This is the third in a series of articles exploring how the Sequel Trilogy deconstructs the mythos and story of George Lucas’s Star Wars.
In part III of this series, I review the philosophies of George Lucas and his most trusted protégé, Dave Filoni. Building on these insights, I offer a glimpse at what might’ve been had Lucasfilm followed the direction of Lucas’s matriarchal mythos for its Sequel Trilogy.
“…when you say ‘George Lucas, he created it,’ I don’t think people give enough full value to what that means. I like to think I do, but I work with him, so I’ve seen him create it. I’ve seen the person that comes up with the lines and the dialogue and understands Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker on a very deep level because those characters are a part of him.” -Dave Filoni
Dave Filoni is unquestionably cut from the same creative cloth as George Lucas. Not only has Filoni learned the ways from the master, but they’ve become successful colleagues – most notably winning a Daytime Emmy together for their work on Star Wars: The Clone Wars (pictured above). To argue that anyone knows Lucas’s Star Wars better would be difficult at best….
“It’s a family soap opera, I mean ultimately.” -George Lucas
“Star Wars is ultimately about family.” -Dave Filoni
“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
“It’s not about X-wings, it’s not about all these things we decorate Star Wars in. It’s important, it’s part of the genius. But we soulfully react, like we don’t just want an action movie, we want to feel uplifted… So that’s what I always go back to with Star Wars. Is this selfless act and this family dynamic, which is so important to George, and so important to the foundation of Star Wars. -Dave Filoni
More specifically, there is no debate that Episodes I – VI center on the Skywalker family soap opera. And as easy as it is to define what Star Wars is to both Lucas and Filoni – the Skywalker family – it is just as easily defined as what it is not. This generational family soap opera wasn’t establishing a House War akin to Game of Thrones, and certainly, the fated-arc of a matriarchal family of slaves does not constitute a “royal bloodline.”
So, with a story as rich in the themes of adopted and found family, why was it a necessary or natural progression to create an unrelated generational protagonist (now, House Palpatine vs. House Skywalker) that takes up the old generational protagonist name as a title?
“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.” -George Lucas
If the only story Lucas told was centered on the Skywalker family, and the only story Lucas wanted to tell involved continuing his story “…about generations… about the issues of fathers and sons and grandfathers,” it does not take a stretch of the imagination to see that the central protagonist of the Sequel Trilogy would’ve undoubtedly been a grandson or granddaughter of Anakin and Padmé, and perhaps more important to the overall story – the great grandson or great granddaughter of our humble and kind origins – Shmi Skywalker.
Defining the Narrative Through-line of Star Wars
What would a Sequel Trilogy centered on the Skywalkers have looked like? To best answer this question, we should first define the primary narrative through-line of the Original and Prequel Trilogies. In doing so, we have more guidance to project and conclude this arc through the central characters introduced in The Force Awakens.
Lucky for us, Dave Filoni describes, in intimate detail, the ultimate narrative through-line of Episodes I – VI in the Disney+ Gallery / Star Wars: The Mandalorian – Legacy. This through-line, Filoni explains, defines the 6-episode arc of Star Wars. Filoni begins by sharing how Qui-Gon Jinn served as a father figure to little Anakin, and how Qui-Gon understood that Anakin would need him as the little boy separated from his mother, Shmi. Filoni also explains, and as I’ve also argued in the past, that this is because Qui-Gon’s philosophy challenged what the Jedi Council had become. The Jedi and Council evolved into something of a “Lawful/Neutral Good” society through the millennia, which is not bad in and of itself, but to the point that it began restricting personal freedom, and even saw the criminalization of self-interest (see: Anakin Skywalker forbidden to love). Qui-Gon began challenging this philosophy of the Jedi, ushering in elements of “Chaotic Good” that was so desperately needed. Qui-Gon still believed that the Jedi could care and love (Qui-Gon was even ahead of Yoda in realizing this). In this way, Filoni explains, the “Duel of the Fates” was indeed the battle over Anakin’s fate – would Anakin’s father-figure survive or be destroyed? And how might that change Anakin’s fate?
From this basis, Filoni describes why this specific narrative is so important to our soulful connection to the story, and why it runs all the way from The Phantom Menace to Return of the Jedi‘s climactic and satisfying conclusion:
“So [the Duel of the Fates] in [The Phantom Menace], which a lot of people diminish as, ‘Oh, this is a cool lightsaber fight.’ But it’s everything that the entire three films of the prequels hangs on – is that one particular fight. And Maul serves his purpose, and at this point, died before George made me bring him back. But he died, showing you how the Emperor is completely self-serving. He doesn’t care, he’s using people, and now he’s gonna use this child.
