During the Battle of Yavin, it's fairly clear that Vader does not know that Luke is his son. Or at least, he doesn't sense a familial connection (and he doesn't sense one with Leia either, despite being in the same room with her at least three times). The closest he gets with Luke is sensing his Force abilities during the Battle:

VADER: The Force is strong with this one!

But by the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, he is aware of Luke Skywalker and knows that he's a member of the Rebellion. When his probe discovers the Rebels on Hoth:

OZZEL: My Lord, there are so many uncharted settlements. It could be smugglers, it could be—

VADER: That is the system. And I'm sure Skywalker is with them. Set your course for the Hoth System. General Veers, prepare your men.

(Emphasis mine.)

And he isn't surprised when the Emperor later indicates that Luke is the son of Anakin:

PALPATINE: The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

(This is the line from the original 1980 version of this scene.)

So when did Vader learn about Luke? Did the Emperor know that he had lived the entire time and kept it from Vader? Or did both Vader and Palpatine they both learn the truth sometime after the Battle of Yavin?

  • 8
    @Daft - Note that the books quoted (including rise and fall of Darth Vader) are no longer considered canon. They're now "legends".
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 15:27
  • 11
    Mysterious the force is, yes
    – user16696
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 15:29
  • 10
    @KSmarts - Don't shoot the messenger. Admittedly in Greedo's case that's not even an option...
    – Valorum
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 15:39
  • 7
    @Daft It was a real thing. Spielberg replaced the guns in ET with walkie talkies in the 20th anniversary re-release.
    – phantom42
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 16:28
  • 8
    Obi-Wan was a friggin' moron for not making his uncle give Luke a different last name. A least Leia had a different last name.
    – Mark Adler
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 0:28

4 Answers 4


In the new Disney/Marvel canon, in which all new comics, books, and games are considered to have the same level of canon as the movies, Vader has his first direct confrontation with Luke between Episodes IV and V, but doesn't know who he is. This is shown in Marvel's monthly comic series Star Wars. In Issue #2, after taking Luke's lightsaber, Vader takes a closer look at it and realizes it used to be his own.

Page from Marvel Star Wars (2015) #2: top panel frames Luke's head and shoulders. Luke, wearing a beige jacket, faces directly toward the reader, holding his lightsaber at shoulder height in front of him with the blade pointing upward to his left of his face.  The colour of his lightsaber is echoed in his eyes and reflects off the side of his face.  Off-screen Vader says "You hold that weapon like an untrained child.  You have no right to it.  You, boy, are no Jedi."  The second panel reverses view, looking at Vader over Luke's left shoulder.  Vader stands facing Luke with his lightsaber held low and to the side, pointing diagonally upward to his right. The lightsaber's red colour reflects from his wrist guard, his cape and the corner of his helmet.  Vader asks "Who are you?"  Luke replies "You killed my father."  Vader rejoins "I've killed very many fathers.  You'll have to be more specific."

Subsequent frame from same comic; low view of Vader's head and shoulders against the ceiling.  Vader is holding Luke's lightsaber in his left hand.  He says "Wait... this lightsaber...  I know this weapon.  This once belonged to--"

Vader is suspicious that Obi-Wan was hiding something, but he doesn't yet realize that Luke is his son (he doesn't learn his name in this scene). It doesn't rule out the possibility that Obi-Wan gave his old apprentice's lightsaber to some random guy he found and trained.

But in Issue 6, Boba Fett learns the name of the young wannabe-Jedi that blew up the Death Star. He relays this information to Vader.

Frame from Marvel Star Wars (2015) #6: headshot of Boba Fett facing the reader.
Vader (off-screen) says "Did you bring me anything of value, bounty hunter?"  Fett replies "Not much.  Just his name."

Subsequent frame:  Side view of Vader's head, looking to the right against a window.  Fett (off-screen) says "Skywalker."

Suffice to say, he's not pleased.

Following page:  first panel, inset, shows a close-up of Vader's helmet framing just his eyes and his cheeks.  A crack runs across the panel in front of him.  Vader repeats "Skywalker."  The second panel, over the rest of the page, shows Vader, full length, standing in front of a triangular window with his fists clenched at his waist.  The window is crazed with cracks running all over it.

Later, in Issue 6 of Marvel's Darth Vader comic series, this scene is shown again and expanded upon. Vader makes the immediate connection to Padme and having been lied to by the Emperor about the exact circumstances of her death. He makes a hologram call to the Emperor similar to the one in TESB:

The Emperor: Yes, Vader? Ah... I sense your anger. Great anger. Have you something to say? Some proud, defiant words? Or are you wise enough to know your place?


Darth Vader: I am angry. You would not have me otherwise. My anger brought me to you. I want you to know--I will not fail. And I understand us precisely.

