This is the first of a series of articles exploring how the Sequel Trilogy deconstructs the mythos and story of George Lucas’s Star Wars.
Episodes I – VI: “There was no father.”
If we view Star Wars Episodes I – VI as a single story, and boil down each of the film’s central protagonists to a single character’s journey, the central protagonist of the story is the Skywalker family. Through the eyes of a generational protagonist, we travel to the pits of Anakin’s narrative hell and witness his redemption through the power of his son Luke’s everlasting hope. The family-as-protagonist experiences every emotion of life and those that come with the classical coming of age story; from love to love lost, from great tragedy to moments of joyous celebration.
But Episodes I – VI weren’t just about the Skywalkers. George Lucas underscores the importance of found family throughout the Prequel and Original Trilogies, which narratively lifts up our family protagonist. Padmé teaches us unconditional love and forgiveness, bringing with her the wisdom, experience, and grace of a young Queen. We are shown Anakin’s love for Obi-Wan as a father figure, and Obi-Wan’s broken heart as he loses his brother to the dark side. Luke and Han also bicker as brothers, but ultimately create a bond of brotherhood so strong that Vader chooses Han to torture in order to lure Luke into the trap at Cloud City. And despite popular opinion, Lando’s story is not one of betrayal. Han’s past (ie, his bounty) has finally caught up to him & it is Lando that bargains for the safety of Leia and Chewbacca – Han’s found family. In fact, we see that it is Vader who betrays Lando. Calrissian then throws away his entire life’s work in order to give Leia and Chewbacca just one last chance to rescue their found family; now his newfound family.
Through the Skywalker twins, Lucas introduces the significance of adopted family. The Lars and Organa families selflessly take Padmé and Anakin’s children as if they were their own flesh and blood. Luke retains the name of our central protagonist’s family, but we see Leia fully adopt and honor the Organa name. Adopted family fosters a glimmer of light during perhaps the darkest hour of this story.
Where did all this love, compassion, hope, and selflessness originate from? Surely these righteous qualities must be inherited from a noble and royal bloodline. To which mighty King shall we attribute all of the bravery and defiance the Skywalker family became know for?
The answer of course is that there was no royal bloodline. There was no mighty King.
“There was no father.”-Shmi Skywalker
Something that set the Star Wars mythos apart from many other stories was its foundation in a matriarchy. Further, Shmi Skywalker represents arguably the most humble of origin stories for our generational protagonist family – a slave trapped on the desert planet furthest from the bright spot of the universe. Shmi had no one. She could’ve run from her predicament – an immaculate conception – or abandoned the child she had no choice in carrying. Instead, Shmi accepts her fate with humility and patience. She raises her son with all her heart and soul, and in kind, her son becomes a young boy who gives without any thought of reward.
The Skywalkers, and the story of Star Wars, were never about royal bloodlines or the “Chosen One” prophecy. Fans may fixate on this aspect, but in-universe the “Chosen One” prophecy wasn’t an advertisement by the Jedi Council looking for the next Jedi hopeful. Even Shmi has no idea Qui-Gon believed her son to be the “Chosen One.” The Council themselves are in narrative disagreement about Anakin’s role in the prophecy all the way until their demise.
Regardless, the Skywalkers teach us that this story is not about Kings, “chosen ones,” or mighty warriors because wars do not make one great. You see, the real War was always over Anakin’s heart, not the Stars. Luke Skywalker, in his character defining moment of defiance and resolve in Return of the Jedi, adds an exclamation point to this lesson by laying down his weapon and choosing not to fight. In this moment of selflessness and bravery, Luke returns light to his grandmother’s parting words in The Phantom Menace:
“Now, be brave, and don’t look back. Don’t look back.”-Shmi Skywalker
So when the Sequel Trilogy was later billed as the finale to the episodic and so-called Skywalker Saga, it should’ve surprised no one that George Lucas himself toyed with JJ Abrams by asking the most pointed question related to the forthcoming films that would follow and conclude our generational protagonist’s story:
“What happened to Darth Vader’s grandchildren?”-George Lucas
With lessons of humble beginnings, and themes of found and adopted family already well established – many fans believed that the Skywalker Saga should, after all, conclude the Skywalker family story. This is also the reason many fans were right to believe that Rey was the long-lost daughter of Luke or Leia. But instead of concluding the Saga naturally, through an extension of our Skywalker family protagonist into the next generation – the central protagonist was revealed to be something and someone else entirely.
So what became of the humble matriarch that Lucas designed? In Part II, I’ll examine how Lucasfilm has made a mockery of said matriarchy by specifically designing a patriarchy in which there was no mother. I’ll also discuss problematic narrative aspects that Rey Palpatine introduces to the Skywalker Saga, and provide some explanation as to why many left the theaters of The Rise of Skywalker anything but satisfied.
Until then, MTFBWY….