Fans of Star Wars tend to give all the credit to Luke Skywalker for redeeming his father Anakin, in the climactic scene from Return of the Jedi. Audiences will never forget how Darth Vader, seeing his son being tortured by Emperor Palpatine’s Force Lightning, reverted to his benevolent Anakin persona, enough to kill the Emperor before dying himself. In the process, destroying the Sith forever (until Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker comes out, anyway).

What isn't as commonly known among fans is that a different son of Anakin Skywalker succeeded in awakening him long before Luke ever swayed his father to the light. While the tale has currently been classified as a 'Legend' by Disney, the scene still easily fits into the established Star Wars mythos, and reveals a relationship rarely acknowledged by fans.

In the short story, “Thank the Maker!” published in Star Wars Tales #6, fans learn how the protocol droid C-3PO unknowingly reawakened some of the good buried deep within his father, Darth Vader, during the events of The Empire Strikes Back.


It might seem impossible that an uptight droid like C-3PO could have any familial connection to the Skywalkers, but The Phantom Menace showed audiences that a young Anakin built the golden droid from junkyard scraps. C3PO refers to Anakin as “The Maker,” essentially the droid equivalent of “Father.” This relationship is further explored in the comic book mentioned above, which takes place on Cloud City shortly after C3PO is blasted to pieces by Stormtroopers, but just before Darth Vader reveals himself to Han Solo and Princess Leia.

In the story, an Imperial officer informs Darth Vader that a droid was dismantled by two Stormtroopers. Intrigued, Vader orders the droid be brought to him to see if any useful information can be extracted from its memory. Once Vader sees C-3PO’s deactivated head, however, he recognizes him -- instinctively flashing back to his childhood on Tatooine. Knowing Vader took great pains to distance himself from his old identity, to the point that Vader saw Anakin Skywalker as a different person, that Threepio was able to evoke such sentiment in the Sith Lord speaks volumes about their relationship.

It's in this same flashback that Vader’s memory goes even farther back, before the events of The Phantom Menace, when Anakin first discovers the remains of a protocol droid in a junkyard, and brings it home in hopes of rebuilding it to help his mother. Vader shakes off the memory and orders the droid to be destroyed, at which point C-3PO is sent to a junk room (where those who watched the movie know Chewbacca soon discovers his parts). When Chewbacca gets captured, the Imperials recognize C-3PO’s parts and inform Vader that the droid must be valuable to the Rebels. That idea triggers another memory, recalling his sadness at seeing the droid's initial state, believing C-3PO has feelings and was mistreated by his former owners. Ultimately, Anakin’s mother encourages her son to finish fixing the droid, but tells him that C-3PO is now Anakin’s responsibility: “Unless you’re prepared to care for something… you don’t deserve to have it.”

In the present, Vader picks up C-3PO’s head and presses it against his expressionless mask in a gesture of apology. It’s a shocking display of pathos from the Sith Lord that communicates everything Vader must be feeling: shame, regret, and sadness. Quickly collecting himself, he orders the surprised Imperial officer to give the parts back to Chewbacca. It’s an extraordinary moment, especially when taken in context of the larger story. Given his hunt for the droids in A New Hope and his own experiences during the Clone Wars, Vader knows C-3PO probably does contain information vital to the Rebels... yet he willingly gives him to Chewbacca knowing the Wookie will repair him.

It's the act of someone whose re-emerging morality is driving him to do the right thing. And considering the role Threepio plays in Return of the Jedi by recruiting the Ewoks (who, like them or hate them, do play a pivotal role in taking down the Death Star), Vader’s choice effectively dooms the Empire. Of course, Darth Vader soon reverts to form, cutting off Luke’s hand before becoming Anakin Skywalker again. Still, given how easily C-3PO was able to reawaken some of the good in Vader while he was deactivated, it’s safe to say the droid unknowingly laid the groundwork that allowed Luke to bring their father back to the light.


The current canonical Star Wars comic published by Marvel recently completed a storyline that details Darth Vader and Threepio’s first meeting. Set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (and therefore before the 'Legend' events described above), the story follows C-3PO and Chewbacca on a mission to blow up a planet populated by giant rock monsters. Seeking to control the creatures, Vader employs C-3PO as a translator.

During this period, the two have a brief exchange, with Vader commenting that droids can be emotional "if they are programmed that way." While it’s only implied Vader realizes the droid he’s talking to is the one he built (and programmed with emotion), C-3PO is later deactivated by an EMP burst that also shorts out Vader’s systems. Forcing the Sith Lord to use his shuttle’s power to recharge... creating a power surge that reactivates Threepio, as well.

Unintentional rescue or not, the fact that Vader has now saved C-3PO twice in the extended Star Wars universe speaks to the bond between this father and his mechanical “son.” Interestingly, in Return of the Jedi Obi Wan Kenobi comments that Vader is now “more machine than man” -- yet these interactions with Threepio show that being a machine does not mean one is devoid of humanity. It's poetic, in a certain sense, that C-3PO was definitively (and may still be) the first Skywalker to put Vader on the path to redemption. Even if nobody in Star Wars actually knows it.