Spoilers for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
The iconic moment when Darth Vader reveals the truth to Luke Skywalker
Often overlooked, the execution of the perfect plot twist in any film can either make or break its narrative as a whole. Most times, a twist can appear as a rather unnecessary addition to a film, souring the moviegoing experience with its mediocre attempt at subversion. On rare occasions, however, it serves to flip a film’s narrative on its head and deliver a memorable turn that will keep audiences engaged in fruitful discussions about it for decades to come. One such example of the latter, arguably the greatest of them all, is the often highly misquoted line from the second installment in the original Star Wars trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.
“No. I am your father.” - Darth Vader
The reason this twist has reverberated throughout pop culture over the years is both due to its placement within the greater Star Wars narrative and the manner in which it was presented to viewers. Up until that very reveal, audiences were somewhat comfortable in their perception of the franchise as being a rather generic good versus evil drama with the added bonus of the narrative taking place in outer space. Most fans at that point will be recollected as praising the world-building, visual effects, and acting. The narrative, while significantly intricate in its own way, was quite commonplace for the most part.
It was, therefore, this preconceived notion in fans’ minds that propelled the success of Vader’s reveal. The degree of subtlety in which the line was delivered, almost flippantly, created a shock value that would have taken a few seconds before finally setting in. After all, the reveal that Vader had all along been the birth father of Luke Skywalker does not so much as reframe the entirety of the film’s narrative, but it does substantially change our hero’s motives from then on.
The second reason, of course, highlights the delivery of the reveal, which adds a significant amount of weight to its memorable moment. George Lucas has never been known for making the best of decisions, but the one choice he did make, which deserves our commendation, is in concealing the truth about Vader’s reveal, even from the actors themselves. David Prowse, the actor who played Darth Vader on screen before his voice was subsequently dubbed with that of James Earl Jones, was told to speak a dialogue far more menacing than merely stating Vader was Luke’s father, causing Mark Hamill to react in a way that expressed sheer horror rather than conflicted emotion. This allowed for the final version of the scene that viewers watched to seem all the more genuinely horrific, as they empathized with Luke’s distress based on his dramatic reaction to the information he had just heard.
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, seen here reacting to the horrific truth regarding his father
It has been over 40 years since that epic twist, and it is undoubtedly due to the reasons above that we believe Vader’s reveal to be one of the greatest in cinema history.
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