One of the many recent internet rumors about the upcoming Disney Star Wars trilogy is that Vader will be making his return.
Upon first hearing the rumor, I had the same reaction that I imagine many of you had: "Gross! Why would they do that?" Nevertheless, I decided to really analyze what this would mean from a literary perspective, and I've concluded that it makes a lot more sense than it seems at first.
The first reaction to the rumor, to the possibility that it's under consideration, is that bringing back dead characters is dumb. Comic books have taught us to loath the Lazarus figure, because they use it ad nauseum, but it can be used correctly, and it can make a good story. There are a couple of good arguments against my position beyond the simple knee-jerk reaction, and they are valid, but while I may not believe they will do it right, I do believe it can be done right.
You might say, "There are so many other Star Wars stories to tell, thousands of other characters on thousands of other worlds, why would we continue with this one, dude?" and I say that your answer is in the question: Star Wars, the films at least, are quite fully the story of Anakin Skywalker. The original trilogy seemed to be about Luke, but that was only on the surface. Luke's story is only a sub-plot, a redemptive tool in Anakin's plot.
Luke isn't a good protagonist. He's too good, too perfect. His only flaw is immaturity, and he overcomes that flaw by the end of the first film - which is essentially a coming-of-age story for Luke, after all, but Anakin has more dimensions than that. The first trilogy (in story chronology) covers his childhood, and ascent to power as a force for good. At the end of that story, Anakin, as a character, dies, and is essentially reborn as a monster. In the second trilogy, he is put at odds with his monstrous fate, and his son shows him that he does not have to be a monster any longer, and immediately upon that realization he perishes once more. Symbolically, in the new chronology created by the recent trilogy of films, this is the death of the evil and hatred in Anakin, which had been sustaining him for twenty years. When that evil was gone, Anakin too had to perish.
Symbolically then, following the arc of the films, it would make sense for him to be reborn once more into the light side of the force to fight alongside his children or grandchildren against a new evil, as he struggles to redeem the evils he committed as a Dark Side warrior.
The more I think about it, the more I think that this is actually the only way to do it. Star Wars is the story of Anakin's rise and fall and rise again, it's the only thing that makes sense.
Consider this as an opening to the new trilogy:
Luke, Leia, and Han are old folks now, Luke is running his restored Jedi Academy with the help of the next generation of Skywalkers and Solos. The new crop of Jedi have a great battle ahead of them. The Sith - the real Sith - are returning from some distant edge of the galaxy, and they want their empire back. At a pivotal battle the Jedi find themselves fighting alongside a stranger. Afterward he is revealed to be a young Anakin Skywalker, secretly cloned just after the death of the original, and implanted with the memories of the original so as to make him a weapon against the returning Sith. Those who created him have been destroyed, and now he strikes at the Sith from the shadows, a ronin that the Jedi can't decide if they trust.Luke, having been there at his father's final moments, trust that he has a good nature, but Leia and Han aren't so easily swayed.
The use of cloning has been well established in-canon, as well as the possible return of the Sith. Everything there makes sense, and serves well, and I just made that up off the top of my head as I was writing it. They could do any number of things from downloading his memories into a force-impotent droid to actually resurrecting the guy - this is a universe of magic after all, and it would work if they treated it right.
That's the important part. Whatever they do, whether or not it's a good film isn't going to depend on the details of the plot, it's going to depend on how the drama of the story is treated. The final trilogy needs to be dark and dangerous, and have higher stakes than any part of the franchise has ever had to date.
There will always be haters, however, and I have a feeling that a large part of the dedicated audience, still feeling burned by the lightness of the newer trilogy, will roll their eyes and call foul at every bit of released information about the film.
Disney has an uphill battle on its hands, but I'm willing to trust them for now, and whatever they make, they can't take the original films away from us, not really, so we can put our energy into whatever part of the canon we do enjoy.