Missed part one? Check it out here. Long story short, how would the Saga change if Darth Vader suddenly died partway through? His subdermal implants that kept him bound to slavery were never removed or addressed again in canon, meaning they could potentially explode at any time. Or perhaps Vader could control them. . .
Let’s stick with the Prequel Era for now, specifically the transitional period from the fall of the Republic to the formation of the Galactic Empire. Order 66 has been declared, and the Jedi Order has been devastated by surprise attacks from allies and friends within the clone army. We meet with former Jedi knight Anakin Skywalker, whose fear has driven him to the dark side. Given the Sith name Darth Vader, the young man is dispatched to Mustafar to destroy the Separatist leadership and end the clone wars. . .
The Outer Rim, Atravis Sector
“You were my brother, Anakin! I loved you. . .” On the verge of tears, Obi-Wan Kenobi retrieved the lightsaber from the ashen ground. This was the weapon of a Jedi, and his pupil and best friend Anakin Skywalker, was a Jedi no more.
“I hate you!” Anakin lay on the edge of the molten river, lava and flames licking his wounds. Obi-Wan had betrayed him, and now he was leaving him for dead. But the lightsaber battle hadn’t killed him, not yet. His legs and left arm were little more than cauterized stumps, open wounds narrowly sealed shut by the intense heat. With his remaining cybernetic arm, he clutched at the hot dirt, dragging himself up the shore.
Still alive, Obi-Wan thought. He was simultaneously unable to look his old friend in the face and unable to push away the compassion ingrained in him since he’d been adopted into the Jedi Order. He blamed himself for all of this, but what he was really seeing was the worst parts of Anakin desperately clinging to life. To end his life would be mercy. I was defending myself, but to leave him like this. . .
“Hypocrite!” Anakin could feel the weight of his old master’s thoughts, and knew that at any second, Kenobi could strike him down. There was too much to be done. Maybe Vader couldn’t live on to atone for all the things Anakin had done, but the Emperor could. His faith in Palpatine hadn’t been misplaced. Loyalty would be rewarded, and the Empire was far too important to come all this way only to fall to the last of the Jedi in its first days. “You will not. . .escape. The Chancellor. . .”
Reaching out through the Force, Anakin locked his old master in a choke. The Emperor wasn’t the only one who had a contingency plan. Anakin had known for years what the Jedi were doing to him, enslaving him just the same as he had been as a child on Tatooine. Their mistake was giving him the power to break free. They could take everything else away from him – Padme, Ahsoka, his family. But at last he would have revenge, all thanks to another master’s contingency plan.
As a child, Anakin had been implanted with a transmitter by the slavers on Tatooine. This device was constantly tracked and, if he wandered too far out of town or tried to escape, the device would detonate. Anakin knew of the device all his life, and after narrowly escaping Darth Maul on Tatooine, his new friends made sure it was shut down for good.
But no one on the crew of Padme’s ship possessed the technical knowledge Anakin did. That device was still a threat despite being put into a shutdown state, and the threat wouldn’t totally cease without surgical removal. The device wasn’t a pressing matter at the time of the crisis on Naboo, and within months even Anakin himself had forgotten to request time for the surgery. And as the months turned into years, and times of skirmishes turned into all-out war, the chances for Anakin’s surgery and downtime dwindled further.
During the darkest times of the Clone Wars, Anakin began to consider the explosive device as a tool, not a burden. He’d long known the turbulence of the Force and being a conduit for the mystical energies, and knew just as well that he could overload the device if he channeled those energies into it. Had he ever tested this theory? No, but he’d been presented with opportunities. He’d been caught behind enemy lines more times than he could count, captured, surrounded, and hopelessly outnumbered. To protect sensitive data, his friends, and ultimately the Republic. . .he’d do what he had to, even if that meant self-detonating.
He’d reached a similar impasse, to try and survive to make up for his mistakes or to destroy an enemy who would surely try to undermine the Emperor’s efforts. . .
