The Empire Strikes Back remains the most beloved entry in the Star Wars franchise, in no small part due to the moment when Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker, “No, I am your father.” It’s a legendary plot twist that filmmakers still try to replicate, 40 years later. However, that iconic line was almost drastically different, and the impact of that change would have reverberated throughout the franchise.
James Earl Jones is famously the voice of Darth Vader, but in the original trilogy, David Prowse was the man in the costume, the physical embodiment of the character. While James Earl Jones recorded the legendary line as we know it in post-production, during filming, Prowse uttered vastly different words from the movie’s shooting script: “No, Luke. Obi-Wan killed your father.”
It was a smart move on the part of George Lucas and company. Having the cast and crew work from a slightly different script protected the twist,. Keeping that moment secret was paramount to the film’s success, and leaks were always a danger for any film in any era. Yet, choosing to keep the original version of the line would have had an interesting impact not just on The Empire Strikes Back but on the entire franchise.
The revelation that Darth Vader was Anakin Skywalker has been the driving force behind all of Star Wars, for better or worse. Removing that revelation sets in motion a chain reaction that would change a lot of what happened in the movies, TV series and beyond. Without Anakin’s betrayal of the Jedi, so much of what fans now accept as canon would be called into question. It also would have set Luke Skywalker on a much different path.
Instead of trying to redeem his father in Return of the Jedi, Luke would have continued on his path to destroy Darth Vader. There would be little conflict in his mind as to what his course of action should be. Vader would have remained an enigmatic evil force who was nothing more than an obstacle to victory for the Rebels. There would have been a very distinct downside to that for Luke, however. Specifically, Vader probably would have killed him.
There’s also the issue of the impact on Luke of knowing Obi-Wan Kenobi killed his father. While they didn’t know each other long, Obi-Wan was Luke’s original mentor, and introduced him to the ways of the Force. Obi-Wan was also the only connection Luke had left to his family (at least at that point) following the deaths of his uncle and aunt.
Learning Obi-Wan had a hand in the death of his father would have felt like a betrayal, akin to Ben Solo waking up to find a lightsaber-wielding Luke standing above him. That was the incident that sent Ben on the path to becoming Kylo Ren. Finding out Obi-Wan killed Anakin may have sent Luke down a similar path toward the Dark Side.
At the very least, this revelation would have changed the moral dilemma Luke faced. His attempts to save a father he never knew and help him find redemption for his numerous horrific acts has always seemed forced. If that single line was changed, Luke would have focused solely on the Rebellion and winning the war.
In hindsight, the impact one line had on Star Wars‘ entire story is nothing short of amazing. The rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker has dominated what came to be called the Skywalker Saga, overshadowing so many of the other plot points introduced throughout the narrative. As iconic as the moment the words “No, I am your father” are said still is, it’s difficult not to wonder wheter “No, Luke. Obi-Wan killed your father” would have taken the story in a better direction.
On May 21, 1980, Empire Strikes Back audiences first heard the revelation that changed Star Wars. However, the twist could have been MUCH different.