Star Wars fervor is at an all-time high thanks to the impending release of J.J. Abrams’ reinterpretation of a world conjured up by George Lucas that completely revolutionized the cinema experience. While it remains to be seen if Star Wars: The Force Awakens threatens to dethrone Avatar as the highest-grossing film ever – with $2.7 billion dollars generated at the worldwide box office – many fans are just hoping to regain the story momentum that seemed to be lost during Lucas’ subsequent prequel trilogy of the early 2000s.
Aside from Star Wars being a rip-roaring adventure story with an emotional center, it also has undoubtebly one of the biggest and most surprising reveals in film history – positioned atop a list of shocking moments in films like The Sixth Sense, Planet of the Apes, Seven, Old Boy and Psycho.
When Luke Skywalker confronts Darth Vader and ultimately learns that the man he has been trying to vanquish is indeed his own father, it provided a scene that was both utterly shocking as well as deeply satisfying. Although no one saw it coming, Lucas had been masterful in laying the groundwork so that it hit with impact rather than a misdirected thud.
In today’s era of social media and camera phones, it’s becoming harder and harder to pull one over on the audience. Hell, “spoiler alerts” register today like placed landlines that can ruin friendships and end marriages.
Even though George Lucas, director Irwin Kershner and producers didn’t have the same technology issues to consider today, they had ample measures in place to ensure that the secret didn’t get out. And here’s how they did it:
Whether he knew it or not, the best thing Irwin Kershner had going for himself when it came to misdirecting cast and crew who may have been keen on sharing insiders information with friends and family is that there was a famous disconnect between the man inside the Darth Vader costume, and the man who would ultimately “play/voice” him in the film. While David Prowse is officially credited as Darth Vader, James Earl Jones used his iconic baritone to give the antagonist a legendary growl.
When it came time to shoot the pivotal scene, Kershner simply had David Prowse tell Luke Skywalker that Obi-Wan Kenobi had killed his father – always knowing that he had the ability to use James Earl Jones’ overdub to change the content of the showdown.
“It’s such a great moment,” Mark Hamill said in a 2004 interview. “The fake line that was put in there just to try and keep the secret was ‘You don’t know the truth: Obi-Wan killed your father!’ But as much as I enjoyed leaking false information, it was a wonderfully hard secret to keep because (Irvin) Kershner, the director, brought me aside and said ‘Now I know this, and George knows this, and now you’re going to know this, but if you tell anybody, and that means Carrie or Harrison, or anybody, we’re going to know who it is because we know who knows.'”
Despite the intended misdirection, Kershner also needed to get a performance out of Mark Hamill that would match with the true reveal. Thus, he told him the fateful news right before cameras started rolling – making him the only actor to know the truth about Luke Skywalker’s lineage.
As the saying goes, “everything comes full-circle.” Many speculate that Hamill’s omission from all of the preliminary Star Wars: The Force Awakens material/trailer suggests that he may be poised to follow in his father’s footsteps. Producers have gone as far as force the actor to sign an NDA with a financial incentive attached that stipulates if the huge reveal J.J. Abrams has planned for fans doesn’t leak, Hamill will receive a sum of money for maintaining his silence.
“I’m good about keeping secrets,” Hamill said.
Read spoiler-free first reviews of the seventh film here.