When and how does Vader learn that Luke is his son?

  • During the Battle of Yavin, it's fairly clear that Vader does not know that Luke is his son. Or at least, he doesn't sense a familial connection (and he doesn't sense one with Leia either, despite being in the same room with her at least three times). The closest he gets with Luke is sensing his Force abilities during the Battle:

    VADER: The Force is strong with this one!

    But by the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, he is aware of Luke Skywalker and knows that he's a member of the Rebellion. When his probe discovers the Rebels on Hoth:

    OZZEL: My Lord, there are so many uncharted settlements. It could be smugglers, it could be—

    VADER: That is the system. And I'm sure Skywalker is with them. Set your course for the Hoth System. General Veers, prepare your men.

    (Emphasis mine.)

    And he isn't surprised when the Emperor later indicates that Luke is the son of Anakin:

    PALPATINE: The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

    (This is the line from the original 1980 version of this scene.)

    So when did Vader learn about Luke? Did the Emperor know that he had lived the entire time and kept it from Vader? Or did both Vader and Palpatine they both learn the truth sometime after the Battle of Yavin?

    This thread explains it pretty well. Looks like it happened in a novel between some of the movies.

    @Daft - Note that the books quoted (including rise and fall of Darth Vader) are no longer considered canon. They're now "legends".

    @Richard I didn't know things could become _non-canon_. Haha... I've been living a lie!

    Mysterious the force is, yes

    What's the Canonicity of the theatrical versions vs. the updates? Because the phone call with the Emperor changed pretty drastically between the two.

    @Plutor - The more recent version is the canon version. The older version is treated as a deleted scene.

    @Richard Which means that, in canon, Han Solo can dodge blaster shots fired from a few feet away.

    @KSmarts - Don't shoot the messenger. Admittedly in Greedo's case that's not even an option...

    @Richard - Don't worry, in the next release they will replace blasters with walkie talkies

    @Richard: If you can find Disney/Lucas support for that statement, "he learned it from the Emperor in the new version of that scene" would be a valid answer.

    I can’t believe this hasn’t been asked before. Great question.

    @DVK Did they really do that or was it just a joke in South Park?

    @Daft It was a real thing. Spielberg replaced the guns in ET with walkie talkies in the 20th anniversary re-release.

    Oh God, spoiler alerts please.

    Obi-Wan was a friggin' moron for not making his uncle give Luke a different last name. A least Leia had a different last name.

    @MarkAdler, or maybe he did, but his uncle didn't like it, 'cause he though Obi-Wan was a fool.

    The best explanation I've found is here.

    @Plutor - Now that we have a canon confirmation, I thought you might like to reconsider your acceptance. Omegacron's answer is excellent, but is only based on non-canon sources :-)

    Agreed. Disney's reboot of the EU canon is confusing.

    For anyone who wants the "canon" to be only the original theatrical releases of episodes IV, V, and VI, Imperial spies could certainly have gathered information about the Rebels, and Vader may have learned that those responsible for the destruction of the Death Star include someone named "Luke Skywalker". Going back to his feelings during the Battle of Yavin and the events of the fight with Obi-Wan, he could have easily put two and two together. With Obi-Wan gone, none of the Rebels would have known to think to keep Luke's name a secret.

    @MarkAdler But giving a boy a new last name would be an unethical tragedy when his last name is as awesome as "Skywalker".

  • Milo P

    Milo P Correct answer

    6 years ago

    In the new Disney/Marvel canon, in which all new comics, books, and games are considered to have the same level of canon as the movies, Vader has his first direct confrontation with Luke between Episodes IV and V, but doesn't know who he is. This is shown in Marvel's monthly comic series Star Wars. In Issue #2, after taking Luke's lightsaber, Vader takes a closer look at it and realizes it used to be his own.

    Marvel Star Wars (2015) #2

    enter image description here

    Vader is suspicious that Obi-Wan was hiding something, but he doesn't yet realize that Luke is his son (he doesn't learn his name in this scene). It doesn't rule out the possibility that Obi-Wan gave his old apprentice's lightsaber to some random guy he found and trained.

    But in Issue 6, Boba Fett learns the name of the young wannabe-Jedi that blew up the Death Star. He relays this information to Vader.

    enter image description here

    enter image description here

    Suffice to say, he's not pleased.

    enter image description here

    Later, in Issue 6 of Marvel's Darth Vader comic series, this scene is shown again and expanded upon. Vader makes the immediate connection to Padme and having been lied to by the Emperor about the exact circumstances of her death. He makes a hologram call to the Emperor similar to the one in TESB:

    The Emperor: Yes, Vader? Ah... I sense your anger. Great anger. Have you something to say? Some proud, defiant words? Or are you wise enough to know your place?

