Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. But you already knew that.
That nugget of information, which is revealed by Vader himself to a horrified Luke near the end of “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” stakes a decent claim as being possibly the most famous plot twist in cinematic history.
But there’s another, nearly as famous plot twist in Star Wars that has been making audiences uncomfortable since 1983.
I’m talking, of course, about the revelation that Luke’s sister is Princess Leia. That twist, revealed about midway through “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi,” has haunted the space opera franchise ever since.
To get one thing out of the way first – yes, it’s incredibly creepy that Luke and Leia are related, especially considering the passionate kiss they share early on in “Empire” before the truth of their relationship is exposed to audiences.
But on a more artistic level, the twist itself isn’t particularly interesting and – worst of all – it doesn’t actually add anything to either character. It’s typical of the type of creative laziness that has since come to define the Star Wars franchise through the atrocious prequel trilogy and the nearly as-terrible sequel trilogy.
The seed of what will come to be Luke and Leia’s siblingship is actually planted late in “Empire.” Luke, who has been training on the planet Dagobah with Yoda to become a Jedi knight, senses that Leia and his other friends are in danger and decides to leave. Ignoring the warnings given to him by Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke departs to Bespin, where Leia has been taken captive by Vader.
“That boy is our last hope,” Kenobi tells Yoda as Luke takes off.
“No,” Yoda replies, “there is another.”
This brief exchange of dialogue was always intended to set up the fact that Luke has a secret twin sister. It was just wasn’t originally supposed to be Leia.
Things can get murky when tracking the history of how Star Wars was developed behind the scenes, primarily due to creator George Lucas’ inability to admit that he didn’t have *everything* planned out from the beginning. But what appears likely is that Luke’s sister was initially supposed to be a brand new character who would appear in the next Star Wars movie after “Empire,” and would appear in future installments in the franchise after that. Then, as it turned out, Star Wars became a trilogy, with “Return of the Jedi” as the third and final film.
Apparently seeing the need to wrap up this tantalizing line of dialogue from “Empire,” the writers of “Jedi” figured they could kill two birds with one stone by making Luke and Leia siblings. For one, it would provide an answer as to who this “other” hope was that Yoda referenced. It would also definitively kill off any chance at romance between Luke and Leia in what had initially been established as a love triangle with Han Solo.
There’s a big problem with this – and no, I’m not talking about the kiss. This “twist” doesn’t come as a surprise to either character, and, more importantly, it doesn’t actually change how we understand Luke and Leia.
For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the more successfully executed twist, when Vader reveals to Luke that he’s his father. This revelation hit audiences like a bombshell in 1980, but it’s practically part of our shared cultural consciousness now. The key element that makes the moment work in rewatching “Empire” more than 40 years later is that it’s brand new information to Luke. *You* may know that Vader is his father now, but *he* doesn’t know that until his arm gets lopped off in a climactic lightsaber duel.
The moment also adds an element of depth to Vader’s character. What had previously been a one-dimensional villain is suddenly gifted a new sense of understanding by audiences. When the Empire fails to capture the Millennium Falcon at the end of the movie, Vader, previously shown to have executed subordinates who failed him, spares the visibly shaken Admiral Piett, instead walking away solemnly after failing to reunite with his son.
By comparison, the revelation that Leia is his sister comes to Luke suddenly and unceremoniously in a moment of clairvoyance. Leia, as it turns out, also claims to have “always known” this bit of information when Luke confronts her later on.
More troubling is that “Jedi,” a decent if flawed film, never makes anything of this bit of information. Luke and Leia’s relationship remains unchanged. The revelation that they are related doesn’t seem to affect how they interact with one another.
On a more disheartening note, the twist also wound up laying the groundwork for the future creative failures of the franchise. What had begun in 1977 as a sprawling space epic was morphed over the years into an insular, creatively bankrupt chronicle of a handful of genetically-related characters who battle over increasingly uninteresting family dramas. The same handful of characters, locations and events are now recycled incessantly, making the films’ universe feel a bit smaller each time.
C-3PO was built by Anakin Skywalker. Kylo Ren is Han Solo and Leia’s son. Rey is Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter.
Yawn, yawn and more yawn.
At this point, the revelation the X character is related to Y character in Star Wars is a tired trope, like a sitcom that’s gone on for a few seasons too long and is just repeating the same one-liners over and over. As it turns out, this vast galaxy actually revolves around just a few people with the name Skywalker.
You could say it all began with Vader’s “I am your father” twist in “Empire,” but that at least carried some weight with it. The shaky foundations didn’t begin to reveal themselves until the need to wrap things in a tight bow necessitated that Luke and Leia become brother and sister.
And yes, there’s also that kiss. That was just plain creepy.
“Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.