I find it interesting that Vader is referred to as Tarkin’s “henchman.”
You certainly sense in the movie that Tarkin has some authority to restrain Vader, but hardly that he is in charge.
“I should have expected to find you here holding Vader’s leash,” Leia says. I mean I think it’s pretty clear that Tarkin was the man in charge and Vader was just sort of the muscle.
That’s another thing retconned in the prequels, making Vader into some kind of god figure (complete with virgin birth) and centering the entire saga on him. He wasn’t even originally supposed to be second in command, at least not officially. Even in Empire, we see him storming Hoth on foot at the front lines. He’s the muscle, not the brass.
Yeah, going strictly by what we see in the films, Vader was always the emperor’s enforcer. He’s given command/authority over whatever resources he needs for a particular task. He operates outside the formal hierarchy of the imperial military. But he’s not always the guy in charge of the situation. In ESB he seems so powerful because he’s been given charge of a decent size fleet to complete his task of hunting down the rebel base, and more specifically, Luke. I’m sure the emperor was willing to throw any and all resources the empire could muster to capture a new force user, especially once he knew it was another Skywalker…
That’s something I’ve actually really enjoyed in the new marvel comics. Vader is running around both doing the emperors bidding but also secretly seeing to his own agenda. And he’s working both within and against the imperial structure at the same time. He’s not always in charge and often at odds with the people who are. But he does generally seem to get what he wants b/c he’s the emperors right hand man, and he’s also cunning and powerful in his own right.