Despite his presence as one of the franchise’s greatest villains, Darth Vader remains one of the most popular Star Wars characters.
His imposing gravitas is oft-unmatched in the sci-fi world, lending a dark and ominous presence to each of his appearances in the expansive Star Wars universe. The character inspired a generation of sci-fi writers, and remains one of the most recognizable characters to ever grace the big screen.
Around the globe, only one face comes to mind with the sound of a mechanized, raspy breath. Vader’s presence has left an enduring mark on cinema forever, lending influence that will likely last long past the release of the very last Star Wars creation — should that day ever come.
Vader has appeared in more Star Wars media than almost any other character in the franchise. His enthralling, tragic story has been captivating audiences for more than 40 years, over nearly a dozen releases. Here are all of them.
Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999)
Long before he was terrifying audiences as a raspy Sith Lord, Darth Vader was a young slave on the desert planet of Tatooine. A youthful version of him debuted in the first Star Wars prequel film, introducing fans to Anakin Skywalker, the man that predated Darth Vader. The film also introduced Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, a casting the fan base continues to celebrate more than two decades later.
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)
The backstory behind the Empire’s rise is fleshed out in Attack of the Clones, the second film in the prequel trilogy. Released in 2002, the film was initially unpopular among audiences, facing widespread criticism of clunky writing and underdeveloped characters upon its release. These days, the film is far more popular among audiences. It beats out Phantom Menace on Rotten Tomatoes, where it boasts a comfortable 65%.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The last of the prequel films is also the most popular, according to Rotten Tomato scores. Revenge of the Sith is certified “fresh” on the platform, soaring above its fellow prequel films with a comfortable 79%. This is despite the fact that it was roundly criticized by fans in the years — decades, even — following its release, only to experience an unexpected resurgence over recent months. People are gaining a new appreciation for the film, which sees the final steps of Anakin’s descent into Darth Vader play out. It’s got a growing fanbase online, as people return to the flick with fresh — and newly appreciative — eyes.
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
Darth Vader made his official debut in the very first Star Wars film, stepping onto screens for the first time in the late 1970s. The character became an instant icon, terrifying audiences with the instantly recognizable sound of his respirator. His presence in pop culture hasn’t faded in the 45 years since he debuted, and in fact has only become more prominent. And it all started with A New Hope.
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Some of Vader’s most recognizable lines are uttered in this 1980 classic, broadly considered one of the best-ever Star Wars films by fans. His role as the franchise’s villain only grew over the course of The Empire Strikes Back, and led to one of the most iconic scenes in filmmaking history. There isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t recognize this film’s most popular line.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Anakin’s story goes full circle, concluding beautifully in the final film in the original trilogy. Return of the Jedi provides a fitting and satisfying end to a trilogy that continues to define sci-fi to this day, and — despite issues with pacing and script — this film remains a staple of the genre. Many fans feel the final original film lacks some of the magic of the first two. Regardless, there is plenty to love about this sci-fi classic.
Star Wars: Rogue One (2016)
Rogue One presents what many fans consider to be Darth Vader’s most frightening appearance to date, showcasing the true, devastating power behind this enduring character. Vader’s reputation is well-known by this point, but Rogue One finally gave viewers a look at what a Sith Lord is truly capable of when pitted against regular soldiers. It’s a brief scene, but remains an absolute favorite among fans.
On top of his numerous live-action appearances, Vader’s imposing presence has cropped up in several of the franchise’s animated spin-off series. Each of the shows follows accepted canon, fleshing out the vast Star Wars galaxy with fresh characters and storylines.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008-2020)
Set during the years between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, the Clone Wars television series is a wonderful addition to Star Wars canon. It follows Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Anakin’s padawan Ahsoka as they participate in the Clone Wars, an oft-discussed portion of the war that was, previously, unexplored. The show is often geared toward kids, and thus is lighthearted in nature, but don’t let the charming animation fool you. Clone Wars is one of the best entries in the Star Wars franchise to date.
Star Wars: Rebels (2014-2018)
Another spin-off show that expands on the already rich Star Wars world, Rebels takes place in the years after Order 66 decimated the Jedi and brought the Empire to power. Vader makes several appearances over the course of the series, giving viewers more Rouge One-like glimpses of the character at the height of his intimidating power.