    (beat)

    Darth Vader: I am angry. You would not have me otherwise. My anger brought me to you. I want you to know--I will not fail. And I understand us precisely.

    It's worth noting that in the 2004 DVD and 2011 Blu-ray edits, considered to be the current state of canon, the conversation with the Emperor mentioned in the original question is altered:

    The Emperor: We have a new enemy. The young rebel who destroyed the Death Star. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.
    Darth Vader: How is that possible?
    The Emperor: Search your feelings, Lord Vader. You will know it to be true. He could destroy us.
    Darth Vader: He's just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.
    The Emperor: The Force is strong with him. The son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.

    It's strongly implied here that Vader and the Emperor had never discussed Luke up until this point. Vader's line "How is that possible?" could originally have meant anything from that he didn't know previously, to that he had guessed but didn't understand the particulars given that he'd thought he'd killed Padmé on the landing platform, to that he wanted to pretend that he hadn't known and was "playing along" the same way that the Emperor was referring to Anakin Skywalker as a third party, to that he knew the Emperor hadn't known and wanted to hide the fact that he, Vader, had known. This new information eliminates the first interpretation, but the exact meaning of Vader's "how is that possible" is still up to speculation as of issue 6 of the comic series.

    Hmm. Although he does clearly recognises the saber as his own, there's no indication in the issue that he worked out that Luke is his son or even that he was the pilot in question, merely that he had "underestimated him".

    @Richard The pilot part isn't necessarily a component of him figuring it out outside of Legends, but yeah, I edited to clarify a bit more that this is just all we have so far.

    @Richard That's fair, although that means the most technically accurate answer would be "it is unknown how he figured it out apart from what's in the 2004 edition of TESB".

    Just read the issue. Vader doesn't make the full connection just yet, but is suspicious of Obi-Wan hiding something. Upvoted for being helpful even if it's not a perfect answer just yet.

    I thought in the new canon, only comics/shows/etc published after the reboot (~April 2014) were considered canon. Previous non-film material was downgraded to "Legends".

    I haven't read the new series yet so I don't know the full story context, but I'm pretty sure that so far they haven't given exact dates to any of the new comics, other than that the series takes place after *Heir to the Jedi*, which itself takes place "shortly after" ANH. I got the images from this free preview of the issue: http://www.starwars.com/news/star-wars-2-first-look

    @Richard Thanks for the edit!

    Concerning the meaning of "how is that possible" in light of #6, I see two possibilities: Either Vader managed to keep _his_ knowledge of Luke's identity a secret from Sidious and thus feigned ignorance (or managed to stop his "how did _you_ figure that out?" from admitting to it); or it's what he clarifies in his next sentence "he's just a boy" - how could "just a boy"-Luke manage to blow up an entire Death Star? Ok, or third, after the new trilogy we'll see yet another re-canonization of the original trilogy...

    The new canon actually cleans this plot up nicely. Vader is lied to about Padme, serves the Emperor as a broken man. Then, he learns the Emperor lied, and he has a son. So, he is angry about it, and begins to plot to overthrow the Emperor, by converting his son to his side (which we see in ESB). So he doesn't tell the Emperor yet because he's trying to play it cool, until the Emperor calls him on it ("hey look it's a Skywalker") and even then tries to play it off ("he's just a boy, no big deal") but to keep his plan he has to spin it ("hey better yet, let's turn him to the dark side!").

  • Legends Canon

    In the original "Legends" EU, Vader first learned of his relationship with Luke in the weeks following the Battle of Yavin. This takes place in the 4-issue comic miniseries "Vader's Quest", published in 1999 by Dark Horse.

    During the story, Vader is attempting to learn more about the pilot who destroyed the Death Star. Rebel pilot Thurlow Harris has returned to his home planet Centares to spread word about the Death Star's destruction, but is captured by Imperial forces and interrogated. Before dying, he gives up the last name of Skywalker as the pilot, right before Vader arrives.

    enter image description here

    When Vader later hears a recording of the interrogation, he puts two-and-two together and realizes that the pilot must be his son. He then becomes obsessed with finding Luke and capturing him alive - to such a degree that he originally attempts to hide the name from the Emperor, killing everyone involved who has heard the name "Skywalker". Unbeknownst to him, however, someone has already escaped and told the Emperor everything - a fact which the Emperor conceals for the time-being to test Vader's loyalty.

    Chronologically, Vader only later learns Luke's first name in the Marvel story "Dark Lord's Gambit" (issue 35). In real time, however, that issue was released in 1980, nearly twenty years before "Vader's Quest" was published.


