Darth Vader. Arch-Villain or loving father?
Darth Vader was saved through his son, Luke Skywalker.
Those of us who are Star Wars fans remember that Luke was adamant after fighting (and losing) against Darth Vader in episode 5 that his father turned sith lord still had good within him and that Luke believed he could be turned back to the Light Side. Kenobi and Yoda were unconvinced and urged Luke to kill both Vader and the Emperor as soon as possible or all would be lost.
We all remember that, at the last moment, Vader was saved. When he saw his helpless son being electrocuted by Palpatine’s force lightning, he seized the Emperor and threw him into a pit before dying himself.
None of this is news, but I have a theory that has grown within me as I’ve watched the films since I was a boy.
Darth Vader always loved his son, and he never intended to kill him.
Let’s examine the facts.
In Episode 3, Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader. When he awakens in his metal body, Palpatine lies to him and tells Vader he murdered Padme in his anger (and thus any children she was carrying). Vader is now under the assumption he has nothing good to live for and wholeheartedly devotes himself to the Dark Side.
In Episode 4, many things happen concerning the Death Star we will discuss later. What is important to focus on is that he does not know Luke (or Leia for that matter) are his children. He’s so filled with hate and they are so weak in the force he can’t feel them even though he’s very close to Leia for long periods of time. It’s only when Luke finally opens himself to the Force to put a proton torpedo right in the pickle barrel that Vader suddenly senses, “the Force is strong with this one…” Still, he’s unaware this boy is his son and in fact does try to legitimately kill him.
However in Episode 5 the opening crawl explains that some time has passed and Vader is now obsessively searching the galaxy for….what? The Rebels? No, for Luke Skywalker himself. He’s scattered probe droids all across the cosmos looking for Luke, but why?
It can’t be revenge. Vader didn’t really think the Death Star would work, as indicated in this scene. It seems that Palpatine, dark lord of the Sith that he was, didn’t see the Force like Vader did. This was probably due to Vader’s extensive Jedi training. Vader understood the Force wasn’t just a neat tool in his bag of tricks. The Force was everything. The Death Star was impressive, but it wasn’t anything compared to the Force. Palpatine put his trust in giant weapons of terror and pride, much like Hitler did. Vader knew that if the rebels had anyone who could communicate with the Force, this ridiculous plan would be undone. And he was right. One teenage boy with the Force on his side in an X-wing brought the entire thing down. Vader clearly felt this was a waste of time and that attitude can be felt throughout the film. He clearly didn’t have a lot of emotional ties to the project, and while he would have been miffed when it got destroyed, I don’t think it would have driven him to some kind of manhunt to find the single man responsible.
So why Luke? Well it’s clear that by this time, Imperial spies have found out the name of the rebel who fired the winning shot, and for all of Kenobi’s efforts to hide Luke, he didn’t bother changing his name. When Vader heard his name was Skywalker, and knew his rough age, the fact he was a crack-shot pilot and strong with the Force….well lets just say Vader isn’t an idiot. This had to be his son, or at least it could be.
When the Imperial army lands on Hoth, Vader ignores the battle and aggressively searches for Luke within. Now, you may say, this doesn’t prove Vader loved him. In fact, its more likely he was obsessed with finding this young Force user to put him down so that he has no chance to become a Jedi. That is a valid point, considering how Vader knows how dangerous a single Force user can be if he’s trained up. But there’s more.
In the asteroid scene, Palpatine contacts Vader directly with an urgent message. In this message Palpatine reveals to Vader that the young rebel who took down the Death Star is none other than Luke Skywalker, son of Annakin. This conversation is crucial for a number of reasons. 1. Palpatine reveals this information slowly to Vader. He clearly believes Vader does not know this information yet and is approaching him carefully with it. After all he’d told Vader his kid had died. 2. Vader acts surprised, letting us know he’s keeping the emperor in the dark. Vader has known for some time that it was Luke and that Luke is his son. For all his so-called loyalty, he’s kept this fact from Palpatine for as long as he could. 3. Vader’s tone. Vader says, “How can that be possible?” in a tone that surely makes me think he’s grinding his teeth. The unsaid second phrase is, “You told me my child died.” Vader is angry at Palpatine, but he holds back, because he’s got a plan. 4. Vader asks that Luke be spared. Palpatine doesn’t say it, but he doesn’t have to. Luke must die, lest he become a real Jedi Knight. Vader proactively asks that Luke be spared on the condition he be turned to the Dark Side. He masks this with, “He could become a powerful ally.” Now they both know the Sith rules: two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice. Palpatine agrees, because Palpatine believes Luke will be a stronger apprentice than Vader, who is growing old and weak. (This is proven in Episode 6). Palpatine probably knows Vader wants to use Luke to assassinate himself, for this is the Sith way also. Nevertheless, Palpatine decides to take the risk.
