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Movie Legends Revealed | Was Vader Originally Not Luke’s Father in ‘Empire’?


MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Darth Vader was not originally Luke Skywalker’s father in The Empire Strikes Back.

Earlier this month, Michael Schur, showrunner of Parks and Recreation and co-creator of Brooklyn 99, had an amusing tweet poking at a little bit of a plot hole in the Star Wars films:

“Owen, you must hide this baby, at all costs, from Anakin Skywalker.”
“Okay. Should we continue to call him Luke Skywalker?”
“Seems fine.”

The reason that plot point didn’t exactly make sense is because originally Anakin Skywalker wasn’t Darth Vader. It’s fairly well known among even casual Star Wars fans that George Lucas’ original plans for “The Star Wars” were drastically different from what made it into the first film. That’s the basis for Dark Horse’s current miniseries The Star Wars, based on the filmmaker’s original draft. However, as it turns out, there were still drastic changes to be made in his plans, even after the first film, all the way up through the original screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back. Read on to learn how the tragic death of a sci-ii legend might have re-shaped the Star Wars universe forever!

While I’m sure there are other couples who could challenge them, Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett are likely the most accomplished married couple in the world of science fiction literature. Hamilton was one of the earliest adopters of the genre in the pulps during the 1920s and 1930s; he popularized the famous pulp fiction science hero Captain Future (although he didn’t actually create the character) and worked on a number of notable comic books later in his life, including being the primary developer of Jerry Siegel’s creation, the Legion of Super-Heroes. Brackett started working in science fiction during the 1940s (she married Hamilton in 1946) and after taking a break in the mid-‘40s to become a Hollywood screenwriter (her most famous work from this time was the crime thriller The Big Sleep, a film so complicated that there’s even an urban legend about Brackett and her fellow screenwriters not understanding the plot themselves), she returned to science fiction full-time in 1949. She still worked on films after 1949 (including such notable features as 1959’s Rio Bravo, 1967’s El Dorado, 1970’s Rio Lobo, all three for Howard Hawks, who directed The Big Sleep and 1973’s The Long Goodbye, a remake of The Big Sleep), but she devoted herself primarily to writing science fiction short stories and novels.

empire-luke-yodaOddly enough, then, before Lucas commissioned her to write the screenplay for the sequel to Star Wars in 1977, Brackett had never actually written a sci-fi film. As I discussed ina recent Movie Legends Revealed about whether the Wampa attack in The Empire Strikes Back was written into the film to address Mark Hamill’s facial injuries, Lucas had a general plot outline for the Star Wars sequel in 1977. He discussed it with Brackett, and then she went off and wrote her first draft of the screenplay; it was delivered it to Lucas in February 1978. Tragically, it was the last piece of work Brackett ever did, as she succumbed to cancer soon after turning the draft.

Brackett’s draft is essentially the basic plot of The Empire Strikes Back: the Battle of Hoth, Luke going off to train with an old Jedi master (although it’s Minch, not Yoda, in Brackett’s screenplay), Han and Leia meeting up with Lando, who betrays them to Darth Vader so they can be used as bait to draw Luke into a trap.

The major differences in Brackett’s story are: Han isn’t captured; Luke doesn’t lose a hand; Luke does have a twin sister, but it might not be Leia; and, most importantly, not only is Vader not revealed to be Luke’s father, but Luke actually gets to meet his father, or at least the spirit of him, during his training at Dagobah (called Bog World in Brackett’s version).

Here is what Luke’s father had to say to say to him:

Skywalker: You’ve grown well, Luke, I’m proud of you. Did your uncle ever speak to you about your sister?
Luke: My sister? I have a sister? But why didn’t Uncle Owen?
S: It was my request. When I saw the Empire closing in, I sent you both away for your own safety, far apart from each other.
L: Where is she? What’s her name?
S: If I were to tell you, Darth Vader could get that information from your mind and use her as a hostage. Not yet, Luke. When it’s time…
Luke. Will you take, from me, the oath of a Jedi knight?

Story continues below

Luke then takes the oath. The confrontation at the end of the film between Luke and Vader then becomes more of what we eventually see in Return of the Jedi, with Luke attacking Vader so savagely that he begins to lose control and tap into the Dark Side of the Force. Vader does want Luke to join him, but not as a son with his father, but just as an ally.


Before the final confrontation, Minch has Luke test himself against a simulation of Vader, who tempts Luke with what the Dark Side can offer:

Darth: You’re in love with Leia. You don’t want to lose her to Han Solo…but you will, if you lack the courage to use the strength that’s in you. A strength as great as mine, Luke. If you join with me, nothing can stand against us.
Luke: What about the Empire?
D: The Empire is a passing phase. We would rule instead. You and I. The Emperor is a harsh master. You would not be. You could restore the peace, put a stop to the killing. How much good you could do, Luke! Don’t be afraid. Reach out, grasp the stars. They’re yours for the taking.

