Darth Vader is undoubtedly one of the most iconic characters of all time. Even people who have never seen a Star Wars movie are more than likely able to recognize the image of Darth Vader’s iconic helmet. Darth Vader first appeared in 1977, and since then there have been several people working to bring the character to life. But how many people have played the character before?
*Note: For this breakdown, we are only going to be looking at people who played Darth Vader, not Anakin Skywalker. While there is a very obvious connection between the two, this is to see who all has worked to make the villain Darth Vader such an iconic one.
Darth Vader first appeared in 1977, where he was portrayed by two actors. Bodybuilder David Prowse wore the armor on set, while Vader’s dialogue was spoken by James Earl Jones. These two would portray Darth Vader in all three movies of the original trilogy. When the movie was released, James Earl Jones actually wasn’t credited for his work on the movie, by his own request. According to Jones, he only spent a day recording the lines for the movie, and he viewed his participation as more of a special effect for the movie rather than an acting job. While he may have felt this way personally, fans the world over disagreed, and James Earl Jones was finally credited for his performance as Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. Plus, when the Star Wars trilogy special editions were released in 1997, Jones was added to the credits for A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back as well, one of the most universally approved changes to the special editions.
Also appearing as Darth Vader in the original trilogy is Olympic fencer Bob Anderson. Anderson, who competed in the 1952 Olympic Games would go on to have a long career in Hollywood as a fight choreographer, and stuntman. He did some work on the original Star Wars movie, but his involvement increased for the next two, where Anderson performed all of Darth Vader’s lightsaber fights in both movies. While he was uncredited for his work, Mark Hamill has spoken at length about wanting to make sure that Anderson be recognized for all of the work that he put into bringing the lightsaber fights to life. Virtually any time you see Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel in either The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, it’s Anderson under the mask.
While James Earl Jones will always be the most well known voice for Darth Vader, at least two other actors have been responsible for bringing the character’s voice to life. First there is Brock Peters, who portrayed the character on the NPR radio drama adaptations of the original trilogy between 1981 and 1996. Peters is best known for his role as Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird.
The other person to voice Darth Vader is Matt Sloan, who is usually the actor behind Vader’s appearances in Lego Star Wars episodes, and Star Wars video games. Sloan first voiced Darth Vader in 2006, and his most recent appearance as the character is in the video game Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, which came out this year. What’s really interesting about Sloan’s involvement with the role, is how he was chosen to voice Darth Vader. Sloan was the voice for Chad Vader: Day Shift Manager, a Star Wars parody that featured a character who looked and sounded suspiciously similar to Darth Vader having to manage the employees of a local supermarket. It was Sloan’s ability to sound like Darth Vader in this parody web series that caught the eye of Lucasfilm, and would eventually lead to him providing the voice for the Sith Lord himself.
When Rogue One was released in 2016, it featured Vader as a minor, but still very important character in the story. While the voice was provided once again by a returning James Earl Jones, the film would have to cast a new actor to physically portray the role on screen. In fact, this time, two actors were cast, Daniel Naprous and Spencer Wilding. The two actors shared the role, and both filmed multiple scenes under the mask. note: While These Skilled Actors Are Getting Well-Deserved Recognition
Finally, Darth Vader has also been portrayed by actor Hayden Christensen. But wait, isn’t this breakdown supposed to not include performances of Anakin Skywalker? That’s right, but technically Anakin becomes Darth Vader in Palpatine’s chambers so for the final act of Revenge of the Sith, meaning everything that happens in the Jedi Temple and on Mustafar, Christensen is portraying Darth Vader. If you want to be even more picky and limit Vader performances only to people who are wearing the famous Darth Vader costume, then Christensen still counts. note: Despite His Many Other High Profile Performances Over The Years
Hayden Christensen asked to be the person who was in the suit of armor for the end of the movie. Lifts had to be added to the shoes to help the shorter actor stand at the same height that Vader had been at in the previous movies, but ultimately it is Christensen who is playing Darth Vader all the way through to the end of the movie. And can you blame him? If any of us ever got the chance to don the Darth Vader outfit, I’m sure we would all jump at it. note: Donning The Cape And Cowl is George Clooney