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I don't understand how Palpatine couldn't sense Luke's presence on Endor when Vader could. Granted, Vader was Luke's father and had more of a bond, but why not Palpatine?

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  • I don't think we should consider it a mystery regarding Palpatine's ability to sense Luke from orbit considering the Palpatine could be in the same room as Yoda and not be noticed. Despite the EU we've never had real rules about how the force works - just precedents. Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 21:52

7 Answers 7

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As you said, Vader had more of a bond than Palpatine. Not only was Vader Luke's father, but he had also personally encountered him several times, sensing the Force in him during the Death Star trench run and also dueling with him at Cloud City.

Palpatine, on the other hand, had never met or encountered Luke.

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    Alrighty then, I guess
    – user15760
    Commented Jul 6, 2013 at 23:37
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    Just a theory, but I think Vader was already considerably conflicted in his Force alignment. Palpatine even seems to hint at this in the line quoted below: "I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader." Maybe Palps was so firmly rooted in the Dark Side that it made Luke's Light Side affinity imperceptible to him, but not to the conflicted Vader?
    – Stephen
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 13:50
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    He did snese luke, He just didn't tell vader Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 6:04
  • I apologize @amcintosh My thumb hit downvote without me realizing it and I am not able to change it now. Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 5:59
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Three points:

  1. The Emperor himself theorizes that it was due to their familial connection/paternal emotions:

    Darth Vader: My son is with them.
    The Emperor: Are you sure?
    Darth Vader: I have felt him, my master.
    The Emperor: Strange that I have not. I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader.
    Darth Vader: They are clear, my master.


  2. Despite Han Solo's admonition to Chewie to "Keep your distance", the shuttle was VERY VERY near the Super Star Destroyer that Vader was on - almost on top of the SSD bridge when Vader sensed Luke; and far from the Death Star.

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  3. It's quite possible that the Emperor was simply misleading Vader when he said "Strange that I have not". He himself, in the same conversation (As well as a previous one, before sending Vader to command ship) notes that he has foreseen this:

    Vader: What of the reports of the rebel fleet massing near Sullust?
    The Emperor: It is of no concern. Soon the rebellion will be crushed and young Skywalker will be one of us.

    ...

    Darth Vader: He will come to me?
    The Emperor: I have foreseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing. He will come to you and then you will bring him before me.

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The Emperor did sense Luke.

From the script, The Emperor knows that a small rebel force has landed on endor, as he says that " Yes I Know" in no surprise. And when he questions Vader that if he(Vader) is sure that Luke is on Endor, Palaptine was very cool.

69 INT EMPEROR'S TOWER - THRONE ROOM

EMPEROR: I told you to remain on the command ship.

VADER: A small Rebel force has penetrated the shield and landed on Endor.

EMPEROR: (no surprise) Yes, I know.

VADER: (after a beat) My son is with them.

EMPEROR: (very cool) Are you sure?

VADER: I have felt him, my Master.

EMPEROR: Strange, that I have not. I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader.

Vader knows what is being asked.

VADER: They are clear, my Master.

EMPEROR: Then you must go to the Sanctuary Moon and wait for them.

VADER: (skeptical) He will come to me?

EMPEROR: I have foreseen it. His compassion for you will be his undoing. He will come to you and then you will bring him before me.

In other words, he is misleading and double-crossing Vader at this point.

This is supported in a QnA session:

Question: Why couldn't the Emperor sense the presence of Luke Skywalker on Endor (per his conversation with Vader)?