That falls all the way through to the line which terrified me as a kid, when the Emperor tells Luke, ‘You, like your father, are now mine.’ And the idea, when I was a little kid watching that movie of some evil person possessing my father, making him do things or making him be evil was terrifying. That was like a thought that was horrible. It’s amazing when you watch Return of the Jedi… I believed Luke would turn to the dark side in Return of the Jedi. I believe that was on the table. I believed that he would kill the Emperor. The way George arranges the story, I know that was the wrong thing to do. When he’s saying you know, ‘You want your weapon.’ ‘Strike me down. I am defenseless.’ [The Emperor] wants [Luke] to give into his anger and his hate, and the fear – the structure George laid out in all the movies is coming to fruition now.
And the only thing that’s gonna save [Luke] is not his connection to the Force, it’s not the powers he’s learned. It’s not all these things that are an advantage. That’s gotten him to the table. But what saves Luke is his ability to look at all that and look at his father and say, ‘No. I’m gonna throw away this weapon. I’m not gonna do that.’ ‘I’m gonna let that go and be selfless.’
And he says, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” But what he’s really saying, and why we connect, and why I connect to it, is because he’s saying, ‘I love my father, and there’s nothing you can do that’s gonna change that.’ The Emperor can’t understand that connection. ‘Why won’t you take from the power of the galaxy?’ ‘Why won’t you take this?’
And Anakin, in that moment, has to be the father that he’s never had. He has to give up all the power in the galaxy and save his son. And that’s the selfless act that he does in return for his son. And that’s what saves him in turn… Son saves the father, the father saves the son – and it works out perfectly. And I draw that line all the way from The Phantom Menace to [Return of the] Jedi. That’s the story of Star Wars. It’s all part of the fated arc and why it works and why we care.” -Dave FiloniDisney Gallery / Star Wars: The Mandalorian – Legacy. Transcription by Han Spinel
Filoni’s intimate perspective is an extension of George Lucas’s vision from which we can settle the first issue: who would’ve been the Sequel Trilogy’s lead protagonist?
“Without ruining the movie I’m gonna tell you that your daughters are gonna be so excited. This character of Rey is, I think, one of the most wonderful heroines to come along in movie history. I mean, she is great. So I think they’re gonna be very happy. They’re gonna have their own Luke Skywalker now. Let’s put it that way.” – Kathleen Kennedy
Continuing the Narrative Through-line of Star Wars
Seeing that Rey was billed as this generation’s Luke Skywalker, and is the unequivocal lead of the Sequel Trilogy, this would of course require Rey to be the daughter of either Luke or Leia. It is entirely possible that Daisy Ridley was originally cast for this very purpose, as her likeness (e.g., eyes, nose, smile, chin) to the Skywalkers is altogether uncanny, especially Luke.
Even John Williams specifically composed Rey’s theme with inspirations drawn from Anakin’s theme, and the legendary composer himself believed Rey to be Luke’s daughter. This makes perfect sense from a purely story balancing perspective: by giving Leia a child, but not Luke, it would grow Leia’s character into the next phase of her life (motherhood), but leaves Luke without the same progression into fatherhood. Assuming Rey is Luke’s daughter to help balance the progression of the Skywalker twins, how does the child of Luke fit into other elements of our Sequel story?
As it turns out, Rey being the daughter of Luke presents a poetic balance to the story and also the saga. Where the Daughter (Leia) has a Son (Ben), the Son (Luke) has a Daughter (Rey). The Daughter (Leia) loses her son (Ben) to darkness, the Son (Luke) regains his daughter (Rey) in light. This simple premise requires only one  unnamed character: Rey’s mother, who has a child with Luke Skywalker, Rey Skywalker. This instantly connects the major through-line of Episodes I-VI to the Sequel Trilogy by growing beyond the fated-arc of the family and presenting our family-as-protagonist with a final test that will define the legacy of the Skywalkers once and for all. Let me explain:
The Son [Ben] of the Daughter [Leia] vs. the Daughter [Rey] of the Son [Luke].
