“Only through the love of his children and the compassion of his children, who believe in him, though he’s a monster, does he redeem himself.”– George Lucas about Darth Vader’s redemption
Welcome to the very first Hot Take! As it’s Father’s Day, I’m going to talk about one of my favourite narratives in one my favourite franchises -Star Wars!
This post will contain a massive SPOILER! However – if you’ve been living under a rock for the past, what is it? Forty odd years, then you’d all know the big reveal at the end of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back!
That’s right. The protagonist and antagonist in one of the most famous franchises in the world… are father and son. This scene has been parodied, satirised, subject to many pieces of fan-art, been watched and re-watched over a billion times online and will probably go down in history as one of the greatest reveals of all time.
Our protagonist is so shocked and horrified that the person – in his eyes – who does the most evil, abhorrent things, is his own flesh and blood.
From that moment, it’s game on for the pair of them.
Now, there is of course the lovely addition of Luke and Princess Leia being twins and as much as I’d have loved Star Wars to actually explore the dynamic of the three of them (that’s another rant!) I’m going to chat about what we actually got.
It was this father/son ‘hot take’ that actually drew me into the story of Star Wars. I didn’t have the privilege of being ‘surprised’ for the very first time by it, when The Empire Strikes Back first came out, in 1983.
I’d have loved to have been there though – completely ignorant of how the story was going to go, when I saw the infamous scene.
I was first introduced to Star Wars in 1996, when I was an innocent four year old. My Uncle, who would’ve been about twenty-two at the time, (and a major Star Wars buff) showed me the first scene, trying with exasperation to explain the story to me.
I understood Luke was an orphan, but didn’t know – or particularly care why. Dressing up as Disney princesses and parading around in my playhouse was more my thing back then. Also, Darth Vader’s mask and that creepy breathing sound scared the crap out of me!
Even when the Prequels made Star Wars a ‘thing’ again, I never got into it and fell asleep during the Phantom Menace. (That’s a whole other hot take by the way!)
It was only during my final year at University, when I was suddenly hit with this intense desire to watch the entire series. This was back in 2014, when they were filming the new sequels, so there was already a little buzz surrounding the franchise again.
Perhaps it was because I had just spent four years studying all about writing and storytelling, but I was struck by this curiosity to find out why Luke and Darth Vader were going head-to-head if they were father and son.
It was this pre-knowledge that helped me follow the story of Luke, discovering his father’s lightsaber from Obi-Wan, learning that his his father, Anakin Skywalker, was a jedi but was then killed by Vader. The cagey looks, the lingering conversations on Obi-Wan’s part, clearly lets us know that there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Obviously we know now what he means. The darkness in Anakin killed the good in him and Darth Vader was born from the ashes…
Oh boy, Jekyll and Hyde ain’t got nothing on these two!
When we’re first introduced to Darth Vader, he’s arguing with Princess Leia who (unbeknownst to him) is his daughter. We’ve seen him ruthlessly strangle a man to death with the force, slice his old mentor in half and cut off the hand of his own son.
George Lucas said it best. The guy’s a monster.
So how does the father/son narrative drive his redemption story? I’m going to say it and it’s going to sound like such a sick making answer. It’s simple.
Oh but it’s true.
Darth Vader was a walking example of someone who had completely given in to his dark side. People related it to this because we see it all the time. All kids have seen ‘the dark side’ in their parents and I’m pretty sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of their lightsaber!
So along comes his kids, particularly Luke. His children actually represent everything he was supposed to be fighting for, originally. They’re kind, compassionate, fiercely loyal to each other and their family. Most importantly, they’re willing to fight. They want to fight for the downtrodden and the people who have fallen by the wayside. Vader himself, when he was Anakin, was one of those people. A child sold to slavery, with only a mother and no father of his own.
Always answering to a ‘master’ till the very end.
Suddenly Vader was thrown into a whirlpool of confusion and had found himself on the dark side, before he had time to really think about what he was doing. When he found out his wife, Padme was pregnant, he was overjoyed and was actually looking forward to being a father.
When he thinks all of that was snatched away from him, he gives in to his hatred of the world and allows himself to succumb to the darkness. Thus Anakin became Darth Vader.
Once he finds out he has a child, it changes everything. Now, he has a purpose. A reason to fight evil and restore good to the universe, fulfilling the prophecy made about him. That he’d destroy the sith and bring order to the universe. This was brought about by his son saving his soul. Whilst Palpatine was torturing Luke on the floor, all he could do was cry out for his father. Vader could not watch this go on without intervening and so he picked up the Emperor with one hand and threw him down a chute, accidentally injuring himself in the process. Anakin Skywalker was redeemed because he could bear to see his son suffer in front of him.
As George Lucas himself said:
“His undoing is that he loveth too much.”George Lucas on Darth Vader
And boy wasn’t that the truth!
This is an excerpt from the Redemption scene:
Darth Vader: Luke … help me take this mask off.
Luke: But you’ll die.
Darth Vader: Nothing … can stop that now. Just for once … let me … look on you with my own eyes.
[Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask one piece at a time. Underneath, Luke sees the face of a pale, scarred, bald-headed old man—his father, Anakin. Anakin sadly looks at Luke but then gives a tired smile.]
Anakin: Now … go, my son. Leave me.
Luke: No. You’re coming with me. I’ll not leave you here, I’ve got to save you.
Anakin: You already … have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister … you were right.
[Anakin smiles and his eyes begin to droop, slumping down in death while giving one last dying breath.]
This wraps up the entire Star Wars saga. (Ignoring the other three fanfictions.) THIS is the finale of a long arc for Anakin Skywalker and he was saved by his son. This is was one of the main themes that grabbed me by the heart and finally forced me to pay attention to this amazing franchise, that I’d been ignoring most of my life!