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I have been wondering for some time why Darth Vader, one of the leading officers of the Empire, repeatedly put himself into such danger?

To name a few cases, in A New Hope, he boarded Tantive IV, a ship he knew belonged to the rebels. It could have been filled with explosives, and it was not entirely unlikely that the rebels would choose to sacrifice themselves in order to kill him.

The same logic applies when Vader enters the Hoth base in The Empire Strikes Back.

Back in A New Hope, he also enters a dangerous starship battle on his own.

Did he somehow know from the Force that he would not put himself into danger?

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Over-confidence I guess. It seems to be a character requirement for every fantasy villain. – ʀᴇᴅ_ᴅᴇᴠɪʟ226 Feb 2 at 10:11
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@red_devil226: it’s not over confidence if it’s accurate. – Paul D. Waite Feb 2 at 10:48
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Because he's Darth F-ing Vader. What better way to show how much of a badass he is than to have him walk right into the middle of a battle like it's nothing? A similar device is used later with Boba Fett when Fett is confident enough to talk back to him, and get singled out about not disintegrating anyone. – phantom42 Feb 2 at 11:55
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@red_devil226, it's adequonfidence – user1717828 Feb 2 at 14:00
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There is that story about Erwin Rommel, being flown about in a Fieseler Storch to get an idea of how things are going, dropping hand-written notes on dallying troops to the effect of "get a move on, or I'm coming down to make you". That's the kind of leadership Vader is trying to emulate. ;-) – DevSolar Feb 2 at 15:54

13 Answers 13

up vote 123 down vote accepted
  1. That’s kind of his job. He’s Number One to the Emperor’s Picard, Luca Brasi to the Emperor’s Godfather. He’s there to put a bit of stick about, kick ass and take names, demonstrate strength and fearlessness on behalf of the throne. You can’t effectively inspire fear from behind a space desk.

  2. I don’t think we see any evidence that the Rebels are particularly interested in taking out Darth Vader, or any reason for them to be. They’ve got an entire Empire and a Death Star or two to worry about. Sure, killing Vader might provide a temporary boost to morale, and even weaken the Empire to a degree, but Palpatine doubtless has other potential apprentice irons in the Sith fire who could eventually take over the role.

  3. In each of the specific situations you mention, it’s probably fairly clear that he’s not walking into a trap, so he’s not exactly being careless:

    • the Rebels on the Tantive IV had stolen the Death Star plans, and were desperately trying to get away, rather than trying to lure him into a trap.

    • Vader was, in his younger days, one of the greatest pilots the galaxy had ever seen, so entering the Death Star battle wasn’t a huge risk.

    • On Hoth, the Rebels had been chased across the galaxy by the Empire before getting there. Laying a bunch of explosives around their one secret base would have been risky for them, and taken time and resources that they likely didn’t have.

    • In general, we don’t see any examples of suicide bombing or similar traps by the Rebels — it’s apparently not in their playbook.

  4. It seemed to work out okay, didn’t it? Vader was barely scratched out in the field, and eventually met his end right in the middle of the second Death Star, not on some Rebel ship.

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Also, he's a powerful force user. He would probably sense the trap if there was one. – David Grinberg Feb 2 at 14:19
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@WGroleau: well, Darth Vader met his end there. Anakin Skywalker may have been briefly re-born, and then re-appeared as a Force Ghost. – Paul D. Waite Feb 2 at 14:47
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To further your first point, he's Kirk to the Emperor's Kirk. – corsiKa Feb 2 at 19:03
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I'll also add that in the opening to A New Hope, Vader boarded the Tantive IV after a battalion of storm troopers went in first and secured the ship. If there was a trap, it would likely be sprung long before Vader set foot in there. – Brandon Feb 2 at 22:05
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"entering the Death Star battle wasn’t a huge risk" - In fact, by the time he entered the battle the Imperials had figured out that the Rebels were trying to destroy the Death Star, and that their approach might work. So getting out into the battle could have been the safe option. Obviously you have a much better chance of surviving the destruction of the Death Start if you're not on it at the time. – aroth Feb 3 at 0:04

First of all, Vader doesn't rush headlong into battle anymore like he used to as Anakin - and he survived that. These days, he sends expendable stormtroopers to overrun the enemy and secure the ground before making his entrance. If anyone is dead from a trap, it won't be him.

Secondly, even if something is amiss, that is exactly what the Force is for. It gives Force wielders like Vader extrasensory perception and limited, usually subconscious foresight into the future, all of which help keep him alive. Where it's unavoidable - for instance, exploding AT-RTs falling on him (Rebels Season 2 pilot movie episode), it does give him the forewarning needed to react and protect himself by levitating the debris from direct impact. This is a skill demonstrated by Jedi too on the likes of collapsing caverns etc, not unlike those on Hoth.

Thirdly, don't underestimate Vader's suit. It is a pressurised environmental suit, capable of surviving in the vacuum of space and can perform better in all terrains than specialised stormtroopers (eg. Snowtroopers). It is also well-armoured against damage, including substantial resistance against even lightsabers. That suit can take quite a lot of punishment.

