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By the time we see the Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back, it clear that the heroes know that Luke, Leia, and Han have special feelings for each other that go beyond being comrades in the rebellion. Obi-Wan claims that this is the reason why Vader tortures Han and Leia:

BEN: It is you and your abilities the Emperor wants. that is why your friends are made to suffer.

But at that time does Vader1 actually know that Luke is friends2 with Han and Leia?

1 possibly through the Emperor or some other member of the Empire.

2 not just comrades or someone who was conveniently present.

  • The screenplay of The Empire Strikes Back uses the words "friend/friends/friendly" 23 times, but never by Vader or any other member of the Empire.

  • Being a secretive organization, the rebellion would try to keep the personal relationships of its members hidden from the Empire. Such information could otherwise be used to compromise people.

  • The Empire could reasonably assume that Luke would have strong feelings towards any of his comrades.

  • Leia is an excellent choice as a lure, but for reasons that have nothing to do with friendship. As a leader of the rebellion, any rebel will have strong feelings to protect her. She has also proven to Vader in A New Hope that she is an effective lure for Jedi (Obi-Wan). But these reasons have nothing to do with friendship.

  • Vader didn't actively choose who would be captured; rather, he took advantage of an opportunity. The capture of the Millenium Falcon is by circumstance (failure of the hyperdrive), rather than by Vader's planning. Similarly, Leia's presence on the Falcon is by circumstance, not by Vader's planning.

  • If Vader could have chosen a victim to lure Luke, Wedge Antilles would outwardly appear to be a better choice than Han. Both men saved Luke's life in the battle of Yavin. However, Wedge was also Luke's wingman in that battle. In addition, Luke and Wedge are both loyal to the rebellion, Han isn't.

  • If the answer is "no", then this would once again be a case of Obi-Wan telling Luke things that are "true, from a certain perspective."

  • Vader knows the Millenium Falcon is associated with Luke. He might know the Falcon killed his wingman at the Battle of Yavin and saw the Falcon in person in the Battle of Hoth. It sort of seems like he thinks Luke is actually on the Falcon, but for whatever reason, by the time he gets to Cloud City, Lando probably told Vader what he knows about the owner of the Falcon. – Todd Wilcox May 6 at 5:11
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    @ToddWilcox - "“Our pursuit ships have sighted the Millennium Falcon, my lord. It has entered an asteroid field.” “Asteroids don’t concern me, Admiral,” Vader said as he slowly clenched his fist. “I want that ship, not excuses. How long until you will have Skywalker and the others in the Millennium Falcon?” (ESB - Novelisation) - Vader is definitely under the impression that Luke is on board the ship. – Valorum May 6 at 15:51
  • if you consider what is currently canon, then yes. In the canon Marvel comics, the trio are all over the place interacting with and confounding Imperial plans between ANH and Empire – NKCampbell May 20 at 16:18
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Based on the fact that they arrived on cloud city together, something as little as security footage or a prick in the force would set Vader off to their comradeship. It's entirely possible that they were tracked the whole time Lando was with them (if I was Vader I would), so they would be seen together. Also, Vader seems to be aware about Luke being on the Millennium Falcon.

  • Or Boba Fett. Remember, he was the one who followed the Falcon to Bespin and turned them in to Vader. These are all interesting plot devices, but can we show that they informed Vader about their friendship? – DrSheldon May 8 at 16:51
  • Good point @DrSheldon. Bounty hunters go for money. It would make sense to infer that Vader would just hand them some more credits and get more information. – Superslayer04 May 8 at 17:27
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The Millenium Falcon is the key. It was the Ship that Luke was on aboard the Death Star, it was the ship that saved Luke during the battle of Yavin. While you can look at Wedge, the Falcon stands out because it was out of place, it wasn't meant to be there (also Vader probably isn't too fond of the ship). It was at Hoth and Vader seems to at least suspect his son may be on board.

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