- "The Force is with you, young Skywalker… but you are not a Jedi yet."
- ―Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker
The Duel on Cloud City was a lightsaber duel that took place between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, during the Galactic Civil War. The inexperienced Skywalker was ultimately outmatched against Lord Vader and was defeated, losing his hand in the process. At the end of the battle, Vader revealed to Skywalker that he was, in fact, Luke's own father—Anakin Skywalker.
- "I've got to go to them."
"Decide, you must, how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them, you could, but… you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered."
- ―Luke Skywalker and Yoda
The Alliance to Restore the Republic had just recently been defeated during the disastrous Battle of Hoth. Though the Rebels had managed to stave off total destruction, the conflict had seen the Alliance's primary military base destroyed and their surviving forces scattered. As the Imperial assault had neared completion, Han Solo, Leia Organa, Chewbacca, and C-3PO had just barely managed to escape off-world in Solo's personal vessel, the Millennium Falcon. However, the Falcon had been undergoing extensive repairs before the battle, and, unbeknownst to its crew, its hyperdrive motivator was damaged to the point of being completely non-functional.
Darth Vader, who had led the Imperial assault, had arrived in Echo Base's main hangar just in time to see the Falcon depart. Vader had been attempting for months to track down and capture Luke Skywalker in order to turn the boy into his apprentice. Recognizing Solo's ship, and realizing who was aboard it, Vader concocted a plan to lure Skywalker to him by capturing and torturing his friends. He hoped that the suffering of Skywalker's friends would be felt by him through the Force, and that the boy would come to aid them. To that end, he sent elements of his personal fleet, Death Squadron, to capture the Falcon. Solo was successful in evading his pursuers, but he soon came to realize that the damage to the Falcon's hyperdrive was so extensive that it could not be repaired outside of drydock. Unable to rendezvous with the Rebel fleet, Solo attempted to seek refuge at the planet Bespin. An old friend of Solo's, Lando Calrissian, was the Baron Administrator to Bespin's largest settlement, Cloud City, and Solo believed Calrissian could help him repair the Falcon. However, the bounty hunter Boba Fett informed Darth Vader of Solo's destination, and, with the advantage of functioning hyperdrives, an Imperial fleet under the Dark Lord's command arrived at Bespin before Solo's group. Vader journeyed to Cloud City and informed Calrissian of his plan to use Solo and his entourage to capture Skywalker. In return for his cooperation, Vader promised Calrissian that after Skywalker's capture, the Empire would leave Cloud City to its own affairs. With the threat of Imperial occupation looming over his head, Calrissian complied. With Calrissian's cooperation, Vader captured Solo and his companions shortly after they landed. He then began torturing the Rebels in accordance with his original plot. The plan was successful; Skywalker sensed his friends' anguish, and prepared to go to Bespin to save them. In doing so, he disregarded the advice and pleas of both Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the latter of whom informed Skywalker that his friends' suffering was almost certainly part of a trap.
Luke approached the Cloud City in his X-wing starfighter, unaware that the Imperial forces occupying the city had been tracking his progress since arriving at Bespin. He landed his craft without incident, and proceeded cautiously into the city. As he and R2-D2 began to search for his friends, he encountered Boba Fett and a group of Imperials who were transporting Solo's carbonite-encased body to Fett's ship. Skywalker, hoping not to reveal his presence, quietly stalked the group for a short time until they disappeared from sight. As Skywalker prepared to continue through the city, Fett suddenly reappeared and opened fire on Skywalker, who ducked around a corner to avoid the shots. After firing a few deterring blaster bolts, Fett disengaged from his target. Skywalker, not knowing what Fett's cargo had been, made no attempt to follow him. Shortly thereafter, he encountered Organa and Chewbacca, who were being escorted to Vader's flagship as prisoners. The stormtroopers with the pair began shooting at Skywalker, who again took cover. Organa saw him and, aware of Vader's trap, desperately tried to break free of the grip of Imperial Lieutenant Sheckil in an attempt to warn Skywalker. As the group of Imperials with Organa broke off the fight, Luke attempted to follow them. Just as he passed through the door where Organa had disappeared, it slammed shut behind him, cutting him off from R2-D2.