So far, this answers why it is ok for Vader to enter enemy territory - the risks are tolerable. The next question to answer is: Why?

Vader is not an armchair general. He is the Emperor's first weapon of terror. The aura of the dark side emanating from him naturally strikes fear and dread in those around him, even if they aren't Force sensitive. Effective use of such a weapon - whether to drive the Imperial troops forward or to scatter the Rebels into retreat - requires Vader to be visible at the frontlines.

In Legends lies another part of the answer. In Vader we can glimpse the slightest hint of Anakin Skywalker persisting as the Jedi General who leads his men from the front. Despite their fear, his stormtroopers are fiercely loyal to him, for "he will not tell us to do anything he will not do himself".

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"Also, when he's doing something himself, that means you were supposed to, didn't, and he's already killed you for it." – KRyan Feb 2 at 15:10
    
Also contrary to the stormtrooopers suits vaders probably does alos filter out poisonous gases^^ – Thomas Feb 2 at 16:27
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@KRyan That's a great quote. What's the source for it? – Salmononius2 Feb 2 at 20:19
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@Salmononius2 Uh, me? I made it up, I just put quotes to put it in the mouth of the hypothetical stormtrooper. – KRyan Feb 2 at 20:23
    
I remember a similar quote from somewhere though. A Stormtrooper officer explaining why he's a Vader loyalist. – Wolfie Inu Feb 3 at 12:55

Vader probably carried a death wish to a certain degree which would have made many of his actions insanely bold.

After the death of Padmé, he lost his limbs in the fight with Obi-Wan and suffered severe bodily burns. Once in the infamous suit, it restricted his ability to utilize the force to its potential (eg. use of Sith lightning), and also restricted his agility.

The book Dark Lord, by James Luceno, saw Vader go on a hate-fuelled rampage, full of bitterness, in the knowledge that he would probably remain the lapdog of Sidious forever.

If anyone had a reason for a death wish, Vader had plenty.

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Quirk of English: "he had his limbs removed and his body burned" sounds like it was voluntary. – crunch Feb 2 at 16:51
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I have altered the text. Pray I don't alter it further. – mungflesh Feb 2 at 17:32
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@crunch: Sounds like the tale of Brave Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. – einpoklum Feb 3 at 0:27
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@einpoklum: I was thinking about the Black Knight. "T'is but a scratch!" – Bob Jarvis Feb 5 at 12:24
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Vader is an Alpha male (as seen in his posturing with the imperial officer on the Death Star), this type of bravado is typical of an Alpha male type. He likes being in the thick of the action and showing everyone just who is the boss.

This is complimented with his supreme confidence in his skills. I wouldn't say he was over confident in these situations because he came out of them unscathed. One exception to this would be in A New Hope where the Millennium Falcon shoots him off into space. However this is a case of the situation changing after he has committed to it.

It is also shown in the prequels that Anakin had pretty good prescience. He foresaw

Padme's death

As well as the Jedi's seeing things before they happen during podracing. It is therefore possible that Vader has a danger sense that allows him to see if a situation will be dangerous to him.

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This answer has the twin virtues of pith and perception. – KorvinStarmast Feb 3 at 16:38

Young Anakin Skywalker may have been reckless, but the older Darth Vader is anything but.

Note that Vader isn't generally on the front lines, with the exception of the first Battle of the Death Star. He boarded the Tantive IV while his troops were mopping up after the vessel was mostly secure. He did the same on Hoth, and while he entered Cloud City before it was secure, he was entering a civilian environment with an overwhelming military force and no resistance. This is not out-of-line with the behavior of a General in any army. Yes, there may be still be fighting occurring when a General enters into a newly-secured area, but he usually enters into it after it is mostly secured; unless things go badly awry, he's not on the front line.

When he did enter the battle directly at both First and Second Death Star, as well as in Cloud City, it was because he was uniquely qualified for the task. In all three situations, his mastery of the Force played a critical role in the reason he entered the fray. At First Death Star, his piloting skills also made him uniquely qualified to pursue the young hotshot pilot who was attempting to destroy the station with a snub fighter. In these situations, he was taking a necessary risk.

Additionally, as noted by @jpmc26 in the comments, Vader didn't put himself directly into the fray at First Death Star. His mission was specific: Destroy units on their final attack run. The bulk of the enemy force had been destroyed, and there was little chance that the units on the attack run would be able to effectively counterattack. He was also flying with two wingmen for cover. The risk to him was minimal. The fact that a raging lunatic would choose to fly a freighter into the trench to attack from the rear was a possibility so remote that it could not have been foreseen.

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Also worth noting about the Death Star run: Vader didn't put himself directly in the fray. He took a very specific mission of destroying units making their final attack run. In this situation, is was difficult if not impossible for them to effectively attack his ship, and he still had two fighters covering his rear. So even here, you could make a case he's minimize the risk to himself. – jpmc26 Feb 3 at 1:18
    
Excellent point, @jpmc26! I wish I'd thought of it myself! – Doug R. Feb 3 at 13:21
    
You are welcome to edit it into your answer if you wish. =) Comments are ephemeral after all. – jpmc26 Feb 3 at 17:46
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+1 for "raging lunatic would choose to fly a freighter into the trench" – Angew Feb 5 at 11:24

Vader barely does compared to other Movies/TV shows: It's basically the same reason Kirk (or other command staff) beams down in Star Trek, Sheridan flies combat missions in B5, and in every other military drama command staff are in the thick of things during combat missions. Is so prevalent and over the top in every other show that Vader's being in the thick of things seems down right reasonable in comparison to most other instances.

