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1980’s The Empire Strikes Back is celebrating the big 4-0 this year, which means it’s time to talk about one of the most iconic lines in movie history: “No, I am your father.” What’s incredible about this line is it has arguably transcended the Star Wars movie itself, like memorable movie lines often do. Darth Vader’s shocking reveal had a monumental impact on big screen storytelling. But funny enough, the famed words were not uttered on set because of Vader’s stand-in.
James Earl Jones is the well-known voice of Darth Vader, but it was David Prowse who was under the helmet on set. During the filming of The Empire Strikes Back, Prowse allegedly leaked nine separate tidbits to the press about the movie, per Empire. In turn, George Lucas cleverly decided not to give him the “I am your father” line during the historical scene. Instead, he said “Obi-Wan Kenobi is your father” to Mark Hamill.
The Luke Skywalker actor was trusted with the reveal of his character’s parentage the night before the scene was shot and had to imagine the delivery of the line as David Prowse recited the dummy line to him. Mark Hamill’s reaction in the “I am your father” scene is perhaps just as memorable as the line itself, and it’s pretty amazing what he was able to emote knowing full well that his scene partner was being lied to.
When David Prowse saw The Empire Strikes Back in theaters in the summer of 1980, he was just as surprised as audiences and that’s a good thing too. It’s tough to imagine the movie would have had the same impact on viewers if everyone already knew what the reveal would be. The second Star Wars movie is still highly-regarded as the best and favorite of the Skywalker Saga, and the epic-ness that came with Luke’s lineage has a little something to do with it.
George Lucas reportedly knew he wanted Luke and Darth to be relatives early in the writing process for Star Wars, but he wrestled back and forth with leaving the reveal for Return of the Jedi. It was fated to happen in the third act of Empire Strikes Back, but here’s why the second film was the perfect moment, per Lucas’ words:
I conceived it so that you would not know if Vader was lying or telling the truth. You have to have an escape hatch for kids psychologically so they can deny it.
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