionally invested in that hunt to the same degree that Obi-Wan's emotionally invested in running away. What a tremendous vehicle to try to articulate rage when you have Darth Vader on the board and you have that silhouette. It is a scary sequence, but it was entirely by design and it had to be because everyone's running from something that's terrifying. "
Adding to the shock of his village rampage is the limited range of emotions Vader can show with a mask, but behind the helmet is calculated determination:
"I know what you mean. That just makes him all the more intriguing. As he's going down the street and doing those things, he's doing them to draw the Jedi out. We've established the language: the Jedi hunt themselves—because they cannot stand by and watch innocents be killed. So Vader is very cognizant of what he's doing as he's walking down that street. The horror of the moment has an emotional weight because it's calculated."
Limiting the sound mix to just Vader's iconic breathing was a creative choice made to allow the character's gravity to carry the moment:
"And to your point, you don't get to see the emotion beneath the stoicism of the silhouette. So it creates something that's really scary. Plus the mix is great in that scene. The sound design is very effective. You are just hearing the breath and the footsteps and seeing the light of the red saber getting close. It’s the feeling of being hunted by that which hates you. It's terrible."
Vader isn't a big talker, so his actions need to speak for the pain the former Jedi feels:
"His choice is revealing the character beneath and the torture beneath—the pain inflicted and the eye-for-an-eye of it all. It’s a chance to hint at something beneath the mask. Vader can't be talking about, you know, his feelings. So it has to be in action. That comes from dragging people down the street behind you to try to pull the Jedi out of hiding, and that comes in inflicting the same pain upon the Jedi that he did to you. It's awful, but he should be awful. He's Darth Vader."
What Would a Scarier Vader Look Like?
Darth Vader's entrance in the village goes down as the most haunting scene in Star Wars to date. There have been similar moments implied in other projects, but this was a Sith Lord killing because he could, knowing that a good person was watching and would be drawn out. Burning Kenobi was the cruelest thing he did - something so unexpected, yet obvious given the history between the two characters.
If Harold had to be told to pull back on the terror of the sequence, one has to wonder what he previously had in mind? Did Vader draw his lightsaber and wipe out all the bystanders? Or was the ignition of his weapon always reserved for the first meeting with Kenobi, and the rampage instead involved more throttling? Vader's entire existence is defined by pain, and that certainly comes through in subtle ways when the camera lingers on his mask.
Rogue One's interpretation of Vader was scary, but he was familiar. With the film touching back-to-back with A New Hope, Vader was menacing, but in complete control of his rage, driven by the objective of obtaining the Death Star plans. Nothing personal, just business. His hunt for Kenobi is all personal, and there's no one in the galaxy who will stand in his way from seeking out revenge for the pain his master created.
But... there's also the pain Vader inflicted on himself. Every waking moment is spent regretting the choices he made and hating himself for all he lost. There's been some criticism of Vader allowing Obi-Wan to go easily at the end of "Part III," but that can be attributed to his inner conflict - to Anakin Skywalker. The shot of the flames reflecting off of his helmet was telling. Vader has a fire within to target his past, but a hesitation to finish the job. How he and Obi-Wan part ways at the end of the series will be fascinating to see.
New episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi debut on Wednesdays on Disney+.