Standard TV Tropes Warning: The Main Characters Do Everything

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This is surely the best out-of-universe answer, but the normal assumption on this stack is that answers are meant to be in-universe unless otherwise specified. – Todd Wilcox Feb 2 at 16:36

Because in the first movie, Vader was not the second most powerful man in the Galaxy, he was a thug. Vader did not command the Death Star. Other officers on the ship treated him with contempt. Leah talks to Tarkin about Vader, insulting him to his face and Vader takes it like a flunky.

Vader was just a mid-level baddy, just the one you would expect to be running about in a Tie fighter rather than steering the ship. Vader's elevation to cult hero status rose after the first movie, and was not a part of the original plan.

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Very interesting theory indeed. So Vader was supposed to be our image of the empire, personified by a mid-level officer. The three counterarguments I can see are (1) Vader does not have an ordinary military rank, unless Darth was meant to be a fictional military rank, like moff. But many things indicate that Darth was originally meant as a name. (2) I think that even in the first film, he is often called Lord Vader. Do you call a mid-level commander "lord?" And (3) Leia immediately recognises Vader, suggesting that he is quite well-known in the galaxy. – Gaussler Feb 3 at 7:46
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Think of him as an SS officer rather than a navy officer. Different organization, and a nastier one. You certainly would call a noble Lord "Lord" no matter what his rank - see British practice before WWI, when nobles bought rank in regiments. Lord is not a military rank. And Vader may be well known, but he wasn't well respected in that movie, by Leia or anyone else. Nobody showed him the deference that the second most powerful political actor would have, let alone an evil magician. – Oldcat Feb 3 at 17:53
    
Excellent analogy, @Oldcat! I would not have thought of the SS analogy, but when you dive right down into it, that's what he is. – Doug R. Feb 5 at 14:35
  1. He was a Sith trying to become more powerful than his master to kill and replace him as the Sith always do. The best way he could go about this was to inspire fear in the rebels by showing mercilessness, a total lack of fear of death for himself and that he knew he was too powerful for them to kill.

  2. Sidious was a Sith Lord, his job is to train an apprentice that can become powerful enough to kill and replace him (and then accept the same responsibility), if Vader was too scared to go into extremely dangerous situations, he could never kill Sidious.

  3. Vader had already sent Stormtroopers into most all of these situations, so if it was a trap they would have died and not (hopefully) him.

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Well, carelessness implies incompetence, and that doesn't necessarily inspire fear. +1 about the redshirts, I mean stormtroopers, though. – einpoklum Feb 5 at 23:14
    
If it was a trap, I wouldn't have wasted it on the fodders. I'd make it inviting for the carp to fall into the trap. – Lie Ryan Feb 6 at 9:37

Why? Since otherwise they would have to call the movie "No new hope."

Seriously, though, they're all careless.

  • Why did Leia not make 10 copies of the plans and send them with different people?
  • Why did the empire waste a nigh-infinite amount of resources on constructing the ridiculous full ball of metal in space?

You should suspend your disbelief more.

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Captain Antilles was quoted as saying it was a consular ship on a diplomatic mission. I believe they were just trying to play low key and not do anything that would attract the Empire.

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How does this answer the question of why Darth Vader was so careless? – Rand al'Thor Feb 4 at 3:26

One point I do not see is the trust factor. Vader and Palpatine barely trust each other (when Vader sensed Luke on Endor, Palpatine immediately questioned his motives). They know that many of the Moffs and Admirals are lazy, greedy, and self-serving. Vader's presence, both as the Emperor's right hand and as a Force User helps to keep them in line and on task.

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But how does that equate to him being careless, which was the question? – Doug R. Feb 5 at 14:33
    
The question assumes he was being careless because he put himself at risk at various points. My point, to expand on what so many others have said, is that he was not being careless, there was a legitimate reason for him to be in those situations. – Xavon_Wrentaile Feb 6 at 16:00

He was careless for the sake of character development. A main villian who safely sits at the Emepror's side like a lapdog is not very engaging for the audience.

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Welcome! Answers here are expected to be in-universe, unless otherwise stated, so this isn't really the sort of thing people are looking for. Also, this angle has largely been covered already by aslum's answer. – David Richerby Feb 3 at 18:52
    
Ahh, I see, sort of a fan fiction type of arrangement. Understood. – mccainz Feb 3 at 19:03
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Mccainz not that sort of in-universe. What we mean is that the explanation should come from within the existing Star Wars universe. Talking about character development is a comment from outside the 'universe's. – AncientSwordRage Feb 3 at 19:27

Maybe he is in search of his children. He may have joined the dark side but deep inside he still is a Jedi.
Also being the empire's main commander it was his duty to make sure things are done well.

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