A brief design history of Darth Vader, Nazi inspiration and all

Apr 25, 2022
starkiller fights vader artwork www.starwars.com
Early concept of a young Starkiller dueling Vader

A brief history of the design of Darth Vader

Kylo Ren may be obsessed with Darth Vader but the rest of the world got there well before him.

It was in 1977 to be exact when Vader stepped into the Tantive IV and threw a few Rebels about.

As he did so, he stepped into movie infamy as one of the greatest villains ever.

We have a theory that one of the key reasons why that happened was the look of Vader.

He was like a caped black knight, spewing evil from that robotic face. Not to mention that terse, measured breathing that was utterly terrifying.

It was just sinister. Vader was a big deal, even before the most infamous reveal of his fathering Luke Skywalker.

Indeed Pierre Christin, a noted comic creator who had some influence over Star Wars, had this to say on why we love Vader:

“A villain like Darth Vader is simply a cinematic flash of genius, destined to be a great film icon forever. The reason we fear him so much is because he partly reflects ourselves.”

So we love Vader because we fear him.

Got it, thanks French dude.

So what were the elements that went into the design of Darth Vader?

Who came up with him and his look?

And the meaning of his name?

Read on, Star Wars fan, read on.

How did the concept of Vader develop?

George Lucas is the father of Darth Vader.

When Lucas was throwing around ideas for his ‘Journal of the Whills’ concept he wrote down the name of ‘General Vader’ who he noted was an Imperial Commander.

The character was described as a “tall, grim looking general”. Lucas also wrote down ideas for 'Knights of the Sith', a character called 'Kane Starkiller' who was a cyborg.

Eventually, Lucas fashioned the character as a 'Black Knight of the Sith' who served the 'Master of Sith'.

Initially, Vader did not have his famous helmet. Lucas had suggested his face be obscured by a black silk scarf.

This was during 1975 at which time Lucas asked Ralph McQuarrie to turn this concept into a drawn character.

When McQuarrie learned that Vader (as it was then in the script) was to cross through the cold vacuum of space to enter Leia’s spaceship, he added the mask.

Obviously, the reasons for Vader needing the mask were made more interesting later on.

McQuarrie delivered duly delivered some concept art:

Early Darth Vader concept designs
Early Darth Vader concept designs
A costume designer by the name of John Mollo was given these sketches and told to get to work. He was inspired by samurai influences (which would have pleased Lucas given his penchant for Akira Kurosawa movies) and Nazi uniform and armor that was used in the trench battles of World War I.

In keeping with this minor Nazi influence, Stormtroopers were named after specialist German soldiers from the same era. Counterpoint: Vader was not German for Dark Father.

Brian Muir made the actual helmet and mask, fashioning early sculptures out of clay. He did his sculpting over a plaster head of David Prowse.

Here’s a great interview with Muir explaining the process.

Fun fact: Vader’s armour was given the serial number E-3778Q-1M.

That voice

During filming, David Prowse did the actions and also voiced the character believing he would be doing the final recordings as well.

Lucas had other ideas and tried to hire the great filmmaker Orson Welles (speaking or Welles, check out our Theory About Director Krennic's name) with no success.

This was just as well for James Earl Jones got the gig and Vader’s final ingredient was found. Jones recorded his lines in 2 and a half hours and received a small cheque for his time.

Jones also chose to not receive an on-screen credit as he thought his role was too small.

This was eventually rectified when Star Wars become a global smash again with Empire Strikes Back.

That breathing

Ben Burtt invented the sound by recording him using a scuba breathing apparatus.

The microphone was placed in the regulator.

To get the sound just right, these recordings were played in empty rooms and re-recorded to get that ‘from the helmet’ sounding effect.

Who was that guy that played Vader in Jedi?

During ANH and TESB, David Prowse did the bodywork for the character. Bob Anderson did the heavy lifting. Come time for the finale of Jedi, there was a need to show Vader’s face.

It was the big reveal moment, father and son eyeballing each other for the first, and last time in their lives.

Veteran English actor Sebastian Shaw was hired. His scene was filmed in secret so as to hold off on the ‘surprise’ as long as possible.

It is Shaw who stands as a Force ghost with Yoda and Obi-Wan in the original form, replaced by Hayden Christiansen in the Special Edition.

Coming back to Kylo Ren for a moment – When Luke Skywalker ceremonially cremated his father's armour on the moon of Endor in Jedi, Vader’s helmet featured on the pyre.

In the real world, the specific prop was an old promotional mask that was used from the promotional touring that took place after the premiere of A New Hope.

In the movie realm, the mask and helmet that Kylo Ren is holding when he talks to his grandfather Vader in The Force Awakens appears to have been retrieved from the pyre.


  1. Germany during WW1 weren't Nazi's. Nazism didnt become a thing until the 1920's.

    1. It says "Nazi uniform and armor that was used in the trench battles of World War I". The and is a very important thing as they are separate inspirations.

  2. Please note: There weren't any Nazi soldiers in the trench battles of World War I. WWI was from 1912-1918. The Nazi party was formed in 1920 and was instrumental in World War II (which is also when they had Stormtroopers).


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