    Disney Canon

    In the new Disney canon, Vader hires Boba Fett to track down the pilot that destroyed the Death Star. Fett goes to Tattooine and begins interrogating people around Mos Eisley, eventually getting the information from a moisture farmer. After facing Luke himself in a brief skirmish, Fett relays this information to Vader.

    enter image description here

    While I had never read the comics, I was thinking, "Hmmm ... Anakin *Skywalker* ... Luke *Skywalker* ... I wonder if there is some connection there?" I didn't know how Vader had learned of Luke's identity (which this answers), so this answers a lot. Great answer, btw :D

    In addition to appearing in the comics, this is also the most logical answer. The chances of the identity of the person who destroyed the Death Star remaining secret are pretty slim; the Empire was bound to get it from somebody or another and probably would have been actively seeking any information about the Rebel group responsible. Kudos to the comics for doing something logical.

    Sorry for the unacceptance. This is interesting now-Legends details, but the other answer has the just-published Canon answer.

  • (Note: I pilfered the following from my answer to this earlier question)

    Assuming that there were cameras and microphones in the Death Star's detention center, and that Vader was smart enough to check them after Leia escaped, he would have gotten all the information he needed from Luke's introduction:

    [Luke, dressed as a storm trooper, opens the door to Leia's detention cell.]

    Princess Leia Organa: Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?

    Luke Skywalker: Huh? Oh, the uniform. [removes his helmet] I'm Luke Skywalker. I'm here to rescue you!

    Princess Leia Organa: You're who?

    Luke Skywalker: I'm here to rescue you! Look, I've got your R2-unit and I'm here with Ben Kenobi!

    Princess Leia Organa: Ben Kenobi? He's here!?

    Note: Even if there were no recordings from the detention center, there were presumably wireless communications scanners, which would have recorded Luke's chatter with C-3PO, as well as a recording from the hangar control room where Luke, Han, Obi Wan, Chewbacca, R2, and 3PO went after getting off the Falcon:

    Ben: I don’t think you boys can help. I must go alone.

    Han: Whatever you say. I’ve done more than I bargained for on this trip already.

    Luke: I want to go with you.

    Ben: Be patient, Luke. Stay and watch over the droids.

    Obviously, Vader already knew that Obi Wan had been there (because he killed him), and he would have been able to piece together the rest of the story pretty quickly.

    • A few days before the Millennium Falcon showed up, it had blasted its way through a blockade on Tatooine, at the Mos Eisley spaceport.

    • Just before that happened, an old man in a robe had lopped off someone's arm with a lightsaber in the Mos Eisley Cantina.

    • The old man was with a blond kid who matched the description of the "Luke" who had helped Leia escape the Death Star.

    • Days prior to this, the droids with the stolen Death Star plans had jettisoned from the consular ship and landed on Tatooine, and chances are, Mos Eisley was the nearest spaceport to the site where the droids had landed.

    • All of this happened not far from the house where Vader's stepfather, (and later, Vader's stepbrother) lived.

    • The stepbrother and his wife were dead, and Imperial stormtroopers had killed them while searching for the missing droids.

    • This was the Skywalker family, and obviously, the boy named "Luke" had been living with them.

    • It stands to reason, then, that the blond kid's full name was "Luke Skywalker".1

    Everything Vader needed to know, virtually presented on a silver platter:

    Droids with the Death Star plans disappear and land on Tatooine; they are sold to Vader's own stepfamily; Vader's stepbrother and his wife were killed by Vader's troops, but their ward/nephew/adopted son (essentially) was missing; just after Vader's stepfamily is killed, a boy matching the description of the missing nephew shows up at the spaceport with a Jedi; the boy shows up on the Death Star with the Jedi, who happens to be Obi-Wan; Vader may or may not have had access to recordings of the boy introducing himself as "Luke Skywalker"; even if there are no recordings of him saying "I'm Luke Skywalker", there are plenty of recordings (and ear-witness accounts) of the rescue party's radio chatter, in which the boy is repeatedly referred to as "Luke"; days later, the ship that carried Luke and Obi-Wan to the Death Star (and carried the rescue party, droids, and Leia away) shows up and saves the rebel pilot who managed to destroy the Death Star; Vader had engaged this rebel pilot personally, and had noticed that "the Force is strong with [him]".

    We don't know how efficient the empire was regarding birth records, identification papers, censuses, etc, but if they put even the slightest amount of effort into such documentation, Vader would have had access to conclusive proof that his stepbrother had been raising a boy named Luke, and that this boy had no known birth certificate. He may or may not have had information regarding a certain "Ben Kenobi" living nearby.


