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When the 501st Legion ("Vader's Fist") attacked the Jedi Temple as part of Operation: Knightfall, they were led by an unmasked Darth Vader:

Vader leads the 501st into the Jedi Temple

Did the members of the 501st know, at that time, that Anakin had become a Sith Lord and was now Darth Vader?

It is tempting to say that the answer is obviously "yes", because why else would a Jedi attack the Jedi Temple? However, answers to related questions note that it was publicly believed that Anakin had died in the Jedi Temple defending Jedi children and, furthermore, even high-ranking members of the Imperial military -- such as Moff Tarkin -- did not know with certainty that Anakin was Vader. Obviously, the 501st knew that Anakin helped them attack -- not defend -- the Jedi Temple, and they probably knew he was very much alive at the end of the attack. Moreover, if the 501st knew Vader's true identity, then they must have kept that fact from high-ranking Imperial officers since those officers did not know Vader's true identity. It would be a truly impressive display of operational security if an entire legion of troops managed to hide Vader's identity from even Imperial officers. This is only plausible because the 501st is composed of highly trained and professional soldiers who also happen to be clones bred for obedience.

It is difficult to explain what happened if the answer is "no", too, though. In that case, the 501st was presumably told that all the Jedi were traitors but that Anakin had defected from the Jedi. Since Anakin had previously commanded the 501st in the Clone Wars, it made sense that he would lead them in the attack. But that still doesn't explain how the 501st were led to believe that Anakin died in the Jedi Temple -- he'd have to somehow duck out in the middle of the battle, fake his death, and then explain how not a single clone in the Temple found his corpse.

Is there a source which definitively answers whether the 501st knew Anakin was Darth Vader during the attack on the Jedi Temple? For example, a source which includes a quote of Anakin calling himself Vader in the Jedi Temple and in the presence of clones from the 501st would prove that the 501st knew his true identity; on the other hand, a source which includes a quote of a 501st clone referring to Vader as Anakin would indicate that the 501st did not know the two were the same man.

Canon answers are preferred, although Legends answers are acceptable if canon is silent on the issue.

  • 2
    The 501st could knew the truth, but with the birth of the Empire, and Palpatine's grip on everything, editing the few report mentioning "Anakin" to "Darth Vader" and producing a convincing enought story about the death of Anakin seems easy enought to transform the 501st's version as a rumor. – DrakaSAN Mar 23 '16 at 15:41
  • @DrakaSAN I don't think written reports are a big issue for the reasons you give. However, it's hard to explain how an entire legion knew the truth but some of the highest-ranking Imperial officers like Grand Moff Tarkin did not. Not a single clone in the 501st ever slipped up and told an Imperial officer? – Null Mar 23 '16 at 15:46
  • As it was known Anakin skywalker was on coruscant it was surmised that he died defending the temple like all others. For Vader....it was known that vader led them but that did not lead automatically to people knowing that he was a sith. It is way more probable that the 501st got told that Vader/Anakin was a Jedi who went against the order when they betrayed the Republic. The Kanaan comic brings an interesting part there it seems like the clones were even months/years afterwards completely mindwashed because of their chips. – Thomas Mar 23 '16 at 17:46
  • @Null You seem to be forgetting that the 501st while large were still attacking the Jedi Temple wich would have had several Jedi there. Once they opened up fire on the Jedi it would only make sense that the Jedi would fight back and as we have seen time and time again it takes a lot o Clones to kill a Jedi so a large margin of the 501st would not have survived the attack and as for Clones slipping up well a high ranking Impeirial officer is hardly going to be engaging in idle Chat so the likelihood of someone like Tarkin finding out is small. – The Mandolorian Mar 23 '16 at 18:35
  • I find it odd that none of the answers even address the biochip implanted into the clones' brains that basically forced them to betray the jedi. That might be able to basically rewire them not only to forget their loyalty to the jedi, but also rewrite their perceptions on who Anakin was. To them, he was always Vader, fighting with them on the battle field against the enemies of the republic/empire. – BlackThorn Jun 20 '17 at 20:15
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In both canon and Legends, the 501st Legion/Clone Battalion is the clone unit attached personally to Jedi General Anakin Skywalker during the Clone Wars. It is the unit Anakin, now Darth Vader, led to the attack on the Jedi Temple. It is the unit that becomes Darth Vader's personal army during the Imperial era, and will become known as Vader's Fist.

