I Am Not Your Father: Moving Past the Darth Vader Plot Twist

It was a big deal in 1980, but the supposedly dead parents of a fictional orphan don’t always have to be revealed as key players in a supernatural conspiracy.


Stars Wars - Darth Vader - Face
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Spoilers for fantasy in general.

When it comes to stories with elements of fantasy, it’s more than likely that one or both parents of the ‘orphaned’ protagonist are not only still alive, but that he, she, or they are actually incredibly important to a world that said orphan is only just discovering. It’s a pandemic in young adult fantasy, where parentless children are ubiquitous, but even adult characters aren’t immune.

As your Luke Skywalkers, Nick Burkhardts, and Ree Reyeses discover a magical world, they also inevitably discover that the parent they believed dead or absent is not only alive, but the source of their own burgeoning power within that world. Whether they’re a Sith Lord, Grimm, or Geekomancer, they’re always powerful, forced by circumstance (or descent into darkness) to leave their children in a magic-less setting. Though there is a good story-telling reason for the Darth Vader plot twist, its infestation in the realm of sci-fi and fantasy guarantees that the surprise of the “Mom?/Dad?” reunion won’t be all that surprising.

Obviously this trope isn’t going anywhere – it provides too much necessary conflict – but I think it’s time to turn it around, play with the construct instead of following it to its expected conclusion. Take a page from Sleepy Hollow – instead of ‘I am your father,’ the reveal is ‘I am your son.’ Or take the Chronicles of Prydain route and subvert the trope altogether. And there’s nothing wrong with a protagonist discovering previously unknown relatives (or secrets about known relatives), but it’s also okay for the dead to really be dead, like Lily and James Potter.┬áThe gravitation toward the Darth Vader plot twist can spoil the suspense of an otherwise tight adventure, and it can be a short-cut in getting the audience to care about the foil.

What we don’t see very often is the reveal that, yes, the main character’s parents had magic powers/were responsible for a genocide/sold their souls to the Big Bad/fought monsters, but were inconsequential in the bigger picture. When an orphan on a paranormal adventure discovers that his or her parents knew all about the existence of wizards/the cosmic war/monsters/portals to other universes, those parents are never ordinary. I’d love to read a story where, yes, someone’s parent was in on the plot to genetically alter DNA in vitro to create superkids, but he was just the laboratory janitor.

Or they could just speed the process along, and leave a note.

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