The recent passage of Father’s Day always causes me to reflect on my role as a father and some of the strengths and weaknesses I have, and areas I’d like to improve on. For example, I would really love to not turn into a raging monster when I get woken up in the middle of the night by a scared child, who usually ends up more scared by me than their own nightmares.
Father’s Day also gets me thinking about some notable father roles I grew up with on t.v. and in movies. There are the obvious: Mr. Matthews from Boy Meets World, Mr. Seaver from Growing Pains, and Tim Taylor from Home Improvement. But I’ve got an example of a good father you probably wouldn’t expect. A father from a galaxy far, far away. No, I’m not talking about Bail Organa. I’m talking about none other than the Dark Lord himself: Darth Vader.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Vader tried to kill his own son. Ok, so he wasn’t perfect, but who is? We all make mistakes, right? Believe it or not, Vader actually does some pretty fatherly things during his time on episodes 1-6, and I’m going to prove to you now why he’s actually got some traits worth admiring.
1. Darth Vader (Anakin) will do anything to protect his family.
It’s pretty obvious early on in Episode 1 that Anakin is very close with his mother. It’s difficult to leave her behind in order to be taken under Qui Gon Jin’s wing and learn the ways of the Jedi. We see him going back to Tatooine often to pay her a visit and check in on her. It explains why he’s so heartbroken when she’s murdered at the hands of a gang of sand people. After he finishes completely annihilating said group, Anakin makes it his life’s mission to never let the people he loves suffer the same fate as his mother, and to protect them with every inch of his being.
I observe, actually, a great difference between Anakin’s path to the dark side versus his mentor, Chancellor Palpatine. Anakin’s motivation stems from his desire to protect others, while Palpatine’s quest is solely about power. In an age today when so many fathers are absent, either lost in their jobs or nowhere to be found, to see a father who stops at nothing to protect his family is a passion we could all use.
2. Inviting your children into your passions could save their lives.
We see a pivotal moment in Episode V, where Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are discussing their plans in regards to this young rebel named Luke Skywalker. Palpatine wants to track him down and kill him. However, before he can execute those orders, Vader comes up with a different plan.
Emperor: “The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.”
Vader: “If he could be turned, he would become a powerful ally.”
Emperor: “Yes. Yes. He would be a great asset. Can it be done?”
Vader: “He will join us or die, my master.”
Instead of simply following his master’s orders to kill his son right off the bat, Vader, in a desperate attempt to save Luke’s life, offers to find him, capture him, and turn him to the dark side. In a weird, sick way, this is Vader reaching out and extending an invitation to Luke to partner with him. When Vader finally corners Luke on a platform in Cloud City, he begs him:
There is no escape! Don’t make me destroy you. Luke, you do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your training! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.
Luke is no longer a child and susceptible to spankings and time outs. He’s a grown man and on his way to becoming a powerful Jedi and Darth Vader realizes this. Rather than coddling him, Vader sees the important task of befriending and respecting your grown children. Many parents these days have trouble transitioning from their children’s childhood to adulthood. They still want to treat them like children and get upset when they develop their own interests, personalities, and passions. How great it would be if parents were able to respect their grown children and realize their job of logistical parenting is now over and they can develop a true friendship with their kids.
3. It’s never too late to admit when you’re wrong.
We’ve just watched three movies of Darth Vader attempting to turn Luke to the dark side, and Luke vainly trying to win his father over to the light. It’s a tale as old as time: a son too stubborn to respect his father and a father too stubborn to admit when he’s wrong. However, when Emperor Palpatine has Luke in his grasp, throwing force lightning at him and putting him on the brink of death, Vader realizes that his son is more important than prestige, power, or agendas. When Vader throws his master down a shaft, he is quite literally saying, “son, you are more important to me than my own ambitions.”
Why is this so hard for us fathers? We have our hobbies, interests, and work that consume so much of our mind and time. And this is good, healthy, and normal for children to see their fathers work hard. But far too often we get caught up in the race and forget to pay attention to what’s truly important. As Vader lay on his back, dying, he implores Luke to take his helmet off so he can see him with his own eyes. This is one of the most beautiful moments in the entire Star Wars saga: the epitome of evil, shed of his power and persona, longing to look upon his son and give him one last goodbye. And in his moment of vulnerability, he doesn’t attempt to justify his behavior or make excuses for wanting to rule the galaxy. In his dying breath, they have this exchange:
Luke: No. You’re coming with me. I’ll not leave you here, I’ve got to save you.
Anakin: You already… have, Luke. You were right. You were right about me. Tell your sister… you were right.
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