The Hollywood Reporter ranks this immortal line from The Empire Strikes Back as the 11th most iconic film quote in history. Arguably, it should make the top 10, but the arguments don’t stop there. Since the stunning success of A New Hope (then called Star Wars) in 1977, people turned out in droves to see the 1980 sequel. Like The Godfather: Part 2, this is a rare sequel deemed better than the original, but its success and the amount of people who saw it created a strangely organic reinterpretation of the line in the minds of cinemagoers.
It’s agreed that during a fight in Cloud City, just before Darth Vader separates Luke Skywalker’s hand from his body with a lightsaber, Vader does say “I am your father”, but because of how many times the line has been quoted and requoted over the years, there’s some confusion about what word comes first. Many believe that the full line is, “Luke, I am your father.” It’s not. It’s “No, I am your father.”
As Urban Dictionary notes:
It is the pivotal plot twist in the movie and is usually misquoted in a feigned Darth Vader voice as “Luke, I am your father,” whenever someone named Luke introduces himself to a Star Wars fan. Star Wars purists maintain the full quote is actually “No, I am your father.”
Much like the “I see dead people” line in The Sixth Sense, which foreshadows that film’s twist, this phrase has persisted so long because of its attachment to the shocking revelation that the film’s villain is the film’s hero’s father. No one saw that coming. Not even George Lucas, who came up with the twist after A New Hope, in which Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke that Darth Vader killed his father.
“All this energy and all this storytelling that proceeded it was aimed at this tiny spot,” screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan told EW. In the same article, he recounts how he felt learning the twist (before explaining that even the cast were kept in the dark): “[George Lucas] said, ‘You know, Darth Vader is Luke’s father,’ and [Kasdan] said, ‘No s—?’ I was shocked and amazed.”
That amazement turned to pop cultural enshrinement. The line has been spoofed endlessly, from Austin Powers, Family Guy, Futurama to Toy Story 2, Space Balls, My Name is Earl, The Office, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons... the list is almost endless.
Amateur YouTubers and internet meme-makers have also adapted the scene and its iconic line. Because Darth Vader’s face appears motionless under his helmet, it’s ripe for dubbing other sounds and dialogue into the scene.
One of our favourites marries the infamous “Noooo!”, screamed when Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader in the prequel trilogy’s Revenge of the Sith, with Mark Hamill’s infamous “Noooo!” upon learning Darth Vader is his family.
This video bridges the gap between the past and present of the franchise in a humorous way that plays on fan engagement through generations and raises questions about the character’s development in prequels largely seen as unnecessary. These types of videos help us critically evaluate the film’s place in pop culture and cinema history, while expressing our own creativity.
In other instances of Internet culture, the scene has been recreated as LEGO brickfilms.
Reaction videos of children learning the twist for the first time also demonstrate the power of the line to still surprise and delight people, over 40 years after it first blazed through cinema screens. The first clip from the compilation, from YouTuber bashthemonkey has been seen over 4.7 million times since being uploaded in October 2011, so despite the first word of the line often being misquoted, no one's forgetting what comes next.
– Matt Millikan