I’m finishing up my degree here at BYU, in my third week of classes now, and I have to say my studies are pretty eclectic at the moment. Italian grammar, Welsh grave inscriptions that reference King Arthur, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays, the bombing of Hiroshima, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. My brain is a funny place right now. Not least because every day this last week was a Star Wars day. Good mix.
Every day this week, I went to the fourth floor of the BYU library where they have “Media Viewing Rooms.” I remembered these rooms from before my mission. I remembered them being kind of low tech, with only about 5 chairs total, but you could reserve a room to watch a movie in them for a small group. Before I left, they had dvd players, but no blu ray. Upon remembering this magical little place, I looked up to see if they had blu ray.
The website said they did.
I reserved a room.
Upon my arrival, Monday afternoon, I step into the room and what do my wondering eyes behold? A GIANT SCREEN TV. IT’S BEAUTIFUL. IT’S AT LEAST 3 TIMES THE SIZE OF THE ONE WE HAD AT HOME. IT NEARLY COVERED THE WHOLE WALL.
Needless to say, I was a little excited. I reserved the same room every day of the week (you can only reserve it for a maximum of 4 hours per day, so I was limited to watching one Star Wars film each day).
But then, on Friday, I couldn’t reserve that particular room. No problem, I thought. One of the other rooms will do just fine. So I reserved a different one.
Well, Friday I found out that room doesn’t have a blu ray player, neither can it have one at all because the TV has no HDMI hookup.
“Well,” said the very helpful attendant trying to assist me. “It looks like this won’t work out….You could just use the small theater next door. The person who reserved it didn’t show up, so it’s available if it won’t make you feel weird.”
“Is there anything wrong with it?”
“Oh no,” she said. “It’s just usually for 40+ people, but it should work fine.”
So she leads me into this other room. Dude, it’s AN ACTUAL THEATER. The screen is THE WALL. IT’S BIG. BIGGER THAN I THOUGHT. LIKE AN ACTUAL THEATER. AND I GOT TO HAVE IT ALL TO MYSELF.
IN SURROUND SOUND!!!!!!!!!
So I watched The Empire Strikes Back in a private theatrical viewing all to myself. “The only improvement would have been if a hunky guy showed up with a large popcorn,” said Mom.
She speaks truth. It was one of the coolest movie-viewing experiences of my life (even without popcorn or a hunky guy).
Watching the entire series from beginning to end (again), a lot more things jumped out. Like Vader’s sly dealings with the Emperor.
The Emperor’s a Bit Behind the Times
At the end of A New Hope, Vader encounters Luke for the first time, and realizes, Hey, this kid is strong with the force. But he doesn’t actually know who Luke is yet, he doesn’t have a name.
By the beginning of Empire Strikes Back, he knows Luke’s name now. And he’s tearing the galaxy apart to find him. He tells his minions to get Skywalker (yes, he knows the last name too), and THEN the Emperor calls him and is all “I believe him to be the child of Anakin Skywalker.” And Vader reacts immediately: with absolutely no pause, no surprise, no awe in his response, he says, “How is this possible?”
It’s mechanical, it’s immediate because Vader ALREADY KNOWS. Look, Anakin is not the brightest crayon in the box, but it would take someone a loooooot thicker than him not to string the pieces together really fast. This kid Luke:
- Is from Tatooine, Anakin’s home planet.
- Knew Obi-Wan.
- Is a really good pilot and strong with the force (LIKE SOMEONE ELSE WE KNOW OH YEAH ANAKIN BECAUSE THOSE ARE HIS TWO DEFINING TRAITS)
- HIS NAME IS LUKE SKYWALKER. SKYWALKER. LIKE ANAKIN SKYWALKER. GEE WHIZ I WONDER IF WE’RE RELATED.
So yeah, Emperor, dude, you just said the biggest NO DUH item to Vader in that moment. Of course he knows Luke is his son! Why else was he personally descending to Hoth to get the Skywalker kid? Killing dudes left and right for their mistakes that led to Luke’s escape? Forcing his men into impossible positions to get Skywalker? When was the last time you saw Vader this motivated, Emperor? Oh, how about that time he agreed to kill children to save his wife? Ring a bell?????
Hey Vader – Your Heart is Showing
That whole conversation though is pretty great because you know what is the first thing Vader says about Luke to the Emperor?
“He’s just a boy.”
And the Emperor is all he must nevertheless be destroyed.
And then Vader is all, “But if he could be turned…”
And then the Emperor is all, Ok have at it buddy.
So Vader goes on this mad rampage (even more than he was before – he was having his men pursue Han, Leia & co. through an asteroid field so he could find Luke) to get this Skywalker kid, setting up this elaborate trap.
And what was this trap? He puts Luke’s friends and loved ones in danger. Because if Anakin knows anything about himself, it was that he would have done anything (and did do everything) for loved ones in danger. Vader/Anakin knows that as his son, Luke would react exactly the same way.
That is really sad on so many levels that Vader would do that. Self-awareness meets sado-masochism at its worst. :((((((
Anakin…you sly dog!
Anyways, so Luke eventually turns up as planned. Vader has this whole showdown with him, but Anakin is the finest wielder of a saber in the galaxy; you remember the fights from the prequels? They are FAST and MERCILESS and there is no room to think let alone breathe or pause for a moment.
