Darth Vader: Bad Guy, but Good Dad?

Darth Vader: Bad Guy, but Good Dad?

With Father’s Day coming up next week I was thinking about what makes that day special. If any dads are like me, on Father’s Day they prefer to have alone time. A lot of alone time. That’s the difference between dads and moms: on Mother’s Day moms seem to want to spend a lot of quality time with their kids. On Father’s Day I want a nap. But a weird thing happens when I’m not around my kids: I start to miss them. How many times has someone said to enjoy your kids while they are young because they won’t stay young forever? And is there anything a father wouldn’t do to protect his children? Now imagine how Darth Vader felt when he found out his child (and later children) was alive and he had missed out on his son’s childhood and the most evil person in the galaxy may want his son dead. I would imagine he was filled with some desire to spend time with his son, make up for lost time, and do anything to protect him. Is Darth Vader really so different than other fathers?

Vader had to live with the guilt of killing his wife and, he thought at the time, his unborn child for over 20 years, until he found out that his son was alive (How he found out is revealed in some of the Star Wars comics.) When Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine were discussing Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back Palpatine admitted that Luke could destroy them. But Vader suggested that if Luke joined them he could become a powerful ally. However, Vader knew the torture that was a life in the service of a Sith master and he may not have wanted that for his son. Was Vader’s main motivation for suggesting he recruit Luke to make the Empire more powerful or to keep his son alive? Palpatine wanted anyone that opposed the Sith to be killed, especially potential future Jedi. But a dad’s first instinct when his child or children are threatened is to protect them, which is what Vader could have been doing. Vader promised his master that Luke would join them or die, but that may have been another ploy to throw off Palpatine. It’s possible that Vader knew he could guide Luke’s destiny to destroy the Empire and the Sith. The light had never fully been extinguished from Darth Vader, and the discovery that he had a living son created a spark in him.

On Cloud City is the first time in the Star Wars movies that Darth Vader sees Luke face to face since learning that Luke is his son. Luke still thinks that Darth Vader killed his father. Luke is angry when they meet, but Darth Vader is controlled, almost patient. The only time he exhibits some form of anger is when Luke cuts his shoulder with his lightsaber and Vader retaliates and cuts off Luke’s hand. This is an extreme reaction (but it may be comparable to stepping on some Lego bricks that your kid has left on the floor and your first reaction is to completely destroy anything within reach), but then Vader collects himself and offers Luke a way out. Is this much different than the way any father may react to a misbehaving child? Get angry, gather himself, and then explain to the child what he/she did wrong and decide on a punishment. And when he tells his troops to alert his Star Destroyer to prepare for his arrival, Vader sounds dejected and almost seems to feel bad for how things went with Luke. And this is exactly how I, and probably most dads, feel after disciplining kids.

On the other hand, if Vader was really trying to protect Luke, why did he take him to Palpatine on the second Death Star? Sure, Vader still felt beholden to his master, but he could have let Luke go. But how would Palpatine have reacted to that? Would he have killed Vader and/or tracked down Luke himself? If that happened Vader would not have been around to help Luke. Also, if Luke was to be a Jedi, there is no better on-the-job training than facing a Sith master with your dad backing you up in case you fall. When the Emperor was goading Luke into retrieving his lightsaber and striking him down, Vader knew what the consequences would be if Luke was to attack the Emperor on his throne. Luke would have probably turned to the Dark Side or been killed by Palpatine. So Vader did what most fathers would have done: he protected his son from making a dire mistake by blocking Luke’s lightsaber strike.

After Luke defeated Darth Vader (Or did he? Letting one’s son win is a total dad thing to do) in their lightsaber duel, Luke gained some clarity and realized that using his lightsaber anymore at this point would lead him to the Dark Side. After Luke threw down his lightsaber he was attacked by Palpatine with his Force lightning. Palpatine effectively bullied Luke as Vader looked on. But like most dads, Vader let his son stand up for himself until he couldn’t take anymore of the relentless bullying. Vader stepped in to save his son and probably knew it would put his own life at risk, but he was more concerned about his son’s well being.