The evidence really starts to mount at Cloud City. First, Vader tests the Carbon Freezing Unit on Solo first because he doesn’t want, “the Emperor’s prize damaged.” Now I believe part of Vader’s plan was to turn Luke into a Sith and overthrow Palpatine. At this point Vader is nowhere near what we’d call “good.” He’s still very much evil, and he is totally plotting to make Luke his apprentice and overthrow Palpatine, but underneath it all there is a dormant love for his son that even he doesn’t realize yet.
Vader pleads with his son.
When Luke confronts Vader, Vader doesn’t really put his best foot forward. He could have crushed Luke easily, but doesn’t. This is not surprising given his goals of overthrowing the Emperor. However at the edge of the bridge overlooking the chasm in that famous scene we all know and love, something happens I find illogical. Luke is defeated and disarmed (literally). Yet he is nowhere near being defeated spiritually. He is not giving in, and its pretty darn clear. Vader, however, doesn’t kill Luke. He didn’t hesitate 20 years earlier with any other Jedi, even the children adawans. There was no mercy,no parley. Yet he pleads with Luke to surrender. Pleads. You can hear it in his voice, he really, really doesn’t want to kill Luke. This whole fight he’s risked everything just to get Luke to this point where he’d have no choice, and yet Luke chooses death rather than join him. Still Vader relents. Finally Vader tells Luke that he is his father, at which point Luke understandably loses it. His last words to Luke are not harsh, but almost tender, “Join me. It is the only way.” You can almost hear behind it, “Please son.” Luke lets go.
Vader wastes no time. He knows Luke doesn’t die down there (he can fully sense his presence now at all times) and heads for his ship. As the Falcon makes its dramatic escape, Vader continues to plead with his son via the Force.
Now at this point, we still really don’t have anything really conclusive. But it is worth noting that Luke himself is convinced. He will insist to both Yoda and Kenobi when he meets them that he felt good in Vader at Bespin. He felt his father’s love.
Alright, on to Episode 6 and the good stuff. In the scene where the Emperor arrives on the Death Star II, he tells Vader he senses that Vader wants to continue searching for Luke. Vader seems almost annoyed at this, and I believe he was trying to keep Palpatine from knowing this. A little later, Palpatine tells Vader to wait on the command ship for further instructions.
Here’s the big one. When Luke flies in with the rebels on the Tyderion, he senses Vader on the command ship and Vader senses him. Luke knows they are hosed already. “I shouldn’t have come.” he says. Vader immediately goes to Palpatine, who is annoyed Vader has disobeyed orders. Vader explains that the rebels have landed on Endor. Palpatine waives this off, “Yes I know.” It is all according to plan. “Skywalker is with them.” Vader continues. Palpatine looks visibly worried, “Are you sure?” he asks. “I have felt him.” Vader replies. “Strange that I have not,” Palpatine responds “I trust that your feelings on this matter are clear Lord Vader?” “They are clear.” Vader assures him.
OK! So this is really important. Vader can sense Luke whereas Palpatine cannot. We know that Palpatine is by and large the stronger in the Dark Side of the two, so it’s not possible Vader was doing something with the Dark Side that Palpatine could not. So how did Vader sense his son? Through the Light Side. Vader, for a moment concerning his son, was channeling the Light Side of the Force again. Palpatine confirms this through his question, “Are your feelings clear?” He knows Vader channeled the Light Side, which could only have been done through some sort of goodness or affection towards Luke. In other words, love. Palpatine is concerned Vader actually loves his son. If that’s true it could undo everything (and as we’ll see, it does.)
