As the most recognizable character of the Star Wars franchise, Darth Vader is an inevitability, which is why he’s going to be a more prominent figure on the second season of Star Wars Rebels, which begins June 20. But considering just how popular the Sith Lord is, it was important for the creative team behind the show, including executive producer Simon Kinberg, to make sure he showed up in the right way.
Ahead of the second season of Star Wars Rebels, EW spoke with Kinberg about the decision to bring Vader into the fold and what it was like having James Earl Jones return as his voice.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How early was it decided that Vader would appear on the show?
SIMON KINBERG: Pretty early on, when we were working on season 1, we felt like it was going to build to a season finale where we were going to introduce Vader. We wanted to earn the arrival of Vader into the show, so that it felt like our little rebel crew had done enough damage to the Empire that it would justify him coming into the mix. On the one hand, as everyone’s favorite villain of any movie or story of modern times, the temptation was to want to integrate him into the show, but we also had to temper that with feeling like this ragtag crew that isn’t doing serious enough damage to the Empire to warrant Vader’s involvement, then we’d have to get them to that place. As we started to evolve toward that, we also felt like, “Well, what that would probably necessitate would be the presence of more rebel cells.” That’s why we began Fulcrum and the idea that we ultimately revealed in the season one finale, that our core characters are one of what is becoming a constellation of rebel cells.
EW: Was there a concern that Vader is too powerful for Kanan, a lapsed Jedi, and Ezra, his apprentice?
SK: There was a feeling of obligation where, if you do introduce Vader and he’s not just going to wipe out all of your characters, we have to create both a sense that they’re getting strong enough that they could just barely survive interactions with him or that the circumstance of their conflicts will also help them escape. The challenge of it is making sure that we never do anything to disempower Vader, that would conflict with anything that we know of him. We didn’t want to feel like suddenly he became weaker or more fallible. There’s a lot of thought that goes into when he does interact with them, how it is that they survive and get through those interactions.
EW: What was it like not only writing for Vader, but writing for James Earl Jones as Vader?
SK: It’s crazy to even talk about for me. Without question, the most surreal experience of my professional life was when I was writing the season one finale and when I hit the place where Darth Vader was going to start to speak. I hit the “command 3” key for character name and started to type in “Darth Vader.” It was absolutely the single most surreal, extraordinary experience in my professional life, and I’ve had lots of neat experiences, but really nothing that was as insane as that. Just even writing the name, I had that moment where I was like, “Do you write ‘Darth’? Do you write ‘Darth Vader’? Do you write ‘Vader’? I felt like ‘Vader’ was the right way to go.
EW: Were you and the other EP Dave Filoni dead-set on getting Jones back to voice him?
SK: The hope was absolutely that James would do it. It wasn’t a sure thing, and I don’t know what we would have done if he said “no.” I can’t really imagine doing real Darth Vader scenes without him. Luckily, he has a great relationship with the people at Lucasfilm, and when we reached out to him, he was incredibly generous, giving us his time and his voice. I didn’t have any interaction with him because Dave Filoni is the one that interacts with our actors, far more than I do. What I did do—which was amazing—Dave emailed me after the first session with James. He put every take on the system, where I could access it. Never have I listened to every single take of an actor recorded for an episode, and I sat there in my office in L.A. and went through 45 minutes of James Earl Jones doing lines that I had written, four or five times for each line. It was incredible.