The Empire Strikes Back, the iconic second film released in the Star Wars universe, was released 40 years ago this month. The anniversary has been marked in various ways, from Mark Hamill sharing exclusive Star Wars photos to fans debating everything from the best moment in the film to whether or not the saga peaked too early, with sequel Return of the Jedi controversially being seen by some as a sign of the franchise’s decline in quality. However it’s also been highlighted how the film’s defining moment – that of a defeated, depleted Luke Skywalker being told that Darth Vader is not just his nemesis, but his father – didn’t come about until after the preceding film, A New Hope, had been shot.
Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter for The Empire Strikes Back, spoke to Entertainment Weekly back in December about how this came about: “(George Lucas) said, ‘You know, Darth Vader is Luke’s father,’ and I said, ‘No shit?’ I was shocked and amazed.
“All this energy and all this storytelling that proceeded it was aimed at this tiny spot. It’s like if you were trying to get to Mars and you were one degree off, you wouldn’t get there. That’s what the scene was like for all of us. How do we get there at the perfect time, the perfect place, and have it just absolutely blow people’s minds? It was just extraordinary the size of the picture and the expectations people had for it.”
Secrecy during the filming was endemic, with fake versions of the script being circulated even among the actors with only Hamill knowing the true reveal until the very moment before the scene was filmed (they dubbed in the line “I am your father” in post-production). Alternative versions included Obi-Wan Kenobi being the one who killed Luke’s father, which was notoriously leaked to the British tabloids.
“These newspapers were offering 20,000 notes for anybody that got a good Star Wars leak,” Hamill said. “We couldn’t even keep that [the fake twist] a secret for a week. I was secretly delighted.”
The final effect seemed to be just what the film-maker’s hoped.
“It blew people’s minds,” Kasdan said. “I have never gone to a screening of the movie where people weren’t shocked, where they didn’t gasp. I would say that was the most successful secret ever kept in movies. People were amazing about not telling other people.”