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Darth Vader Timeline: the Star Wars villain's life explained

Darth Vader in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
Darth Vader Timeline: the story of the greatest villain in movies. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

Need a Darth Vader timeline to put all the Star Wars events in order? You've come to the right place!

It's hard to imagine Star Wars without Vader. From movies, TV shows, video games to comics, books and more, Vader has proven to be one of the most consistent threats to the galaxy far, far away.

With Hayden Christensen bringing him back to our screens in the Obi-Wan Kenobi series on Disney Plus, we revisited the mainline movies to chart the major events in his life and we've updated our timeline with what the Sith Lord has gotten up to during the new show. 

Below you'll learn about the major events in Anakin Skywalker's life and what led to his transformation into Darth Vader, one of the most fearsome figures in the Star Wars universe.

Darth Vader timeline — Anakin is discovered by the Jedi

Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

Before Darth Vader, there was Anakin Skywalker.

The Phantom Menace revolves around the discovery of Anakin, a Force-sensitive child with a gift for podracing who lives in slavery on Tatooine. As it turned out, Anakin had a higher midi-chlorian count (even higher than Yoda), meaning he would have been trained by the Jedi Order had he been born in Republic space.

Eventually, Jedi Master, Qui-Gon Jinn (played by Liam Neeson) discovered Anakin. Qui-Gon was very knowledgeable about the more esoteric nature of the Force and deduced that Anakin was the prophesied "Chosen One" who was supposed to bring balance to the Force by ending the Sith order once and for all. 

Qui-Gon had the child freed from slavery and sought to have him trained as a Jedi. Qui-Gon was determined to see out this desire, but he was cut down by Darth Maul during the Battle of Naboo. 

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader

After the battle, Anakin was admitted into the Jedi Order as Obi-Wan Kenobi's Padawan. His natural capabilities caused him to grow cocky, but he quickly outstripped his fellow Padawans during his apprenticeship to Obi-Wan.

Attack of the Clones picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom Menace and saw the beginning of Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader. In the film, Anakin's shift towards the Dark Side began in earnest after his mother is murdered by Tusken Raiders. He slaughtered the entire village of Tuskens, and then swore he'd grow powerful enough to stop anyone else he loved from dying. He also broke the Jedi Code by engaging in a secret marriage to Senator Padmé Amidala.

Revenge of the Sith then solidified Anakin's transformation into the fearsome Sith Lord, Darth Vader. Here, Chancellor Palpatine (later revealed to be Darth Sidious) began manipulating Anakin, ordering him to execute Count Dooku when Anakin and Obi-Wan rescued him from General Grievous's ship.

Palpatine exploits Anakin's fears and offers to teach Anakin the forbidden knowledge to prevent death since he's having premonitions of Padmé dying in childbirth. Anakin— who had been asked to spy on Palpatine by the Jedi Council — reports him to Mace Windu after figuring out Palpatine is a Sith Lord. However, Palpatine successfully convinces Anakin to intervene in the ensuing fight, allowing the Chancellor to kill the Jedi Master with Force lightning.

Following Windu's execution, Anakin was officially dubbed Darth Vader by Palpatine. After executing Order 66, Palpatine dispatches Vader to assassinate his rivals and the remaining Jedi in the Jedi Temple whilst the clone troopers kill the remaining Jedi Generals across the galaxy.

On Mustafar, Obi-Wan confronted Darth Vader and begged him to abandon the path he was on, but instead he Force-choked Padmé to near-death before engaging in a tense lightsaber duel with his former Master on Mustafar. 

Vader is eventually defeated and left for dead by Obi-Wan. Palpatine recovers his mutilated body and encases him in his black suit, where he also revealed that Padmé had died.

Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) in Star Wars: Episode 3 - Revenge of the Sith

Anakin in Revenge of the Sith (Image credit: LucasFilm)

Darth Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan Kenobi takes place a decade after the events of Revenge of the Sith. In that time, Darth has been placed at the helm of the Inquistorius, an organization of Force-sensitive agents who work for the Dark Side. 

Their main responsibility was hunting down rogue Jedi who had survived the execution of Order 66. He has close ties with the Third Sister, Reva Sevander, who wanted nothing more than to bring Obi-Wan to him.

