Darth Vader, without a shadow of a doubt, has got to be the most infamous and prolifically known film antagonist in the history of cinema, a “master of evil,” as Kenobi so accurately put it, the Sithiest of all the Sith, a deliciously dark creature who has touched all of our lives, as Star Wars fans.
Attempting to explore the depths of Vader’s vile personae, to discover the true nature of the Dark Side, I sat down to watch the original Star Wars trilogy, for the 47,000th time, hoping to connect with something new, possibly an undiscovered facet of the dark lord’s personality, to answer some very important questions that have persisted in the Star Wars universe; Why didn’t Darth Vader recognize his own daughter, Princess Leia, and detect her force abilities? Why didn’t he recognize C3-PO?
Many fans have struggled to answer these questions, as the internet-o-sphere reveals, but no one has come up with reasonable answers, in my opinion. As I took in the trilogy, at least a dozen more times, it started to dawn on me that the simplest answer to those questions was that Vader did know The Princess was his daughter and he didreconize C3-PO. But, how could I prove it?
While on my 16th run-through, I had such a staggering realization, that it rocked the very foundation of everything I knew and believed about the original trilogy; that Darth Vader, the alleged scourge of the rebellion, was actually in on it, that the good that Luke detected in his father was real and that throughout the entire duration of the original three films, Vader was secretly helping the Rebel Alliance.
Was Vader was fostering his children’s ability to defeat The Emperor who had so manipulatively scammed him into killing his own wife and turning to the Dark Side?
A New Hope
The examples of Vader helping his own daughter start only moments into A New Hope, when Vader commands his Storm Troopers to capture the passengers of the Tantive IV, yelling, “I want them alive!” Even though he kills the first rebel officer he encounters, by choklng him to death during questioning, when Leia is presented to him, he lays no hand upon her and then transports her to the Death Star.
Tarkin eventually calls for The Princess’s immediate termination but Vader implores the Grand Moff to keep her alive, saying, “She may be of some use to us, yet.” In fact, if one reframes the entire beginning of the film from the perspective that Vader is aware he’s standing in front of his own daughter, one can almost envision the proud father smiling behind his cold, dark, mask, at his child’s bold determination to make Tarkin look like the scraggly old coot he really is and how much Leia reminds him of her mother, Padme.
Shortly thereafter, it’s revealed, by Tarkin, that Vader presented the idea of letting Leia escape, which is a patently ridiculous plan, since R2-D2 is holding the plans to the Death Star. “This had better work,” says Tarkin, as Vader knows that once the rebels obtain the plans, they are sure to find a weakness in The Emperor’s battle station and exploit it, “however unlikely.” After all, the matter had just been directly addressed in the weekly Death Star staff meeting.
The plot starts to thicken when we begin to understand that Vader knows about his son, Luke, as well, and that the Yoda, Kenobi, and even the Emperor may not have done as a good of a job at they thought in trying to hide the twins from him. How Vader learned of his kids is left to mystery but maybe he used SpaceAncestry.com one day while bored and floating in Bacta, on Mustafar.
Luke and Kenobi may have managed to go so many years undetected, on Tatooine, simply because Vader was actually acting out a decades-long master plan to help his children overthrow The Empire. That he went out of his way to torch Owen and Beru is only par for the course because they’d let the Tusken Raiders kidnap and torture his mother.
Our first defining example of Vader’s complicity with the rebellion comes during the trench battle for the first Death Star, when Vader doesn’t seem to bat an eye at the fact that he has just encountered someone who is strong with the force. Considering he is the more machine now than man who helped The Emperor hunt down and kill all the Jedi, Vader should be alarmed to discover such a strong vergence in the force and wonder why there is a force sensitive being attacking the Death Star.
In fact, earlier on in the movie, Vader says, “I sense something, a presence I’ve not felt since…” Do we know he was sensing Kenobi or was he sensing that both of his children were on the Death Star, something he’d not felt since… The last time he was with Padme. When he senses Luke’s Jedi powers, in the trench battle, he doesn’t seem like he’s revealing something new, but something he’d figured out a long time ago, almost as if he’s proud of his son.
In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Anakin can “see things before they happen.” But, during the trench battle, he was surprised that the Millennium Falcon came out of nowhere, which seems highly likely for a being with the powers of Darth Vader. Maybe since Vader knew he was being closely watched by the Emperor, he was only feigning surprise and faked the crash into his fellow TIE Fighter, just to carry on with his dangerous charade.
Only moments later, as Luke fires the shots that ultimately blew up the Death Star, it seems unlikely that a kid who’d just been shot with a “remote,” on The Falcon, only hours earlier, had suddenly gained control of the force and was able to land the proton torpedoes directly down the gullet of the Death Star.
Could it have been that after he feigned the shock at Han Solo’s appearance, and manufactured his ship spinning out of control, that Vader used his powerful Dark Side skills to help guide the torpedoes into the two-meter exhaust port? After all, once the Death Star’s vulnerability was identified, Darth Vader went way the hell out of his way to make sure he wasn’t on the ill-fated battle station when it finally exploded; he made for damn sure he was nowhere near it when it blew.