Luke has to run away from the simulation of Vader, leading Minch to believe the young Jedi isn’t ready to confront Vader yet; however, Luke must do so to rescue his friends. In the end, he manages to pull away from the Dark Side, even as Vader taunts him about his father:

You don’t stand a chance against me … No more than your father did, anyway.

So Luke finds the strength to not only resist killing Vader but also to manage to escape without Vader killing him. Still, he knows the Dark Side is inside of him. As the film ends, Luke is a changed man but one ready for the next adventure.

Lucas had a lot of problems with Brackett’s screenplay, as it seems like her style and his clashed. He wanted the ending to be a lot darker and for the heroes to be in a lot more danger at the end of the film. But in addition, he wanted to go over the idea of Vader and Luke’s father with Brackett. However, was never able to have her revise the screenplay (that is if he was ever even going to go that route; I could easily see him replacing her on the project), and instead Lucas had to come up with the new plot elements himself. After revising the screenplay, Lucas hired Lawrence Kasdan to polish up his revised draft (oddly enough, only Brackett and Kasdan are credited for the screenplay).

In the new version, obviously Darth Vader is revealed as Luke’s father. But we will never know whether Lucas would have gone that route if he still had Brackett to work on the script with him — a tantalizing Star Wars “What If?”

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!


  • Joe Grunenwald

    Fascinating legend! Thank you for sharing!

    Also, real quick: THE LONG GOODBYE is not a remake of THE BIG SLEEP, but it is another adaptation of a Raymond Chandler novel featuring Philip Marlowe.

  • Jake Wallace

    Even the original plot means keeping Luke’s last name as Skywalker was a dumb move on Obi Wan’s part. Whether it was his own son, or his enemy’s son, Vader would still want to kill the son of Skywalker.

  • Ramone

    Interesting that they’d kept to the Vader-killed-Luke’s-father thread as far as Bracket’s script. I’d have thought Lucas would have had that cinched by then. Then again, ’78 is only a year after the first film’s release, so maybe he hadn’t thought of it yet.

  • Ramone

    True, though hiding him on some backwater planet in the Outer Rim helped keep him “off the grid”. Which might be why Owen didn’t want him transmitting his application to the Imperial Academy–leading Vader straight to him.

  • Ian Thal

    What if “Skywalker” was a fairly common name in a Galactic Empire that had trillions of subjects?

  • wembler

    Then who’s father would he have been? Obviously Lucas intended the Vader (Father) to mean something?

  • disqus_mmEz8aVolX

    I see another “original script” Star Wars book in the future

  • ForceThis

    No, “Vader” was short for “invader.” The whole “Dark Father” thing was just a fan theory in the ’70s and ’80s.

  • g

    The rumour I heard shortly after Empire opened – a long time ago in a theatre far far away – was that “I am your father” was a line looped in by a sound person just for fun and that Lucas liked it so much, he had James Earl Jones record it. (Unclear whether the looping came after filming or during a storyboard session) This rumour came from someone who worked at ILM with mattes. I don’t recall if any dialog after the revelation is connected. Certainly Luke’s “No” scream could have been there for any number of reasons.

  • Chad

    It also sounds like “invader”, which is what Darth Vader is at the beginning of Star Wars, regardless of parental status.

  • Joeyjojo

    The way I heard it, they recorded the line “Obi-Wan Kenobi was your father” so that nobody on set would know the secret, but they by then had clearly decided Vader was his father, because why would Luke scream Nooooooo about Obi-Wan?

  • Doug Evans

    Slight correction… The onset line wasn’t “Obi-Wan was your father,” but rather, “Obi-Wan killed your father.” That explains why Luke could scream “Nooooooo!” without confusing everyone on the set. Mark Hamill was told shortly before shooting the real intent of the scene, so he was acting (if “Nooooooo!” counts as acting) to the actual shocking family revelation.

    (All this is from a Mark Hamill magazine interview I read back when the prequels were being released!)

  • Ramonesome

    You beat me to it!

  • Travis

    Never heard anything about Obi-Wan being in the line. I just read that only Mark Hamill was told what the line was supposed to be and nobody else on set knew WTF he was screaming about.

  • seksivitez

    Just like Darth Sidious- insidious

  • demoncat_4

    fascinating legend interesting did not know the writer of the big sleep took the first shot at empire strikes back. and sadly her death made Lucas decide yes vader is Lukes pop . for after all the original version sounds like it would have made other then vader killing lukes father. and Lei maybe or maybe not being Lukes twin. the original plot would have made empire come off boring.

