Darth Vader is one of the most recognizable characters in the world. Even if someone knows next to nothing about Star Wars, chances are if they see that black visage, they'll start doing the assisted breath the villain made famous. So when it comes to bringing him back to the big screen for the first time in a significant way since the early 1980s (outside of what amounted to a cameo at the end of Revenge of the Sith) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the pressure was certainly on executive producer and VFX supervisor John Knoll in making sure they got the look right.
Scrutinizing fans know that Darth Vader's look changed slightly between Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. There were obvious changes like the lenses in the eye holes of the helmet, and some other less noticable ones that only deep observation could see. When it came time to put him in Rogue One, the order of the day was to make Darth Vader look instantly recognizable.
"That's a bit of a hybrid," Knoll said of Darth Vader's look in the film. "If you look in New Hope, especially like that white corridor scene at the beginning you can see all these smudges and all these fingerprints on there because it was cast from a clay sculpt. Then by the time we got to Empire Strikes Back they made a new one that was like really polished and smooth and shiny and perfect. The chest plate is different in every film.
"We matched more the, what the chest plate looked like in Episode IV, but a little bit more of the high polish that's in Episode V."
While not strictly official, Knoll even had some story reasoning in his own mind for the slightly different armor and outfit in each movie.
"I figure he's got more than one version of those outfits. The reason the armor looks a little grungier and dented up in A New Hope is you're not going to wear your nice armor into battle. You're gonna wear your beater armor into battle. Then, if you're going to go talk to the Emperor or something you put on the nice shiny one, show some respect," Knoll said with a smile.
It certainly seems like Darth Vader's presence in Rogue One will be special - and limited. Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is the primary antagonist of the film, and the conflict will be with him, not with the dark lord of the Sith. But when we see him, his presence will be polished - literally (unless we see him without his armor...).
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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits US theaters December 16, 2016. Directed by Gareth Edwards, it's the first of the new standalone features from Lucasfilm and Disney, which take place outside the core "Skywalker Saga" of films noted by an Episode number. Rogue One tells the story of the small band of rebels that were tasked with stealing the plans to the first Death Star. The story spins directly off the opening crawl from the original Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. In that crawl, it read: "Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet."