This is the second of a series of articles exploring how the Sequel Trilogy deconstructs the mythos and story of George Lucas’s Star Wars.
George Lucas and Dave Filoni on the story of Star Wars:
“It’s all about generations, and you know, it’s about the issues of fathers and sons and grandfathers…” -George Lucas
“Son saves the father, the father saves the son – and it works out perfectly.” -Dave Filoni
“It’s a family soap opera, I mean ultimately.” -George Lucas
“Star Wars is ultimately about family.” -Dave Filoni
In Part II of this series, we’ll continue to examine the generational story of Star Wars graphically. Each family tree below will illustrate the progression of family from the PT and OT to the variants of blood, adopted, and found family themes in the Sequel Trilogy. First, let’s establish the baseline story structure of Episodes I – VI and defined by the quotes above:
In part I of this series, we detailed why family is indeed of the utmost importance to George Lucas’s Star Wars. Episodes I – VI center on the family-as-protagonist Skywalkers, but the themes of found family (e.g., Han, Lando, Chewie) and adopted family (e.g., Leia, Lars, Organas) each play an integral role to the success of the story and our heroes. Lucas’s mythos was also unique in that this protagonist family was rooted in a humble matriarchy, beginning with Shmi Skywalker. Further, the foundation of the franchise is built upon the introduction of Luke, a simple farm boy raised on the planet furthest from the bright center of the universe, which originates the theme and concept of ‘anyone can be a hero.’ The family tree above illustrates these themes of found (Han), adopted (Leia), and generational family.
And according to George Lucas, what was his original plan for the continuation of his stories?
“They looked at [my stories], and they said, ‘we want to make something for the fans.’ All I wanted to do was tell a story of what happened. You know, it started here and went there. It’s all about generations, and you know, it’s about the issues of fathers and sons and grandfathers… it’s a family soap opera, I mean ultimately. It’s called a space opera, but people don’t realize it’s actually a soap opera. And it’s all about family problems and that kind of stuff… it’s not about spaceships. -George Lucas
In other words….
“What happened to Darth Vader’s Grandchildren?” -George Lucas
Episodes VII – IX: There is No Mother
Of course, the Sequel Trilogy deconstructs this matriarchal mythos of Star Wars, but arguably in mocking fashion with the reveal of Rey Palpatine. Where the story once centered on Luke and Leia (central protagonists of the Original Trilogy) being the children of Anakin and Padmé (central protagonists of the Prequel Trilogy), and Anakin the son of a fatherless matriarchy under Shmi Skywalker, the story is now shifted focus to Rey, the daughter of two characters so inconsequential to the story that they have no canonical names and no family history during the prequel-era, and the unnamed father of Rey is a clone of a motherless patriarchy headed by Emperor Palpatine. This scenario is illustrated below:
The story of Star Wars is no longer about a generational protagonist; Lucasfilm’s Sequel Trilogy turns the “Skywalker Saga” into a Game of Thrones House war: House Skywalker vs. House Palpatine. And in a similarly incestuous-feeling kiss to many experienced in Thrones, the Houses are united by the granddaughter of the dark side. In hindsight, Lucasfilm’s courtship of Benioff & Weiss for their own Star Wars trilogy perhaps begins to track closely to creative decisions behind the scenes. I, for one, am thankful season 8 shit the bed – it may have saved fans of Star Wars from a worse fate than season 8. I digress….
And in Game of Thrones fashion, each member of the Skywalker family tree dies when all is said and done (now grayed out in the family trees above and below). Meaning the finale to the so-called “Skywalker Saga” concluded in a fashion so as to not provide a continuation of any of Shmi’s grandchildren or great grandchildren. The story concludes that Shmi’s legacy resides in the themes of adopted and found family alone; her blood-kin are gone. This in itself is not a harmful or underwhelming aspect of the Sequel Trilogy story-as I’ve pointed out, adopted and found family are obviously integral. But the foundation of Rey’s heart-felt connection to either Luke or Leia is not well-established, leaving this theme of adopted family to fall flat.
How so? Let’s take a look at which family members specifically are lifted up in the narrative by Rey Palpatine taking the Skywalker name:
Rey Palpatine adopts the name “Skywalker,” but the Sequel Trilogy makes no attempt at identifying or specifically naming Anakin, Padmé, or Shmi (now grayed-out above). The epilogue of The Rise of Skywalker visually shows us the same when only the Force-ghosts of Luke and Leia join Rey as her adopted family on Tatooine. Where was Anakin?
