I know he's supposed to be an evil super-genius, but the Emperor seems to lack common sense here. He sensed that Vader's feelings about Luke weren't clear pretty early on, and while he was using Force lightning on Luke, Vader was doing the exaggerated "Look at Luke, now look at the Emperor. Look at Luke, now look at the Emperor" thing for a good 15 seconds or so. Granted, the Emperor had little peripheral vision with his hood on, but Vader can't turn his head without also turning his torso to some extent, and someone with the Force should be able to tell when someone in the room is moving.

EDIT: I just found out that the 2011 Blu-Ray edition has inserted audio of Vader saying "No", then SCREAMING "Nooooooooo!" while the Emperor is using his Force Lightning on Luke. This makes the Emperor's obliviousness even harder to explain.

Why does it seem like it never occurred to him that Vader might react badly to seeing his son being brutally tortured to death in front of him? Why have Vader stick around to see that?

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    Even worse, he had been given a script for the scene well before the incident that clearly said what would happen!
    – Oldcat
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 23:02
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    This is a rant. I'm sure there's a good question in here if you make some effort to edit out the commentary...
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 23:04
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    Using Force Lightning takes focus and determination. Remember at this time The Emperor tried to get Luke to join the Dark Side and replace Vader, but was disappointed. It sounds like he was preoccupied by a) using the force b) his anger at his inability to turn Luke c) the comfort with Vader who was his old used puppet to be significant anymore
    – MAF
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 23:04
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    @wadCheber - Much.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 6, 2015 at 23:20
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    @WadCheber Palpatine is much younger in Episode III as well. Yes, the Emperor was laughing, because he again assumed Vader his puppet and forgot what really made Vader turn, his overwhelming love for his family
    – MAF
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 2:44

6 Answers 6


Luke gives us the answer when he tells the Emperor:

Your overconfidence is your weakness.

The Emperor was overconfident that the Rebel fleet would fail and that he could turn Luke to the dark side. The Emperor was also overconfident in his hold over Vader.

The Emperor's confidence in his hold over Vader wasn't wholly unreasonable, though. First of all, Vader pledged to turn Luke or kill him in Episode V:

He will join us or die, my master.

That's not something a normal father would say about his son.

Moreover, we should remember why Vader chose to join the Sith (and remain a Sith) for decades. That question has been asked before, and some of the reasons I gave in my answer are relevant here:

  • He has psychologically separated himself from Anakin:

    Luke: I have accepted that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.

    Darth Vader: [angrily] That name no longer has any meaning for me!

  • He is afraid of the Emperor:

    Luke: Come with me. Leave everything behind.

    Darth Vader: Obi-Wan once thought as you do. You don't know the power of the Dark Side. I must obey my master.

  • He feels that he is beyond redemption:

    Luke: Search your feelings, Father, you can't do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.

    Darth Vader: It is too late for me, son. The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.

    Considering the atrocities he participated in (destruction of Alderaan, cold-blooded murder of younglings, etc.) it is no surprise that Vader thinks he is beyond redemption.

The first point is particularly important: if Vader no longer thinks of himself as Anakin, then Luke is not his son. The Emperor knows this, so he feels there is no danger in torturing Luke in front of Vader. This fact, combined with Vader's fear of the Emperor's power and the fact that Vader himself feels he is beyond redemption, gives the Emperor confidence that Vader would not betray him. The Emperor was overconfident, but his confidence was not wholly unjustified. Of course, Luke was right because Vader hasn't fully disconnected himself from Anakin (notice Vader slips and calls Luke "son" when he says it's too late for him).

It's also worth pointing out that the Emperor has been a Sith for much of his life and never had a family of his own. The Emperor does not understand the power of a father's love for his son. This lack of understanding contributed greatly to the Emperor's false confidence in his hold over Vader.

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    "I MUST obey my master - except in the last movie, where I said 'Luke, I'm you're dad. Wanna kill my master with me and rule the galaxy together?'"
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:08
  • See my answer to this question for why this might not be true. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/35799/…
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:41
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    @WadCheber What might not be true? Regarding Vader obeying his master, in Episode V he was trying to convince Luke to join him (and the dark side) to kill the Emperor together. He felt he and (dark side) Luke would be strong enough to kill the Emperor. But in Episode VI, Luke is a committed light side Jedi and wants Vader to run away. Vader doesn't think he is strong enough to kill the Emperor alone or even with light side Luke (because he thinks the dark side is stronger). So in Episode VI he thinks he has no choice but to obey his master.
    – Null
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 19:12
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    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. How was this not a huge red flag?
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 19:27
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    @Null Not only were those scenes deleted from the final script, they have almost nothing in common with it. They are completely irrelevant.
    – KSmarts
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 20:24

Why does it seem like it never occurred to him that Vader might react badly to seeing his son being brutally tortured to death in front of him? Why have Vader stick around to see that?

If Vader had not known about the existence of his son until his fight in front of Sidious, then I expect he would have dispatched Luke without consideration.

As it is, he had a great deal of time to think about the fact that he had children before he had to fight or watch Luke be tortured. Further, he had threaded the needle, so to speak, and convinced Sidious that 1) he was loyal and 2) to allow Luke to live long enough to make him an apprentice.

Keep in mind that it was family connection and love that Sidious used to bring Anakin under his wing. Sidious knows better than others why the Jedi did not have worldly attachments - including to family.

