Fear and Loathing in Vader’s Castle

While it may be a short scene in the grander scheme of things related to Rogue One‘s plot, the quick glimpse of Vader’s dwelling is the scene that keeps me thinking the most.  There’s a lot of lore and interesting possibilities packed into such a small scene, working almost entirely off of its visual presence.  Some of the supplemental material that’s come out since the film’s launch has added a few more details on the castle, but I’m not here to recap a couple tidbits of info.  Rather, I want to talk about the castle’s importance for Star Wars on the whole, and how it effectively connects to the larger themes surrounding the notorious villain and his ultimate redemption.  

I know it’s a lot of (over) analysis for something with only a few minutes of screen time, but I feel it’s a fitting example of where Rogue One was able to succeed the most.  The film managed to add a great deal to the Star Wars mythos (more so than even The Force Awakens) in a way that felt natural and not overwhelming.  Most of it was done with visual cues, or off-hand comments, but the movie is filled with tidbits adding to the overall Star Wars universe we know and love.   

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During my first viewing of Rogue One, I lost it when Vader’s Castle appeared on the screen, and had to keep myself from exclaiming out loud.  It’s something that appeared in the old Expanded Universe comics/books/video games and I was ecstatic to see it appear once more for the new canon.  

Better yet, it’s now situated on Mustafar.  While it took the visual dictionary and novelization to confirm the Castle’s location, I knew almost the instant it appeared on-screen and felt it was the perfect setting.  

Mustafar, if you haven’t watched the Prequels in a while (or foolishly ignore them), is the lava planet in which the final climactic battle in Revenge of the Sith between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin took place.  It’s the location of Anakin/Vader’s final descent to the dark side, the culmination of all things leading to the betrayal of his greatest love, and dismissal of the only family he knew.  The result, obviously, are the injuries which forced him to don the iconic suit.  

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Because this is the location of Anakin’s biggest loss, I’ve seen some fans wonder why he would choose to build his abode on Mustafar.  The supplemental books have shed a little light on this, with suggestions that the tower is built on the site of an ancient tomb, with connections to the Sith or other dark side cults.  While that might be reason enough alone for Vader to retreat there between missions for the Emperor, I think another reason is just as likely. 

Hate is an essential element to using the dark side of the Force, and the fuel for the users’ power comes from rage.  Since the time of the original films (where we learnt this information), I’ve contended the source of Vader’s anger has always been himself.  He loathes what he’s become and the Prequel films help bring that aspect into focus.  While his fear of losing Padme is what drives his INITIAL turn, it’s the disgust at his own actions that keep him firmly entrapped on the dark side.  

When he slaughters the younglings and travels to Mustafar to assassinate the remaining Separatist leaders, you can see how upset the actions have made him.  Despite pledging his allegiance to the Sith, you can tell he isn’t proud of his actions and deeply unsettled by them.  His full and complete turn doesn’t happen until he’s encapsulated in his machine body and learns of Padme’s death.

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It’s then that the full import of his actions sink in and he’s wholly incapable of dealing with what he’s done.  There’s no going back and he hates himself for it.  It’s this self-loathing that keeps him going year after year.  It’s not until he learns about his son, Luke, that he sees a chance to change things.  Not for necessarily a chance redemption, but the potential to forgive himself. 

Vader loathes what he’s become and the horrible things he’s done over the years.  The problem is, the hatred causes him to do MORE horrible things.  It’s a vicious cycle, but being forced live in a mechanical tomb and losing everything he held dear, this rage is all he has left.  As such, it makes perfect sense for him to “live” on Mustafar.  It’s a reminder of his failing and what he became, which he can then use to re-center his anger and add to his power.  If hate is really what drives the dark side and increases its power, there’s no better place for Vader to go for a ‘recharge’.  

Castle Sketch

It’s a small thing within Rogue One, but provides a deep connection to the Saga films that plays on the central themes surrounding Vader’s fall and the dark side in general.  It’s the type of connection which encourages discussion/dissection, subtly adding elements to the larger Star Wars mythos, while working on the surface level as a visual treat for fans and newcomers.  

I know not everyone is going to look that deep into the Castle’s appearance in the movie, it remains one of my favorite aspects of the new film.  It makes sense within the context of Darth Vader’s character and internal struggle, while opening up some interesting possibilities for future storytelling.