Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens – Focus on Family (SPOILERS)


I’ve watched enough of J.J. Abrams’ films and television shows to know that one of his central themes is “daddy issues.” Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA) is no exception. There are quite a few angles that we can approach talking about the new Star Wars film, and I am beginning to understand that it is going to take a few posts to get through this, but I think the most central approach to TFA is from the angle of family.

Many of us made sure to rewatch Episodes I-VI prior to seeing TFA for the first time, and in so doing we exposed ourselves to a genealogy. This genealogy has been used to suggest that Episode VII’s protagonist Rey is the daughter of Luke Skywalker. Episodes I-III recount the story of Anakin Skywalker, the grandfather with great power. In Episodes IV-VI, we follow Luke Skywalker — presumably the father — and his hero’s quest to redeem his own dad. The assumption is that Episodes VII-IX are going to follow Rey, the daughter of Luke Skywalker and granddaughter of Anakin.

Though I love this argument’s comparison between George Lucas’s trilogy of trilogies and the generations of a family, I think this simplified form can be misleading. While Anakin and Luke are certainly the central figures of their respective trilogies, the stories that occur are much bigger than that. While it is suggested that Anakin’s mother gave birth to him without her ever experiencing the touch of a man, there is never a suggestion that Luke simply jumped out of the loins of Anakin Skywalker. The generation that is exemplified by Anakin Skywalker also includes Padme Amidala, the materfamiglia and a dynamic character in her own right. Similarly, it wasn’t just Luke Skywalker who was hidden from the Empire by the remaining heroes of the Jedi Order and the Republic. Leia was taken in by Bale Organa, and the story of A New Hope is one of reuniting a family (Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Leia Organa) that had been purposely dispersed. How does this play into the assertion that Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter? First and foremost, if all we need is another generation in the Skywalker bloodline we need nobody other than Kylo Ren to fulfill that requirement. He is the grandson of Anakin and the nephew / apprentice of Luke and there is plenty of reason to believe that his own struggle is meant to be the main storyline for Episodes VII-IX. I will admit that it is probably likely that Rey is either the child of Leia and Han (and younger sister of Kylo Ren) or the daughter of Luke Skywalker and some unknown mother, but I don’t think the structure of the trilogies necessitates that she is of this same bloodline. It is just as likely that she was simply a youngling under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker who was saved from Kylo Ren’s wrath. The theory that is really growing on me is that she is Obi Wan Kenobi’s granddaughter, and if you ever watched the 2008 series Star Wars: The Clone Wars you know that Kenobi is no stranger to the power of love and desire.

This discussion of whether Episodes VII-IX are ultimately going to be about Han and Leia’s son Kylo Ren or so-and-so and so-and-so’s daughter Rey leads me to a concept that I believe will be central to the future of this new trilogy. While we are all familiar by now with the fact that Kylo Ren has acquired Darth Vader’s mask somehow from the forest moon of Endor, there is another development in TFA that suggests a rivalry for who is ultimately the heir to Anakin Skywalker’s legacy. Another relic from the past, Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber, spoke directly to Rey, and it was through this action that we realize that she is meant for great things in the future as a Jedi. There is one detail that everybody seemed to skip over while talking about “Luke’s Lightsaber.” That lightsaber was not Luke’s. That is Anakin’s lightsaber, given to Luke by Obi Wan Kenobi. This leads to two interesting conclusions: 1. Maz Kanata must have gone to some great lengths to pick up the lightsaber that was last seen falling from Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back, and 2. more importantly, this means that Kylo Ren and Rey are now in competition for who will be the true heir to Anakin Skywalker’s legacy. To me, this is the main question that TFA poses, pulling in ancient notions of the parent or teacher being judged by the quality of their children / students. If Kylo Ren proves the victor, then Darth Vader is the dominant personality for his grandfather and Luke is a failed Jedi Master. If Rey can overcome Ren, then Anakin Skywalker defeats Vader and Luke Skywalker is redeemed as a Master. We have seen the thesis (Anakin’s fall), and antithesis (Luke’s redemption), but what is the synthesis. Does good win? Does evil? Or do Kylo and Rey persuade one another to the middle? This is what is on the line when we talk about the conflict between Kylo Ren and Rey and because this is the last of the three trilogies we have to assume that winner takes all!