Vader's first major appearance in the series comes in episode three when he follows Reva's lead to Mapuzo. When he landed on the planet, he began wreaking havoc on the local population to draw out Obi-Wan. He eventually confronted Vader whilst Leia and Tala escaped, but Vader easily bested his former Master and used the Force to drag him viciously through some flames, mirroring how Obi-Wan left him to burn on Mustafar and promising even more pain was in store.

Tala and NED-B rescued Obi-Wan, which infuriated Vader. When Obi-Wan later rescued Leia from the Fortress Inquisitorius on Nur, Vader came close to Force-choking Reva to death before she revealed she had successfully planted a tracker on Leia's droid.

Pleased, Darth Vader rewarded Reva with the position of Grand Inquisitor and went with her to Mapuzo. When Reva (who had revealed to Obi-Wan that she was a survivor of Anakin's attack on the Jedi Temple during Order 66) later attempted to assassinate him, Vader used the Force to subdue her before defeating her in a lightsaber duel. He revealed that he'd known who Reva was all along, and left her for dead.

Darth Vader looks out from the front of an Imperial Destroyer in Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Vader seemingly wants nothing more than to capture Obi-Wan Kenobi. (Image credit: Lucasfilm/Disney Plus)

Darth Vader in the Original Trilogy

Darth Vader swiftly became key to ensuring the Galactic Empire stayed in power throughout the galaxy, essentially acting as Emperor Palpatine's right-hand man.

In the movies, Vader next appeared in Rogue One. Despite Vader's best efforts, Rogue One details how the Rebel Alliance and Princess Leia successfully managed to get their hands on the Death Star schematics. 

After Rogue One comes A New Hope. Here, Darth Vader defends the Death Star from the growing rebellion and strikes down his former Master Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi (here played by Alec Guinness) in their second and final duel. 

He then led TIE fighter squadrons in an unsuccessful defense of the Death Star during the Battle of Yavin 4. When Luke Skywalker successfully blasted a proton torpedo through a small exhaust port and destroyed the Death Star, Vader sensed the Force was very strong in the X-Wing pilot.

Vader left the exploding Death Star in his Advanced TIE fighter and began seeking Skywalker (enter Episode Five: The Empire Strikes Back). He dispatched probe droids throughout the galaxy, with one eventually finding Luke on the ice planet, Hoth. The droid detects signs of life on Hoth, prompting Vader to lead a huge assault on the remaining Rebel forces on the planet.

After the attack, Vader suggests to the Emperor that Luke would be a very powerful ally if he was turned to the Dark Side, and engineers a plan to trap him. The Empire makes a deal with Lando Calrissian and captures Han Solo, Leia and the rest of the crew of the Millennium Falcon at the Cloud City on Bespin.

When Luke — who had been undergoing training with Yoda on Dagobah — returns to Bespin to save his friends, Vader engages the young Jedi in an epic lightsaber duel. This fight sees Vader cutting his son's hand off in frustration, asking Luke to rule the galaxy with him and leading to the climactic twist. Obi-Wan had lied to him: that Darth Vader didn't kill Luke's father. Darth Vader is Luke's father.

Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi

Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. (Image credit: LucasFilm)

Return of the Jedi then sees Vader ordering Imperial forces to speed up construction of a second, more powerful Death Star whilst Luke goes to rescue his friends from Jabba the Hutt. 

The Emperor arrives and assures Vader that Luke will seek him out, as he has foreseen they will be able to corrupt the Jedi together. Luke, Leia and co. head to the moon of Endor to deactivate the shield generator on the new Death Star. After befriending the Ewoks, Luke departs the moon to face his father once again.

The fierce Battle of Endor begins, and Darth brings his son to the Emperor. Palpatine tempts Luke into lashing out at him, but Vader blocks his attack. After another duel, Palpatine betrays Vader and tells Luke to strike down his own father so Luke can take his place.

Luke refuses and the Emperor attacks him with Force lightning. Before Palpatine can kill Luke, Darth Vader betrays his master and intervenes to save his son but is mortally wounded in the process. 

Before his death, Darth gets Luke to remove his mask and shares a tender moment with his son. He tells Luke he was right to believe there was still some good in him before passing away peacefully.

Martin Shore
Martin Shore

Martin is a Staff Writer with WhatToWatch.com, where he produces a variety of articles focused on the latest and greatest films and TV shows. 

Some of his favorite shows are What We Do In The Shadows, Bridgerton, Gangs of London, The Witcher, Doctor Who, and Ghosts. When he’s not watching TV or at the movies, Martin’s probably still in front of a screen playing the latest video games, reading, or watching the NFL.