There are more than a million star systems in the Star Wars galaxy, and maybe about 20 of them have a decent father in them.
For some reason, if you’re a guy in Star Wars who has a child, you have a 90 per cent chance of dying so your kid can go on some heroes’ journey. If you somehow survive, there’s a 90 per cent you’re going to be terrible, so they can go on a heroes’ journey and then fight you. This plethora of poor papas has not only made life miserable for their children but for much of the universe, too.
(Note: We kept our list to fathers related by blood (or, uh, midi-chlorians) because if we added the bad father figures we’d be here all week.)
Let’s start strong, if obvious: Darth Vader is the poster dad for bad parenting in the Star Wars universe, to the point where George Lucas has tried to convince people that “darth vader” means “dark father” even though 1) Vader was neither Luke nor Leia’s dad in any of the many scripts for A New Hope, and 2) “darth vader” doesn’t actually mean “dark father” in any Earth language.
We can technically cut Vader some slack for trying to shoot down Luke in the Death Star trench and subjecting Leia to an interrogator droid in Episode IV because while both things are obviously bad, the erstwhile Jedi didn’t know he had living kids at all, let alone that they were Luke and Leia. If you want to be incredibly charitable, you could point out how Vader was under direct orders to kill Luke if he couldn’t be turned to the dark side, and instead the Sith Lord merely chose to cut off his hand.
Yet, we must all admit that if our dads cut off one of our hands with a searing-hot plasma blade, we probably would not be sending them cards on Father’s Day. Then there’s the fact that Vader actively tried to kill Luke in Return of the Jedi, relenting only at the last moment, and then only after cutting off Luke’s hand again. (It was the robot one, but the point stands.) Of course, when it came to fatherhood, Anakin didn’t have much in the way of role models, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Oh, I know everybody loves Han Solo. And let’s be clear, even though he joined the Rebellion full-time and helped save the galaxy, that wasn’t proof the ex-smuggler was going to be a good dad. Because he certainly wasn’t! While he can’t possibly be blamed for Luke freaking out and sending his nephew crashing headfirst into the Dark Side, at some point, we know Han gave up on his kid and gave up on his marriage, because that’s where he’s at when The Force Awakens begins.
In fact, thanks to the novel Bloodline, set in the years following Return of the Jedi, we know Han left Leia and Ben pretty early on, first becoming a racer, then owner of a shipping company, which kept him travelling across the galaxy, away from home. He reunited with Leia briefly, around 15 years (!) later, only to leave permanently once he heard Ben went to the Dark Side.
We don’t know how much Han tried to be part of Ben’s life while his son was growing up, but Wookieepedia mentions exactly zero times the two even talked; I’m sure they did, but since all his conversations with Leia over the years were recorded in the archives, his talks with his son were most likely short and awkward. No wonder Kylo Ren managed to find the strength to kill Han.
As we learned in The Rise of Skywalker, ol’ Sheev Palpatine got laid at some point before his apprentice Darth Vader chucked him down a Death Star laundry chute, and, like so many things, kept it secret. As we now know, Palpatine didn’t die so much as he was spirited away from the bulk of the galaxy and got hooked up to a Sith UFO catcher.
What we don’t know is how or where Palpatine’s son was raised; the best we can surmise is that the kid was not unspeakably evil since he ran away to keep his daughter Rey out of the decaying hands of his incredibly evil dad, and because in his brief scene in Rise of Skywalker, he was wearing normal clothes instead of some kind of dark Sith armour, which in Star Wars is the clearest sign you’re a bad guy.
Palpatine, of course, sent an assassin to recover his granddaughter, and when that failed he had his kid slaughtered, along with his daughter-in-law. So really, Anakin can feel a small bit of comfort in that while he tried to kill his kids on multiple occasions, he never actually achieved it, earning Palpatine the “Galaxy’s Worst Dad” mug.
While Han was absent from his son’s life, Brendol Hux, father of the future General Armitage Hux of sequel trilogy fame, was very present, and that was very much the problem. Although the canon is light on the details—which is fine—the Aftermath book trilogy confirms Brendol sired Armitage out of wedlock and later physically and psychologically abused him, although that didn’t diminish Armitage’s delusions of grandeur.
Brendol only ceased after Grand Admiral Rae Sloane beat the hell out of him and told him to stop or she would have him killed. The one positive thing you can say about Brendol is that while he created a team of fanatic child soldiers through brutal psychological programming, he didn’t force Armitage to be one of them, so that’s, uh, something, I guess.
Let’s say there’s nothing weird about a guy, who has donated his genetic material for the creation of a gigantic clone army modified to be completely loyal soldiers for the Republic, to ask for an exact duplicate of himself as part of his payment.
He’s a single dad, trying to raise his son while making his way in the galaxy! Of course, “making his way” meant bounty hunting, and Jango didn’t have a problem bringing his kid on dangerous missions well before Boba was 10 years old. As detailed in the Age of Republic: Jango Fett comic, a pair of bounty hunters Jango had been working with betrayed him and grabbed Boba as a hostage. Jango let Boba figure out how to escape the situation on his own, which Boba did by murdering both bounty hunters.