Sidious knew perfectly well that there is lingering feelings in Vader, he said as much, "I wonder if your feelings on this matter are clear, Lord Vader."

For Sidious this is both a gamble, and a test. On top of his overconfidence - he honestly believed he could best both Luke and Vader if needed - he was pushing Vader to further solidify his master role, and he was risking the loss of Vader to gain a new, better apprentice.

Thus I expect that it was Sidious's belief that he could handle both Luke and Vader if Vader turned. If Vader did turn, Sidious would lose a poor apprentice and a possible apprentice, but he would still have Leia as an opportunity later.

Vader never needed to use his full force capability after visiting the Jedi Temple, and at that point he was using it to protect his family, from his perspective. Since the loss of Padme and any significant jedi opposition, though, he had little reason to exert himself.

Sidious, who had a great view of Anakin's power, realized Vader wasn't half the man Anakin was. He may have assumed that the decrease in power was due to his physical injuries, constant pain, and constant force exertion to keep himself alive. He may have assumed, even, that Luke might be more powerful, but was certainly not well trained.

So Sidious was confident that he could handle both. Further, Vader continued to obey him, attacking Luke, defending Sidious (despite no need to do so), etc. So the chance of Vader turning must have seemed low.

Vader, however, did develop a desire for his son's life and happiness, and when it came down to a decision between Luke and Sidious, he chose Luke.

At that point he picks up Sidious, the lightning appears to go away from Luke, and Sidious looks surprised. Why should he be surprised? Vader's strength is known to him. Why doesn't he attack Vader?

The answer is: He can't.

Vader is not only able to lift him like a doll, but is actively using the force to redirect Sidious's attack. The power Vader uses is enough to overcome Sidious's attack, and this is what is surprising - the powerful Anakin Skywalker is still inside that suit - and now he has a reason to use the power that hadn't been exercised since he entered the Jedi Temple to do terrible harm to protect his wife.

Vader, alone, was more powerful than Sidious.

It wasn't that Sidious didn't consider that Vader might turn against him. It was purely that Sidious believed himself to be stronger than Vader.

  • The conclusion is consistent with the Rule of Two: Once Vader became more powerful than Sidious, his duty was to kill Sidious (see the trope Klingon Promotion). Sidious had no reason to anticipate that Vader would suddenly surge. And as a wise person once noted, always in motion is the future. It moved when Sidious wasn't looking. Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 17:01

Darth Vader doesn't think twice about using his destructive power of the Death Star to kill millions of people of Alderaan, yet he is supposed to get upset by seeing Luke get tortured? If Darth Vader was as evil as he was, there is a much higher chance that he'd get off on seeing the torture, than try to do anything about it. So, the emperor didn't think of it was going to be a bad idea, because it wasn't.

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    Except now it's his child, and Anakin has repeatedly proved his willingness to sacrifice everything to save his family. Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 14:15
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    I agree Anakin would yes, but not Darth Vader, there was a clear transformation. You are mistaking the whiny little kid for the fat guy with a respirator who likes to wear black :)
    – VenomFangs
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 16:16
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    @VenomFangs Luke isn't a bastard. Bastards are children born out of wedlock. Anakin and Padme got married in episode II.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:25
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    @TheRealSpartacus But I thought Darth Vader betrayed and murdered Luke's father...
    – KSmarts
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 20:18
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    @KSmarts ...from a certain point of view.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 1:37

I think it was the timing. He may have been more cautious at first, but after he had gotten started and Vader hadn't expressed any wish to spare Luke for a while, it became less likely that he would.

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    I'd be more inclined to believe this if Luke hadn't started screaming "FATHER! PLEASE! HELP ME!" That changes things, and Palpatine didn't react to it at all.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 7, 2015 at 18:36
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    @WadCheber There is such a thing as getting caught up in the moment.
    – Atsby
    Commented Apr 8, 2015 at 0:09
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    see my new edit to the question: I just found out that the 2011 Blu-Ray edition has inserted audio of Vader saying "No", then SCREAMING "Nooooooooo!" while the Emperor is using his Force Lightning on Luke. This makes the Emperor's obliviousness even harder to explain.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Apr 27, 2015 at 0:38

I don't know much, but maybe he was actually suicidal. Or else he thought he could take on two Skywalkers at once. Or he maybe had no plan B.

  • Is there any evidence that he was suicidal or is this just a wild guess?
    – Null
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 4:18
  • @Null - Possibly trying to breach the Rule of Two is almost suicidal. Someone was going to die, and he must have known it. :)
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 16:22
  • @WadCheber Yes, someone was going to die, and he planned that to be either Luke or Vader (with the victor becoming his apprentice) just as he had done earlier with Dooku and Anakin. This question makes the same mistake, and a lot of the highly upvoted answers (including my own) make it clear that Palpatine was not suicidal. My answer even includes direct quotes from the movie as proof.
    – Null
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 16:49
  • @Null - I was kidding.
    – Wad Cheber
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 16:50
  • I didn't downvote this in the initial review, but now I have since someone has upvoted it and this is clearly wrong.
    – Null
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 16:50

The biggest weakness one often possesses in the dark side is over-confidence. I'm sure the Emperor was so confident in his "absolute" control over Vader that it blinded him to the redeeming light that was still in him.

The Emperor felt Vader's conflict, but did he really think there was any good left in him?

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