I promised myself that one of my goals with Inkican was to rise above being another Star Wars fan-boy. That said, sometimes these discussions can give us valuable insights on storycraft and writing, so I wanted to share with you the Star Wars theory you never knew you always wanted. Then I want to talk about what it teaches us about telling stories.
To begin with check out this fan theory. Not only is it an extremely plausible explanation of Darth Vader’s actions in Empire Strikes Back, but it taught me something about the stories I want to tell. Here’s the theory, quoted below:
The reason Vader went into Echo base – he wanted to find his son before anyone else did.
The whole episode was Vader trying to find his son. He put the most incompetent people in charge of the fleet (Kill the Admiral and then battlefield promote a Captain to be in charge of an entire squadron of star destroyers? Really? No wonder the blockade sucked).
No, Vader from the very start wanted to find Luke, not the rebels. When he sees the image of the shield generator the first thing he says is “the rebels are there and I’M SURE SKYWALKER IS THERE WITH THEM” He’s obsessed with Luke. He fires thousands of probe droids looking not for the rebels but for Luke.
The whole episode is Vader going soft and letting luke escape alive from every possible situation. He offers to the emperor to capture luke instead of killing him. He tries to capture him alive – he can’t help but reveal to Luke that he’s Luke’s father. “Don’t make me destroy you”. With Luke he knows he has a chance to destroy the emperor and be a family again. “We will rule the galaxy as father and son”. Vader is totally trying to keep Luke alive while trying to look like he is doing his best to capture Luke.
More edit: Vaders desperate attempt to find luke does not go unnoticed. He send star destroyers into the field and loses entire ships to the asteroids. The emperor can feel the turmoil in vaders soul so he immediately call vader while in the asteroid field “there is a great disturbance in the force”. How can that be, nothing in luke has become stronger yet he hasn’t met yoda – the disturbance is in vader’s soul! which the emperor is most closely linked to.
When the emperor reveals to vader the boy who destroyed the death star is vader son, vader tries to feign ignorance “how can this be possible” he says. Dude, you just spent the first half movie on hoth looking for skywalker!
Of course the emperor knows vader is trying to lie without actuslly lying so he tells vader “search your feelings you know this to be true”. The emperor wants to kill luke but immediately vader stops him “he’s just a boy”, dude how would you know you not supposed to have met him! Oh, vader knows, because he felt it in the death star trench when he was on luke’s tail. “The force is strong with this one” he said, and that was how vader put two and two together.
Okay, now let’s pause for a moment. Before we go down the rabbit hole of discussion about Star Wars, and the cinematic majesty of Empire Strikes Back, I want to point something out very clearly. This isn’t about Star Wars. This is about storytelling.
If this fan theory is accurate – and it seems to be – what does this teach us about telling our own stories? What could Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas have done differently with Empire, so that the movie told this story instead of a fan, 35 years later?
These are important questions, because the art of storycrafting has evolved since then. A forgiveable MacGuffin in the eighties is simply lazy storytelling now. With that in mind, it helps us understand why the new Star Wars movies are so different. Could that difference in storytelling expectations account for the difference in texture of a modern movie – say like, The Last Jedi?
I don’t know. Maybe. The point is, what could have Empire’s writers done to tell the fan theory’s story? A couple of ideas stick out, however let’s be clear. I’m not writing them down here to armchair-quarterback a 35-year-old film that’s been analyzed more than JFK’s assassination. I’m doing this to illustrate, in a common framework, how storytelling works to address these issues.
Could Empire, for example, have added a character that blocked the Emperor’s power, setting Darth Vader up for a confessional conversation where he explains his motivations? Could there have been a confrontation scene where someone accuses Darth Vader of doing what the fan theory says, only to have him Force choke the interloper? Could all-knowing, all-wise Yoda have said something to Obi-Wan after Luke’s X-Wing departed?
If the fan theory is true, there were ways to tell this story. I’m certainly not suggesting that someone go back and fix Empire, but we can use these types of questions to drive our story construction now.
Look, I’m no genius. I’m just a guy. These questions are something you’d find in a MFA Screenwriting and Directing class at Columbia. But if we can demand this level of storytelling quality of Manhattan film students, we should be willing to do the same, ourselves.
So it’s an interesting theory, and it teaches us something about storytelling. I hope you’re asking the right questions in your stories. You certainly don’t want the readers thinking they have to do your job for you.