  •!/ David R. Schmitt

    Very interesting, having Luke keep his surname is a glaring plot-hole that easily could have been rectified early in the film with Obi-wan revealing his real name later at his home. I never liked that Luke and Leia were made siblings in ROTJ. Leia could just have been another force sensitive without the kinship. That could have formed a different sort of bond between them and would have left us with less icky feelings with the kiss they shared in ESB.

  • Kaine Morrison

    If this is true, then Explain the conversation between Beru and Owen in A New Hope.
    Beru: He’s got too much of his father in him.
    Owen: That’s what I’m afraid of!

  • Brian from Canada

    Bracket’s ideas aren’t incompatible with the original version of Star Wars. When Luke meets Obi-Wan, Obi-Wan speaks of Luke’s father as a great pilot. That’s a plot point forgotten by the time of Empire Strikes Back. Empire has Luke and Leia kiss, but there’s no mention of a sister: just “another.” And in Empire, Luke said originally that he’d been on Dagobah before, a line removed from the special edition because they decided to change the backstory.

    All it goes to prove is that Star Wars was not plotted in a way that kept consistency. Lucas did, after all, say to his classmates that he would have turned to porn and its lesser concentration on details if Star Wars a failure. [Only Spielberg thought it was great; Coppola, Bogdanovich, Scorcese… they didn’t.]

    Plus, bad plotting can be rewarded: just look at all the mileage Robot Chicken got out it! (Lost the will to live?? Is this the dark ages??)

  • nld3

    I read that the line was Vader saying “I killed your Father”. and Luke screamed noooo! Sheesh whats the real truth.

  • rprporprp

    this broke the legend archetype. the franchise limped on with a broken foot since.

  • Badman

    “on some backwater planet in the Outer Rim” ?
    Even prior to taking in to account the prequels which would show it’s not just any backwater planet, but Anakin’s home planet, we’re told Owen is Luke’s uncle, that both he and “Ben” knew Luke’s father. There was obviously a connection to Tatooine and Anakin. They didn’t hide him from daddy on a backwater planet, they “hid” him with his family in his father’s home…
    Even if Skywalker is a common name, one might think “Skywalker from my homeplanet, who was raised by my stepbrother” might still throw up a red flag

  • Badman

    Owen needed the help on the farm, “his father” ( if he was intended at this line to be someone other than Vader) left and got killed, something Owen obviously doesn’t want for his son, adopted or not.

  • James Stanford

    They didn’t use tongue.

  • Larry Berry

    Why? Has everyone who ever betrayed and killed someone gone out and killed all their children? Imagine the original idea that Darth is not Lukes father. Darth betrayed the Jedi and killed all the other Jedi. Did he hunt down and kill all THEIR children too? Did Genghis Khan kill all the children of all the people he killed? After Caesar was betrayed and killed, did Brutus and the others go and kill his sons?

  • Larry Berry

    It was just a cool sounding name. Likely coming from invader. It just happened to turn out that Vader (or was it vadar) meant father in some other language, but is not where the idea came from.

  • Larry Berry

    I always thought it was crazy when I saw the Jedi outfits with the prequels. Obi Wan in the original Star Wars (New Hope), was hiding out, pretending to be a hermit named Ben, and hiding from the Empire that had killed all the jedi. So in the original it appeared the robes were just the old Ben the hermit outfit, but no when you see the original it turns out that Ben was hiding out from the Empire who killed all the Jedi, by wearing the old Jedi uniform.

    It’s like a Samurai who saw all other Samurai killed, and he runs off and hides out from his enemies, still wearing his Samurai robes.

  • dakotain

    Even if it was the equivalent of “Chang” (or Smith in the US), how difficult would it be for Vader to find Luke being raised by his own stepbrother?

    //Incoming holocall
    Owen: Hello?
    Vader: Owen, long time, step-bro!
    Owen: Ani?
    Vader: Dude, told you not to call me that anymore. It’s Vader now.
    Owen: Right, right, sorry. So, what’s up?
    Vader: Hey, I got your Life Day family picture card and was noticing a you had a new baby.
    Owen: Ummm…
    Vader: Noticed you named him “Luke Skywalker”. Funny story, I’m looking for my son; he’d be about the same age as your son, coincidentally named Luke Skywalker. Small universe, huh?
    Owen: Hey, uh, I’ve got a moisture vaporator going bad! I’m going to have to call you back.
    Vader: Don’t worry about it bro. I’m on my way to Tattooine right now with the entire 501st. Probably be there before dinner. Gonna be good to see you and Beru again. Take care!
    //Holocall terminated
    Owen: Crap!

  • Ian Thal

    Another reason I found the earlier idea (from the novelization of Return of the Jedi) that Owen was actually Obi-Wan’s brother to be far more plausible.

  • Ahrta

    actually brutus didn’t have to octavian did…..