It was my understanding that Vader was the second in command of the Emperor in the Empire.

However in the beginning of the movie one of the generals taunts Vader that his abilities in the Force have not been able to help him find out about the rebel base nor help him retrieve the stolen Death Star plans, before Vader force chokes him for his disturbing lack of faith

After this another guy simply commands Vader to stop it, which he quietly obeys.

After this scene, through out the rest of the movie and the trilogy, they all act appropriately scared of him.

However, what happened in the beginning of the movie? Why were they somewhat rude to Vader? Were the generals of equal status to him? Or higher in the chain of command? Vader was still considered a powerful person, they should at least have been scared of him.

  • possibly duplicate; at least related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/9323/…
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 15:01
  • 14
    What I like is that they're like "lol your religion is iffy" rather than going "I have faith" or something he chokes them with it.
    – Alec Teal
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 18:42
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    My understanding of the scene is that Vader "quietly obeys" Tarkin because they are friends. At least, as much as friendship is possible between a despotic Imperial Officer and a Dark Lord of the Sith. Maybe mutual respect is a better term for their relationship? Commented Jan 13, 2016 at 21:09
  • The correct answer that nobody wants to give: because they hadn't figured the story yet Commented Jan 10, 2020 at 16:28

2 Answers 2

  • Vader is outside the chain of command. He's not in charge of the military, even if he's a powerful member of Palpatine's inner circle.

    • Also, whether he's the second most powerful or not is kind of hard to determine, because (by Emperor's design) power in the Imperial top is a pyramid, not a well-ordered set. Palpatine intentionally set up different competing power centers, as checks-and-balances against anyone conspiring against him (Vader; Xisor; Council; Military-industrial heads; Emperor's Hands; senior military officers; Moffs; Inquisitors are just some of the poles vying for power under him).
  • And, likely, outside their personal political camps (and high level brass, especially in an autocracy, is inherently a set of political enemies, aiming to gain more power). We can see that clearly shown in New Disney Canon novel "Tarkin", and there's merely 5 years after Clone Wars ended.

  • Not everyone is aware of Vaders personal Force-fueled power. We see in New Disney Canon novel "The Sith Lords", where most people have very little clue of just what The Chosen One Creepy Anakin is capable of. There don't seem to be many witnesses left once he's done demolishing opponents (also seen in Tarkin)

  • 13
    I always relate it to Arthurian legend. Darth Vader is basically Merlin; he's the most powerful person in the room, but he has no real political authority. "Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fortress"
    – onewho
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 18:22
  • 20
    "stolen data tapes"? You'd think at some point the Imperial DBAs would break down and get a Raid 10 setup going.
    – Chris L
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 19:29
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    @DVK while its pure speculation, it would be curious to know how much of a top military power vacuum was created with the destruction of the Death Star and if that lead to a "Vader is the guy assigned to the 'it needs to be done'" in a more visible way.
    – user12183
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 19:58
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    @ChrisL Tapes have always been, are currently, and likely will always be a cheaper and more compact form of data storage than disks.
    – Random832
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 20:22
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    Our human languages have a lot of words derived from names of now-outdated technology, which are still in use, now for different things with a similar purpose. Electronic documents are still calling “files”, so why is it strange when data storage media are called “tapes”, even if they might consist of different technology? That’s especially reasonable, if actual tapes do not exist anymore and, therefore, the word is free for other use. Hey, we have 2015 and still have “cars”, unbelievable…
    – Holger
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 8:10

Vader's authority in the Empire was generally superseded only by the Emperor's. However, Vader's authority was also superseded on the Death Star itself by Grand Moff Tarkin (the guy who commanded Vader to stop using Force Choke). Wookieepedia's Death Star article cites the canon reference book Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know in stating that Tarkin was the commander of the Death Star. Tarkin was put in charge of the Death Star at the same time he was given the rank Grand Moff:

“We need to tighten our hold over the Outer Systems,” the Emperor continued. “You will be in charge of that, Moff Tarkin. Or should I say Grand Moff Tarkin. ... The Outer Rim is yours to oversee -- and with it, Grand Moff Tarkin, the whole of the mobile battle station project.”

Tarkin, p. 248

Notably, Vader was present for that conversation -- so Vader was fully aware that Tarkin was in charge of the Death Star.

Since Vader was not the ultimate authority on the Death Star, Admiral Motti evidently felt safe enough to taunt Vader in the presence of Tarkin. Furthermore, Motti taunted Vader because the power of the Death Star was obvious yet Vader's power from the Force was not so evident:

Motti: Any attack made by the Rebels against this station would be a useless gesture, no matter what technical data they've obtained. This station is now the ultimate power in the universe. I suggest we use it!

Vader: Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Motti: Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels' hidden fort...

Afterward, the Imperials acted appropriately scared since they had seen Vader's power firsthand.

  • I bet, if Vader deemed it necessary, that he could have "relieved" Tarkin. Of course, we know more about Tarkin and his relationship with Anakin/Vader thanks to the Clone Wars, so I doubt there ever would have been a need to do so. But Vader could certainly have taken command of the Death Star as easily as he transferred command of Star Destroyers, and I doubt Sidious would have even batted an eyelash if it happened.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 17:39

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