As “Hakko Drazlip and the Tootle Froots” so famously (infamously) sang, one Darth Vader is made of many prosthetic parts (if you get the reference, across the internet high five for you… if not, don’t worry you didn’t miss much in Heir to the Jedi).
While it might not be the best of ideas to sing a song mocking the Dark Lord of the Sith, it is certainly a good idea to look at the parts that do make up Vader/Anakin, at least in the metaphorical sense.
There are two parts to this analysis. First, the prequel trilogy, wherein we see the fall of
Anakin as he turns into Darth Vader. Secondly, there is the original trilogy, where we see the rise out of the darkness for Anakin. In both scenarios, the other characters foreshadow/mimic who Anakin will be in showing parts of his future characteristic.
The Prequel Trilogy
One thing many people consider a fault of the prequels is that they do not have a central villain in the same way the original films did. What is missed when looking through this lens is the bigger story that Lucas was telling.
Sidious was literally, through trial and error, piecing together his ideal apprentice: Darth Vader.
First there is Darth Maul. Now a dynamic and intriguing character, let us not forget that when we see Maul in The Phantom Menace, as a conduit of Sidious’s will, he is nothing more than a being fueled by anger, hate, and rage. Moreover, he wants revenge on the Jedi, (“At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi; at last we will have revenge.”) . He is a character who is able to be singularly focused on the dark side, which is exactly the space Vader will spend almost twenty years before meeting his son.
Then there is the fallen Jedi, Count Dooku. From the deleted scenes of Attack of the Clones, we know that a Jedi leaving the Order is a rarity, and a Jedi leaving in order to bring down the order even moreso. This is true for both Dooku and Anakin. But more important than that they left the Order is why the left the Order.
Dooku, in starting the Seperatist movement, shows that he believes (rightfully so) that the Republic is falling apart from the inside out and that the most effective way to rebuild it is to destroy it first. Anakin, throughout the prequels, begins to feel similarly. We see it first when he is speaking with Padme in the field on Naboo:
Interestingly enough, we see all of this come to fruition. Just like everything Dooku says to Obi-Wan on Geonosis is true, from a certain point of view, there is a bit of Anakin that really does believe what he says here.
Eventually, just like Dooku, Anakin takes action against the Jedi because of their failure. He, however, is able to do what Dooku could not. Or you could say he… finished what Dooku started.
Finally, there is Grevious. A general, in charge of a mass of droids aimed at ruling the galaxy. Sounds a little bit like a black clad badass we know.
While Vader might not be a general, he is the number two to Sidious, which Grevious also is after the death of Count Dooku. On top of that, the stormtroopers of the Galactic Empire are droids of another form, as they all look, act, and speak the same while under their helmets. And of course, the whole galactic domination thing.
Grevious, “more machine than man” in the same way Vader would be, is the final element in creating the ultimate galactic villain that would come after him.
Notably, this makes the story of Palpatine even more worthwhile because it shows his ability to adapt and adjust. Each time he tried to find the perfect conduit to his will, it was good but not good enough. Until Vader, the combination of the parts. The gestalt.
The Original Trilogy
What truly makes the prequels great is how they strengthen the original trilogy. This is undoubtedly true for Vader/Anakin because when Anakin pulls himself out from behind the mask (and even a bit before, as the transition is occurring) that is Vader, we once again see that he is the conglomerate of the other characters.
Off the bat, the logical place to look is Luke. Luke, the brash young pilot, just like his father. Luke, the overly confident Force wielder, just like his father. Luke, loyal to his friends, even to a fault, just like his father.
Luke, the one who must learn to love even in the hardest of situations, just like his father.
During those last moments of Return of the Jedi, we see the paths of these two come to a head, and see how their paths have become so intertwined that they would either rise together or fall together. We have seen Luke go from a naive farm boy to a brash young man to one who is a little too comfortable with his power, choking Gamorrean guards and killing people. He is getting darker, though the light is predominant.
In contrast, Vader is getting lighter, though the darkness is predominant. In A New Hope, and for most of Empire, we see a brutal, harsh, killing machine. We see the Vader built by the scars of war, loss, and the fires of Mustafar. But slowly, the light starts to creep in. He learns he has a son, and at the end of Empire we see him calling out to his son. He may think he wants galactic domination, but his heart now wants something more.
In his son, he sees Padme.
Just like Padme brought out the true heart for people Anakin had (misguided though it may have been), Luke brings this out in him as well. Even in asking Luke to join the dark side, Vader is showing that relationships are what matter to him, the same as when he was Anakin and focused on his friends (Obi-Wan, Ahsoka, Padme, Rex) more than the greater galaxy.
Slowly, that light is creeping in. It creeps in more when he hears his name, his true name, spoken by his son on the forest moon of Endor. And it finally culminates in returning to Anakin Skywalker.
None of this could happen without the template Luke laid out. Luke showed him that you could come back from the dark when he threw away his lightsaber.
All the same, Vader is a mirror of the other characters as well. He has the same demeanor as Leia, and it is that internal strength that allows him to throw the Emperor over the balcony. He has the confidence of Han, and in turn must learn humility in the same fashion.
Alas, there are Anakin’s old masters, and the men who, at least in part, are to blame for the rise of Vader: Yoda and Obi-Wan. While Luke does bring Vader back from the dark side, Yoda does say that “forever will it dominate your destiny.” This is critical not just for Luke, but Anakin as well. When Luke removes his helmet, we see the true Anakin inside. His skin is white, pure but scared by a life of evil. And still, the clad of Vader surrounds him. In the same fashion, Yoda and Obi-Wan spend a generation suffering for the mistakes they made in arrogance, searching for a new hope. And when that new hope arrives, they still have those scars (Obi-Wan, despite being one with the Force, is narrow-minded in how he things about dealing with Vader and the Emperor; Yoda is prone to frustration and lacks trust in Luke). Those scars that will last with them eternally.
The prequels are the story of Palpatine constructing his perfect apprentice, but his oversight allows Luke to deconstruct that man, and redeem his father to save the galaxy. Evil builds power (Vader is literally constructed of mechanical prosthetics), good breaks power down (Vader’s suit falls apart and breaks as he returns to Anakin). And love, as always, wins.