Answer: The Emperor did sense Luke. He just didn't tell Vader that, because he was planning on replacing Vader with Luke (kind of like replacing an old sedan with a new sportscar) and double crossing Vader.

https://www.moviemistakes.com/entry78195

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    Isn't moviemistakes just a fan site?
    – Adamant
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 7:56
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    I found that site more brief and not a fansite. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 10:48
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    I mean, it’s just like our site: a Q&A site with fans. It’s not a Q&A session in the sense of people associated with the films sitting down and answering questions.
    – Adamant
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 16:04
  • Adamant, yes I know.Yet the question in this site is also the same with the question in movie mistakes. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 16:45
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    To be fair to Palpatine there is no contradiction between honestly not sensing Luke and honestly seeing future events with Luke there. Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 6:55
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Several other responses presuppose that Palpatine's statement that he had not sensed Luke is another sublime deception, suggesting that Palpatine is still the talented manipulator and puppet master extraordinaire that he was in the prequels. I contend he actually didn't sense Luke; that he didn't (and even admitted this weakness to Vader) was because he was "off his game," perhaps "over the hill," and because "his ability to use the force [had] diminished" for precisely the same evidence cited in the other answers.

Do any of us really think Luke and his "pitiful little band" of Ewoks would have stood a chance against the mastermind Palpatine was in his prime? Would Episode III Palpatine squander not one, but two Death Stars to pretty fundamental, apocalypse-inducing, space station engineering design flaws?

"Your overconfidence is your weakness." -Luke to Palpatine

Palpatine was not merely "confident", but certain he was on the threshold of the greatest achievement of his reign since the Jedi purge. But he is not the one pulling the strings anymore, and he had no contingencies. He "foresaw" the Rebellion being crushed. He "foresaw" Luke turning to the Dark Side. Yet somehow he failed to fore-and-literally-see Darth Vader coming up from behind and throwing him down that infinite chasm the emperor conveniently keeps in his chambers.

Palpatine was completely blinded and corrupted by both the Dark Side and his own power.[1] How could this happen to someone as meticulous and clever as Palpatine? The same way it happened to Yoda et. al. Palpatine's fall is a direct foil to theirs—both consummated by Anakin putting his family first (once for ill, once for good). But prior to this, both Palpatine and the Jedi had become blinded to their adversaries, with neither suspecting Anakin's impending betrayal. The Jedi were at least aware of their weakness, and their fall was more gradual; the emperor was oblivious, and his very literal fall, cataclysmic.

And the familial connection is important. I would even contend that Vader always had the potential to be more powerful than the emperor, even after his maiming on Mustafar. He never met that potential because he never wholly committed himself to the Dark Side and the emperor's cause. He only tapped into his true power in matters of family, hence, why he sensed Luke when the emperor did not.

[1]: Perhaps Palpatine was also complacent, his ambition sated. He had lost that "eye of the tiger" and the obsession that drove him to conquer the galaxy against insurmountable odds. Having Palpatine go back to his roots to rediscover his drive to dominate all life in the universe might be a hilarious premise for a standalone feature delineating his life (such as it was) between Episodes VI and IX.

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  • Credit where it's due, Luke really didn't stand a chance against Palpatine until Vader suddenly yet inevitably betrayed him.
    – Cadence
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 19:46
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I think it was probably just Palpatine's habit to keep Vader guessing. First he claims not to have sensed Luke then he claims to have foreseen Luke being brought to the Death Star. This practice leaves Vader unsure of just what Palpatine is and isn't aware of. It forces Vader to consider his scheming carefully because his Master may be aware, but doesn't stop him (you want your Apprentice to scheme against you to keep you both sharp). In short we'll never know, but I suspect Vader's feelings on the matter gave him extra sensitivity where Luke was concerned (and set off warning bells for Palp).

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    "First he claims not to have sensed Luke then he claims to have foreseen Luke being brought to the Death Star." Worth noting that he could have forseen it happening but not actually known when or sensed Luke at that moment.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented May 20, 2019 at 16:04
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Palpatine was completely consumed by the Dark Side that he couldn't sense the Light Side. Watch his death scene again:

He couldn't sense Anakin sneaking behind him because he could only sense the Dark Side in Vader, and when Anakin threw him into the reactor shaft, he exploded due to the large amount of the Dark Side energy in his body (see also this). As a result of being completely consumed by the Dark Side, he couldn't sense Luke since the latter was of the Light Side.

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Palpatine sensed a disturbance in The Force in Empire Strikes Back, and identified its source at the time, but by 1983 George Lucas was more concerned with merchandise sales than gaping plot holes.

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