Darth Vader probably lived with a lot of regret and guilt in his life. He missed out on the childhoods of his children and the best way he could make up for that was by saving Luke and killing Emperor Palpatine, which also made it possible for Leia to help rebuild the Republic. Is it such a stretch to think that Darth Vader didn’t kill Luke on Cloud City because he loved his son and not just because he needed him to overthrow the Emperor? When Vader told Luke that he can destroy the Emperor, maybe he was giving Luke encouragement. Sure, Darth Vader was a bad guy for much of his life, but was he a terrible dad? Heck, what kid doesn’t love to have a lightsaber duel with their dad and get to go to work with him, even if he happens to work at the Death Star?

Thanks so much for reading my blogs. Feel free to contact me on Twitter @ryderwaldrondds, email me at ryderw@coffeewithkenobi.com, or leave a comment below. And remember:

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  1. MelindaW
    June 16, 2017 at 09:47 Reply

    Ryder…Ryder…Ryder… So much to say. I only hope I have enough room to do so. 😉

    As Maria told the von Trapp children, let’s start at the beginning [I know the lyrics are “the very beginning” 🙂 ]…

    Would Darth Vader have been a good dad had he known his child(ren) survived? If he had not turned to the Dark Side of the Force, stayed true to the “Anakin” side of his nature, I think he would have been a good dad. While he did not have a father of his own, he had a wonderful mother as a role model of what a parent should be. He had caring male role models in his life [Obi-Wan being first and foremost; for all the bashing the Jedi Master has endured, Obi-Wan truly was a good role model for Anakin. The padawan/Jedi Knight just was too caught up in his young adult angst to realize it at the time.]. And I’d like to believe that had Anakin not been swayed by Palpatine’s manipulations, Anakin never would have turned on Padme, and thus caused her death. Thus, Padme, who came from a very loving, supportive family, would have been the strength to counter any of Anakin’s harboring impatient moments. I could see Anakin romping with his children, helping them grow, helping prepare them for what they would face out there in the big, sometimes cruel galaxy.

    Again, only as Anakin.

    Once he slid down that slippery slope that resulted in his joining forces with Evil, no, I do not think he would have been a good dad. Darth Vader didn’t have it in him (despite Jeffrey Brown’s delightful books 😉 ).

    Once Anakin donned the mantle of Darth Vader, every iota of what makes a man a good (or great) dad was extinguished from his being (his heart). His turning on Padme is a clear indication of that.

    All that being said (and no, I am not speaking out of both sides of my mouth 😉 ), I do contend that there MAY have been an awakening in Darth Vader at some point after he learned Luke was his son.

    [Any idea just how many characters we can use in the comment boxes? 😉 ]


    1. MelindaW
      June 16, 2017 at 10:24 Reply

      In continuation…

      While I disagree with your assessment that Darth Vader may have been aware of this awakening as early as the scene with Emperor Palpatine’s hologram and/or even when the Dark Lord of the Sith and Luke were engaged in battle on Cloud City, in TESB, [it is my opinion that Darth Vader had one objective — and one objective only — and that was to convince the Jedi-In-Training to join forces with Evil, just as Palpatine had done with him (Vader) about 20 years earlier. At this point, Darth Vader is bent on ruling the galaxy (not a very ‘fatherly’ aspiration). He sees the potential of ridding the galaxy of Palpatine’s presence so HE can be the Supreme Ruler — an idea that occurred to the Jedi Padawan back in AOTC!], I think as the events of ROTJ transpire, Vader notices the itch, the inkling, the possibility that he may — MAY — feel the awakening of an emotion he thought extinguished long, long ago.

      You hear it — the resigned sadness — in Vader’s voice when James Earl Jones delivers his response, “It is too late for me son” to Luke’s beseeching “Let go of your hate.” [JEJ has one of THE BEST voices. He can convey so much with so few words. 🙂 ] Then, what does Darth Vader do? He takes Luke to the Emperor! If Luke was my child, I would have told him to RUN, to get as far away as possible, if I had begun to sense some parental protection for my child. Hard to say if Luke would have listened to me, but I would have tried with ALL MY MIGHT. Since Luke accepted the fact that his father was “truly dead” at that point, that Anakin truly had been vanquished from Darth Vader’s being, all Luke could do was surrender to his own fate.

