Before and After: Instructions Regarding Skywalker’s Son

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Star Wars: Before and After the Special Editions
Instructions Regarding the Son of Skywalker

When we first saw The Empire Strikes Back in theaters, none of us was expecting Darth Vader to reveal that he was Luke’s father.  To be honest, even after the reveal, some of us were clinging to the hope that Vader was lying — biding our time between the second and third movies in discussions and debates about whether the Dark Lord of the Sith could actually be the father of Luke Skywalker.

Before telling Luke what really happened to his father, Darth Vader spoke to his Master about this “son of Skywalker”, revealing the plot to turn the young Jedi to the Dark Side.  In this brief holographic communication between Vader and the Emperor, we were treated to our first glimpse of this mysterious ruler of the galaxy.

When George Lucas revisited his classic trilogy, fans expected the voice and image of the Emperor to be altered to match the character as he was portrayed by Ian McDiarmid in Return of the Jedi.  What we didn’t expect was that the text of the transmission would be altered, as well.

In what was one of the best changes in all the Special Editions, the dialog between master and apprentice both conceals and reveals the reasons behind the plot to turn young Skywalker to the Dark Side or destroy him.  Consider the original version of this scene:

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Darth Vader
What is thy bidding, my Master?

Emperor
There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Darth Vader
I have felt it.

Emperor
We have a new enemy, Luke Skywalker.

Darth Vader
Yes, my Master.

Emperor
He could destroy us.

Darth Vader
He is just a boy.  Obi-Wan can no longer help him.

Emperor
The Force is strong with him.
The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

Darth Vader
If he could be turned he would become a powerful ally.

Emperor
Yes.  Yes.  He would be a great asset.  Can it be done?

Darth Vader
He will join us or die, Master.

From the beginning of the movie, we know that Darth Vader is obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker, dispatching probes throughout the galaxy.  What we didn’t know was that he was doing so without the knowledge or consent of the Emperor.  When he tells Vader that they have a new enemy, he calls him by name — Luke Skywalker.

After repeated viewings, made possible by the technological innovations of movie channels and videotapes, once we had accepted that Darth Vader had once been Anakin Skywalker, we began to question the reasons behind the Emperor’s transmission.  Had he truly only discovered the name of the pilot who had struck the fatal blow to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, or was he testing Vader to see if his search was spawned by less-than-Sithy motives?  Was he simply letting his apprentice know that he knew about the boy as well, warning him not to betray him?  What had first been simply a matter of plot exposition and foreshadowing began to reveal shadows of the Emperor’s devious scheming and manipulations as we watched the movie over and over.

When the Special Editions were released, the insidious nature of the Emperor became more pronounced as his references to Luke were less focused on the boy himself and emphasized the man behind the mask who now wore the name Darth Vader.  Notice the differences in the transmission in the 1997 version:

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Darth Vader
What is thy bidding, my Master?

Emperor
There is a great disturbance in the Force.

Darth Vader
I have felt it.

Emperor
We have a new enemy.
The young rebel who destroyed the Death Star.
I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.

Darth Vader
How is that possible?

Emperor
Search your feelings, Lord Vader; you will know it to be true.  He could destroy us.

Darth Vader
He is just a boy.  Obi-Wan can no longer help him.

Emperor
The Force is strong with him.
The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

Darth Vader
If he could be turned he would become a powerful ally.

Emperor
Yes, he would be a great asset.  Can it be done?

Darth Vader
He will join us or die, Master.

In the newer rendering, Luke’s name is never used.  He is called a “young rebel”, a “boy”, the “offspring of Anakin Skywalker”, and the “son of Skywalker”.  Although the Emperor considers young Skywalker a threat, perhaps it is not so much because of the boy himself, but due to the relationship between his own powerful apprentice and this newly discovered Force user.  Perhaps he had foreseen, either through a Force vision or simple deduction, that Vader would try to forge an alliance between father and son in an effort to overthrow the Emperor and rule in his place — which was exactly what Vader told Luke in their conflict at Cloud City.

When Return of the Jedi is viewed in light of this less personal interest the Emperor had in Luke, we can understand why he sought to have Luke kill Vader, taking his father’s place at his side.  If Luke won the battle, striking down his father in anger, he would have completed his journey to the Dark Side, and the Emperor would continue his new apprentice’s training.  Had Vader prevailed, the last link to his past would have been removed, making Darth Vader fully devoted to his master.  Either way, the Emperor’s apprentice would be more powerful from the conflict: a Vader no longer weakened by emotional ties to the past would be more capable of carrying out the Emperor’s orders, or an untrained Jedi would be more malleable than his father, able to be manipulated by his new master.  In either case, the victor would be the Emperor.  (Unless, of course, father and son work together against the Emperor — a proposition unimaginable to the arrogant dictator.)

In my opinion, the alteration in the Emperor’s dialog gives deeper insight into the machinations of the Emperor’s plan: to be the most powerful being in the galaxy.

What do you think?  Is the earlier version sufficient or does the Special Edition better show the motives behind Palpatine’s character?  Comment below or take the conversation to social media @shazbazzar on Twitter.

 

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  • Zarm

    To put on my pedantic nerd glasses… this wans’t in ’97, it was the 2004 DVD release. :-)

    In my opinion, the alteration of the Emperor’s dialogue is clunky, awkward and silly-sounding, and adds no insight whatsoever, because all of the elements discussed come form the context of the movie without the rephrasing, and were not lacking in the original version.

    All this version gives us (from my own ‘point of view’) is an astoundingly-bad performance by Ian Macdirmid (who is amazing generally, making his lifeless, uninspired bit here so baffling) and some verbal beating-around-the-bush to say the exact same thing. To my mind, this really was one of the worst changes to TESB- and, along with Fett’s voice, is one reason that the post-2004 version of ESB will never be my definitive version, or the version I raise my son on.

    So, to my mind, the original version isn’t ‘sufficient,’ it’s *superior*- in tightness and phrasing of dialogue, and in performance.

    • shazbazzar

      I whole-heartedly agree with the change in Boba Fett’s voice, but I still think that the newer version helps “mask” how much the Emperor knows about Luke from Vader.

      Thanks for the correction about the ’97 version. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that cut — nearly 20 years. I’ve been watching the 2004 version and Blu Ray most often.

      • Zarm

        Yeah, me too. I do wish the SEs were more readily available on DVD, though- it would be nice to alternate between the three.

  • Chuck Kahn

    The name Anakin used to be revealed to Luke and the audience in ROTJ by Obi-wan. Vader says “How is that possible?”, as if he didn’t know Luke was his son. Either that or he’s playing stupid to the Emperor. Neither of which makes sense. What makes more sense is that Vader realized that this was his son after sensing him in the Death Star trench, and as the title crawl to TESB states, he’s been relentlessly pursuing him ever since, for reasons revealed before Luke on Bespin. Sensing Luke has been an ongoing habit for Vader since the trench, followed by when he declares that Hoth “is the system” to Piett, and when Luke is escaping to hyperspace at the end of TESB, to the deleted scene in ROTJ of Vader calling out to Luke as he’s building his new lightsaber and when Luke orbits Endor with Vader close by in the Executor. This new line makes Vader seem stupid, rather than the master manipulator who’s been pulling the strings the whole of episode 5 — luring Luke into his trap on Bespin. Also, the other actor reading the Emperor’s lines did a better contemplative pause for “Yes. He would be a great asset” whereas McDiarmid just looks awkwardly frozen (botoxed?) before saying the same line.

    Attached text diff of before & after: