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Arguably the most famous scene in Star Wars is when Darth Vader reveals to Luke Skywalker that

He is Luke's father.

This surprise was kept secret to most of the crew and even the cast during production, with Dave Prowse, the actor playing Darth Vader, delivering a fake line, the actual line being overdubbed. (Of course, Darth Vader wasn't voiced by him in the first place; all lines were overdubbed by James Earl Jones).

Like Mark Hamill relates in an interview:

But, for example, your big scene, one of the classic cinematic moments when Darth Vader divulges his true identity, is no longer a revelation.

It's such a great moment! The fake line that was put in there just to try and keep the secret was "You don't know the truth: Obi-Wan killed your father!" But as much as I enjoyed leaking false information, it was a wonderfully hard secret to keep because (Irvin) Kershner, the director, brought me aside and said "Now I know this, and George knows this, and now you're going to know this, but if you tell anybody, and that means Carrie or Harrison, or anybody, we're going to know who it is because we know who knows."

So how do we explain Dave Prowse knowing and divulging this same secret two years before the release?

A newspaper clipping in which Dave Prowse reveals the surprise to about a thousand fans

And [David Prowse] offered a glimpse of a possible plot for the second sequel. Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, the young hero in the first film played by Mark Hamill, are hooked up in a do-or-die light saber duel when Luke learns that Darth is, in fact, his long-lost father.

So exactly how secret was this secret anyway?


As DVK points out on Skeptics.SE, the newspaper article is probably authentic.

  • 25
    The explanation I've heard in a few places was that Prowse was joking/speculating at the time, and only happened to be right. – phantom42 Aug 28 '14 at 12:33
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    Note that Prowse suggests this will be revealed in "Star Wars III" (i.e. Episode VI). If he had really known this was a coming plot point, he'd have known it would be in Episode V. – Nate Eldredge Aug 28 '14 at 15:50
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    Not necessarily. The numbering wasn't changed until Empire – phantom42 Aug 28 '14 at 16:06
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    @phantom42 No, Nate's point is that he said the reveal would happen in the third movie, when it actually happened in the second. Nothing to do with numbering. – JLRishe Aug 28 '14 at 17:12
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    Do we know for certain that that newspaper article is authentic? After all, it did kind of show up out of the blue fairly recently. (Or at least, that is my impression.) – Martha Aug 28 '14 at 23:30
63

The explanation I've heard in a few places was that Prowse was joking/speculating at the time, and only happened to be right. I've seen a few people speculate that he must have seen an early script or draft and ran with that.

While this interview from 2006 does not specifically address the supposed leak, he does say that he didn't know the truth, and that he felt the studio didn't trust him because he might leak something like that.

So they never told you?

I finished the film in November 1976 and when it came out in the USA in May 1977 I got a note from director Russ Meyer saying ‘congratulations Dave, you’re in the biggest movie ever. By the way, did you know they overdubbed your voice?’ I have never spoken with George Lucas since 1983 and neither he or anyone from Lucasfilm has ever come to me saying why they overdubbed my voice.

In the Empire Strikes Back you also didn’t know the line ‘no Luke, I am your father’ was going to be in the movie. You said ‘No Luke, Obi-Wan is your father’.

No, I never said that. I just said ‘come and join me and the Dark Side’. I had no dialogue referring to Luke’s father. I have never seen a script for the Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi. Everything was kept a secret because they were afraid things would leak. I think only George, Gary Kurtz and Mark Hamill knew.

What do you think about the fact that Darth Vader is Luke’s father?

I think it’s a wonderful twist.

And what about the fact that they didn’t tell you?

I think it’s a lack of trust. They were afraid I was going to say something in an interview. While if you’re one of the main characters the last thing you would do is give such information away. I was very careful so I hated the lack of trust.

Additionally, according to this article, Prowse's own book states that he only learned about the twist at the premiere of the movie. He repeats this in this interview/article

That was not the only time he was kept in the dark.

David had no idea he would be revealed as the father of hero Luke Skywalker in the second film, The Empire Strikes Back, until he saw it on the big screen.

Security was tight around the scripts after information leaked out early in filming and Lucas may have wanted to keep the film's big twist closely guarded.

"They must have given me some completely different line, because it was all going to be overdubbed," David said.

"When I went to see the movie I suddenly discovered I was Luke's father.

"That's my favourite scene of all."

In the Annotated Screenplays, Irvin Kirshner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back also explicitly says that Prowse did not know, and that Hamill was the only one who did.

The actor who played Vader did not know that Luke was his son; when we did the scene, the only one who knew was Mark, and I told him right before we shot it. We didn't want anybody to know, so i had the page with the real dialogue put away. So the actor playing Vader was saying other words; I gave him other words. He was saying something totally different, which of course we replaced later.

