Darth Vader Is Somehow Not the Worst Star Wars Parent
The faraway galaxy is full of awful parents. But Anakin Skywalker may not be the worst one.
Luke, I am your father! We all grew up watching Star Wars movies, and, to varying degrees, probably did often feel like our actual fathers were Darth Vader. Unquestionably, one of the reasons that the classic Star Wars trilogy became so deeply embedded into the culture is because many people have daddy issues. Had the first film in 1977 been the entire artistic statement, it’s possible that the deeper psychological analyses of Star Wars wouldn’t have become so commonplace. In other words, the reason why Star Wars seems important, rather than just fun, is because the greatest movie villain of all time, Darth Vader, is also the father of the heroes, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. George Lucas didn’t invent the idea of an evil fairytale parent, but, he certainly perfected it.
And yet, is Darth Vader actually the worst parent in the entirety of Star Wars? Because he killed countless Jedi and worked for the Empire as an outer space fascist, it’s easy to think Vader is the worst parent in Star Wars. But is he?
If we look at the entirety of the Star Wars story, Darth Vader actually, by default is not the worst parent in Star Wars for one simple reason: He was unaware of Luke and Leia’s existence, for the vast majority of the time after they were born. Luke and Leia are supposed to be around 19 years old in A New Hope. As far as we know right now, Vader figured out that Luke was his son around that time, but didn’t figure out Leia was his daughter until four years after that. So, that’s 19 years of not knowing about Luke and 23 years of not knowing about Leia.
Furthermore, Vader not knowing he had children isn’t because he’s a deadbeat. He was actively lied to by his boss, Emperor Palpatine, who told him that his pregnant wife died in childbirth. Now, it’s arguable, that Anakin’s Dark Side of the Force rage did, indirectly cause Padmé Amida to die, but the point still stands. Vader was never given the opportunity to parent Luke or Leia because he was gaslit by Palpatine into thinking he didn’t have kids. Many fans and writers have imagined what Vader would have been like had he been given the chance to be an actual dad to Luke and Leia. Most notably, Jeffrey Brown’s books Darth Vader and Son and Vader’s Little Princess, spin a sort of FoxTrot-meets Calvin and Hobbes vibe around a hilarious and much kinder world in which Vader does day-to-day dad stuff.
In fact, as soon as Darth Vader learns that he does have a kid, he is set on a path immediately to becoming a better person. The entire story of Vader from The Empire Strikes Back through Return of the Jedi is him turning back toward the light because of his kids. Considering he was “evil” for like 19 years, and then suddenly became “good” in like 4 years, that’s pretty fast. Granted, the binary “good” and “bad” lessons from Star Wars aren’t super applicable in real life, and nor should they be. In reality, it would be hard for anyone to forgive a parent like Darth Vader. And, in a sense, in Return of the Jedi, Leia doesn’t. When Luke tells her that she’s his sister, and Vader is his (and their) father, she’s clearly creeped out. Luke’s aspirational ability to forgive Darth Vader is kind of unrealistic, while Leia’s disgust at the idea is more relatable. Basically, Star Wars gets to have the whole notion of “forgiving” Darth Vader both ways.
Still, Darth Vader’s actual parenting skills are somewhat unknowable, because he was prevented from doing any parenting by his abuser, Palpatine. And, if you’re looking for who is the actual worst parent in Star Wars, all you have to do is look under that Sith hood. In The Rise of Skywalker, we learned that Palpatine was Rey’s grandfather, but that also meant he had had a son, too. In that same film, we learned that Palpatine’s son tried to get away from him, and Palpatine had his son murdered. This is clearly worse than any forced absenteeism from Darth Vader! If you’re looking for the worst parent in Star Wars, you can kind of stop at Palpatine.
That said, what about parents who we actually see doing some parenting in Star Wars? Disturbingly, there are not very many. Jyn Erso’s mom in Lyra, in Rogue One, seemed nice. But, let’s not forget that Jyn Erso’s dad built the Death Star! Still, Galen and Lyra are pretty good parents and seemed to instill good values in Jyn. So, they’re not the worst. The Mandalorian is obviously a decent parent, but he was a reluctant one. And, he did randomly give Baby Yoda up for adoption for a hot second, mostly because things got too hard. In Star Wars, even when parents are good and present, sometimes they’re still kind of bad at being parents.
The strangest example of this is Boba Fett’s dad, Jango Fett. Yes, The Book of Boba Fett has encouraged us to think of Boba as a kind of lost child, whose dad was killed by the Jedi right in front of him. Presumably, had Jango not been killed, he could have raised Boba to become….wait a minute…a hired assassin? Unlike Mando, Jango Fett was way more ruthless and knowingly aligned himself with corrupt politicians and straight-up warlords. He also seemed to encourage his son to be happy about blowing people up. (Witness young Boba Fett’s creepy laugh when they try to blast Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones.) Further, Jango created Boba as an identical clone of himself which is kind of representative of the worst parenting impulses, the desire for our kids to be little copies of ourselves because our egos are too fragile to let them be their own people. And, within the story of Star Wars, Boba Fett is effectively just that; a version of Jango, who, eventually, gets a little nicer. Was Boba’s change of heart connected to the way his father raised him? Based on what we see in Attack of the Clones, the answer is almost certainly no. Like so many children in Star Wars, Boba Fett had to raise himself.
The Star Wars galaxy will always be delightful for children to watch and play in. But if you were an actual child in the Star Wars galaxy, your life would be awful. And the reason is simple: If the worst parent in the galaxy somehow isn’t Darth Vader, then kids are going to have a hard time finding good role models.
The new Star Wars series, Obi-Wan Kenobi, his Disney+ on May 27, and, maybe, just maybe, will present Luke’s Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen as kind, and present parents. Help us Owen and Beru! You’re our only hope!