When Luke surrenders to Vader, Luke is now the one pleading. He believes there is good left in Annakin yet, but he overestimates this. He believes Vader loves him too much to expose him to Palpatine, but he underestimates Palpatine’s hold over Vader, and is taken to the Throne Room. Some important things are revealed, however. One, Vader is impressed with Luke’s lightsaber. One can almost sense pride in his voice. In addition, when Vader rejects Luke’s pleas to turn away from evil, he says, “It is….too late for me, son.” Vader wants to run away with Luke, but he believes that the Dark Side is an inevitable force he cannot escape nor be redeemed from. Palpatine’s lies, like the lies of an abusive parent or spouse, have sunk deep within him. Vader can forsee a future with his son, but only one that lies in the Dark Side. Now that he’s going to the Emperor, Vader believes this dream lost. “He is your master now.” Vader doesn’t believe he can best Palpatine.
When Vader and Luke finally cross blades, we see Luke is much improved, but Vader is still clearly better. Anyone can see Vader is holding back, taunting Luke in an attempt to arouse his anger so that Luke will channel the Dark Side. At first, Luke does the Jedi proud, and refuses to even meaningfully engage Vader. Then Vader searches Luke and discovers Leia. His taunts about turning Leia are too much for Luke, and he flies into a rage.
At this point, Luke is channeling Dark Side. He aggressively attacks Vader with hatred. He feels betrayed. Luke now believes what Yoda and Kenobi said. Vader is irredeemable, and in his foolish quest to save him, Luke has now betrayed everyone. Luke strikes out again and again until at last he throws Vader down in ruin and chops off his hand. Luke is about to land the death blow when he sees the cyborg stump that was his father’s hand. He looks down at his own cyborg hand. Suddenly he realizes he is becoming just like Vader. Bit by bit, he’s becoming a Sith. He sheathes his weapon and turns to the Emperor. “Never.” he throws the saber away, “I’ll never turn to the Dark Side. You’ve failed your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” That bit about him throwing his saber away always bothered me as a kid. Why throw away your weapon? Because Luke finally realizes what the real battle is. It’s not the battle for physical survival, but spiritual survival. If he kept his weapon, perhaps he could have defeated Palpatine. But even if he had, he would have smoothly taken his place as Lord of the Sith. By throwing the weapon down, he threw aside temptation to do more harm and rejected the Dark Side (unlike in the cave in episode 5, where he chose to fight). He was now a Jedi.
“So be it. Jedi.”
The Emperor now realizes this brat has cost him everything. Vader is useless now and probably not going to survive and his chosen successor is now a stinking Jedi. He raises his hands, and pure hate turns to kinetic energy made for killing. Force Lightning. Luke is quickly overcome and falls to the ground writhing in pain. Vader gets up after a fashion to watch this unfold. I believe he was expecting the torture to provoke Luke to surrender and turn at last. I think Vader knew his time was up, but maybe his son could live on as Palpatine’s new apprentice. But Luke holds on, and on, and on. Soon, the pain does get to Luke, but not at all in the way Vader expects. He begins to plead, like a child, “Father, please! Help me!” Vader hears his son’s pleas and looks at Palpatine. All he sees there is pure hatred. At some point, Vader snaps. He grabs Palpatine while he’s still channeling, and you can see that the lightning is hitting Vader all the way to the pit, causing severe pain and damage, but Vader makes it and throws him in. Heck yeah!
I think in those last moments, Vader came to accept two realizations. One, that Palpatine was never the good guy, despite the lies fed to him in Episodes 2 and 3. His way was not the right way, and all Palpatine had ever done for him was take away everything he loved and enslaved him. The spell Palpatine had put on Annakin had broken. Two, Annakin realized that his pretensions about training Luke to overthrow Palpatine to become the new Sith lords was just a cover for his true love that he held for his only son. Third, that whether he could be redeemed or not, there were things worse than death, and seeing your boy tortured to death by a madman while he pleas for your help is definitely one of them.
So in conclusion, I believe that Vader loved his son Luke from the moment he knew he existed. I think all of his actions and efforts in Episodes 5 and 6 were to save his son from death and to be with him, albeit for most of that time that relationship was to be one of Sith Lord and Apprentice. (The Dark Side twisted his love.)
Why is this on my blog? I am too tired now to make spiritual allegorical connections, so I’ll let you do that work yourself. 🙂