The canon explanation is the only version with potential plot holes. Inhibitor chips overrode the clones' conscious control of themselves (Rex removed the chip, but he resigned from his post after Fives' death, so is probably transferred out and thus wasn't there to know the truth). I can't remember which source I saw this from, but I read somewhere between Dec to Feb that clone veterans after the war described the experience as their vision akin to being clouded with bloodlust. It's possible that the clones of the 501st themselves didn't know what happened, and so believed General Skywalker died defending the Temple, and they would hereafter be commanded by Lord Vader.

Like I said, I can't cite to support the above explanation, so this remains as a plot hole. If the above isn't true, then something has to be done about those clones who know. However, it remains that after the clones are retired in favour of birth-born Stormtroopers, Darth Vader's true identity is henceforth unknown to the birth-born stormtroopers of the 501st.

In Legends, the clones definitely know. The 501st Legion was specifically selected by Palpatine for additional training in secret. They served Palpatine's Sith agenda privately. When the time came for Order 66, the 501st was transferred back to Coruscant under the command of Darth Vader, who is the very General Skywalker whom they had served under for 3 years. It would be impossible not to recognise him.

Edit

Here's a clip of Operation: Knightfall in Battlefront II. If you consider the text on the loading screen and the in-game scripted speech to be canon (The Holocron system identifies all plot-related elements of licensed games to be EU/C-Canon), then the clones of the 501st are explicitly identifying Anakin as Lord Vader during the attack on the Jedi Temple.

In the above clip, we observe the clones of the 501st referring to General Skywalker as "the newly anointed Lord Vader". Clearly, the 501st (or at least the officer corps who would be in direct contact with Vader) knew a lot more than the rest of the galaxy.

End Edit

After the Clone Wars concluded, the 501st Legion is placed under Darth Vader's personal command:

With the fall of Coruscant and the elimination of the traitorous Jedi, Palpatine's rise to power was complete. In recognition of our service and loyalty to the Emperor, the 501st were placed under the direct command of Lord Vader. Armed with deadly new weapons, blazing new ships, and shiny new armor, our presence let the galaxy know that the days of the Old Republic were well and truly over. We were establishing a new era, an era of order and peace.

What is important is that Darth Vader is outside of the normal chain of command. The 501st is fiercely loyal to none but Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader - so much so that Palpatine trusted the 501st enough to keep them as purely Fett clones even though, after the Clone Rebellion of Kamino, he believed a purely Fett army in general is too vulnerable to subversion.

Put this all together, and the 501st answer to no Imperial officer but Darth Vader, and the Imperial officers can do nothing about it. They will also not do anything that will endanger their true loyalties - if the Emperor wants the galaxy to think Anakin Skywalker is dead, then they will make it so.

  • 1
    This answer is the most promising so far. I think I remember reading something about the clones being in some sort of daze during Order 66. Also, I've played Battlefront II (but a long time ago) and your answer sounds right. +1 for those connections. If you can find definitive quote(s) linking Anakin to Vader in the clones' minds (e.g. in Battlefront II) and/or a citation to support the clones' clouded vision, I'd be willing to accept this. – Null Mar 24 '16 at 13:47
  • I'm still trying to find the source about the clouded vision. I'm pretty sure it's related to encounters between Kanan and surviving clones after the war, when they tried to explain to him why they they betrayed the Jedi. I'll update again if I find something definitive. – thegreatjedi Mar 26 '16 at 6:45
  • Excellent find! I think Battlefront II is considered Legends -- even the plot -- but this is exactly the kind of evidence I was looking for! I would appreciate it if you could find your source for the clouded vision (I'll be on the lookout for it, too), but either way you've definitely earned answer acceptance. – Null Mar 27 '16 at 2:27
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I think Obi-Wan sums it up the best: "So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view."
As Palpatine isn't one to take uncalculated risks, the 501st were probably under orders to kill Anakin if he were to attack the troopers or assist the Jedi in any way. That that never happened should indicate that Vader had killed Anakin in the temple, from a certain point of view. If anyone wanted to verify the written records the clones don't have to flat out lie, but merely say that they never saw Anakin leave the temple.

  • So you're saying that the clones thought they marched in behind Anakin Skywalker (didn't realize he was Vader also) and, since the clones themselves did not kill Anakin (because Anakin did not attack them), the clones assume some other masked guy named Vader killed Anakin in the Temple and took away his corpse? – Null Mar 23 '16 at 18:29
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    Also, I'm looking for something a little more definitive than "probably". – Null Mar 23 '16 at 18:30
  • @Null Unfortunately I am mainly familiar with the films, so hopefully someone will have some other level of canon to fulfill your "more definitive than probably" request. As for who the troopers thought they were following, I don't believe it really matters. The clones were bred to obey the Republic, as directed by the Supreme Chancellor. – Xantec Mar 23 '16 at 21:23
  • On some level the troopers had to know Anakin wasn't a member of the Jedi any more as they didn't kill him with order 66, even it was simply because the Chancellor said "execute order 66, but don't kill my new apprentice." That aside, I'll need to rewatch Ep:3 again, but I don't recall if the Chancellor ever called Anakin as Darth Vader in the presence of any troopers. IIRC, on Mustafar Palpatine calls him Anakin, and later when Anakin is placed into his life support suit only droids and Palpatine are present. There may not have been anyone around to be able to make that connection. – Xantec Mar 23 '16 at 21:26
  • "As for who the troopers thought they were following, I don't believe it really matters." In-universe, no it doesn't really matter. But that's the question! I want to know who they thought they were following: Anakin Skywalker the (former) Jedi (who must have turned against the Jedi to escape Order 66) or Darth Vader the Sith Lord (and formerly known as Anakin). – Null Mar 23 '16 at 21:39
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There is also another answer.

I am still looking for the source, however, in one of Karin Traviss' books dealing with the clones - I believe it was titled Order 66 - mentioned something about the clones' point of view for those who had been in Order 66. They all saw Vader as someone who not only led from the front of the battlefield, but as someone who would get their own hands dirty and not betray those under him. They were all intensely loyal to him as a commander because of this.

Given this, I would say that even if they did know that he was Anakin, they would not mention anything given how they not only felt, but also given the sense of eventual futility they would generally see in the war. While it is non-canon now, the clones were manufactured to have short lifespans, and many felt cheated by this fact. They would have dead for the most part by the time A New Hope takes place, so very few would even remain to tell the truth. Combine their bitterness with their loyalty to Anakin .... doubtful they would tell anyone.

  • I'd be willing to believe that one of Traviss' books dealt with this issue. I could potentially accept this if you could find a specific quote linking Anakin to Vader from the perspective of the clones. – Null Mar 24 '16 at 13:42
  • Accelerated ageing is still canon lol. But I'm pretty sure the first para is referring to a book dated to after the Civil War? iirc, Luke or some other Republic guy was speaking to an Imperial whose father served in the 501st. It was this Imperial who spoke of the reason for his father's unit's devotion to Darth Vader, something along the lines of "He would not order his troops to do something he would not do himself." – thegreatjedi Mar 26 '16 at 6:29
  • That actually makes me remember the quote more accurately, though still trying find the exact quote. But it does remind me more about the book. I'm fairly certain it's in Order 66. – Sgt_Ginger Mar 26 '16 at 8:22

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