      You ask how Palpatine may have reacted to Darth Vader letting Luke go? What if Emperor Palpatine turned on Vader, striking him down, and resulting in Vader not being around to help Luke somewhere down the road, you ponder. That is an interesting point. While I would hope Vader would have more of a plan than rushing in with his lightsaber blazing to strike at Palpatine before the Emperor was any the wiser, he could have gotten away with some simple [always best to keep it simple] tale as to why Vader returned to the Death Star empty-handed. Or, Vader could have gone off with Luke, and they could have lived happily ever after as father and son. When the time was right, they could destroy the Emperor — together — for the good of the galaxy, harboring no Dark Side inclinations [on Vader’s part] whatsoever.

      Any parent who truly cares about his/her child would do everything in his/her power to get that child [even an adult child] OUT OF harm’s way — not turn said child over to Evil Personified.


      1. MelindaW
        June 16, 2017 at 11:01 Reply

        In continuation…

        Like you, I have been in the camp that Vader’s action of deflecting Luke’s killing blow may have been more than meets the eye. For years, I considered Vader was jumping to his Master’s defense. Nothing more. Then, one day, after umpteen viewings of ROTJ, I found myself looking at that moment from another point of view. Yes, maybe Vader was jumping to Palpatine’s defense … but maybe Vader’s intent was twofold — maybe, in that split second, he was attempting to save Luke from a terrible fate. [Luke’s aggression was a step down that slippery slope. Vader knew this all too well.] On its own, Vader’s lightsaber coming to life before Luke is able to carry out his intent could be deduced to be nothing more than Vader wanting to protect Palpatine. However, in the scene before the clash of lightsabers, the camera pauses on Vader’s masked visage. There is a tilt to his head, almost like he is pondering something — serious … taking stock of who he is, who he might be…

        Body language carries a lot of weight with me, and I came away from that umpteenth time of watching ROTJ with … I’m not sure if I’d call it clarity, but definitely with a new interpretation of what Vader MAY have been considering during those pivotal moments. [I even wrote a blog about it. 🙂 ]

        As I’m reading your blog, I’m thinking to myself, “Hmm, I see where Ryder is going with this. Had Vader been given the chance to be a part of Luke’s [and Leia’s] life, maybe he would have relished being a dad. Sure, he came to the table pretty late, but it’s obvious that a fatherly instinct or two may have started bubbling to the surface. Yes, I can see it…”

        And then you surmised that “Vader let his son stand up for himself until he couldn’t take anymore of the relentless bullying”, and … well … you lost me. While I agree with you that as parents, it is important to give our children the chance to stand up for themselves — it is one of the ways they gain independence — but Vader let that Force Lightning course through Luke’s body for an awfully long time before he [Vader] “woke up” to do something about it. Make no bones about it, Vader was WILLING to let Luke be killed — because Luke would not turn to the Dark Side. Up until the moment Vader strides on over to Palpatine, hefts the Emperor above his [Vader’s] shoulders and tosses the Menace to the Galaxy down the reactor shaft [for once, OSHA would have been proud to find guardrails along the walkways! 😉 ], Vader knows his place — at the Emperor’s side, doing the bidding of evil. There is not a fatherly bone in Vader’s broken body.

        Luckily for Luke, and for Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith did what he should have done in the first place — protect his son. All this made for good drama, to drive home the point that George Lucas always said was the main theme of the Star Wars Saga — redemption is possible. Yes, it is. It is never too late — for those who want to change. Of course, for some, redemption is never possible. Palpatine proved that time and time again.


  2. MelindaW
    June 16, 2017 at 11:08 Reply

    In conclusion…

    This was such a good — and well-timed! — blog, Ryder. Thank you so much for writing it, for sharing your thoughts on the subject. It is interesting what course our lives chart, given one set of circumstances over another. Your musings here certainly give light to that subject. 🙂

    Had he been given the chance to be a father, who could really say what kind of father Darth Vader would have made. There was so much impatience in him, especially as a young man. In some respects, I think he grew out of that. At least that’s the impression I get, especially when watching TESB and ROTJ. From my point of view, it is incredibly beneficial to have a patient father. I did, and I think that helped me grow into the person I am today. 🙂 My own dad has been gone for more than 10 years. I miss him very much.

    I hope you have a Wonderful Father’s Day, Ryder, whatever you find yourself doing — taking a nap or spending time with your children. Maybe you can find time to do both. 🙂

    MTFBWY 🙂

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