What was it like for me the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back and learned that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s Father?
I had the same reaction to it that James Earl Jones had when he first read the script: “He’s lying.”
I was 6 when Empire came out and I was obsessed with Star Wars. I was up to my neck in it, in the fan club, read the books, played with the toys, everything. But when I first saw Empire, I was in no way prepared to accept anything Darth Vader said at face value. He was trying to trick Luke into trusting him, into saving himself. Remember, Luke was beaten and disarmed– pun intended– hanging on by one hand above a bottomless chasm. Vader could have said anything he wanted to Luke to get him to give up and come back onto solid ground, to be captured and taken to the emperor. Luke had no reason to believe him, and neither did I.
I also remember when I finally came to the realization that he probably wasn’t lying. It was some time before Jedi was released, and I was talking about it with some friends, one of whom had a slightly more realistic viewpoint than my rather naive one. He pointed out that it was probably true. I hated to believe it, and still harbored doubts until Yoda finally confirmed it in Jedi. I was devastated, even then, but I accepted it.
It was the greatest cliff-hanger in the history of modern cinema– perhaps ever–, not knowing if Vader was lying, not knowing what would happen to Han, and not knowing how the ragtag Rebel Alliance would regroup to finally defeat the Empire. It was also the first movie I had seen in my life that didn’t have a happy ending. I was 6, after all! I knew nothing of tragedy! I had no idea that a movie could end with the good guys getting their asses kicked! This was undiscovered territory for me, and it had a profound impact on the rest of my life.
Empire is still my favorite film, not just of the Star Wars films, but of all time. And I still have a preference for stories where the good guys lose… at least in the second act.