Making his way through the catwalks and elevators of the Cloud City Core, he eventually reached the darkened Carbon-Freezing Chamber. Suddenly, the chamber became illuminated, revealing Darth Vader, standing atop a flight of steps to the walkway above. Vader taunted Skywalker, claiming that, while the Force was with him, the boy was no Jedi. Striding up to the Sith Lord, Skywalker ignited his lightsaber. Vader responded by calmly activating his own weapon, and the battle began.
- "You have learned much, young one."
"You'll find I'm full of surprises!"
- ―Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker
Skywalker attacked first, initiating two brief, unsuccessful strikes at Vader's torso before regrouping. He then attempted to use an overhand power attack to overwhelm Vader, but the Sith Lord blocked the attack, maintaining a one-handed, Makashi-like grip on his weapon. Skywalker's attack resulted in a blade-lock which Vader broke by casually throwing Skywalker to the floor, but Skywalker quickly recovered and advanced. Luke then engaged in an aggressive series of attacks and managed to drive Vader back, surprising the Sith Lord. However, Vader soon counter-attacked, forcing Luke back to the head of the stairs. During a subsequent lull in the fight, Vader complimented Skywalker on his increased dueling proficiency, an assessment which Skywalker arrogantly agreed with. Before he had even finished speaking, Skywalker struck at Vader again, but Vader deprived him of his lightsaber with a quick flourish.
Vader then lazily slashed at Skywalker, hoping to herd him towards the carbon freezing pit on the floor below. Skywalker dove out of the way of the attack and rolled down the stairs to the chamber's main platform. Vader leaped after him, backing Skywalker up to the edge of the freezing pit. As the pit was closed and Skywalker's attention was focused on his opponent, the young Jedi did not perceive Vader's trap. Vader claimed that Skywalker's destiny lay with him, and that Obi-Wan had known that to be the case. As Skywalker denied this, Vader, blade extended in front of him, continued to force Skywalker towards the now-open freezing pit and Luke, not realizing that the pit was behind him, continued to retreat. As such, when Vader performed another casual swing of his weapon, Skywalker backed right over the lip of the freezing pit and fell into it. As Vader activated the chamber with the Force, he failed to notice that Skywalker had leaped upwards before the freezing process could begin, and was clinging to the gas pipes above the pit. Vader approached the pit, musing in disappointment about how easily Skywalker had been defeated, when he suddenly heard a metallic crash from above and noticed Skywalker trying to climb up the pipes and hoses above the pit.
Complimenting Skywalker's agility, Vader bisected one of the hoses with his weapon in an attempt to dislodge his son. This action triggered warning alarms that started blaring throughout the chamber. As the Sith Lord closed in on his opponent, Skywalker then jumped down, grabbed the severed hose, and used it to spray Tibanna gas into Vader's masked face. With the Sith Lord momentarily stunned, Skywalker recovered his lightsaber and slashed at Vader, only for the Sith Lord to block his blow. As the pair's blades locked, Vader taunted Skywalker, complimenting him on his ability to control his fear, but advising him that releasing his anger and hatred was the only path to victory.
Vader promptly broke the blade-lock and attacked but Skywalker managed to fend him off, leaping over an attack at his legs and flipping above Vader. Landing behind the Sith Lord, Skywalker unleashed his own offense and drove Vader back towards the edge of the platform before kicking the Sith Lord in the abdomen. Unable to effectively counter against this assault, Vader lost his balance on the edge of the platform and toppled off the side. Appearing to have gained the advantage, Skywalker jumped down and followed, searching for Vader.
Skywalker advanced down the Core Tunnel and into the facility's processing vane, where Vader reemerged from the shadows. The Sith Lord calmly raised his lightsaber, and stood his ground, as Skywalker haltingly advanced.
As Skywalker and Vader faced off, Vader used the Force to rip a column of pipes off of a wall behind Skywalker and hurl it at him. Skywalker whipped around and, as he cut the fixture apart, Vader quickly lunged, engaging the youth in a brief bout of swordplay. As the two of them blade-locked, Vader telekinetically threw a metal box at his son, which smashed into the back of Skywalker's head and broke the blade-lock. Vader then pulled away and began telekinetically pummeling Luke with various objects in the room, employing the Sith Dun Möch tactic to erode Skywalker's morale.
As Skywalker tried valiantly but ultimately failed to hold off the onslaught of Force-propelled equipment, a misguided piece of piping smashed through the observation port behind him, which caused gale-force winds from the air shaft outside to fill the chamber. Vader hugged a nearby wall for safety, while Skywalker was sucked out into the air shaft. As the winds subsided, Vader went to the shattered observation port and saw that Skywalker had managed to cling onto a catwalk along the exterior of the vane, several floors below.
Skywalker managed to climb up onto the catwalk, and once again began looking for Vader. Eventually, he entered a small corridor where he was suddenly ambushed by the Dark Lord. So far, Vader had held back, only testing Skywalker's abilities, but now the time had come to make him embrace the dark side. In a brutal demonstration of his personal variant of Djem So, Vader began hacking at Skywalker with a series of heavy overhand power blows. Skywalker, overwhelmed by Vader's strength, was forced onto the defensive and driven back along the corridor. Engaging Skywalker in a blade-lock, Vader threw him against a wall and pressed his attack. Skywalker managed to recover in time to dodge Vader's slash, which struck the wall where he had been seconds before and caused an eruption of sparks. After avoiding another such attack, Skywalker attempted to escape along the side catwalk from whence he had come, but Vader quickly cut him off. Thrown off balance by another failed blade-lock, Skywalker was forced to retreat along the main maintenance catwalk. Vader continued his relentless offense, blocking and shunting aside all of Skywalker's counters, eventually blade-locking with the young Jedi again and knocking him to the ground.
Bringing his blade to Luke's throat, Vader declared the boy beaten, and stated that further resistance would result in Skywalker sharing Obi-Wan's fate. In response, Skywalker defiantly drove Vader's blade aside and regained his feet before attacking again. As their bout continued, Skywalker, in desperation, managed to slightly wound Vader with a strike on the right shoulder. Enraged, the Sith Lord moved to end the duel and pressed his assault, his barrage driving Skywalker onto a small extension at the end of the catwalk. Vader ended the duel by slicing apart a piece of equipment there, and when Luke involuntarily glanced at it, Vader took advantage of the opening, catching Luke's blade in a bind and slicing off Skywalker's lightsaber hand with a swift undercut.
Defeat and revelation
As Skywalker recoiled in pain, retreating along the extension, Vader tried to sway him to the dark side. In order to do this, he revealed his former identity to the boy; he had once been the Jedi Knight Anakin Skywalker, Luke's own father. Skywalker denied the claim vehemently, as Obi-Wan had told him that Vader had murdered Anakin. However, Luke sensed to his shock and horror that Vader was telling the truth. Despite this revelation, Skywalker found the moral courage to throw himself off the maintenance catwalk into the air shaft below; to choose death, rather than joining Vader. As he fell, Skywalker was sucked into a gas port, and shortly thereafter found himself clinging to a weather vane on the underside of Cloud City. Badly wounded and completely spent, he called out to Obi-Wan to aid him but received no reply. Desperate, he then reached out to Organa through the Force.
Unbeknownst to Skywalker, Calrissian had betrayed Vader due to Vader reneging on his various promises, and had set Organa and Chewbacca free. Though they had been unable to rescue Solo from Fett, they had managed to make it to the Falcon and escape Cloud City. The Falcon was on its way off Bespin when Organa heard Skywalker's pleas, and against the advice of Calrissian, she went back to rescue him.
As the Rebels recovered Skywalker, Vader arrived onboard the Executor and prepared to pursue the Falcon. Once the Falcon emerged from Bespin's orbit, the Rebels onboard attempted to execute a hyperspace jump, only for the supposedly repaired hyperdrive to fail yet again. As the Executor approached, panic set in on the small transport as Calrissian and Chewbacca tried desperately to figure out why the drive was malfunctioning. While the Falcon fled from a few pursuing TIE fighters, Vader telepathically contacted his son and attempted to sway him once again to the dark side. As an exhausted and emotionally drained Skywalker continued to struggle with Vader's revelation and renewed offer, the Executor prepared for boarding action against the Falcon. However, R2-D2 had learned from Cloud City's central computer that the Falcon's hyperdrive was no longer damaged; the repaired drive had merely been deactivated by Imperial agents while its crew had been in custody. He quickly reactivated the drive, and the Falcon lurched into hyperspace before the Executor could lock onto it with its tractor beams.
- "Ben… why didn't you tell me?"
- ―Luke Skywalker
After the Falcon's departure, most of the Executor's bridge crew, particularly Admiral Piett, expected to either be a witness to or a victim of Vader's typical response to failure. However, after taking one last look at the Falcon's previous location, Vader silently strode from the Executor's bridge without harming anyone. Vader's revelation haunted Skywalker, but also motivated him, helping to turn him into a true Jedi, one who—unlike his father—did not fall to the dark side. Likewise, Vader informed Palpatine regarding his failure to capture and turn Skywalker that he had nonetheless "sown the seeds of ambition" into Skywalker's mind. Palpatine, when prepping then-Emperor's Hand Mara Jade for her mission to assassinate Luke Skywalker at Jabba's Palace during the latter's rescue mission of Han Solo, alluded to the duel when warning her not to underestimate Skywalker.
Cloud City was captured by the Galactic Empire, which turned the gas mines into Ugnaught slaving camps. It is known that Vader recovered Skywalker's hand and took it to the Mount Tantiss storehouse, where it was used by Joruus C'baoth to grow a clone of Skywalker.
Though annexed by the Empire, holos of the duel between the two Skywalkers later found their way into the market. Though they only captured the first twenty seconds of the duel, they sold for 15 credits each in Port Town.
Behind the scenes
The duel between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is remembered by many Star Wars fans as the most memorable lightsaber duel in Star Wars history.
As Lucas wanted the lightsaber fights to gradually become "faster and more intense" as Luke was becoming more adept at using a lightsaber, a shift in fighting style began to show itself, with some one-handed forms making their first appearance—a precursor to what lightsaber fights of old would be revealed to look like.
The revelation of Luke Skywalker's parentage was kept so secret that even David Prowse (the actor playing the body of Darth Vader and speaking the lines on set) did not know. Instead, he spoke the line "Obi-Wan killed your father", as had been printed on a substituted page of the screenplay. Meanwhile, the overdubbed voice of James Earl Jones spoke the genuine line. Mark Hamill himself was only told moments before going on to shoot the scene and no one else on the cast other than Jones and Hamill found out until the premiere. The great lengths that the production staff went to keep the identity of Luke's father from being leaked was later spoofed in The Simpsons episode "Worst Episode Ever," where one of the invaluable Star Wars memorabilia that Mrs. Prince was unknowingly selling to Comic Book Guy was a film reel that was labeled "Alternate Ending: Chewbacca is Luke's Father." An earlier episode, "I Married Marge", features Homer spoiling the revelation for moviegoers. Mark Hamill later warned fans to "Not pull a Homer" in regards to leaks from the 2015 sequel trilogy film, Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens.
In the video game LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy—in which characters do not speak—Vader instead makes this revelation by pulling out a photograph of Anakin and a noticeably pregnant Padmé and pointing to Luke so as to show that he is the unborn child in the picture.
In the GBA game Star Wars Trilogy: Apprentice of the Force, the duel was slightly expanded: After Luke managed to knock Vader off the carbonite freezing platform, he then traveled through an area littering with Stormtroopers before stopping them before proceeding to fight Vader and be blown back by Vader's telekinesis.
- LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
- LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy
- Choose Your Own Star Wars Adventure: The Empire Strikes Back
- "The Lost Lightsaber"—Star Wars Tales 19 (In flashback(s))
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (PSP, version historic mission)
Notes and references
- Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
- Star Wars (1977) 47
- Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption
- The Rise and Fall of Darth Vader
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back novelization
- Fightsaber: Jedi Lightsaber Combat
- Video showing Luke hit Vader in the neck in slow motion
- Shadows of the Empire 1
- Sleight of Hand: The Tale of Mara Jade
- Galaxy Guide 3: The Empire Strikes Back
- InQuest Gamer 26