From a Certain Point of View
Darth Vader isn’t good or bad. Maybe he’s just a person.
A series is only as good as it’s villains. And villains are only really good when we see where they are coming from and relate.
For better or worse, everyone who knows what movies are knows about the tragedy of Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker and have mythologized the Star Wars saga. In the public consciousness, Darth Vader is the ‘perfect bad guy.’
Apart from the weird posts that I’ve seen that root for the Galactic Empire, Star Wars is a fairly uncomplicated work of good vs. evil in the form of the Jedi Order vs The Sith, then the Rebellion vs. the Empire & Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader.
For the poor uninitiated, the Jedi are essentially an order of warrior monks, who in the era of the Old Republic are a sort of peacekeeping service — much like the Catholic Church was in the Middle Ages to an extent. They have a hierarchy of Jedi Knights and their Padawans, then the Jedi Masters and Councilors, most of whom are the most powerful of the Jedi. The main goal of the Jedi is harmony or peace in some form, achieved through submission to the will of the Force. Exemplified in the Jedi Oath here:
There is no emotion, there is peace.
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
There is no passion, there is serenity.
There is no chaos, there is harmony.
There is no death, there is the Force.
The Sith are a deliberate contrast as they are secretive to the point of being a conspiracy rather than an actual order of users of the dark side of the Force. Whereas the Jedi can number in the thousands, the Sith (for at least their most prolific filmic existence) only number from around two at the same time. The Sith strive toward dominance over the Force, and through dominance some sort of control in the universe. This is surmised in the Code of the Sith, a reflection of the Jedi Oath:
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
Reading these two oaths may lead you to an interesting conflict in the dichotomy of the Jedi/Sith: the Sith could have noble goals by their pursuit of freedom and Jedi could be oppressive and dogmatic while still following the Jedi Code. Like many other theological problems in the real world, there are a number of theological issues with the Way of the Force.
And in my view, the Force itself doesn’t like this fight over how people interpret it.
One of the first times I thought about this was when I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 when I was a kid. In the game, writer Chris Avellone worked very hard to deconstruct what he thought was the implicit unfairness of the Force: You are either good or bad, and if you are bad you need to be destroyed.
To Avellone, this contradicted the saying that the Force was balanced: if the Force was balance, why did one side need to be destroyed so the other could be right? What is bad by the way? As such, you encounter noble Sith and corrupt Jedi, and the villain’s ultimate goal is to destroy the Force because of a perceived slight.
It was a good question I thought, and I tried hard to think of an answer that would satisfy both the existence of the Force, a general arc toward justice and fairness in the universe, and the violent upheavals in the name of ‘balance.’
Then I realized something: If the Force has an influence on the world, it probably doesn’t like the Jedi or the Sith.
The Jedi exert almost complete control over the Force in the prequel trilogy, yet are unable to sense Palpatine even though he is literally right under their noses as a senator of the Republic. This is sort of explained in the film by saying Palpatine is doing it, but it doesn’t explain why he can hide from so many Jedi that are about as powerful in the Force as himself, albeit in different ways.
It’s important to note here that the Force is not personified in any way, but seems to influence events in a way that work toward its favor. That’s what your nerdy friends mean when they mention The Will of The Force: it’s like fate or destiny.
One of the earliest times this is directly referenced is the idea of Anakin as The Chosen One, that he will “bring balance to the Force.” As it turns out, this prophecy seems to be badly misinterpreted by the Jedi Order taking themselves to be the unquestioned instruments of the Force’s Will.
As such, Palpatine’s plan is fatefully executed and the Jedi Order is destroyed save a few survivors. And yet, despite the Emperor’s protection in the earlier films, it still doesn’t stop Darth Vader from throwing him into the reactor of the Death Star in Return of the Jedi.
So what changed? Nothing really, except the Force got tired of Palpatine’s abuse of power and thirst for control as soon as the Emperor took power.
Or more likely, Palpatine was just a method for the Force to destroy the Jedi Order and it had no further use for him.
To add to this theory, he was destroyed by the same person who essentially destroyed the Jedi Order.
In my mind, the ideal Force user from the perspective of the Force itself would probably be Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. Someone who changes and sacrifices, and does right and wrong and is always unsure about his place in the world.
That sounds more in line with this idea of ‘balance’ the Jedi Order kept harping on about.
That we go through life not sure what’s the right or wrong answer to the many questions that we’re asked, obeying and disobeying our peers, making mistakes sometimes and succeeding other times.
The only certain thing in Anakin’s life was love, for his wife and then his son Luke. It differentiated him from both the Jedi and the Sith, and it also ended up differentiating Luke from the Jedi as well.
Of course, Anakin was fairly set in his ways because he had been mutilated into a walking life support system despite potentially being the most powerful Force-user in the Universe. So the Force had to make him uncomfortable again.
And of all the planets that the Rebellion ends up hiding their secret plans on, they end up firing them onto a giant desert planet right in the general vicinity of the only son of Darth Vader intentionally hidden away from the galaxy.
Sidebar: An interesting point I heard about the logic of hiding Luke on Vader’s home planet of Tatooine is fairly sound and I wanted to share it. Essentially, Vader associates the planet with incredible amounts of emotional distress, i.e. being born into slavery and the death of his mother.
As such, Vader would never willingingly go to or even mentally dwell on Tatooine because he associates it with so much pain. It’s probably the best place to hide from Vader.
Because of the Will of the Force, Vader is forced out of his routine, and has to choose again. He gets to meet his son, and see who he’s grown into — and it’s heavily implied that Vader is proud of the choices Luke has made despite the fact that it led them into direct conflict. As soon as he has the chance, he immediately becomes proactive in trying to find Luke and mend what is left of his family.
At the time of the A New Hope, Vader was probably at a point where he wouldn’t have cared if he was on the Death Star when it was destroyed.
But then he learns his son is alive.
From that point on, Anakin/Vader becomes proactive — in the eyes of the Force, the ideal person to wield it, and again brings balance by destroying the Emperor.
Now I may not be right in my theory, but I feel as though this brings a lot more to Vader as a character, and is an easy justification of George Lucas’ retroactive statement that the prequel and original trilogies are all about Anakin’s rise, fall and redemption.
I’m sure this also is explained well by other accredited Star Wars writers, but I think this brings a nice harmony to the trials of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader.
Of course, now this sets up another interesting theological question: is the Force cruel for using Anakin as a plaything for bringing balance to the universe? That’s another essay. Such is the Will of the Force.