In the script for Return of the Jedi, it’s listed as 78 EXT IMPERIAL LANDING PLATFORM – LOWER DECK 78, but to me it’s more than just a landing platform on the forest moon of Endor. This is my favorite Star Wars moment – a scene that has inspired and influenced me more than any lightsaber duel or space battle in George Lucas’s sprawling space saga.
Darth Vader walks down the ramp of his Imperial shuttle onto the platform, into an elevator, and appears on a lower level. He is met by two stormtroopers and an Imperial commander with Luke Skywalker, in binders. The young Jedi gazes at the Dark Lord of the Sith with complete calm.
“This is a Rebel that surrendered to us. Although he denies it, I believe there may be more of them, and I request permission to conduct a further search of the area.” The commander extends his hand, revealing Luke’s lightsaber. “He was armed only with this.”
Vader studies Luke’s face as he takes the lightsaber from the commander’s hand. “Good work, Commander. Leave us. Conduct your search and bring his companions to me.”
After a ceremonial, “Yes, my Lord,” the officer and stormtroopers withdraw. Vader and Luke are left alone on the lower levels of the landing platform, a metal monstrosity in the middle of a vast and tranquil forest.
Vader breaks the silence. “The Emperor has been expecting you.” The confident, calm Skywalker replies, “I know, father.” Vader seems genuinely surprised by Luke’s maturity regarding his parentage. “So, you have accepted the truth.”
“I’ve accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker, my father.” Vader turns to face his son. “That name no longer has any meaning for me.”
“It is the name of your true self, you’ve only forgotten,” says Luke. “I know there is good in you. The Emperor hasn’t driven it from you fully. That is why you couldn’t destroy me. That’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor now.”
Vader looks down from Luke to the lightsaber in his own black-gloved hand. He seems to ponder Luke’s powerful words. The Dark Lord inspects Luke’s Jedi weapon. “I see you have constructed a new lightsaber.” Vader ignites the lightsaber and examines its humming, brilliant blade.
“Your skills are complete. Indeed, you are powerful, as the Emperor has foreseen.” They stand for a moment and Vader finally extinguishes the blade.
“Come with me,” says Luke. While his son has no doubt matured, Vader senses his naivety. “Obi-Wan once thought as you do.”
Vader extinguishes his son’s hopes for reconciliation, “You don’t know the power of the dark side. I must obey my master.” Skywalker calls the Dark Lord’s bluff. “I will not turn… and you will be forced to kill me.”
Vader responds with great skepticism. “If that is your destiny.”
He is unconvinced – not by the willpower of his son or the power of the dark side – but of his own conviction. Vader recognizes that he will be the one forced to make a decision, not his son. His reply signifies a deep-seated conflict within, a sliver of humanity that won’t allow his son to suffer the same fate he has.
Luke senses the self-doubt in Vader. “Search your feelings, father. You can’t do this. I feel the conflict within you. Let go of your hate.”
This is the most powerful moment of the entire saga. “It is too late for me, son.” With that one simple sentence, Vader acknowledges the conflict. There is good in Vader, but the situation has grown beyond his control.
“The Emperor will show you the true nature of the Force. He is your master now.” Vader signals to some stormtroopers to escort Luke to the elevator.
“Then my father is truly dead.”
This is not a conversation held between Jedi and Sith, or hero and villain, but father and son. Luke’s words expose Vader for what he really is – a damaged, brainwashed slave. His words strike a nerve, a nerve buried beneath machinery – but human nonetheless.
Luke shows his complete disappointment in his father, and it’s only then that Vader sees how far he has fallen. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda knew that if Luke were to confront his father, the Emperor could be defeated. While Luke assumed they meant a physical confrontation – a duel to the death – it was a heart-to-heart that was the Dark Lord’s undoing.
As a kid, I spent countless hours making my own Star Wars adventures. I imagined what the Clone Wars must have been like, but I never concerned myself with the origins of Anakin Skywalker. I didn’t need Episodes I, II, and III to tell me Anakin Skywalker was once a good man. This scene said it all in a poignant, tragic way.
By exposing the humanity left within Darth Vader, Luke ensured his father’s redemption. That’s what Star Wars means to me. May the 4th be with you… always.