Over the weekend I went to see the 40th-anniversary re-release of Return of the Jedi (released a month before its actual anniversary for some reason). It’s weird because it seems like a movie I’ve seen in theaters a lot, but as best as I can remember, this was the first time since the Special Edition release in 1997. For the most part*, this was an enjoyable experience and a nice way to spend the afternoon. Though, while watching, I had a bit of an epiphany about the relationship between two characters. Maybe it was being able to see these interactions blown up on a huge screen? But it finally hit me that Darth Vader’s best friend is Admiral Piett. Now, Piett might not feel that way, but I’m fairly convinced Vader feels that way about Piett.
(*I have to admit, it’s quite jarring when you forget about the whole Jedi Rocks sequence and then it starts. The original music by the Max Rebo band sounds like something from a Star Wars movie and is in the spirit from what we hear from the Modal Nodes in the original Star Wars. Jedi Rocks sounds like if The Mighty Mighty Bosstones were hired to play a gig for Jabba the Hutt.)
First of all, Darth Vader seems like a lonely guy. No wonder he’s so interested in finding Luke and turning him to the dark side so they can rule the galaxy as father and son, Darth Vader has no friends. If Luke agrees to this, that’s a built-in friend right there. In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader seems pretty excited about this as he’s telling Luke, basically, “Hey, we can get rid of the guy who has been riding me and you and I can have some fun. Sound good, buddy?” I love that he even adds that the Emperor has foreseen this and is cool with being overthrown, just to let Luke know this shouldn’t even be a hassle. Anyway, after watching Return of the Jedi again in theaters, as things stand without Luke by his side ruling the galaxy together as father and son, I’m convinced Vader thinks Admiral Piett is his friend. Maybe his only friend. Actually, for sure his only friend. The Emperor sure isn’t Vader’s friend.
Piett had quite an interesting ride in the Star Wars movies, basically becoming the Wedge of the Empire. In that, not many supporting characters from the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance survive multiple movies. So, that alone makes Piett unique. We first meet Captain Piett in The Empire Strikes Back standing next to the doomed Admiral Ozzel who came out of light speed too close to Hoth, allowing the Rebel Alliance to raise their shields.* Vader for sure does not feel Ozzel is his best friend and quickly dispenses of Ozzel, over Zoom somehow, and promotes a shocked Piett to Admiral on the spot. A sign of true friendship.
(*This is a pretty nifty plot trick to justify the use of AT-ATs during the events of the movie as opposed to, “Well let’s just bomb them.” I wish Return of the Jedi had done something similar with the rescue of Han Solo. The novelization mentions there’s a blockade surrounding Tatooine because the Empire knows the Rebel Alliance will come for Solo, hence just a few key players making their way to Jabba’s to activate a plan that makes no sense in any way.)
Another sign of friendship? Piett is let into Vader’s meditation chamber room before his helmet is even back on. From Piett’s reaction, this is not a normal occurrence. This is Vader letting Piett know, hey, we are friends, I want you to see the real me. Again, at this point, I do not think Piett realizes Vader wants to be his friend. But this is an intimate moment for Vader and there’s no way he just lets anyone see him without a helmet on. Piett then tells Vader they lost the Millennium Falcon because of an asteroid field. For anyone else, this would get the Force-choke. (Just ask Captain Needa. Oh, no, you can’t, he was Force-choked to death.) But Piett gets almost a pep talk. At least, the closest thing Vader will give to a pep talk when he says, “Asteroids do not concern me, Admiral. I want that ship, not excuses.” In response, Piett doesn’t seem scared, just reinvigorated. Telling Vader they’ll get them. Again, here, Vader saw that his friend was down in the dumps over a work issue and said the right thing to get Piett back on track. And you know what? They eventually did get the Millennium Falcon. Well, until it got away again.
At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, as R2-D2 fixes the hyperdrive on Millennium Falcon, Piett is ordering the use of the tractor beam as Vader looks on as the Millennium Falcon zooms away. Now, Vader has already Force-choked two Imperial officers during the course of this movie. Obviously, Piett is next. But, instead, Vader just walks away. Here, Piett has a look on his face that reads, “Hm, am I friends with Darth Vader? Is that why he didn’t kill me?”
The scene that drives this home for me is in Return of the Jedi when Shuttle Tydirium is asking for access to the forest moon of Endor. In a surprisingly chummy scene, at least for Darth Vader standards, Vader asks about the cargo on the ship that is pretty obviously filled with members of the Rebel Alliance. Piett tells Vader he was about to clear them because they have a working code, but he does make mention it’s an older code. (I’ve always wondered what that means. Don’t codes either work or not? Though, on our internal human resources homepage I do sometimes get a warning that my code will expire in a certain amount of days and I need to change it soon. I suppose this is the same thing, I’m being told my code still works but it’s old now and won’t for much longer. So maybe that’s what Piett saw? Something like, “This code will expire in five days and the Shuttle Tydirium should change their code soon.”)
Vader contemplates, and Piett just interrupt Vader’s deep thoughts and asks, “Shall I hold them?,” in a very cordial and friendly way. Vader isn’t even angry about this. And here’s where this scene really gets me. Vader, normally, would probably just say, “Let them through,” then storm off. But here he let’s Piett in on his plan for no reason, telling Piett he’ll deal with them himself. Piett has a look on his face that he and his pal Darth Vader just worked on a fun project together. As Vader walks off here, I have no doubt that Vader considers Piett a friend. As far as Piett, my guess is, over drinks off duty, when he’s asked if he and Vader are friends, he says something like, “Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’d say we are friendly. If he’s in town I wouldn’t call him to make plans, but if he asks me I’ll say yes.”
Sadly, Piett would meet his end soon by the hands of an out-of-control A-Wing Fighter. Piett’s last command was to fortify the front of his Star Destroyer to avoid just that very thing, but his command was not followed quickly enough. This is why Vader befriended Piett. If all his officers were as good as Piett, the Empire would still be in charge.
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