Wondering what’s going on? Catch up with this bizarre premise here and here. Basically I’m exploring different possibilities surrounding the death of Darth Vader much earlier in the saga by way of those explosive implants mentioned in The Phantom Menace (which are never mentioned again in canon.)
We revisit Revenge of the Sith once again with another alternate take on Vader’s fall to the dark side.
Vader and the Emperor have decimated the Jedi Order. From the ashes of treachery rises the Empire, and with it the newly self-appointed Emperor Palpatine. Young Vader has lost the love of his life, his best friends, and the Order whom he once considered family. How will the Emperor’s enforcer continue to live with himself after what he has done? Will the lack of distractions deepen his connection to the Force? Or will the endless cycle of the dark side’s pain prove too much for the fledgling Sith to handle?
En Route to Coruscant
“Get a medical capsule immediately!” The Emperor had spared no expense in crafting his apprentice, Lord Vader. He refused to lose him this way. He refused to come this far, only to lose his apprentice after one of his first true trials.
Vader’s consciousness slipped. While he hadn’t yet perfected the art, Palpatine dug deep into the Force to use the abilities he’d learned from his own Sith master. Manipulating life at the midichlorian-level proved difficult-but-necessary. He’d learned much from Darth Plagueis, but had he learned enough to save his apprentice from death?
The limited medical training his shock troopers possessed wouldn’t save the fallen apprentice. While the clones could not treat Vader – Vader was far past simple treatment at this point, having lost his limbs to lightsaber slashes and then nearly burned to death on the shores of Mustafar’s lava flows – they were able to stabilize him with the unseen aid of Palpatine’s meddling within the Force.
Anakin had bet his life on Palpatine’s plans, and the only thought he cold maintain was if it had all been worth it.
As the ship lurched into hyperspace, the clone troopers doled out all the disinfectant and portable bacta sprays they’d brought along. But all the bacta, kolto, even preserved adaptogenic bota for that matter, would save Vader. The only option was extensive surgery, which Palpatine had of course taken into consideration during extensive meditations on his plans and contingency. He was well-aware that his apprentice could be wounded in battle. Though disappointed that he’d been soundly defeated so soon, Palpatine had ordered designs for a suit of armor that would rebuild and enhance his apprentice.
Arriving at the Grand Republic Medical facility on Coruscant, Palpatine oversaw the surgery and revitalization process personally. Time was short. Droids applied bacta salves and continued layering on disinfectants while scorched flesh was sheered away. Vader had been sedated of course, but no medicine known to the galaxy could soothe his pain. As manipulator arms clipped away blackened skin, Vader attempted to bat them away with the seared remainder of his replacement hand. The droid seemed annoyed, and later strangely delighted, to remove the limb during replacement surgery. Vader’s screams echoed through the darkened medical chamber, narrowly rising above the thrums and whines of the many-limbed medical droids, bone drills, and other equipment keeping him among the living.
Palpatine continued his tinkering within the Force, working and thinking quickly but never succumbing to desperation. Though valuable, Vader could be replaced. There was no need to destroy himself expending energy deep within the Force when he could put that effort into Vader’s replacement if the need arose. He was also excited to see the surgery in person – though strong in the dark side, he was not omniscient, and he never knew when the need for his own suit of life-sustaining armor might arise. Vader would be the field test for technologies that could potentially keep both Sith alive for generations to come.
The droids began the process of sealing Vader’s suit, enclosing him within the very armor that would prolong his life. Layered lining would remain flexible but durable enough to stand up to lightsaber slashes, glancing blaster bolts, and future risk of burning. Heavy boots and gauntlets reinforced the devastated limbs, which had been replaced with advanced cybernetics. These metal limbs were more closely-integrated with Vader’s remaining nervous system, allowing for quick reaction times and continued manipulation of the Force around him. Last but not least, a respirator was installed. Though based on an advanced bedside model used in hospitals, the respirator wasn’t suited for constant movement, and therefore was imperfect. Vader would have to manipulate the controls at times, adjusting for a variety of atmospheres, altitudes, and spaceflight. Failure to do so would deprive his already-feeble lungs of necessary oxygen. A bulky control panel was installed at Vader’s breastbone where it could be adjusted easily at-will. Palpatine hoped none would exploit this weak spot in his apprentice’s armor at least until a more efficient version could be produced.
