Rogue One’s biggest fan controversy might not be over its ending, its cast or its reshoots — but a single bit of wordplay that occurs about halfway through the “stand-alone” Star Wars film.
But is the joke such an uncharacteristic quip for one of Star Wars’ most well-known characters? And is it even a good joke?
The rest of this post contains spoilers for Rogue One.
Somewhere in the middle of Rogue One, Director Orson Krennic visits the stronghold of Darth Vader on Mustafar, to report the latest accomplishments of the Death Star and the machinations of Governor Tarkin in attempting to wrest it from his control. At the end of his audience with Vader, Krennic pushes a little too far, raising the ire of the Emperor’s right hand and earning himself a punitive telekinetic blockage of his windpipe. Vader turns, hand extended in the now-universal gesture of “choking you with my mind,” and tells him to be careful not to “choke on your aspirations.”
It’s understandable that that simple line of dialogue might come as a shock. But while Anakin Skywalker has never really been the sort for wordplay (as even Kieron Gillen, writer behind the fantastic comic Darth Vader and king of bad Twitter puns, can admit), he does have an established deadpan sense of humor.
In Attack of the Clones, when he meets up with Obi-Wan Kenobi after a failed rescue attempt, his master quips, “I was beginning to wonder if you'd got my message,” and Anakin plays right along.
“I retransmitted it to Coruscant, just as you'd requested, Master. Then we decided to come and rescue you,” he says, as he’s being chained to a sacrificial pole in a massive arena.
Earlier in the film he actually cracks a genuine smile when Padme accuses him of making fun of her. “Oh, no,” he responds, “I'd be too frightened to tease a senator!”
And even in the era of Darth Vader, in the original trilogy himself, Vader throws out a quip during his hair-trigger execution of an Imperial officer, deadpanning, “Apology accepted, Captain Needa.”
The reaction from fans has definitely been strong — in both directions.
Me, when Darth Vader made that pun pic.twitter.com/7JyCMQixoQ— Carlos Murillo (@LosMurillo126) December 20, 2016
Rogue One was good but I think we can all agree that we mentally checked out when Darth Vader made a pun about the force— Rachel Parker (@mizrachelparker) December 20, 2016
I have now lived long enough to see Darth Vader make a pun and I don't know how I feel about that.— Maggie Stiefvater (@mstiefvater) December 16, 2016
Okay but can we all agree that Darth Vader's pun is the single greatest thing you've ever heard— Bailey Sauls (@lildrummerbay) December 17, 2016
Confronted with not just a pun (metaphorical choking vs. literal choking) but a double pun (aspirations as in Krennic’s “ambitions” vs. aspirations as in “aspirate, or breathe”), Star Wars fans are divided. It seems that, like all of the best wordplay, Darth Vader’s pun was both a fantastic joke and literally the worst thing that has ever happened to human ears.