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?
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