Last but not least, a helm had been crafted to protect his apprentice in battle. More advanced than a trooper helmet, the mask was part of Vader’s constant medical monitoring system. The faceplate was modeled in Sith tradition, masking the identity of the dark warrior and striking fear into any that dared oppose him. Inhuman in shape, the large eyes, dorsal ridge, and flared cowl protecting the neck all gave Vader a more intimidating face, not the weak, wounded flesh hidden beneath it.
The helmet was the last step. As a droid arm lowered it to his apprentice’s face, the ridged cowl was installed from another angle. The faceplate, cowl, and respirator shroud sealed magnetically with a hiss and whine, becoming airtight. Palpatine knew Vader was still alive in there, but to what extent? Suddenly he felt a familiar flicker in the Force, and Vader slowly came back to full consciousness. Wisps of smoke filled the room, a bitter mix of sterilizing agents and steam heat from overworked droids. Vader’s new internals adjusted to their default setting for Core planets, those most similar to Coruscant and other planets near the Imperial center. And with a deep rasp, Vader exhaled his first breath.
The operating table rose, lifting Vader to a standing position. Phantom limbs bound to the table, Vader attempted to wrap his mind around the situation, but even his eyesight wasn’t his own. A helmet encased his head, and lenses with red-tinted digital displays overwhelmed him with various feeds – oxygen levels, structural integrities, and others whose functions didn’t seem apparent yet. Realizing he was still alive in some sense of the meaning, Vader reached into the Force for guidance. His recent memories flashed before his eyes again – departing for Mustafar to destroy the Separatist leadership, seeing many friends for the last time, dueling his former master above enormous fields of molten lava, Padme. . .
Padme. . .
Somewhere she was out there. He felt it, he was certain. Delving deeper into the Force he searched for her. Memories of his long-gone past life flashed before his tired eyes. He remembered their first meeting, that embarrassing moment when he compared someone he’d never met to an angel of the far-flung stars. Later that night, master Qui-Gon had accompanied her to dinner at his humble home. Though in jest, he’d shard the greatest fear of his childhood in slavery – destruction at the hands of his master if he wandered off too far. Such a careless mistake or indeed intentional escape would detonate subdermal implants he’d had since birth, ending his life in a burning flash.
Now he had burned still, and his old life was gone. And had anything changed? From his childhood slavery to the Jedi burdening him with the prophetic duty to be the chosen one. . .and now Palpatine. His new master’s face was wearing a concerned expression, mouth agape and eyes intensely focused. In truth there was no concern for his apprentice, only furthering his own goals. Deep down, Vader had always suspected this, but could never bring himself to accuse the great and powerful father figure in his life.
“Lord Vader? Can you hear me?”
In an instant, Vader was snapped from his introspection. Mustering all possible strength in his new limbs, he tore away from the operating table and fumbled, struggling to stand straight. His medical-grade shackles clanged against the floor, cracked and bent apart with the Force. He towered over the Emperor and stared him down from behind the respirator mask.
“Do I sense treachery in you, my apprentice?” Taking a step back, the Emperor unholstered a lightsaber hidden within the billowing sleeves of his cloak. With a snap-hiss, the room was bathed in a red glow.
“This. . .it wasn’t supposed to be this way. . .” Unarmed and unsure if his Force powers would still work after such grievous wounds, Vader turned on his master. The Emperor stepped back again, pointing his blade outward in a defensive stance.
“Do not test fate, Lord Vader. Do not let your losses thus far be in vain. Only through me can you achieve anything greater than—”
Palpatine’s confident grin was abruptly wiped from his face. Vader locked his master in a Force choke, and on his unwary new legs, he stepped closer. But he’d underestimated his powers in comparison with those of the Emperor’s, and his control in the Force was unstable, like that of a padawan facing his first trials.
The Emperor broke free of Vader’s grip, and the rebelling Sith Lord retreated, reevaluating the situation. But the Emperor would not forgive this treachery. Vader could not be allowed to live with these feelings burning in his heart.
“I am sorry, Lord Vader. But I cannot forgive a traitor to the Empire.”