It's worth noting that in the 2004 DVD and 2011 Blu-ray edits, considered to be the current state of canon, the conversation with the Emperor mentioned in the original question is altered:

The Emperor: We have a new enemy. The young rebel who destroyed the Death Star. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.

Darth Vader: How is that possible?

The Emperor: Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You will know it to be true. He could destroy us.

Darth Vader: He's just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.

The Emperor: The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

It's strongly implied here that Vader and the Emperor had never discussed Luke up until this point. Vader's line "How is that possible?" could originally have meant anything from that he didn't know previously, to that he had guessed but didn't understand the particulars given that he'd thought he'd killed Padmé on the landing platform, to that he wanted to pretend that he hadn't known and was "playing along" the same way that the Emperor was referring to Anakin Skywalker as a third party, to that he knew the Emperor hadn't known and wanted to hide the fact that he, Vader, had known. This new information eliminates the first interpretation, but the exact meaning of Vader's "how is that possible" is still up to speculation as of issue 6 of the comic series.

  • 1
    Hmm. Although he does clearly recognises the saber as his own, there's no indication in the issue that he worked out that Luke is his son or even that he was the pilot in question, merely that he had "underestimated him".
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 20:37
  • @Richard The pilot part isn't necessarily a component of him figuring it out outside of Legends, but yeah, I edited to clarify a bit more that this is just all we have so far.
    – Milo P
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 20:43
  • @Richard That's fair, although that means the most technically accurate answer would be "it is unknown how he figured it out apart from what's in the 2004 edition of TESB".
    – Milo P
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 20:49
  • 1
    Just read the issue. Vader doesn't make the full connection just yet, but is suspicious of Obi-Wan hiding something. Upvoted for being helpful even if it's not a perfect answer just yet.
    – phantom42
    Commented Feb 10, 2015 at 21:23
  • 4
    The new canon actually cleans this plot up nicely. Vader is lied to about Padme, serves the Emperor as a broken man. Then, he learns the Emperor lied, and he has a son. So, he is angry about it, and begins to plot to overthrow the Emperor, by converting his son to his side (which we see in ESB). So he doesn't tell the Emperor yet because he's trying to play it cool, until the Emperor calls him on it ("hey look it's a Skywalker") and even then tries to play it off ("he's just a boy, no big deal") but to keep his plan he has to spin it ("hey better yet, let's turn him to the dark side!").
    – TVann
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 15:16

Legends Canon

In the original "Legends" EU, Vader first learned of his relationship with Luke in the weeks following the Battle of Yavin. This takes place in the 4-issue comic miniseries "Vader's Quest", published in 1999 by Dark Horse.

During the story, Vader is attempting to learn more about the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. Rebel pilot Thurlow Harris has returned to his home planet Centares to spread word about the Death Star's destruction, but is captured by Imperial forces and interrogated. Before dying, he gives up the last name of Skywalker as the pilot, right before Vader arrives.

A rebel pilot sits slumped in the chair to which he is bound by the ankles and his arms behind his back.  His helmet sits on the ground beside him and blood is running from his ear.  Above his head an Imperial interrogation droid hovers, and a bird-headed alien in a wing-shaped yellowish cape and purple pantaloons faces him.  Vader stands just behind, observing, with other aliens in the background.  The bird-headed alien says "He's just told us the name of the pilot who destroyed the Death Star!"

When Vader later hears a recording of the interrogation, he puts two-and-two together and realizes that the pilot must be his son. He then becomes obsessed with finding Luke and capturing him alive - to such a degree that he originally attempts to hide the name from the Emperor, killing everyone involved who has heard the name "Skywalker". Unbeknownst to him, however, someone has already escaped and told the Emperor everything - a fact which the Emperor conceals for the time-being to test Vader's loyalty.

Chronologically, Vader only later learns Luke's first name in the Marvel story "Dark Lord's Gambit" (issue 35). In real time, however, that issue was released in 1980, nearly twenty years before "Vader's Quest" was published.

Disney Canon

In the new Disney canon, Vader hires Boba Fett to track down the pilot that destroyed the Death Star. Fett goes to Tatooine and begins interrogating people around Mos Eisley, eventually getting the information from a moisture farmer. After facing Luke himself in a brief skirmish, Fett relays this information to Vader.

