Even if you don’t know Star Wars, you know the end of The Empire Strikes Back. The twist that Darth Vader didn’t kill Luke Skywalker’s father but actually is his father came as such an earth-shattering shock when the movie first released in 1980 that the moment has sunk deep into pop culture (even if it’s usually misquoted). For it to work so well, though, the twist needed to remain as secret as possible beforehand. In fact, even Mark Hamill was kept in the dark.
Speaking to the official Star Wars website to celebrate his 66th birthday yesterday, Hamill revealed that he had no idea about the twist until he was due to shoot the scene. And when he did find out, it came with a stern warning…
“They kept that line secret: ‘I am your father.’” What was in the script was already a fantastic twist. Vader says [in Darth Vader voice], ‘You don’t know the truth. Obi-Wan killed your father.’ And I played it just as you see it. ‘No!’ and all that. But [prior to shooting] they pulled me aside and [Irvin] Kershner, the director, said, ‘Look, I’m going to tell you something. George knows, I know, and when I tell you, you’ll be the third person that knows. So if it leaks, we’ll know it’s you.’”
It’s a sad fact that nowadays it’s more difficult to get away with massive surprises like this in a movie due to how heavily scrutinized big Hollywood productions are in the modern world. When asked to imagine how much harder it would have been to hide this ending if the internet had been around at the time, Hamill added:
“Oh my god, you’re so right. With people equipped with cell phones, every time you’re out in public… Who knows what could have happened in those days.”
That said, there have been more than a few juicy surprises in the Star Wars franchise since then; Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens (though there were rumblings about that before the movie came out) and all those deaths in Rogue One spring to mind. Hopefully, The Last Jedi will add another classic shocking moment into the mix when it arrives in cinemas on December 15th.