It has become the most memorable moment of Rogue One: Rebel troops making a frantic escape with the Death Star plans find themselves in a dark corridor. We hear familiar breathing. A red lightsaber ignites. And the audience goes wild as everyone's favorite Sith Lord goes to work.
But Vader's showstopping scene wasn't in the original version of the movie, director Gareth Edwards has now confirmed. Like just about everything else in Rogue One's third act, it was concocted by one of his editors — and shot a few months before the release of the Star Wars standalone.
In an interview with Fandango blogger Erik Davis, Edwards laid out the original ending. Vader's ship, the Executor, destroys the massive Mon Calamari vessel that has uploaded the plans from the Rogue One team on Scariff; we then cut to the famous blockade runner from the beginning of the original Star Wars, the Tantive IV, making its getaway.
Then editor Jabbez Olssen suggested the corridor scene, which Edwards calls "the Walk of Death." Olssen pitched it to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, and the scene was being shot on a Pinewood lot two weeks later.
(The strong influence of post-production editors is a fine Star Wars tradition; the original movie wouldn't have nearly looked as cool without George Lucas' then wife Marcia and her editing team, all of whom won Oscars for their work.)
Edwards loved the idea, and plotted the scene obsessively with storyboards — but didn't imagine it would become one of the key takeaways from the film.
"It was my last chance to do Star Wars," the director told Davis. "It really is just the greatest hits of Darth. We really didn't want to do anything you haven't seen him do so it didn't throw people off. We kept it to what had been established."
In point of fact, very little of what Vader does in that corridor had been seen in the Star Wars films before. In the original trilogy we see him choke people at a distance and deflect Han Solo's blaster bolt before retrieving the blaster.
But Vader tossing around Rebel soldiers like rag dolls isn't something that had been established in movie canon. Until Rogue One, it was more the kind of thing you'd see in a Star Wars videogame such as The Force Unleashed.
Much of the Walk of Death is the result of Edwards' stunt team figuring out what they could do at short notice. "They came up with a whole shopping list of ideas," the director told Davis; "70 percent we used, and maybe 30 percent felt a little too extreme."
After all, this is an aging Sith Lord who is supposed to have a very low-energy lightsaber showdown with Obi-Wan Kenobi a few days after the Walk of Death. You don't want him kicking too much ass.