Thursday, April 25, 2013

Adoption Movie Guide: The Empire Strikes Back

This is the fifth in a series of six adoption-themed movie reviews on the Star Wars series. Some background: Around 40 years ago, there was no father. Anakin left his mother to be raised by a group of philosopher/warriors called Jedi; he returned to find that his mother had been kidnapped. He found her, but she died in his arms. Anakin grew very angry and, following his anger, he betrayed the Jedi and became devoted to his new mentor, the Emperor, an evil Sith lord, who renamed Anakin “Darth Vader.”  Anakin had married, but his wife died in childbirth while giving birth to twins, Luke and Leia. When Anakin learned of this, he grew even more angry and even more inextricably linked to his evil master. Twenty or so years passed, and Anakin’s two children have survived. They are raised separately and do not know of each other, or of the truth about their father. Leia was raised by politicians and is a princess. Luke is raised by extended family members. As young adults, Luke and Leia are engaged in a war against their father’s forces. They meet each other and, without realizing that they are siblings, fight side-by-side and develop feelings for each other.  In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke and Darth Vader learn about each other. Darth Vader searches for Luke. When they meet, Luke learns the truth that Darth Vader is his father.

How is This Relevant to Adoption?
Luke’s family and his mentor, Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi, lied to him about his father. Ben told Luke that  Anakin was killed by Darth Vader. Now, Luke finds out the truth. While they are dueling, Darth Vader tells Luke, “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” Luke replies, “He told me enough. He told me you killed him.” And Vader responds with the crushing, iconic line, “No. I am your father.” Luke screams, expresses his disbelief, and rather than joining his father, falls to his likely death. Although he survives, he cannot force thoughts of Darth Vader from his mind, and tearfully asks, “Ben, why didn’t you tell me?”
Darth Vader is obsessed with finding Luke. He has been ordered by the Emperor to bring Luke into the Emperor’s service. Vader is a very gifted Jedi, and so the Emperor believes Luke will be, as well. Vader’s mixed motives are apparent – he wishes to rule the galaxy with his son, and also has extreme allegiance to the Emperor. He declares that Luke will “join us or die.”

Strong Points
There is a strong sense of loyalty between Luke and his friends.
Luke is advised not to give into his anger.

Some children in foster and adoptive families do not know their birthfathers. In many circumstances, they don’t even know much about their birthfathers. Like Luke, they are given little information or even misinformation – and, as with Luke, this is often done in an effort to protect the child’s feelings. Luke  thought about his father all the time, and seemed to have deeply-held knowledge of the truth; in a vision, he sees his own face inside of Darth Vader’s mask. Luke grieves that he was not told the truth about his father. Children without knowledge of their birthfathers may experience life much like Luke – their thoughts and fears are left unspoken, hidden from friends and family who mistake questions as unhealthy and mistake silence as a healthy lack of questions. This film could help parents become more sensitive to the inner thoughts of their children. It points out that keeping secrets doesn’t stop a child from having questions.
Young adoptees viewing this movie might find it difficult: it seems to confirm their fears about birthfathers – after all, when Luke finally meets his father, they meet as enemies. Even before they meet, Vader is unpredictably violent – which might play into specific stereotypes of birthfathers from which children may draw their own fears.
Luke and Leia share a kiss in this movie, without realizing that they are siblings. Some adoptees worry that they may be attracted to someone without knowing that the person is biologically related to them. The relationship between Luke and Leia isn’t played up in this scene, but it still could be troubling for more observant viewers.

Weak Points
Small children might find some scenes scary; Luke is mauled by a Yeti, and his hand is cut off in a duel with Darth Vader. 

Parents watching this film could reflect on how Luke’s life might have been different had secrets not been kept from him.
For adoptees, the film might touch on fears related to beliefs about the birthfather, or on fears related to accidental attraction to an unknown sibling. While these fears are not universally held, they are very real for some adoptees, and they might seem particularly unpleasant, shameful, or difficult to talk about.  The best way to help is to ask directly, “some kids have worries about this – do you?” Be willing to take “no” for an answer. If your child does have worries, listen to them, show that you understand them, and help them find information that could help them understand their fears.

Questions for Discussion After the Film
How do you feel about how Luke found out that Darth Vader was his father? What would have been a better time / situation for him to learn this? Was it realistic of his family to believe that he would never learn?
Luke wondered aloud Ben, didn’t tell him that Darth Vader was his father. What do you think Ben’s answer would be? Do you think that answer is right?
For teens:
Luke thought about his father often. He had lots of questions. What questions do you have about your birthfather?

Luke and Leia kissed without realizing that they were brother and sister. Some kids who are adopted worry about that happening to them, and some don’t worry about it because it’s not very likely to happen. What about you?


  1. As a Star Wars nerd I enjoy reading these :)

    1. Thanks, Rachel :) I never owned a lightsaber. But I wanted one.


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