I’m going to hit you with spoilers right off the bat, so stop here if you haven’t seen Rogue One — but man, did that Vader / Krennic choking scene seem weirdly sexual to anyone? Or at least, like it was playing into an existing meme that has been relentlessly sexualized by the internet? And maybe like the writers were aware that it was doing so? And in being aware, like they were perhaps co-opting it into officially endorsed canon?
I should probably start from the beginning.
The Vader choking meme spawned from a scene in Episode IV: A New Hope: a military council meeting descends into a standoff between Vader and Admiral Motti. Motti criticizes Vader’s religion (a serious faux pas in any office situation) and Vader responds by saying “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” and force-choking him until Tarkin intervenes. Arguably one of the most iconic scenes in the entire series, it’s become easy fodder for memes. You can find choke-themed variations on the Hope meme, Keep Calm and Carry On, and What My Friends Think I Do, all of which are delightful in their own way.
The particular meme in question is Tumblr’s kink variant. As best I can tell, Patient Zero was this short dialogue scene, posted to Tumblr on December 23rd, 2015:
Darth Vader: *force chokes storm trooper*
Storm trooper: harder daddy
Darth Vader: what
Storm trooper: what
This was quickly followed by an image macro:
Of course, with the release of The Force Awakens, the Vader choking meme joined with the larger Kylo Ren fandom and went off in a bunch of other directions — but for now, let’s keep the focus on Vader.
Midway through Rogue One, we get another scene that fits suspiciously snugly into the choking meme. Krennic visits Vader’s lovely volcano-dam to discuss the Galen-related security breaches and lobby for an audience with the Emperor. After the successful test on Jedha, Grand Moff Tarkin has taken command of the Death Star, and Krennic is looking for Vader, the emperor, or really anyone to help him get it back. Vader doesn’t say yes (and he’s clearly not too broken up when Tarkin decides to blow up Krennic at the end) but he doesn’t say no either, so Krennic leaves the meeting feeling like he actually has a shot. But when Krennic gets a little too insistent, Vader force-chokes him until he falls to the floor. He even delivers a quip — “Try not to choke on your own aspirations” — meant to echo the old “lack of faith” line.
Slash-fiction predicted this
On paper, the scene is a welcome callback to A New Hope and a reminder why Vader is such a fearsome adversary — except, well, Krennic seems into it. He’s happy about Vader’s lack of loyalty to Tarkin, sure, but you would think being choked into near-unconsciousness would make him less sure that Vader is really on his side. Still, when we see his face, he’s grinning. Can he really be that happy because of this abstract political victory that doesn’t even make sense? Or, perhaps, has he derived some other kind of pleasure from this violent encounter with an emotionally withholding male authority figure?
In fact, the Rogue One scene is nearly identical to this short Vader / Krennic slashfic written several months before the film’s release. The post details a similar disagreement over Krennic’s ambitions, but ends with the director “tired, flushed, and exhausted,” having defied Vader’s will in the face of mystical attack. To be clear: I’m not suggesting the filmmakers purposefully copied TheLizzzard’s fan-fic, but both works seem to have recognized the choking meme’s dramatic potential in retelling the events preceding Episode IV.
However the scene was created, the end result is the same. The world envisioned by the memes above — a world in which various Star Wars characters receive sexual pleasure from force-choking powers — is now official Star Wars canon, tacitly endorsed by Lucasfilm, Marvel, and the larger Disney / ABC entertainment conglomerate. The force is a weapon, a tool, and sometimes other stuff, too!