When I say Star Wars, I imagine there’s a particular moment that automatically springs to mind for most people. A moment so iconic that even people who have never seen Star Wars could recite back to me, with near perfect accuracy. The moment I’m talking about is during the climactic sequence of 1980's The Empire Strikes Back: our noble hero and budding Jedi Luke Skywalker has fought valiantly against the evil Darth Vader, but now finds himself at the brink of defeat. Vader taunts his foe, telling him “Obi Wan never told you what happened to your father”, before breaking all hope inside Luke with not a swing of a lightsaber, but a bolt of truth. He leans in, asserts his power and says “LUKE, I am your father!”
Except… he doesn’t...
This is easily one of the most famous lines in cinematic history, and yet it’s so commonly misquoted! When I first noticed, I couldn’t believe it either, but so many people can vividly hear James Earl Jones say (in the way only he can) “Luke I am your father”, so how have so many people been saying it wrong for so long?
Well, it has to do with something called the Mandela Effect. The Mandela Effect is the phenomenon which occurs when a large collection of people with no social links to one another share a similar ‘false memory’. The term was first coined by Paranormal consultant Fiona Broome, named after South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela, after his death in 2013. This is because, despite only dying 8 years ago, countless people distinctly remember Mandela dying decades earlier, during his 27 year internment in prison, some people going as far as claiming they remember watching his funeral on TV.
There are countless examples of the Mandela Effect in popular culture. Remember “mirror mirror on the wall” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? It’s actually “magic mirror on the wall”. Remember in The Matrix, when Morpheus says to Neo “What if I told you that everything you know is a lie”? Well, it’s not anywhere in the film. What about the Berenstein Bears (it’s actually the Berenstain Bears), or Looney Tunes, or Curious George’s tail? Hell, Star Wars is especially rich with the Mandela Effect. Not only is Vader’s “Luke, I am your father”, one of the most famous examples of this false memory, but what about C-3P0? I know you might not remember him because of the red arm, but how many people were actually aware of his silver leg in A New Hope? So yeah… this is weird.
There are a few interesting explanations for this phenomenon. Broome, who coined the theory, bases her explanation around the Many Worlds Interpretation, stating that false memories are caused when differences arise from movement between parallel realities (if you want to learn a bit more about this theory, you can watch the video I made on the Many Worlds Interpretation in relation to Cloverfield). However, there are some more grounded explanations offered to us.
One theory states that the Mandela Effect is formed as a result of confabulation - the unintentional production of false memories, forcing one to mistakenly recall events or experiences that have not occurred, or distort existing memories. These false memories are actually quite common, and can occur in a number of ways. James Deece was one of the first psychologists to explore this idea in 1959, and his work, when continued by Henry Roediger and Kathleen McDermott, created the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm.
Basically, the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm tests a person’s memory based on an oral presentation of words related by a theme (for example, words such as, i.e. bed, tired, dream, snooze, wake, nap, etc.), and then asks the subject to remember and recite the words back. Usually, the subjects will recall hearing words related and similar to those said, but were never actually said themselves (for example ‘sleep’), and when they’re asked about their experience after the test, almost half of all participants stated that they are sure that they remember hearing the unpresented word.
Another explanation comes from the idea of source monitoring errors, instances where people struggle to distinguish between real and fictional events; for example, recalling a conversation or event that actually only occurred to you in a dream. Psychologist Jim Coan attempted to explain this, using his Lost in the Mall experiment. Basically, Coan set out a series of different childhood events which had occurred to him, and detailed them to his family. One however, his brother getting lost in a shopping mall, never actually happened. But when Coan recalled the event to his brother, not only did he believe the event occurred, he also added extra detail on the event. Furthermore, when cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus applied Coan’s technique to a larger sample size, 25% of the participants failed to recognise the event they were being told was false. Loftus found that human memory is able to be led in a particular way; if you imply that something looks or is a certain way, there’s a natural tendency to believe them if you’ve never paid close attention to the details yourself; what she described as “the impairment in memory for the past that arises after exposure to misleading information.”
But “Luke, I am your father!”, what’s up with that? I think the issue largely stems from recalling the line out of context. Whereas in the film this line occurs midway through an conversation between Luke and Vader about Obi Wan never telling Luke the truth of his father’s demise, with Vader’s iconic line being a response to Luke’s assertion that Vader murdered his father. However, imitators who sought to take this iconic line and parody it likely didn’t want to recite a monologue, and starting an isolated sentence with “no…” makes it feel a little fractured. So to add context, add “Luke…”.
Notwithstanding, the iconic shot of Luke’s reaction when Vader drops said truth-bomb, and it’s entirely plausible that the reason we remember it wrong is because we’re so used to hearing it that way, and the more our brain experiences something without paying any particular attention to it, the more likely we are to just accept it as fact. The line has always been “no, I am your father!”, much like how Nelson Mandela didn’t die in prison, or how Morpheus never said “what if I told you”, it’s just our brain attempting to remember specifics which it never paid close attention to before, while also being influenced by outside factors.
So, keep your eyes open, and try take in as much as you can about the media you experience and the world around you, because sometimes sometimes, the devil lies right there, in the detail.
Watch the full video here: