I know it was changed quickly to make him available for the sequel, but I saw the movie three times in the weeks after its premiere and Darth Vader definitely died in the trench, bumping into his wing-man after Han Solo kills the second wing-man. This fact seems to have been expunged from the Internet.

Was the plot to the original Star Wars movie changed as I remember? Is there any video evidence?

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    Team Negative One got a original theatrical release print and restored it, so you can watch the original version again. It's pure, liquid nostalgia so I highly recommend it. The title crawl doesn't say anything about A Hope—new or otherwise—it just says "Star Wars". And of course Han shoots. Not first: he just shoots. Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 20:56
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    Sometimes memory plays tricks on us, which is to be expected, since human memory is constantly re-simulated, and is not a series of bits stored on a hard drive. :)
    – Lexible
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 20:56
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    You're not the only person to swear they saw things in ANH that weren't in the movie.
    – phantom42
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 21:05
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    That was the first movie I saw in the theater and there really wasn't any legacy of sequels at the time, which is why I remember it being so strange that Darth Vader recovered from the spin he was in and flew away. Where was he flying to? As far as the movie was concerned at the time, the entire Empire had just been destroyed and the Republic was restored. I remember wondering that many times as a child. So I don't think we were shown Vader as dying in the original cut. Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 23:39
  • 6
    You're experiencing the Mandela effect. mandelaeffect.com/major-memories gives examples of stuff many people are sure they remember from their childhood that have no basis in fact. Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 15:54

6 Answers 6


Vader's death wasn't canonically confirmed in the film, nor in the original novelisation which was released several weeks before the film came out (and which, in turn is based on the final draft shooting script).

When we last see him (in both the film and the novel) he's blasting off into deep space.

To the other side, Darth Vader’s fighter began spinning helplessly. Unimpressed by the Dark Lord’s desperate glower, various controls and instruments gave back readings which were brutally truthful. Completely out of control, the tiny ship continued spinning in the opposite direction from the destroyed wingman—out into the endless reaches of deep space.

Purely for your interest the last draft script in which he died was the 2nd draft (which, incidentally is the first in which he appears).

He survived in the 4th Draft

CU. Vader. The impact of the collision throws Vader out of control and creates havoc on his control board. He looks around frantically trying to salvage his situation. 237. EXT. SPACE AROUND THE DEATH STAR: Full Shot of Vader’s ship spinning out of control with a bent solar fin, heading for deep space.

He survived (probably) in the 3rd Draft


Vader’s starship with a bent solar fin limps into the vast darkness of space attempting to make it back to the relative safety of Alderaan.

He died in the 2nd Draft (in a suicide run on Han Solo's ship)

Vader’s starship swoops down on the battered pirate ship, unleashing a heavy barrage of laser bolts. Chewbacca in the rear gun turret blazes away at the Sith starship. One of Vader’s huge solar fins breaks up, but the Black Knight manages to keep the disabled craft on course and crash dives into the pirate craft, exploding on impact.

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    I’ll now be forever wondering if Darth Vader is in fact a Deep Purple reference. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 18:40
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    Purely anecdotal - but I remember discussing after the initial screening in 1977 that a sequel must be in the works because Vader got away. Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 6:15
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    "back to the relative safety of Alderaan"? Hadn't Alderaan been blown to pieces?
    – kasperd
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 13:06
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    @kasperd - Not in that draft of the script. Alderaan was threatened but not yet destroyed. If you click the links, you can read all three drafts.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 14:15
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    @DarthPaghius Deep Purple’s song Black Night cane out about five years before these early drafts—notice what Vader is called in the second draft here. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 8:03

I've got a copy of the 1977 silver screen version: it's got no "Episode IV" in the opening crawl, and Han shoots first. At the end, after the Death Star has exploded and we hear the ghost of Ben say "The Force will be with you ... always", we see a couple of shots in which Vader's fighter stops spinning and heads off into space. We don't see him get rescued, but his survival is obviously being flagged up for us.

I also recall seeing that scene when I first saw the film, but that was a long time ago, in cinema far far away.


While Darth Vader was not explicitly dead at the end of the original 1977 Star Wars, the initial film left his ultimate fate open to interpretation.

FWIW, I saw Star Wars in 1977 when I was 9 years old at the Loews Astor Plaza in NYC; one of the main theaters showing the film at the time.

The idea of sequels wasn’t a complete given back then. I mean there was The Planet of the Apes series, but not much else at the time. So in the immediate year or two that followed the release of Star Wars there was basically nothing else but the original 1977 film to be nostalgic for… As well as the tons of books, comics and other stuff that came out to cash in on the craze.

And while I don’t distinctly recall Darth Vader dying in the original 1977 release of the film, I remember the question of whether Darth Vader was alive or dead at the end of the film was definitely a topic of discussion. So much so that ephemera such as this “Darth Vadar Lives” button by Facets Etc. even existed:

Picture of a Factors Etc. “Darth Vadar Lives” button.

There was also an iron-on version of the artwork on this button as well that could be put on a t-shirt. So while the fate of Darth Vader by the end of the film was not 100% clear at the time, the possibility that he died in the Death Star battle was quite high at the time. Why else would an official collectable item declaring him to be alive even exist?

And — this is more of a personal side note — but I remember first seeing The Empire Strikes Back (1980) when it came out and the scene at the beginning — where the Imperial fleet was slowly assembling on screen — was accentuated by the first reveal of Darth Vader on the bridge of the Executor. The audience genuinely cheered and gasped. The reveal was intense and dramatic in and of itself, but the fact that Darth Vader was back really set the tone for the film… You just knew this guy is going to be a really bad-ass villain during the whole film.


No. I saw “Star Wars” (later called “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”) in a movie theater1, maybe not on opening day, but in the first few weeks of its theatrical release. I distinctly recall telling a friend, “They’re leaving wiggle room for a sequel”, because Vader’s fighter stabilized (after briefly spinning out of control) and allowed him to fly away. This, of course, was before I knew anything about Lucas’s plan to make nine movies.

In hindsight, one might wonder how far he could get in such a small (one-person) vessel that was (probably) not designed for long-range travel.  On the other hand,

1 Actually multiple theaters, because I saw it a few times.

  • 5
    The reason a reviewer might conclude that the end of the Death Star means the end of the Empire is because this is what the opening crawl tells us. We are told that Princess Leia is "custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy." There is no implications that this will be minor setback or a nuisance for the Empire, but rather a final victory for the Rebellion. Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 22:47
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    I was a five year old kid who just saw the good guys win, so.., that’s how. Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 5:12
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    All supplementary material about Darth Vader's fighter states that it has shields and a hyperdrive. Setting it apart from all other contemporary imperial fighters. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 15:30
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    In Empire Strikes Back, Luke's X-wing turns out to have hyperdrive. There's no reason Darth Vader's fighter couldn't have had it. Commented Jul 27, 2018 at 23:17
  • "This, of course, was before I knew anything about Lucas’s plan to make nine movies" ... Chances are, it was before Lucas knew he had those plans, too. All things considered, it seems quite likely that his original plan was 3, that he realized he had material for 3 prequels roughly around the time he finalised the script of ESB, and decided to add another 3 on shortly thereafter because a trilogy of trilogies sounds cooler. Suggestions that he had it all planned in advance seem to be somewhat exaggerated.
    – Jules
    Commented Oct 19, 2018 at 20:08

No. I remembered Vader dying too, the first time I saw the film. But I watched it again later—the same actual print, shown again in the same place just a few days later—and I was wrong. I think I was just so caught up in the excitement of the climax that I didn't even notice the scenes of Vader escaping.

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    I thank you all but i'm not talking about scripts or the later versions of the release. I agree he escapes in them. But i saw him die in the first release. I will try to screen the team negative one version.
    – D rich
    Commented Jan 27, 2018 at 1:31
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    @Drich how do you know this answer doesn't refer to the original screening?
    – user64742
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 5:31

Darth Vader dies in the original Star Wars release. I remember that just after a few weeks the movie was changed with a short image of Darth Vader stabilizing his craft so that he might have lived. Then there was a huge marketing campaign with signs and T-shirts that said "Darth Vader Lives".

Think about it. Without a sequel, the movie would be incomplete without Darth Vader dying. The bad guy had not yet been beat.

A shot from Han Solo damaged his craft and it spun out of control and hit the Death Star leaving Luke free to destroy the Death Star.

  • 3
    Hi, welcome to SF&F. (Is it possible that you misremember? That the explosion was before Vader went spinning off?) The question also asked if you have any video evidence?
    – DavidW
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 0:31

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