Opinions of the prequels aside, one thing it undeniably did is humanize Darth Vader. It made him more man to us than machine, and let us see into who he was as a person, not just a villain. It also makes where he is at in Rogue One all the more tragic.
Everyone is, rightfully so, talking about the Vader scene at the end, where he tears rebels limb from limb in pursuit of the Death Star plans. While that scene is stunning in every way imaginable, it is not the one that really teaches us anything about Darth Vader. It certainly validates what we thought he was supposed to be through the entire original trilogy, but it does not teach us anything about his journey from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader and back to Anakin again.
The scene at his castle does exactly that. According to the Rogue One Visual Dictionary, Vader has been placed on Mustafar thanks to the Emperor himself. He is also surrounded by Imperial Guards, who are more than likely reporting back to the Emperor. The Emperor is, essentially, putting Baby in the corner.
When we meet a young Anakin Skywalker in Episode I, he is desperately trying to be seen not as a slave but as a person. Ironically, and sadly, the same can be said for Darth Vader. He knows that the Emperor sees him as a tool, and he hates himself for it. He wants to be known for who he really is, but the Emperor has just placed him off to the side until he is of use. Again, he has become a slave.
Tragically, he is not only a slave to Palpatine, he is a slave to his own anger and hate. When last we saw Vader on Mustafar, he was battling his former Master and brother, Obi-Wan. He was choking the love of his life, Padme. But even more than that, he was trying desperately to free himself from the chains that were, in his eyes, killing him.
The Jedi dogma was limiting, because he could not fully express himself. Slave. His mother dying showed that he was weak. Slave. The lack of trust from the Jedi Council riddled him with doubt. Slave.His dreams of Padme’s death brought about the same doubt he had when he did not know how to free his mother. Slave. His anger. Slave. His hate. Slave. His need to be loved. Slave. His inability to fit in. Slave. Being the Chosen One. Slave.
Who was the only one who made Anakin feel like a person, and not a slave? Sheev Palpatine. Who is the one that made him the ultimate slave? Sheev Palpatine.
So when we initially see Darth Vader on Mustafar in Rogue One, it is appropriate that he is hanging from chains, surrounded by men loyal not to him, but his Master. The physical limitations we see are a metaphor for the actual limitations put on him by the Emperor.
Moreover, in Star Wars Rebels, we hear that Mustafar is “the place where Jedi go to die.” It is plausible that the Anakin which is left within the black suit believes that if he can kill the Jedi, who enslaved him to their ways, on the planet of his greatest defeat, which enslaved him to his armor, he may truly find peace and freedom.
But the lesson of Darth Vader is not to not trust people or try to rid ourselves of all weakness. That is what caused his downfall and left him to simmer in his own self-loathing on Mustafar. No the lesson of Darth Vader is that we free ourselves by freeing others.
On the second Death Star, we see Anakin Skywalker get his second chance. All these years he has been left to slowly die in his own darkness, and he is unable to see past that. Until he does in the form of Luke. In possibly the most bone chilling moment of the entire saga, Luke cuts off the limb of Darth Vader in a fit of rage, only to slowly look down at his own hand. He comes to the realization that he is becoming that which he was trying to destroy. At the same time, Vader lays there, defeated for the first time since Mustafar, and he sees that his son his becoming what Anakin was supposed to destroy. As Luke is being electrocuted by the Emperor, Anakin is finally truly able to see through the darkness, and realizes that he must save his son. He throws the Emperor over the catwalk, at the same time throwing off his own chains.
That moment could have gone many ways, but there was only one that could have redeemed Anakin. He had to give of himself. He had to give up himself. Every philosophy for which the Force was based speaks of giving up of one’s self in order to help others, and that that is the ultimate path to enlightenment and righteous living. It is the path of redemption and peace. Anakin finds that path in the last moment of his life in saving his son.
The tragedy, then, of Darth Vader is that he existed only because of Anakin’s selfishness. His inability to let go, to forgive, and ultimately to tell right from wrong. As the Chosen One, it was said he would destroy the Sith. He did so, not through trying to free himself of his chains through brute force and power, but by letting go and giving into the will of the Force. May we all find such strength.