Star Wars and what to do when your dad doesn’t end up as one of the good guys
Part of what makes Luke Skywalker a hero in the original trilogy is also what makes him a bad Jedi. He deliberately disobeys Yoda and Obi Wan by bailing on his training to save his friends in “Empire Strikes Back” and doesn’t buy the notion his father, Darth Vader, can’t be turned back to the light in “Return of the Jedi.”
That title, “Return of the Jedi,” holds a double meaning. It doesn’t just mean the return of Jedi to the galaxy; it also means Anakin Skywalker’s return as Darth Vader dies. What happens if Vader doesn’t get that moment? If instead Luke comes to the realization his father is too far gone and he strikes Vader down before turning on The Emperor? Or if Luke and Vader both die aboard the second Death Star?
That would have made for a much more grim ending to the trilogy and it would have undermined the entire thematic concept of George Lucas’ story, right? We get a taste of what that ending would have looked like in “The Force Awakens” when Han Solo steps out onto the bridge on Starkiller Base with Kylo Ren, albeit with the parent/child roles reversed.
Movies serve many purposes for viewers, wish fulfillment being just one of them. So when Vader dies, finally, after seeing his son tortured by The Emperor (apparently literally torturing his own daughter in “A New Hope” and cutting off his son’s hand in “Empire Strikes Back” wasn’t enough to get the f*cking job done) we get to see a truly messed up father figure killed on screen. It’s cool.
God willing, your father isn’t as big a bag of shit as Darth Vader, but if you fall anywhere on the, “hey, I’m not a huge fan of my dad” spectrum, maybe you watch this trilogy and get a little wistful. Or maybe you’re a well-adjusted individual and have never even considered that shit before; who am I to say?
Listen, Lucas is the guy who directed “American Graffiti” and created “Indiana Jones,” and he hired Steven freaking Spielberg to direct those. The man is very interested in putting father-son dynamics on screen and what we get between Luke and Vader embodies a very interesting sort of wish fulfillment; I’m not going to armchair psychologist Lucas, so let me expound on what I mean by that for a second.
Here’s the Vader-Luke father-son arc, which lasts literally one film, I might add. Luke learns Vader is his father near the end of “Empire” and from that point on is convinced he can turn him back to the Light, right? That’s our optimistic farm boy, right there. Vader, for his part, is convinced of the opposite. He’s been fed up with the Empire’s shit for a long time and sees an opportunity to take over with Luke by his side — at least Vader’s plan makes sense.
Their only interaction, really, comes near the end of “Jedi” when the Emperor goads them into fighting after Vader takes some time to taunt Luke himself. So Vader, who seems pretty game at this point to beat Luke into submission, eventually goes from “I’ll f*cking kill you if I have to” to “aw shit only I kill my kids” because, well, that’s the story Lucas wanted to tell.
There’s not anything wrong with that, per se. But that there’s not more narrative heft behind it leads me to my wish-fulfillment conclusion. So where does that leave those without such a happy conclusion? “Star Wars” gets its licks in on both ends. The aforementioned Kylo Ren scene allows the Dark Side to get the last laugh, at least for now, while “Revenge of the Sith” sees Obi Wan (dad) take down Anakin Skywalker (son) in a similar setting. It’s not a perfect comparison, but if you’re looking for some father-son catharsis, well… hey, father’s day is coming up in the United States. May the Fourth be With You.