Vader reached inward, locating the old device once again. To protect his new master’s vision of a galaxy united, he knew what had to be done. Obi-Wan was too dangerous to be left alive, and if it meant sacrificing his own life as well, his master would just have to go on without him.
Lord Vader, using his old master as an anchor point on the blackened shore, began to drag himself up the incline, away from the molten rock. His grip on Obi-Wan was tight even with his strength divided, half focusing on holding the Jedi still while he used the rest to gain momentum. Anger boiled within him, enhancing his strength, giving him focus and purpose. That same rage pumped energy into the explosive device, activating electronics long thought to be dead.
Obi-Wan sensed fear in Anakin, but also the same fierce determination he always displayed in battle. Every other familiar feature was replaced with malice, hideous scarring, and a disheartening, cold stare. There was only one way out, he knew, and it ended with just one of them walking away.
Vader closed in, crawling using all the strength his mangled limbs could muster. Obi-Wan Reached into the Force rather than for his saber. Battling the chosen one yet again, he began to push back. Despite the intense heat of the planet, he’d never felt colder. Pushing away the shivers and dread, he focused on what was left of Anakin. Something inside him was different, still determined but with a strange aura of resolve. It was as if he knew something Obi-Wan did not. Be that as it may, he couldn’t afford to take that chance, to let Anakin say something that could sway him. It was already too late. . .
“Ana–kin. . .I’m so sorry. . .” Resisting the grip around his throat, Obi-Wan struggled to raise one hand. He couldn’t look at what he was about to do, but saw no other way out. Making the most of his last chance, he blasted Anakin with a Force push. When he opened his eyes once more, his apprentice was gone, vaporized by the pool of lava. Obi-Wan fell to his knees clutching the lightsaber of his old friend. There was no time to grieve, and barely enough time to prepare for the future. He left at once, knowing his next mission had already begun – Padme must be protected at all costs.
A disturbance in the Force like no other ripped through Emperor Palpatine’s mind. The worst had come to pass, and although he had prepared for innumerable outcomes during the Clone War, this was the worst of all possibilities. He traveled to Mustafar to very in-person what had come to pass.
“My Lord, should we split up and scout the area?” One of Palpatine’s red-clad shock troopers asked.
“No, no. What I felt appears to be true. We must move quickly if we are to finish what began with Lord Vader. Back to the ship at once, captain.”
Obi-Wan had never been so happy to see Master Yoda. Kenobi had been eager to commune with the grand master since leaving Mustafar. Such tragedy had befallen them all in the past few days. Anakin had not only turned to the dark side, he’d perished in the fires of Mustafar. Despite giving birth to the potential saviors of the galaxy, Padme had passed away shortly after her children – twins – were born. A new plan was immediately set in motion. Senator Bail Organa, longtime friend and confidant of Padme, would adopt the daughter, Leia, and raise her on Alderaan. While the son, Luke, was to be sent to his extended family back on Tatooine, Obi-Wan would watch over the boy from a safe distance. Yoda would also disappear into an unknown world until the time was right to train the children, and he would train himself in the meantime, learning from his failures. Obi-Wan would do the same during his downtime in exile.
“I’ve failed them already, Master.” Obi-Wan said, “I couldn’t save Anakin, what good will I do with the boy?”
“Though unwelcome these surprises have been, Obi-Wan, learn from them we must. Where we have failed, we can teach the future to thrive.”
“And what of Bail’s rebellion? What chance do we have against the Emperor?”
“To say it, pains me it does. But with Anakin defeated, we’ve proven the Emperor is vulnerable. A plan we will have when right the time is, Obi-Wan. Until then, fear not my friend.”
Back on Coruscant, Emperor Palpatine planned his next move. With his most valuable asset destroyed, he was eager to find a new apprentice. In time his machinations would take place. The Inquisitorious was far from ready to cull a new Sith lord from their ranks. No clone or stormtrooper could fulfill the position. No, what Palpatine needed was someone born naturally strong in the Force, someone with fears and ambitions that could be molded into a new Vader.
