Lucas didn't always see Vader as Luke's father; so how did that idea come into being?

Speaking of fairy tales, Skywalking mentions child psychologist and fairy tale scholar Bruno Bettelheim and his 1976 book The Use of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of fairy tales as “a strong influence on Lucas’s thinking”. p324, 1

While the publication date of Bettelheim's book makes it unlikely that it was of much use to Lucas in the creation of the first film, there is a very interesting aside which is worth addressing, even though it lies a little outside of our brief, namely the origin of a certain dark father.

In the aftermath of the release of Star Wars, Lucas and his burgeoning empire were scrambling to meet the unexpected demand for more Star Wars, and a sequel was by now a given. Leigh Brackett, a well known science fiction author and screenwriter was brought on to help carry the burden of the screenplay, based on story ideas by Lucas. The writing started in late 1977, and Brackett’s first draft was finished on February 23rd, 1978.

She passed away soon after.

While Brackett is credited as the screenwriter, in reality not much of her draft made it to the screen; Lucas took over writing after her death, churning out two full drafts in April, before handing over writing responsibilities to Raiders of the Lost Ark-scribe Lawrence Kasdan.

What’s interesting is that in between Brackett’s draft in February and Lucas’s in April, Darth Vader went from being merely an evil henchman to being Luke’s father.

It has long since been well established that Lucas initially never meant for Vader to have any significance beyond that of a simple villain who had dueled Luke’s real father and killed him, until of course that fateful April 1978 draft. Michael Kaminski’s The Secret History of Star Wars goes into great detail in establishing the chronology of the writing of the screenplays and the establishment of the ideas in them. This chronology makes it very clear that Vader was Vader and Anakin was Anakin, and not until that April draft, did the twain meet.

Now, it is of course very plausible that Lucas simply came up with the idea of Vader as Luke’s father in the shower, or one day on his way to work. But given that it’s our brief to consider influences and inspirations, let’s consider instead anthropology professor Conrad Kottak’s essay Star Wars: Social Science Fiction, originally printed in Psychology Today February 1978. That is, after Star Wars was released, and after Brackett’s draft, but before the idea of Vader as Luke’s father had been conceptualized in the second draft:

Similarly, Bruno Bettelheim notes that a common fairy tale device is to divide the child’s ambivalent feelings about a parent into two characters. By creating such binary oppositions, fairy tales permit children to maintain their image of a parent as basically good—by externalizing all his or her bad qualities in a separate figure of total evil.

In Star Wars, aspects of Luke’s father are represented as a good father who is dead (Luke’s real father), a good father who is alive, but ambiguously dead by the movie’s end (Ben Kenobi), and a father who is totally evil and survives, probably for Star Wars II (Darth Vader, whose very name bears the phonetic resemblance to “Dark Father”).[p52, 2]

Having nailed the ‘obvious’ next step in the saga, directly suggesting that Vader would go on to become Luke’s father, Kottak goes on to perform a hat trick and predicts the final film:

In Bettelheim’s analysis, male fairy tale heroes achieve independence by symbolically destroying and replacing their evil fathers.[p53, 2]

Whether Lucas was influenced by Bettelheim (or Bettelheim through Kottak), is nearly impossible to say. The timing lines up quite well, and Kottak’s application of Bettelheim’s thinking to Star Wars itself definitely makes it a plausibility. After all the essay is about not only fairy tales, but the use of fairy tales and myth in Star Wars and movies in general, something that certainly interested Lucas. And beyond that, in interviews Lucas often highlighted anthropology as one of his interests, so it’s not implausible that he came across Conrad Kottak’s essay because of it, or simply that someone sent it to him. Or, that he picked it up himself from Bettelheim’s book.

Regardless, it’s worth considering Bruno Bettelheim as the father of the dark father.

  1. Dale Pollock. Skywalking: The Life And Films Of George Lucas. Harmony Books, 1983.

  2. Star Wars: Social Science Fiction’ by Conrad Kottak, originally printed in ‘Psychology Today’, Feb, 1978 (pages 12–18) and reprinted in Anthropological Realities: Readings in the Science of Culture


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