Palpatine deactivated his lightsaber, and with his left hand summoned a bolt of Sith lightning. Flinging it forth like a spear, the control box on Vader’s chest shattered. Unfathomable energy surged into Vader’s body, tearing through armor, cybernetics, and flesh in an instant. The lightning also struck a nerve, specifically the nerve cluster to which his old implants were tethered to. The explosive device was overloaded with power, and before Vader knew it, he’d fallen to his knees with a smoking hole in his chest.
Palpatine had the good sense to know his foe had been defeated and killed, unlike the foolhardy Kenobi who had let Vader survive their clash on Mustafar. Medical droids dragged away the corpse. Though already disfigured, the body had to be destroyed. No one could ever learn the secrets of who young Anakin had become, or his ties to the former Supreme Chancellor’s coup against the Jedi. Though this plan failed, there was always another. The Empire was young, and Palpatine had all the time in the galaxy now to carry out his whims.
Days later, it was time to regroup. The Emperor wished only to move forward, not too look back on his failed apprentice. The name Vader no longer had any meaning to him, save for a reminder of past failings and how to grow beyond them. Back at his office, a contingent of Vader’s 501st Legion of clone troopers had supplemented the Coruscant shock troopers normally stationed there. The 501st had the greatest amount of combat experience versus Jedi, and Palpatine didn’t wish to risk any more losses so early on. Of course he could put down any would-be Jedi assassin himself, but doing so on Coruscant with the extensive media presence could be troublesome. No, it was better to let the clones continue doing the dirty work, to create an impenetrable shield to outside threats.
“Status report, commander.” The Emperor was joined by Commander Appo of the 501st. His white and blue armor showed the weathering and scars of many battles. He had narrowly survived an attack by a rogue padawan, which left much of his personal squad dead as they protected the Jedi Temple from returning Jedi.
“No Jedi activity to report, your highness. But the distress signal appears to have been tampered with. It’s been recoded to urge Jedi to stay away from Coruscant, and none have returned since. We don’t know how long this recording has been going out.”
“No matter, so long as it has been shut down we will have other ways of flushing out the survivors. Has my guest arrived?”
“Yes sir, he was reported to have landed thirty minutes ago. He is waiting upstairs per your instructions.”
“Very good, commander.”
The commander and two of his underlings escorted Palpatine to his office. Little had changed there, though with so many Imperial construction projects beginning, Palpatine had spent less and less time there. The new transparisteel window – repaired after his battle with Mace Windu- overlooked the capital city, Imperial Center. Despite the hectic bustle and traffic noise of Coruscant’s midday, Palpatine had never felt such a sense of peace. He grinned to himself at a funny thought he’d had, and the thought of humor seemed almost unfamiliar. Perhaps I should rename the 501st Legion. Vader’s Fist seems so needlessly nostalgic these days!
Instructing the clones to leave as he entered, Palpatine strode into his office and joined his guest. Mas Amedda, who had been keeping an eye on the guest of honor.
“Your highness,” The man stood before the Emperor.
“Doctor Cylo.” The doctor was an odd one to be sure. He’d banked his reputation on flesh and blood being things of the past, and that only through augmentation could a person reach their true potential. In that regard Palpatine almost agreed with him – whether one was augmented by cybernetics, extensive wealth, or even the Force, no one gained power without changing themselves at the core.
“I came as soon as your message arrived. What is it I can do for the Empire?”
Doctor Cylo blinked, his mismatched eyes making him hard to look at straight-on. Besides implants throughout his body, he had also grafted the skin of a Rodian to the right side of his face, as well as installing an eye of the same species. Whether this improved his functions in some fashion or merely proved he could perform the surgery had yet to be seen, but the man’s talents in cybernetic reconstruction were unprecedented.
“Times are troubling, Doctor. This Empire I’ve assembled is not without it’s enemies, and I seem to find need for a personal bodyguard. My previous enforcer. . .perished.”
“Human I’d guess? Perhaps you’d like something heartier. Maybe a Trandoshan?”
“Specifics can be hammered out in due time, Doctor.” Palpatine waved his hand, dismissing the tangent. “I need your best. I’ve already installed a lab here in the capital where I can watch your work more closely. And you’ll find a generous advance for your services has been transferred to your account.”
“Your highness, this is the greatest honor. I will not disappoint you.”
“See that you don’t, Cylo. You wouldn’t wish to see me disappointed.”