    As to when this happened, I would think that the first thing Vader did after the Falcon escaped (and after the people Vader chose as scapegoats had been Force strangled) was to find out how the Princess had gotten away. This probably happened within hours at the most. It probably would have taken another day or two for Vader to hear about what had happened on Tatooine. Once all of this information was available to Vader, it probably wouldn't have taken more than a few moments for him to piece everything together and come to the crucial conclusion:

    "A boy, about the age my child would be now (if my child had been born), was living with my stepbrother and his wife on my former home planet (and I probably know that this boy's name was Luke); I have no evidence that my child was ever born, but I also have no evidence, apart from the Emperor's highly dubious word, that my child wasn't born; the boy on the Death Star was named Luke; the boy on the Death Star arrived aboard a ship that had recently left the spaceport closest to my stepbrother's house, after some sort of Jedi-related trouble in the local bar; my old mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi had a strong interest in this "Luke" kid; and I may or may not have heard a recording of this kid actually saying "I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you, I came with Ben Kenobi"."

    Fast forward a couple of days, and the evidence, already very compelling, becomes too clear to question:

    "The pilot of the ship that brought the kid and Obi-Wan to the Death Star appeared during the attack on the Death Star, and rescued a fighter pilot who was gifted with the Force; the pilot of the other ship referred to the fighter pilot as "kid", so the fighter pilot is young; the fighter pilot had an R2-D2 unit that not only matches the description of the one we had been looking for, but is actually the exact same R2-D2 unit that I spent most of my childhood with."

    With all of this information, Vader must have caught on to what was happening:

    "Clearly, this fighter pilot is the Luke who saved Leia, and this Luke is clearly the kid who was being raised by my stepbrother, and they were clearly raising him because he was actually my son, and Obi-Wan had clearly been living on Tatooine so that he could protect Luke from me."



    1 We know that Luke and Leia's names were chosen by Padmé, but we don't know why she chose these particular names; however, it is at least possible that Anakin and Padmé had discussed what they would name their child (they didn't know Padmé was carrying twins), and if such a conversation took place, it seems likely that Padmé would have said "Luke for a boy, Leia for a girl". This theory runs into trouble, however, when we recognize that Vader doesn't seem to consider the possibility that Leia is his daughter until he reads Luke's thoughts in RotJ.

    Even before Padmé found out that she was pregnant, she may have told Anakin that she liked the name Luke. If we speculate a bit more, we might imagine that Padmé knew someone named Luke, and this person inspired her to give the name to her son. If this was the case, it isn't difficult to conceive of Padmé having mentioned this earlier Luke - for example, she might have mentioned that her favorite uncle was named Luke, and he used to bring her candy whenever he visited, or whatever the case may have been.

    So it isn't hard to imagine that Vader might have known that Padmé liked the name Luke, and it is at least possible that Anakin and Padmé had explicitly discussed naming their child Luke, but this is purely deductive and speculative reasoning.

    Any one of these speculative scenarios might have helped Vader connect the dots between Luke and himself, but even if Padmé never mentioned the name Luke, Vader still would have had everything he needed to figure it out on his own.

    Why did this not have upvotes?

    This answer.. absolutely well-written and cleared all my doubts. +1

    Good reasoning, but an average Imperial soldier would not report all names he has heard on Tattoine. We see the whole picture from the movie POV, however, from the Imperial commander POV, Tattoine is a rat hole among billion other places like that. Finding out that someone has slashed off someone's arm in a bar fight is nothing, at the same time a guy was killed there. To sum up, it is unlikely that all these facts (that we observe from the camera POV) would be presented to Vader to make such a conclusion.

    @TimSparrow - You're thinking of employees who don't routinely see their officers choked to death.

  • In the Star Wars junior novelisation for Empire Strikes Back, it's the Emperor who tells Vader about the existence of his son

    The Emperor continued, “We have a new enemy. The young Rebel who destroyed the Death Star. I have no doubt this boy is the offspring of Anakin Skywalker.”

    “How is that possible?” Darth Vader managed to ask through his shock. Could it be … true?

    Note that this directly conflicts with the main novelisation where Vader apparently already knows of the existence of Luke:

    The Emperor emphasized the danger as he continued. “Our situation is most precarious. We have a new enemy who could bring about our destruction.”
    “Our destruction? Who?”
    “The son of Skywalker. You must destroy him, or he will be our undoing.”
    Skywalker!
    The thought was impossible. How could the Emperor be concerned with this insignificant youth?

    The new webcomic we were discussing yesterday implies that Vader knew about Luke and might come for him at some point in the future, or at least that Owen and Beru were worried that this might happen.

    @WadCheber - Given that Vader immediately spots the potential for "turning" Luke, it seems unlikely that Vader knew for long.

    I never got the impression that he knew about Luke prior to the moment when it was revealed in the original trilogy.

    @WadCheber - The new comics indicate that it was much sooner. He also fought him between ANH and ESB

    I know, I'm just saying what I thought from seeing the original trilogy. Later developments contradict my impression.

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