An interesting idea that a good friend of mine pointed out is the idea of father figures or surrogate fathers. While I am going to hold onto the Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader legacy as the central theme of J.J. Abrams’ trilogy, I also think that the idea of father figures is important. Prior to Han Solo’s death, Rey identified him as the closest thing she ever had to a father. From our perspectives, it looked like Han Solo learned a whole lot more from Rey than Rey did from Han, but I think from Rey’s perspective it was much different. I think we can assume that if Rey knew her parents it was only just barely. Her entire life was defined by what we saw on the screen — she lived alone and salvaged parts from a ship graveyard in order to acquire the basics of life. In Han Solo she found a kindred spirit. Sure, she was better at piloting and repairing the Millennium Falcon than Han, but Han was a caring old man with similar hobbies. In Han she gets affirmation that she is not a freak and in fact she can be a good person. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren has modeled himself after the great and powerful Darth Vader. Though we know that Han Solo is his father, he has rejected that part of his lineage and taken up another. In an interesting way, Han Solo’s compassion represents the light side of the force while Darth Vader’s indomitable power represents the dark side. It is through their choice of parental figures that they define who they want to be.

Finally, I want to tackle a couple of the side issues regarding the Skywalker family tree that people have been discussing.

First of these is the criticism of Han and Leia’s choice to name their son Ben Solo. After all, Han Solo only spent the equivalent of a long car ride with Obi Wan “Ben” Kenobi before the old man died and Princess Leia encountered him for maybe a couple of minutes. For me, this point is moot because Obi Wan Kenobi was the one who brought the family together. If he hadn’t brought Luke to the Death Star then Luke might have never met his sister Leia. Furthermore, they couldn’t have gotten off the ground without Kenobi negotiating a ride with Han Solo. This means that Luke would never have met his lifelong friend Han and Leia would have never met her significant other and the father of her child/children. There is no Skywalker/Solo/Organa family without Obi Wan Kenobi. Add to this the fact that Obi Wan Kenobi trained both Anakin and Luke Skywalker, was considered a brother by Anakin (and thus an uncle to Luke and Leia), and played lead on the scheme to place Luke with Beru and Owen Lars and Leia with Bale Organa, and suddenly Ben Solo doesn’t seem like quite so ridiculous of a name.

Second is the fact that we weren’t given any hints in TFA of whether or not Leia has been trained in the use of the force. As early as Empire Strikes Back, Yoda identifies Leia as the sister of Luke and an heir to some pretty powerful force sensitivity. Almost immediately after Yoda says, “No. There is another,” Leia feels Luke’s presence and rescues him from Cloud City with the Millennium Falcon. Since the Battle of Endor, we know that Luke has started a school for Jedi. It would only make sense that his newly identified sister would be the first student. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those three Jedi ghosts pointed out the necessity to train Leia in the use of the force. I think the counter-argument is that Leia chose not to follow that path, and I respect this. Her power is political and she was more useful as the figurehead for the reassembly of the Republic and the continued efforts to stop the Emperor’s “backup plans” from taking hold. I find no reason why we can’t have both. In TFA, there is some word interplay regarding whether Leia should be called Princess Leia or General Leia. I think this mixed identity is meant to point us to another possible identity, either Jedi Leia or even Master Leia. This may be wishful thinking, but I imagine a scene in Episode VIII where Leia is cornered by a powerful adversary and disarmed. We think that Leia is surely going to meet Han in the great Ewok jub jub party in the sky, but at the last moment she force pulls a lightsaber to her and defeats her opponent. Readers be forewarned: my other strong prediction was that Han Solo was going to shrug and say to one of the characters, “Hey, I’m your father,” in a comedic rehash of the classic Darth Vader line, a line that is now impossible. Take my predictions with a grain of salt, but I think we’ll probably have some reference to Leia’s training in the next film.

I’m not even sure that we’ve covered all of the issues that pertain to the first family of the force, but I just spent an eight hour shift talking about Star Wars with a co-worker and I imagine we could probably do so for a year or so without too much repeated arguments. This blog is called The Longest Wind, but it is not meant to be a Torturer’s Rack. Feel free to weigh in with your own perspective on the family issues revealed in Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens. For the time being I plan on moving on to a greater discussion of the force in the Star Wars trilogy. I touched on the different interpretations of the force in Episodes IV and V in my review of the first six films, but I think it is worth spending a little bit more time on the issue, especially as we now have more source material. You’ll also notice that this was not a proper review of TFA, and that is on purpose. I don’t want to tell you what to think about the movie. I would rather tackle the deep well of issues that TFA brings to the surface.

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