Even if you believe in Take Your Son to Work Even If You’re a Bounty Hunter Day, when the Jedi attacked Geonosis in Attack of the Clones, Jango was dumb enough to jetpack into the middle of a battle he had no reason for joining, lunge onto his stomach in an utterly futile move to grab Mace Windu’s fallen lightsaber, and got instantly trampled by a Reek. Jango defeated the Reek by shooting it when it charged him and leaping out of the way at the last second. However, when Mace Windu charged him immediately afterward, Jango decided to stay put for some reason and got beheaded as a result. I’m sure Jango wasn’t planning on leaving young Boba as an orphan, but this was like purposefully jumping into the Sarlacc and expecting to come out alive.
Grand Moff Tarkin’s Dad
We don’t know the name of Wilhuff Tarkin’s father; in fact, we don’t know much about him at all. Even though Tarkin got a self-titled biography, there’s not a lot said about his family, other than that he was raised on the planet Eriadu into a wealthy family that was very into discipline and power.
Also, his father once had a servant take young Wilhuff’s dinner before he could eat it as a lesson on how people can take things from you, I guess. That’s sort of a petty lesson, but it can make us reasonably confident that when Wilhuff’s grand-uncle Jova threw young Wilhelm into Eriadu’s dangerous wilderness and told the teen to figure out how to survive, Jova did it with his nephew’s consent.
As detailed in the Age of Rebellion: Tarkin comic, Wilhuff got badly mauled by two blue space-tigers at the very least. He “trained” in survival for a full six months. There’s no telling how many more times he was attacked, but the result was his body from the neck down was covered in scars for the rest of his life. At least Wilhuff’s dad shares the blame with the entire Tarkin family, although they probably wouldn’t be pleased to know how the Grand Moff daydreamed about using the Death Star’s weapon on his home planet as a result.
Sheev Palpatine’s Son
We can’t let him off the hook, guys. Palpatine’s unnamed son obviously meant well when he dropped off his daughter Rey on Jakku to keep his very evil dad from raising Rey to be an acolyte of the Sith. And good for him for successfully escaping Palpatine’s clutches and going on the run to protect his family in the first place. But then…then the dude had to go and give his daughter to Unkar Plutt, the ruthless junk boss and brutal food withholder who forced Rey to scavenge for him.
Rey eventually struck out on her own to live in that fallen AT-AT, but god only knows how rough those few years were on her. Hey, Palpatine Jr.? You couldn’t find anyone less horrible to give your kid to than Plutt? Like, 98 per cent of Jakku’s inhabitants would probably have been better guardians to Rey. I get you were running for your life, but all you would need to do is take an extra five minutes and not give her to the first guy you saw, and your daughter would have had a much more pleasant childhood.
If you’ve only seen the Star Wars movies, this is going to get a little wild. So the Father—that’s his name—was a Force wielder who was either some kind of ancient embodiment of the Force or just a really weird immortal dude who lived on a planet named Mortis, it’s difficult to tell.
Either way, as per The Clone Wars cartoon, he had a son he named Son and a daughter he named Daughter and the two kids represented—to the Father, at least—the dark side and the light side of the Force, respectively. As their parent, he tried to maintain balance between them, because that’s a Good Thing, apparently.
Look, I know the original trilogy and the prequels were about Anakin bringing balance to the Force, but I need to call bullshit on this. Why is it important to have a balance between good and evil? Why not try to stop evil and keep good on top? Because here’s how the trio ended up: Son murdered Daughter and Father had to kill himself because somehow that took away Son’s immortality, allowing Anakin to take out Son. Because Father was so worried about maintaining balance instead of preventing Son from actively committing evil, Father eventually allowed the entire Family to get killed. Here’s a good lesson for everyone in the Star Wars universe: Stop thinking evil is an OK thing for people to be.
And speaking of, I’m not at all done calling out the Force, who was the galaxy’s ultimate deadbeat dad—a father so terrible it wasn’t only absent from its son’s entire life, it never even took corporeal form in the first place. Instead, it just created Anakin inside poor Shmi Skywalker to bring balance to, uh, itself, and then peaced out and left Anakin to be raised in slavery and then taken to Coruscant, to be further raised by the dimwitted Jedi and the insidious Palpatine.
Now, either the Force knocked up Shmi and hoped Anakin would turn out all right despite the fact the kid was going to be raised in slavery, or the Force knew exactly how the future was going to play out and Anakin brought balance like he was supposed to—a process that required the young Skywalker to suffer immense physical and emotional pain, including the belief that he had murdered the love of his life and his unborn children, before sacrificing himself to save the galaxy. (This sounds familiar…).
Either way, the Force abandoned its kid and let him live a life of misery, and a lot of people got killed as a result. Hey, the Force—if you’re powerful enough to create life, maybe you could have just not allowed Palpatine to have full access to infinite Dark Side powers in the first place? It would have saved everyone a whole lot of grief.
This article has been updated since its original publication.