But in the duel with Luke – it’s slow, and deliberate.
He’s toying with Luke, testing his abilities (“All too easy” he says in disappointment when he thinks Luke fell in the carbonite-freezing chamber. But when it turns out Luke jumped out at the last minute, Vader says with evident glee in his voice, “Impressive. Most Impressive.”). He pushes Luke more and more and more until Luke stabs him in the shoulder, and he impulsively chops off Luke’s hand.
And this is the best moment, not only because of the revelation to Luke that Vader is actually his father, but also because of what Vader says next. “Luke, you can destroy the Emperor!…Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!”
VADER HAS GONE 100% AWOL. THIS WASN’T IN THE EMPEROR’S WISHES. PRETTY SURE NO. NO SIREE BOB. Vader has pursued Luke to the ends of the galaxy, completely disregarded the threat of the rebellion and of Leia (as leader of the rebellion!), casting both aside as irrelevant in the face of finding and facing his son. And he does all this so they can get rid of the Emperor, and reign together! How’s that for some father-son bonding!
Consistent Anakin is Consistent
Anakin is nothing if not consistent. Family and loved ones were ALWAYS #1 in his life before, and nothing has changed! The only thing that had changed when he became Darth Vader was the apparent loss of all loved ones.
At the beginning of the prequels, Anakin had:
- His mom,
- Padme, and
Well, QG goes pretty quick. His mom dies in the second film, which leaves Anakin with only Padme and Obi-Wan.
When it looks like he will lose Padme, Anakin does ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to save her – and to Anakin, the solution looked like the dark side. He slaughtered children because he thought it would help protect Padme (terrible thinking, but that was his mindset at the time. The Emperor’s greatest victory was manipulating Anakin into thinking that his only option was the dark side).
At the end of Revenge of the Sith, Padme dies and Obi-Wan tries to kill/abandons Anakin, leaving him a wrecked human being. So when Anakin assumes the persona of Darth Vader, he has lost literally every person he cared about. He has no one to love left (and the Emperor certainly doesn’t count, because Anakin by then sees what Palpatine really is. Palpatine laughs when he tells Vader that Padme is dead. That’s not cool, and Vader catches on – he’s just apathetic by that point).
But in Empire Strikes Back, that reality has shifted. There was never going to be a reconciliation between Vader and Obi-Wan, not in this life, but a son. He has a son! FAMILY. Blood connection, like with his mother. All that is left of Padme, his wife. And Anakin’s feelings resurge in that corner of his soul.
Screw the Emperor! Screw the empire! This is his son we are talking about! And that’s why Vader pursues Luke so relentlessly. Luke – his family, his son, a loved one – is his chance! They can get rid of the Emperor! They can rule together! (Incidentally, this is the same fantasy Anakin had when Padme approached him on Mustafar – there, he proposed that they rule the empire together as well).
But Luke (like Padme!) rejects him. He won’t go dark side. He runs away.
The Heel Heals
In Return of the Jedi, some time has passed (only months really, but it’s enough). Luke has accepted who he is and who his father is, but Vader has retreated from the gleeful rebellion that was fostered in him before. Vader is completely despairing at this point. He submits to the Emperor’s every whim and command (and you have to know the Emperor is keeping him on an even shorter leash than usual, especially after all that went down in Empire).
Don’t forget that Anakin is still a slave. He was born one, and he’s even more of one now because the Dark Side means giving up your will. Vader is subject to his master, who as I said before, is keeping him on an ever shorter leash. Not least because the Emperor’s big plan is for Luke to kill Vader, and take his place. The Emperor is done with Vader. Vader is dispensable now. And Vader can hardly do anything to stop it. “It’s too late for me, my son. I must obey my master.”
That is, until that moment. That grand, beautiful moment when Luke comes -><- this close to killing Vader before the Emperor, and then he stops, turns, throws away his lightsaber,
and says, “No. You have failed your Highness. I am a jedi, like my father before me.”
It changes EVERYTHING. The Emperor sees that his plan is foiled, and resolves to kill Luke then and there – but not without some pain first.
He tortures Luke with a super-sick form of electro-shock therapy, and Vader watches. You can see the tension and conflict within him despite the mask. His subjection to his master is being worn down more and more by the true Anakin fire-power screaming within him:
NO THAT IS MY SON. MY FAMILY. YOU DO NOT TOUCH MY FAMILY.
And finally it resolves into Anakin’s mantra throughout the whole saga, the thing he said about his mom, about Obi-Wan, about Padme: I WILL SAVE HIM.
And he kills his master. He gets rid of him. He stops the Emperor from hurting his son. It’s the final assertion of Vader’s will, and the most beautiful resolution to his whole arc. He couldn’t save his mother. He didn’t save Padme. He actually killed Obi-Wan himself. But he did save his son. And now he is free. He defied death, he defied slavery, he defied the darkness. And Anakin was redeemed.
ANAKIN FEELINGS OK!!!!
Darth Vader really is a great character, and it’s not just the outfit or the music. Wonderfully characterized. And the prequel films really set up the character nicely, whatever their flaws might be.
Ugh I love Star Wars.