The story of Rey Palpatine Skywalker narratively and visually ignores the humble origins of the namesake saga she assumes as her own. Was it satisfying to leave Anakin, Shmi, and Padmé completely forgotten in the final trilogy of this “Skywalker saga?” And be careful with splitting hairs regarding Anakin’s “voice” calling to Rey, because then the question becomes: was it satisfying to specifically leave out only the women of this once matriarchal family saga?
Further, Rey’s biological (or half-synthetic?) parents are not evil, like her grandfather was. In fact, her biological parents sacrificed their lives for Rey’s only chance at survival. Thus, ignoring their significance by having no character, including Rey, interested in their names or history leaves much to be desired in a story that’s…
“…a family soap opera, I mean ultimately.” – George Lucas
Lucasfilm has also made no attempt to name Rey’s parents in any extended universe or canonical source material. So, is Rey Palpatine Skywalker a good theme of adopted family when she ignores the name of her biological family that sacrificed their lives for her?
Though Luke doesn’t adopt the Lars family name in 1977, he initially refuses to join the adventure he’s always dreamed of because he is committed to helping his uncle farm and support his family. Because at the end of the day, he loves them. He may not even particularly like his uncle, but he respects him. Only after Luke sees the Empire has murdered the only family he’s ever known, does he decide that he has nothing left to lose, and so begins his journey. The point being, we are specifically shown that Luke cares about his aunt and uncle, and in one of the most iconic pieces of Star Wars music, the theme of adopted family is underscored with heartache and loss – the burning homestead.
The Lost & Not Found Family Theme
The Sequel Trilogy attempts to incorporate the theme of found Family through Finn. Among the legacy cast, Finn only shares significant screen time with Han Solo, but is largely removed from developing any heart-felt relationship with either of the Skywalker Twins. Following, his found family is through Rey, and Rey alone.
This is the only connection Finn can form through the structure of Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Saga, as he has no long-lost siblings, no real first or last name, no parents we are made aware of, and absolutely no family history in the films or extended universe. So what does Finn’s found family tree to the Skywalker Saga look like according to Lucasfilm?
Finn is story-adjacent to the biological family Rey Palpatine Skywalker ignores, which itself is adjacent to the Skywalker family. Instead of surrounding the franchise’s first unequivocal Black lead with the central and generational family protagonists to form the found family bond, it is only through Rey that Finn is incorporated into the saga story. This is a strong point of contention for nearly every Black Star Wars fan I have had discussions with. Thus, it was altogether disheartening to see that Lucasfilm story group member, Matt Martin, defend Finn’s lack of family history by suggesting it’s possible that no one in-universe likely cares about Finn having a name, either, and that to his knowledge, no last name was ever considered for Finn (April 7, 2020).
I don’t do this often so as to not attack any one individual, but Matt Martin is objectively wrong. His speculation is extremely hurtful for those seeing that the only leading character in Star Wars without a last name (or real first name) is also the only leading Black man in franchise history. Martin’s response is also in direct contrast to the statements made by director and writer of The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker, JJ Abrams, who unmistakably declares that Finn’s last name was not only determined prior to The Force Awakens, but was also being kept from public record for story reveal purposes later on down the road. These purposes unfortunately never manifested in the story, but was that JJ Abram’s decision or someone else’s?
Worse still, Finn’s found family story in The Rise of Skywalker includes Rey pushing Finn away twice – once verbally, and once physically with the Force. Again, this isn’t a problem in itself, as conflict between central characters can enrich the story. However, there is no narrative reason given as to why Rey pushes Finn away – giving the strong impression that Finn does not belong in the central story of the saga unless Rey says so. This is another pitfall associated with Finn never establishing his own connection to the Skywalker Twins on his own, and also problematic for the found family he originally built with Rey since the feelings were no longer reciprocated.
Thankfully, Rey, Finn, and Poe unite at the end of the story, but like the adopted family theme – the found family theme also falls flat. This is largely due to these characters never establishing a rapport together until the final film. And Most devastating of all perhaps is that The Rise of Skywalker had to conclude this found family arc after Finn and Rey did not share a single word of dialogue with one another in The Last Jedi….
Is Rey Palpatine Skywalker a satisfying conclusion for Finn’s connection to the so-called Skywalker Saga? I do not find that it is. Interestingly, my opinion on the Saga, in general, appears to align well with how Lucas and Filoni describe it above.
In part III of this series, I’ll examine what might have been by revisiting George Lucas’s vision for the story of Star Wars. I’ll then present a scenario that reconciles the major narrative through line of Episodes I – VI as defined by Dave Filoni, Lucas’s most trusted protégé.
Thank you so much for reading. And please know that my goal with this series is to shed light on why you, or many other readers, or someone you know did not experience satisfaction when leaving the theaters. I dearly love the story of Star Wars, and I merely seek to understand why stories work and how they fall short.
As always, MTFBWY-