Premier League - Rooney nets twice in United win
Rooney bookended the first half with a goal after just 48 seconds and another in stoppage time.
He came into the game with one goal from open play since last March, but managed two in the opening period - the first a superb dipping volley following an alert long ball from Edwin van der Sar, and the second a close-range finish from Nani's superb cross.
Darren Bent pulled one back shortly before the hour mark, but Nemanja Vidic soon restored United's two-goal cushion.
Sir Alex Ferguson made a host of changes following his side's FA Cup scare at Southampton, restoring Ryan Giggs, Nani, Dimitar Berbatov, Rooney and Rio Ferdinand to name just five.
For Villa, Gabriel Agbonlahor was relegated to the bench despite scoring his first league goal of the season last week, and netting the winner when Villa visited Old Trafford last season.
The win keeps United five points clear at the top of the division and ends Villa's five-game unbeaten run.
Van der Sar, who retires at the end of the season, showed early on he will be missed not just for his goalkeeping skills but for his distribution.
In the first minute, United were awarded a free-kick just outside their own area and Dutchman, spotting an opportunity, sent a 60-yard pass for Rooney to chase.
The striker got beyond the sluggish Richard Dunne, controlled, and sent a thunderous shot past Brad Friedel from the edge of the box.
Rooney took the plaudits of the Old Trafford faithful, but the entire United back four went to Van der Sar whose quick thinking made the goal.
While the 40-year-old Van der Sar excelled at one end of the pitch, his opposite number Friedel was called into action on the night he became Villa's oldest-ever player at 39.
The American's reflexes had to be at their sharpest when a Rooney pass hit James Collins and fell to Nani, whose first-time left-foot shot was fizzing towards the bottom-right corner until Friedel beat it away.
He then got down low to contain a shot from another veteran - Giggs - before saving from Patrice Evra who had run on to an excellent Giggs pass.
Villa had their moments, and plenty of possession, but they struggled to create genuine opportunities, while Bent snatched at the half-chance that came his way.
Rooney got his brace in the final seconds of the half, when Nani jinked away from Ciaran Clark and played a sensational diagonal cross from the right beyond Collins and into the path of Rooney, who could hardly miss from six yards.
Villa hardly created a chance, but suddenly found themselves back in the match on 58 minutes after a fine, flowing move. Ashley Young released Stewart Downing down the right, who slid a perfect low ball into the path of Bent, who finished coolly from 10 yards.
United responded like table-toppers, and within five minutes had restored their lead.
Vidic stayed forward after a corner was cleared, and when the ball came back into the box he exchanged passes with Rooney before lashing the ball past Friedel.
Young came closest to reducing the deficit with a curling effort that clanged the top of the bar.
Elsewhere, Friedel was in top form to keep the scoreline respectable. He made himself big to repel a Nani shot from close range - before Berbatov skied the rebound - then dived full-stretch to his left to deny Rooney his hat-trick.