While most alligators strike fear in humans, especially if they appear to be running toward a human, an American alligator in Florida named Darth Vader has become famous–seemingly overnight–for his affinity for Star Wars, the “Imperial March,” and for his ability to perform on command as he rushes toward his owner.
Alligators, Alligators Everywhere
In places like Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and Georgia, the alligator populations are extremely high. Louisiana is home to more than two million alligators, while Florida, Texas, and Georgia boast 1.3 million, 450,000, and 225,000 gators, respectively. It’s hard to believe that the American alligator was once named on a federal list of endangered species in the United States, as the species has recovered from the brink of extinction and added to its overall population exponentially, especially in the southeastern part of the country.
Though the American alligator is no longer endangered, it remains on the list of endangered species because it looks similar to the American crocodile, the population of which remains threatened.
In the United States between 1948 and mid-2004, there were 376 reported injuries from alligator encounters and 15 fatalities, per a 2004 study in the Wilderness & Environmental Medicine Journal. But more recently, in 2022, four people died as a result of alligator attacks, including a woman in South Carolina in July 2022, after a man in Florida, a man in South Carolina, and a woman in Florida were killed in attacks earlier that year.
Even so, authorities say that humans are far more likely to be attacked by a bear inside Yellowstone National Park or to be struck by lightning than they are to be killed in an alligator attack, and, as evidenced by a video he shared last week on social media, Paul Bedard, an experienced gator trapper and an actor from a television show called Gator Boys and a seasoned trapper known for rescuing alligators, agrees.
Not only is Bedard at ease around gators but he’s even been able to teach one of the reptiles, affectionately named Darth Vader, several tricks, some of which incorporate the John Williams theme, “The Imperial March,” which first debuted in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).
No Laughing Matter . . . Or Is It?
In states known for their high alligator populations, there often exists a paradox: while gators are nothing to laugh about, there also often exists a sense of state pride in the prevalence of alligators. Perhaps that feeling of pride is only felt by those who are guaranteed a safe distance from the reptiles.
Others, however, like Bedard, don’t keep their distance from the alligators at all, and millions of people are thrilled that he doesn’t.
In a video posted to X, formerly Twitter, Bedard can be seen standing near a pool teeming with reptilian predators, each relaxing in the water, shortly before he holds up his phone to play music for one of them.
Alligator on Demand
“Going to see if Darth can hear from this far away,” Bedard says as he presses play on a YouTube video of John Williams’s “Imperial March,” one of the most iconic pieces of music from the Skywalker Saga. But the camera isn’t on Bedard anymore, as the viewfinder has panned over to the pool, from which one surly-looking gator emerges upon hearing the music.
In a display that makes viewers want to rub their eyes and take a closer look, Darth Vader, the gator, seems to “march” in time with the music as he makes his way to Bedard, who is waiting for him, armed with his phone in one hand and a fish in the other. He even demonstrates how he is able to make Darth Vader stop advancing toward him by stopping the music.
gator named darth vader comes when his theme song is played pic.twitter.com/HygLJmrBEb
— Gators Daily 🐊 (@GatorsDaily) October 20, 2023
Since the video was first uploaded on Friday, October 20, it has been viewed on X nearly 11 million times, and suddenly Star Wars fans and the rest of the world have a new hero–or adversary, depending upon their viewpoints–an American alligator in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that they’ve affectionately nicknamed “Darth Gator.”