It had been weeks since Vader’s death, but the Emperor’s destiny would not wait. He had tasked the few Inquisitors – former Jedi now shaped into fierce acolytes of the dark side – with tracking down other survivors of the Jedi purge. The fact that these Inquisitors existed already was proof enough to Palpatine – the Jedi had always been loyal only to power, and as long as his power was unchallenged, he would control the strongest warriors of the Force.
A private comm channel only Palpatine could access contained messages from his fledgling hunters. Force-sensitive children were still scattered across the galaxy, now in little to no danger of being corrupted by a Jedi. The newest message pinged on the comms, ready to be received. It was none other than the Grand Inquisitor, head instructor of his dark brothers and sisters. The ghastly painted face of the Pau’an flickered into existence on the holoprojector.
“My Lord,” He bowed before Palpatine. Though he wasn’t allowed to take a Sith name, the man’s only recognized title was ‘Grand Inquisitor.’ He had no need for a name in Palpatine’s eyes. He was a tool to be utilized, not Sith material.
“Grand Inquisitor. I hope your search has been fruitful this time.”
“I believe it to be so. I will be sending my full report for your review, my Lord. And if I may say, it would be an honor to present my find to you in person.”
“Send me everything and make haste for Coruscant, Inquisitor. We shall see.”
Palpatine reviewed the report overnight. The report from his agent was certainly impressive. The young woman had a degree of Force-sensitivity with no formal training. She was a simple smuggler living credit-to-credit running with a small band of brigands in the Outer Rim. Despite not having formal training of any kind, she was skilled in the use of blasters and vibro-weapons, and was especially adept with swords. The next day, she was the Emperor’s first appointment.
“As requested, my Lord.” The Inquisitor delivered the young woman. A thick bag had been placed on her head, blinding her to her surroundings. Eager to meet the girl, Palpatine dismissed the black-armored special forces clones who accompanied them, as well as his own royal guards.
“I’m sorry to bring you here under such circumstances, but I assure you this is of the utmost importance, my child.”
“Can you get this off of me?” The girl demanded.
With a wave of his hand, the Inquisitor removed the bag. The binders at her wrist, however, stayed in place for the time being. She waved her flowing red hair away from her pale face.
“Do you know where you are?” This was a test. Palpatine probed with questions that would rely on extra-sensory perception, seeing without eyes.
“Coruscant, judging by the traffic noise on the way down here.”
Excellent. She realizes not only where the facility is but also the fact that it’s deep underground, hidden away from view.
“My agents have brought you here because of your abilities. You could be a great asset to the Empire.” Probing her mind, Palpatine saw the desire for power within the young girl.
“I’m a fighter. I’ve always been a fighter. I assume that’s what you need.”
“Excellent. I can feel the fighting spirit inside you. Such potential to succeed where others have failed me. What is your name, my child?”
“Mara. Mara Jade.”
Ultimate fan service? (The answer is no because the first draft had Boba Fett doing the Inquisitor’s job) This was one of the first thoughts I wanted to explore when I posed the whole “Darth Vader exploding” question. The fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan is iconic and gives so much more weight to their relationship, especially if you take The Clone Wars TV series into account. One of my favorite moments was Anakin/Vader gripping Obi-Wan by the throat, using him as an anchor point to allow his Force powers to move what’s left of his body. Any time the Force can do some crazy new thing (within reason) I get really excited. And I know I had to de-age Mara Jade quite a bit, but I thought including her in an iconic aside to the films was an interesting challenge to write.
So what should part three be all about? Kylo Ren’s views on his grandfather’s sacrifice? An alternate take on Return of the Jedi? I have about two or three more of these in mind, but if there’s anything you’d like to really see, let me know in the comments!
Note: I also realize that these what-ifs are dealing with the very real topic of suicide. Though the idea of Darth Vader exploding was initially a joke in my mind, the pieces I’ve written hopefully don’t treat thoughts of suicide as a joke. If you yourself are struggling with suicidal thoughts or know someone who is, reach out to them, or help them reach out to get the help/treatment they need. Find out more here at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline site.
As always, thanks for reading! Keep on trooping and may the Force be with you,