Empire Strikes Back
Empire Strikes Back offers even more examples of Darth Vader seemingly making poor choices that helped his own children, like putting Admiral Ozzel in charge of the mission to locate the hidden Rebel base on Hoth, knowing that the admiral would botch the mission, giving the Rebellion just enough time to mount an escape.
Why would Vader send Imperial walkers, that had to have been deposited by a large transport ship, to the planet’s surface, to slowly approach the shield generator when he could have easily sent a brigade of spaceships to conduct an air raid and drop the shield immediately?
Even more interesting, once the Battle of Hoth is over, Vader’s armada of Star Destroyers goes after the Millennium Falcon as Luke casually flies away in his X-Wing Fighter with no “Imperial entanglements.” Only days later, it’s revealed that Vader can detect Luke’s presence and even Force talk to him, over long distances, so he’d have to know that Luke wasn’t on the Falcon. Vader knew Luke was on his way to Yoda, which could have ultimately been required for Vader to continue to enact his secret plan to take down The Emperor.
On Bespin, Vader continues to protect his daughter by only torturing Han and even blocks Boba Fett from firing his weapon when Chewie goes crazy in the carbon freezing chamber. It’s also pretty clear that he recognizes C3-PO, or else why would he allow the Wookie to carry the droid into the chamber, in the first place? For Vader, this is almost a family reunion, minus Luke.
During Vaders showdown with Luke, he only chops off his son’s hand. As Star Wars has shown, losing a hand isn’t that big of a deal. If one counts, Vader’s lost 5 limbs by the end of Return of the Jedi. In the end, Luke learns the truth about the identity of his father and we can now see that Vader appears to be showing compassion to both of his children, as if he is only keeping up appearances for the sake of the Emperor.
As far as Vader’s treatment of Han, he knows that’s his future son-in-law, he doesn’t like the dude, he messes him up just a little bit and then has him shipped off to Tatooine frozen in Carbonite, like any other father would do when his daughter brings home a scoundrel. Ultimately Vader knows, in his heart, that he can’t keep them apart and that he needs Han alive for his plans to unfold correctly.
Return of the Jedi
By the time we reach Return of the Jedi, it’s almost obvious that Darth Vader is now completely ready for his attempt to overthrow the Emperor, with only a few things that need to happen for him to exact his final revenge against Palpatine. With the passing of Yoda, an interesting thing happens; in order to fulfill the prophecy that Anakin is the Jedi who will bring balance to The Force, the moment Yoda kicks the bucket, Vader would have to turn to the Light Side to maintain said balance because Luke was not yet a Jedi.
When Luke finally turns himself into The Empire, on Endor, we can almost sense the internal struggle inside Vader as, by now, he’s probably dying to tell his son that he’s about to pull a serious hucklebuck on The Emperor. Vader even says, “If that is your destiny” to Luke, as if surreptitiously suggesting to his son that he’s got a surprise in store.
On the second Death Star, Vader and his son stand before the Emperor, Palpatine tells Luke to grab his lightsaber and complete his journey to the Dark Side but as soon as Skywalker ignites his saber, Vader immediately blocks his son from taking that last step towards the darkness, by igniting his own saber and deflecting the blow to Palpatine.
Vader only acts surprised at the revelation that he has a daughter because The Emperor is in the room and to reveal his knowledge, at this point, would thwart his ultimate plan. Also, he might not want the Emperor to know he used The Empire’s company credit card to pay for the SpaceAncestry.com services because he could get fired for something like that.
As we watch Luke charge at Vader, we watch him eventually succumb to Luke’s attack and fall backwards, seemingly for no reason, almost like the Rebel on Hoth who takes a dive into the snow even though he’s not been shot. We’re back to the loss of yet another insignificant hand, but the circle is now complete, Luke was once the learner but now he is the master and of course, he’s now a Jedi.
Vader has now known the Emperor for at least two-decade so it would be him of all people who knew The Force Lighting was about to come out. And it would be Vader that knows that when Palpatine starts shooting lighting out of his fingers, the leader of The Empire loses his ever-loving mind, providing the perfect opportunity for the alleged Dark Lord to end the Sith, once and for all, and leave Luke as the last Jedi, restoring peace and true justice to the galaxy.
George Lucas once said, “Star Wars is ultimately the redemption of Anakin Skywalker,” but he never took the thought any further. With these shocking new self-revelations I’ve had about Darth Vader’s true-self, it’s left me to wonder if it was Vader’s children that redeemed him or was it something the Dark Lord of The Sith accomplished on his own, through a series of well planned out schemes and carefully planned losses?
In the end, we may never know the truth about what Vader was really thinking during the original trilogy, because his internal monologue was never explored, but in the case of Darth Vader as the secret architect of The Empire’s demise, his actions speak far louder than words.
I’m imagining an added scene, at the end of Jedi, where Anakin’s Force ghost turns to Yoda and Kenobi and says, in his best Pee Wee Herman impression, “I meant to do that.”