Boba Fett crouches, leaning forward.  His right arm is back, holding a serrated blade ready to strike.  His left arm is reaching forward and he appears to be facing someone off-screen below him.  This person says "His name is Luke Skywalker!  He's the one you're looking for!  I...I swear!"  Fett asks "Who is he?"  The unseen person replies "Moisture farmer and a bush pilot.  Lives with his aunt and uncle.  Used to hang out at Tosche Station with Biggs and...  We called him...called him 'Wormie.'  Please"

  • 6
    While I had never read the comics, I was thinking, "Hmmm ... Anakin Skywalker ... Luke Skywalker ... I wonder if there is some connection there?" I didn't know how Vader had learned of Luke's identity (which this answers), so this answers a lot. Great answer, btw :D Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:45
  • 3
    In addition to appearing in the comics, this is also the most logical answer. The chances of the identity of the person who destroyed the Death Star remaining secret are pretty slim; the Empire was bound to get it from somebody or another and probably would have been actively seeking any information about the Rebel group responsible. Kudos to the comics for doing something logical.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 3:02
  • Sorry for the unacceptance. This is interesting now-Legends details, but the other answer has the just-published Canon answer.
    – Plutor
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 13:26

(Note: I pilfered the following from my answer to this earlier question)

Assuming that there were cameras and microphones in the Death Star's detention center, and that Vader was smart enough to check them after Leia escaped, he would have gotten all the information he needed from Luke's introduction:

[Luke, dressed as a storm trooper, opens the door to Leia's detention cell.]

Princess Leia Organa: Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?

Luke Skywalker: Huh? Oh, the uniform. [removes his helmet] I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you!

Princess Leia Organa: You're who?

Luke Skywalker: I'm here to rescue you! Look, I've got your R2-unit and I'm here with Ben Kenobi!

Princess Leia Organa: Ben Kenobi? He's here!?

Note: Even if there were no recordings from the detention center, there were presumably wireless communications scanners, which would have recorded Luke's chatter with C-3PO, as well as a recording from the hangar control room where Luke, Han, Obi Wan, Chewbacca, R2, and 3PO went after getting off the Falcon:

Ben: I don’t think you boys can help. I must go alone.

Han: Whatever you say. I’ve done more than I bargained for on this trip already.

Luke: I want to go with you.

Ben: Be patient, Luke. Stay and watch over the droids.

Obviously, Vader already knew that Obi Wan had been there (because he killed him), and he would have been able to piece together the rest of the story pretty quickly.

  • A few days before the Millennium Falcon showed up, it had blasted its way through a blockade on Tatooine, at the Mos Eisley spaceport.

  • Just before that happened, an old man in a robe had lopped off someone's arm with a lightsaber in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

  • The old man was with a blond kid who matched the description of the "Luke" who had helped Leia escape the Death Star.

  • Days prior to this, the droids with the stolen Death Star plans had jettisoned from the consular ship and landed on Tatooine, and chances are, Mos Eisley was the nearest spaceport to the site where the droids had landed.

  • All of this happened not far from the house where Vader's stepfather, (and later, Vader's stepbrother) lived.

  • The stepbrother and his wife were dead, and Imperial stormtroopers had killed them while searching for the missing droids.

  • This was the Skywalker family, and obviously, the boy named "Luke" had been living with them.

  • It stands to reason, then, that the blond kid's full name was "Luke Skywalker".1

Everything Vader needed to know, virtually presented on a silver platter:

Droids with the Death Star plans disappear and land on Tatooine; they are sold to Vader's own stepfamily; Vader's stepbrother and his wife were killed by Vader's troops, but their ward/nephew/adopted son (essentially) was missing; just after Vader's stepfamily is killed, a boy matching the description of the missing nephew shows up at the spaceport with a Jedi; the boy shows up on the Death Star with the Jedi, who happens to be Obi-Wan; Vader may or may not have had access to recordings of the boy introducing himself as "Luke Skywalker"; even if there are no recordings of him saying "I'm Luke Skywalker", there are plenty of recordings (and ear-witness accounts) of the rescue party's radio chatter, in which the boy is repeatedly referred to as "Luke"; days later, the ship that carried Luke and Obi-Wan to the Death Star (and carried the rescue party, droids, and Leia away) shows up and saves the rebel pilot who managed to destroy the Death Star; Vader had engaged this rebel pilot personally, and had noticed that "the Force is strong with [him]".

We don't know how efficient the empire was regarding birth records, identification papers, censuses, etc, but if they put even the slightest amount of effort into such documentation, Vader would have had access to conclusive proof that his stepbrother had been raising a boy named Luke, and that this boy had no known birth certificate. He may or may not have had information regarding a certain "Ben Kenobi" living nearby.

