British actor David Prowse on the set of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back directed by ...

The Force

Star Wars doc reveals the shocking origins of that iconic Darth Vader twist

Marcia Lucas says George Lucas lifted the big Empire twist from a joke at a dinner party.

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

George Lucas didn’t plan on making Darth Vader the secret father of Luke Skywalker.

As much as fans have been told that Lucas had a massive plan for the Star Wars saga prior to 1977, the sources closest to that process say the opposite. “When I was his wife, I never knew there were nine stories,” Marcia Lucas says in the new docuseries Icons Unearthed: Star Wars. “I never knew there were two stories.”

But perhaps the greatest revelation in this under-the-radar documentary involves the origin of the franchise’s most famous twist. It turns out the “I am your father” moment started as an offhanded joke at a dinner party.

The producer of VICE TV’s Icons Unearthed: Star Wars is Brian Volk-Weiss, renowned for his work on The Toys That Made Us, among several other well-researched geek documentaries. And although Icons Unearthed was released around the same time as the officially endorsed Disney+ documentary Light & Magic, Volk-Weiss has something the latter lacks; input from George Lucas’ ex-wife Marcia Lucas, the person who saved A New Hope in editing, created Force ghosts, and made countless other contributions to the saga that even most big Star Wars fans are unaware of.

“Marcia gave us a lot of groundbreaking stuff,” Brian Volk-Weiss tells Inverse. “I had never heard that Darth Vader as Luke Skywalker’s father started off as a joke. I had never heard that. Who has heard that?”

The third episode of the docuseries is all about the making of The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas farmed out the screenplay to science fiction novelist Leigh Brackett, but Brackett passed away after she handed in her first draft. As has been documented in many different sources, Lucas then collaborated with Lawrence Kasdan to rewrite Empire, and it was during this process that the big twist about Vader was invented.

As described by Marica Lucas in Icons Unearthed, George Lucas was struggling to come up with some kind of big twist for Empire’s third act. While stuck, Marcia and George invited screenwriters Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz over for dinner. The couple had worked with George Lucas before, including an uncredited rewrite of A New Hope. When Lucas described his struggles with the Empire story, Huyck joked, “You can always make Darth Vader Luke’s father.”

The big moment that almost didn’t happen.Lucasfilm

In her new interviews, Marica Lucas says of this moment, “I kid you not. I don’t know if Willard even remembers saying that. But I remember it.”

According to Marcia Lucas, this offhand comment — even though it was a joke — stuck in the mind of George Lucas, who then, of course, transformed the entire Star Wars saga. Suddenly, retroactively, the whole story of Star Wars became about the Skywalker family and the tragedy of Darth Vader.

There’s no evidence to suggest Marcia Lucas is wrong, either. Brackett’s draft of Empire makes no mention of the secret that Darth Vader was a Skywalker who fathered Luke and Leia. Mark Hamill has also said more than once that the twist of Leia being Luke’s sister was a very late-in-the-game idea.

Marcia Lucas’ revelation that the Darth Vader parentage idea may have come from one of George’s most trusted friends is fascinating. Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck went on to write Howard the Duck and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, neither of which are considered the best that Lucasfilm had to offer. And yet, if Willard Huyck did invent the story of Anakin Skywalker, then suddenly he becomes the most pivotal writer in the entire history of Lucasfilm.

Marcia Lucas (center) in 2019, at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science.ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

This small detail is just one reason why serious Star Wars fans should watch Icons Unearthed. But the larger reason is that the documentary boasts the first interview with Marcia Lucas about the making of Star Wars since the 1980s. Why now? How did Brian Volk-Weiss get Marcia to speak candidly about her ex-husband and the Star Wars franchise?

“I think some of it is timing,” Volk-Weiss says. “I have an amazing team, and my team is very good at getting interviews that other people can’t get. But with Marcia, I think it was timing. She did tell us that she had gone into a bookstore and looked at a coffee table book about the making of Star Wars, looked for her name in the index, and that it was only referenced in a photograph of one of the movie posters. She’d been erased from history. She wanted to tell her story.”

You can watch Icons Unearthed: Star Wars on VICE TV. The first episode is streaming for free on YouTube.