Star Wars’ Terrifying Tales: The Empire Strikes Back and its horrifying path to the ultimate truth

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader (David Prowse) fight in battle in STAR WARS -- EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). Photo courtesy of Star
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Darth Vader (David Prowse) fight in battle in STAR WARS -- EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). Photo courtesy of Star /

This Halloween on Dork Side of the Force, we’re taking a look back at some of Star Wars’ scariest moments, be it the movies, books, TV shows, and everything in between. May the Terrifying Tales be with you!

The Empire Strikes Back has an amazing fight sequence between Luke and Darth Vader that has a serious horror-like vibe to it. The entire fight from start to finish gives us a feeling like we’ve stepped into the terrifying genre where escape isn’t possible and the hero dies in the end. What more could you ask for when rewatching a Star Wars classic?

As we watch Luke appear from below in an automatic lift, it instantly closes behind him leaving viewers with the “uh oh” feeling. The entire end sequence plays out that way as Luke, a severely untrained Jedi, has to match wits against Darth Vader with a lightsaber. We all know that Luke loses a hand in this epic battle, but each and every step along the way leans on tense, thrilling moments that define it more like a horrifying space-horror such as films like Alien or Aliens.

Luke takes a lift and then it closes behind him. We hear Vader’s voice before actually seeing him. There are fight sequences that begin before both characters are on screen. It’s incredible filmmaking, led by director Irvin Kershner, and the payout gives us exciting sequences that make you hold your breath, while also feeling goosebumps from the tension (or maybe that’s just me).

The in-between moments of Luke and Vader’s fight in The Empire Strikes Back are equally compelling

As with any horror movie, there is usually some point at the beginning where the “bad guy” kills off a character we may or may not know to be a main character. Similarly, Vader shows some of that same dominance and there’s that opening sequence vibe you get from horror films where you wonder, “Does Luke make it out of here?” It’s amazing to be presented with such an overwhelming sense of dread, especially since this is one of the final scenes in The Empire Strikes Back.

That’s the power of this fight sequence, because the direction it takes leaves us wondering how in the world a movie could ever end this way – if it’s not a horror movie. Yes, we hear Darth Vader before we see him, and that alone is impactful to the senses, but knowing that Luke sees Vader before we do heightens the anxiety level as it all unfolds. There’s also this uncanny sense of wonder as Luke climbs those stairs, where it just seems impossible to imagine anything other than Vader handing Luke a major defeat or ending his life.

Even when Luke gets the upper hand, knocking Vader off a ledge, you suddenly realize that Luke is alone. Despite having a positive moment where you wonder if Vader is hurt, he’s disappeared and that is the ultimate sign of a horror villain. Luke has to go searching for him, which includes going through a creepy cylindrical hallway and another entryway is closed behind him. At this point in a horror movie people are screaming, “Turn around” or “Run for your life!” Yes, The Empire Strikes Back isn’t that type of movie, because the hero has to fight the villain, but it absolutely has that same kind of tension.

Once again, you hear Vader’s breathing, and you see Luke turn his head towards something that’s caught his eye. When he turns completely and then ignites his lightsaber, then we see the terrifying truth behind what Luke sees. Darth Vader approaches and pummels him in a way that shows us truly how great he is, and how unprepared Luke is at this point. Vader uses the Force to hurl things at Luke until he ultimately gets sucked out of the room once a window is broken. Despite this dramatic fall, Luke finds himself holding on for dear life, pulling himself up, and again searching for Vader.

In possibly one of the greatest sequences of The Empire Strikes Back, if not all of Star Wars, Luke finds himself walking down another hallway. The achievement of this startling moment is when Luke gets closer to the end of this hallway and a few things happen almost simultaneously. We hear Vader’s breath, Luke sees him before we do (again) and he ducks away as you hear the lightsaber ignite. It happens so suddenly and to this day, it still leaves me in a startled state.

The ensuing battle leads us to that horrible end we all remember, with Luke landing a glancing blow before Vader slices off his hand. The directorial approach in the moments leading up to the final lightsaber strike is epic and scary. The iconic phrase, “I am your father,” is uttered shortly thereafter and the astonishing revelation is horrifying for Luke and for fans watching it. Not only did Mark Hamill have to keep this secret for over a year, but the knowledge of this truth has its own shock value that has led to the name of “Skywalker” becoming the influential force in all of Star Wars.

From the prequel films to the animated series, fans have watched a Skywalker battle for good or evil for years and years. The origin behind the Skywalker name began when a father fought his son and nearly left fans with the terrifying reality that Luke was defeated and dead. The realization that Vader is Luke’s father is horrible, but the path leading up to that truth is incredibly chilling even to this day.

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