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    Perhaps it's the other way around. Perhaps Lucas got the idea from Prowse. I feel another question coming on... – SQB Aug 28 '14 at 12:50
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    Wouldn't it be a wonderful irony if, had they told Prowse, he wouldn't have speculated? ;-) – DevSolar Aug 28 '14 at 14:31
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    Reading that his original line was "come and join me on the Dark Side", Prowse must have been really confused at Luke's reaction. At least the rumored "Obi-Wan killed your father" could have reasonably warranted such an... "emotional" response. – phantom42 Aug 28 '14 at 14:36
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    @phantom42 This is what doesn't hold up for me. How on earth could anyone accept that such an emotional reaction was warranted in response to such a trivial phrase? Something's fishy... – Discant Aug 29 '14 at 1:26
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    @Discant: There is a cut between Vader’s line and Luke’s reaction. There is no need for Prowse to have even witnessed the reaction. – Wrzlprmft Feb 10 '15 at 21:46
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Besides the issue of how many people in the film's production knew, it's worth noting that the novelization came out on April 12, 1980--more than a month before the film's release on May 21. Given this, it's strange if they continued to keep the cast in the dark until the public release of the film, but at the very least, it was authorized, potentially public knowledge for several weeks before the film's premiere.

My guess is that keeping it secret during production was a combination of keeping the actors' reactions naturalistic, and high-profile leak prevention, since an actor letting something slip during an interview would spread the word much more than random people having read the book without a medium like the internet to share what they had learned. I guess they also just didn't trust David Prowse for whatever reason. Maybe it was related to correctly guessing the plot point in his speech?

Edit: The TESB book coming out before the movie was confirmed on a retrospective posted on starwars.com: http://www.starwars.com/news/return-of-the-star-wars-rumors

  • 5
    That seems very odd. Was there a later release date for the novel at some point after the movie's release? It could have been published and shipped out in advance of being allowed to be sold (as happened with the last few Harry Potter books, for example) – Bobson Aug 28 '14 at 19:36
  • That's a good question. The book source I found was the only non-wiki source I could find after moderate googling, and the only source for it actually being released earlier was an unsourced aside on Wookieepedia. It certainly seems possible. – Milo P Aug 28 '14 at 22:10
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    @Bobson It's more the norm to publish books/comics before the release date. I remember having the prequel novel and comic adaptations a month before the movies came out. – BennyMcBenBen Sep 4 '14 at 10:56
  • Wookiepedia and Wikipedia both list the novelization publish date as 1980-04-12, a month before the film's theatrical release. – jtheletter Mar 22 '18 at 20:25
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    Can confirm, I bought it in a book store and read it before the premiere. – neontapir Jul 21 at 18:59
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Keeping reveals / plot twists etc. secret is standard practice in both movies and TV production. Filming a scene several ways, multiple script "edits", change in locations and other techniques are used to keep the entire production unaware of the final outcome.

Famous example: Dallas. 1980. J.R. Ewing is shot from offscreen, the gunman is the season cliffhanger. This one grew to epic proportions partly due to the popularity of the show and partly due to the Writer's Guild strike that delayed everything until November.

Production had the entire cast film scenes holding the gun and speaking the line, the only people who knew which scene was going to be used was the writer, producer and the editor.

  • 6
    Of course, there's an alternate explanation to the multiple "options" of the shooter - they didn't know who they wanted to be responsible at that point. TV series are adapted based on viewer response, after all. This would allow them to pick the best option as viewer theories came. – Luaan Sep 4 '14 at 7:51
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    Wait... someone shot J.R.? – Omegacron Feb 26 '15 at 20:32
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I can tell you this.

Dave Prowse was a constant house guest of mine when he visited Marin to have meetings with George Lucas. I was living with my ex, Hal, at the time and Dave loved to come to town and stay with us because Dave and my Hal shared a bromance and a giant interest in photography.

The day Dave returned from a meeting with George Lucas, Hal and I sat down to have dinner with Dave and we asked him how his meeting with George went.

Dave was in a minor shock...He shared with us that George had the meeting with him to find out if Dave would be interested in signing on to do a sequel to "Star Wars". This was the first any of us had heard about any kind of idea about a sequel to "Star Wars".

I turned to Dave and joked that in the sequel we will probably find out that Darth Vader is Luke's father.

At the moment I made the joke all the hair on my arms stood up and I showed this to Dave. I said that the goose bumps and hairs standing on their end proved that the words I just spoke...that were intended to be a joke were actually true.

Dave laughed it off and did not put any weight on my insistence that Darth was Luke's father.

Even after "The Empire Strikes Back," Dave insisted that the words I spoke were not true....because he had just wrapped the second "Star Wars" and he was not given the script that revealed the truth. It is true that he was given an alternate script and did not know that Darth was in actuality Luke's father until the film hit the theaters.

So TWO Things...Number 1...At the time he wrapped "The Empire Strikes Back," Dave "DID NOT KNOW" that Darth was Luke's father and Number 2...Dave had no idea that the film would take the mask off of Darth Vader revealing the character's face. Dave did not have that in his script and although he understands Lucas' rational for having the face of an older man, Dave would have preferred to have portrayed the film face behind the mask.

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