With that, the cyborg doctor departed for his new lab, eager to construct the next bodyguard for the Emperor. He knew nothing of the old one, except that he was a failure, and he didn’t plan to make that mistake. But just like all the rest, he was betting his life on pleasing the Emperor.
While Cylo departed to make his preparations, Palpatine closed off his office for the day. No appointments, no visitors, just time alone with his thoughts. He made reservations for meditation and contemplation but rarely in his office on Coruscant.
In his death throes, Vader’s mind had been more turbulent than ever. Palpatine could feel the dark side boiling within his apprentice – the hurt, confusion, and pain overwhelming his mind. Ultimately this emotional state had proven to be his downfall, both as a Sith and as a Jedi knight. Palpatine possessed no such weakness. When the time had come for him to strike down his own master, Darth Plagueis, he had done so without hesitation. Such was the way of the Sith, for the strong to rule and the weak make but one choice, to serve or perish.
Tyrannus has been correct in his assessment of Skywalker – he had fear and anger but never learned to use them. Utilizing base emotions was where the Sith latched onto their power and forced it to grow. It had been the error of the Jedi to hurl themselves into war without emotion in their hearts. Taught not to love or hate, just to act as their misguided views of the Force willed – that was heresy. Only through the dark side could one expect to crush their enemies in war.
Vader had not been an enemy but indeed a great loss to Palpatine’s cause – a friend, a striking power within the Force, and arguably the focal point of many future plans for the Empire. Vader was to be the face of Imperial rule, the public image of dominion over the galaxy’s hapless citizens. Palpatine’s ambitions were larger than the citizens or any humanitarian mission, but his many layers of planning would need to be rethought without Vader to depend on.
In the following months, Palpatine formed a new organization within the Empire. The Inquisitorious conscripted the Force-sensitives strewn about the galaxy and created dark side warriors from within the ranks. A vindictive Pau’an and former guardian of the Jedi Temple, the appointed Grand Inquisitor was tasked with tracking down other Force-sensitive beings and bringing them before the Emperor himself. Those who earned a reputation either before their recruitment or during early stages of testing were rewarded with more intense training regiments on the planet Yinchorr, home of the Emperor’s own royal guard training program.
The untimely death of Darth Vader hadn’t halted the Emperor’s plans, merely slowed a few of them down. His ranks of aspiring Inquisitors were growing, and those who didn’t meet the supreme standard were often filtered down into royal guard training or special forces training. Meanwhile, the most promising aspirants were the perfect test subjects for Doctor Cylo’s enhancements. Wounds and loss of limbs meant nothing with the cyborg specialist on-staff.
Perhaps Palpatine had ben wise to dispatch his enforcer, as his army now grew stronger with numerous secret agents. Despite their Force training, none would ever compare to Vader in raw strength. But they also lacked Vader’s weaknesses, namely his anxiety and tendency to lash out at those beneath and above him. Singlehandedly, Palpatine had taken the Sith rule of two to its conclusion. By destroying his apprentice and not replacing him, he had ended the cycle and maintained power as the one and only true Sith in the galaxy. With two effective armies – unstoppable legions of stormtroopers on the frontlines and dark side agents and assassins behind them – Palpatine had become invincible.
With this power structure in place, Palpatine would see to it that the galaxy remain under his rule for generations to come. And no power in the future would pass by him unnoticed or untouched by his presence in the Force. The Emperor had become truly indomitable, all powerful, and unrelenting. His Empire would remain eternal without pitiful Jedi or pathetic rebellions to stand in his way.
And that’s a wrap for number three! This one was fun to write, especially all the pulls from comics, both Legends and Canon. I could see this going another way where the Emperor does replace Vader, maybe with the Grand Inquisitor, but there’s also no one that he has that same relationship with. The whole point of those two characters is how their relationship is built on lies and that the truth holds Vader back just as much as the lies before did. This seemed just as interesting to me though, Palpatine rethinking the entire structure of the Empire into two effective divisions, the grunts and the Force-users that are basically legions of Vader replacements.
If you want to see more What If? stories, let me know! I want to get back into the swing of book reviews too – I haven’t stopped reading, just slowed down and also picked up some Legends novels I’ve been meaning to read.
As always, thank you for reading! Keep on trooping and may the Force be with you,
Supreme Leader David