As to when this happened, I would think that the first thing Vader did after the Falcon escaped (and after the people Vader chose as scapegoats had been Force strangled) was to find out how the Princess had gotten away. This probably happened within hours at the most. It probably would have taken another day or two for Vader to hear about what had happened on Tatooine. Once all of this information was available to Vader, it probably wouldn't have taken more than a few moments for him to piece everything together and come to the crucial conclusion:

"A boy, about the age my child would be now (if my child had been born), was living with my stepbrother and his wife on my former home planet (and I probably know that this boy's name was Luke); I have no evidence that my child was ever born, but I also have no evidence, apart from the Emperor's highly dubious word, that my child wasn't born; the boy on the Death Star was named Luke; the boy on the Death Star arrived aboard a ship that had recently left the spaceport closest to my stepbrother's house, after some sort of Jedi-related trouble in the local bar; my old mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi had a strong interest in this "Luke" kid; and I may or may not have heard a recording of this kid actually saying "I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you, I came with Ben Kenobi"."

Fast forward a couple of days, and the evidence, already very compelling, becomes too clear to question:

"The pilot of the ship that brought the kid and Obi-Wan to the Death Star appeared during the attack on the Death Star, and rescued a fighter pilot who was gifted with the Force; the pilot of the other ship referred to the fighter pilot as "kid", so the fighter pilot is young; the fighter pilot had an R2-D2 unit that not only matches the description of the one we had been looking for, but is actually the exact same R2-D2 unit that I spent most of my childhood with."

With all of this information, Vader must have caught on to what was happening:

"Clearly, this fighter pilot is the Luke who saved Leia, and this Luke is clearly the kid who was being raised by my stepbrother, and they were clearly raising him because he was actually my son, and Obi-Wan had clearly been living on Tatooine so that he could protect Luke from me."

1 We know that Luke and Leia's names were chosen by Padmé, but we don't know why she chose these particular names; however, it is at least possible that Anakin and Padmé had discussed what they would name their child (they didn't know Padmé was carrying twins), and if such a conversation took place, it seems likely that Padmé would have said "Luke for a boy, Leia for a girl". This theory runs into trouble, however, when we recognize that Vader doesn't seem to consider the possibility that Leia is his daughter until he reads Luke's thoughts in RotJ.

Even before Padmé found out that she was pregnant, she may have told Anakin that she liked the name Luke. If we speculate a bit more, we might imagine that Padmé knew someone named Luke, and this person inspired her to give the name to her son. If this was the case, it isn't difficult to conceive of Padmé having mentioned this earlier Luke - for example, she might have mentioned that her favorite uncle was named Luke, and he used to bring her candy whenever he visited, or whatever the case may have been.

So it isn't hard to imagine that Vader might have known that Padmé liked the name Luke, and it is at least possible that Anakin and Padmé had explicitly discussed naming their child Luke, but this is purely deductive and speculative reasoning.

Any one of these speculative scenarios might have helped Vader connect the dots between Luke and himself, but even if Padmé never mentioned the name Luke, Vader still would have had everything he needed to figure it out on his own.

  • 1
    Why did this not have upvotes?
    – DCShannon
    Commented Jun 24, 2016 at 1:41
  • This answer.. absolutely well-written and cleared all my doubts. +1
    – Voronwé
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 5:08
  • Good reasoning, but an average Imperial soldier would not report all names he has heard on Tattoine. We see the whole picture from the movie POV, however, from the Imperial commander POV, Tattoine is a rat hole among billion other places like that. Finding out that someone has slashed off someone's arm in a bar fight is nothing, at the same time a guy was killed there. To sum up, it is unlikely that all these facts (that we observe from the camera POV) would be presented to Vader to make such a conclusion.
    – TimSparrow
    Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 16:55
  • @TimSparrow - You're thinking of employees who don't routinely see their officers choked to death.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 6:35

In the Star Wars junior novelisation for The Empire Strikes Back, it's the Emperor who tells Vader about the existence of his son

The Emperor continued, “We have a new enemy. The young Rebel who destroyed the Death Star. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.”

“How is that possible?” Darth Vader managed to ask through his shock. Could it be … true?

Note that this directly conflicts with the main novelisation where Vader apparently already knows of the existence of Luke:

The Emperor emphasized the danger as he continued. “Our situation is most precarious. We have a new enemy who could bring about our destruction.”

“Our destruction? Who?”

“The son of Skywalker. You must destroy him, or he will be our undoing.”

The thought was impossible. How could the Emperor be concerned with this insignificant youth?

  • The new webcomic we were discussing yesterday implies that Vader knew about Luke and might come for him at some point in the future, or at least that Owen and Beru were worried that this might happen.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 20:49
  • @WadCheber - Given that Vader immediately spots the potential for "turning" Luke, it seems unlikely that Vader knew for long.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 20:55
  • I never got the impression that he knew about Luke prior to the moment when it was revealed in the original trilogy.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 21:00
  • @WadCheber - The new comics indicate that it was much sooner. He also fought him between ANH and ESB
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 21:04
  • I know, I'm just saying what I thought from seeing the original trilogy. Later developments contradict my impression.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Nov 1, 2015 at 21:15

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