First, Rey being the daughter of Luke retains the central and poetic conflict of family: the Son of the Daughter vs. the Daughter of the Son. More importantly to the overall Skywalker Saga however, is that this creates turmoil between brother and sister (the OT generational protagonist) as they are now at odds with one another by consequence of the fight between their respective offspring. And finally, the fate of Rey Skywalker vs. Kylo Ren also decides the ultimate fate of Anakin’s duality (the PT generational protagonist): are the Skywalkers destined for darkness (Vader, Ren), or defined by light (Luke, Rey)?
“Now be brave, and don’t look back. Don’t look back.” -Shmi Skywalker
This question moves the story beyond the fated prophecy reconciled in Return of the Jedi, and instead seeks to reconcile the “sins of the father” and the debts of Darth Vader. This is why it’s important to note that Anakin’s dying words to Luke are a message to the daughter that didn’t get to see his moment of redemption. Why is that important? In addition to helping Leia cope with and ultimately forgive the “sins of her father,” Anakin perhaps recognized that Leia would need to someday deal with this question in another light. Perhaps she too would have to decide whether there was still good in someone that she loved – her own son. And here, we have all the ingredients for a climactic conclusion filled with family drama.
In doing so, we define the legacy and humble origins of a matriarchal mythos, rather than re-create a balancing of the Force act with an unrelated generational protagonist from a motherless patriarch as in the current Sequel Trilogy. With the balance of our story echoing all the way back to The Phantom Menace and the legacy of our family-as-protagonist, which themes can be established and what kind of story implications unfold?
How to Keep Luke Skywalker’s Story Moving Forward
As we’ve argued countless times, perhaps Luke’s exile, or what he saw in Ben’s mind, was the result or reveal of Ben accidentally or intentionally doing something that led to the death of Luke’s wife and Rey’s mother, and also Rey’s disappearance. Perhaps Luke even believed Rey to be dead, and thus, we are given an extremely compelling (and more importantly, relatable) reason for Luke’s exile or even his cutting himself off from the Force and the rest of his family. Instead of growing to become the antithesis of his defining character moment by giving up hope in his sister’s only son, we could have seen that Luke lost everything and the one person responsible is his sister’s only son. This would’ve revealed the why of Luke’s moment of hesitation, since we are currently without a reason as to why Luke doesn’t learn from his mistake of striking his father in anger. As a father, avenging the death of his wife and daughter, balanced with a brother letting go his anger for his sister to have one last chance at saving her son provides a dramatic and new test for Luke.
The Found Family Theme
In addition to enhancing the Skywalker generational family drama, we can see how fruitful this story could’ve been for the theme of found family as it pertains to the character designed without a generational family of his own – Finn:
First, the story would be much improved and the theme of found family more directly linked to the origins of Star Wars by Finn receiving tutelage from either or both, Luke and Leia. My own preference is that we follow and balance the ending of The Force Awakens.
We see Leia send the Father (Han) to confront the Son (Ben), and we witness the loss of the Father (Han) and also the Son (Ben) to the dark side, as Ren rejects his chance at redemption. We see also Leia send the Daughter (Rey) to confront the Father (Luke), but in keeping with Lucas’s vision, Rey would find a father, and Luke gains a daughter in light. Where Luke and Rey see a positive return through their confrontation, Leia has suffered great loss with Han and Ben. This is where I believe Finn best fits in.
Seeing as though Rey has left for Ahch-To and will focus her story with Luke, Finn is left in the care of Leia. Here, Leia could’ve sensed the Force growing in Finn after his awakening on Jakku and grappled with whether or not to train him (possibly fearing that her improper training would lead Finn to the Dark Side). Further, Finn is an obvious choice to be by Leia’s side as he, like the Skywalker twins, was taken from a family he’ll never know.
So, in this story of found family, Leia loses her son to the dark side and the First Order, and from the same First Order she finds another son in Finn awakening to the light side of the Force. Ben murders his father in darkness, and Finn finds a mother-figure in light. Balance, a.k.a. Narrative foils. These are the makings of a perfectly relatable found family message, and one that was supported through symbolism – FN-2187 is a callback to Leia’s prison cell on the Death Star – 2187.
This symbolism could’ve been further accented through a found brotherly-bond between Finn and Ben. Finn begins his story in the First Order, which bridges a bond between he and Kylo Ren. This bond is broken during Finn’s awakening on Jakku, and contrary to popular opinion, it is Finn, not Rey, in The Force Awakens that continues to draw the ire of Kylo Ren throughout. Kylo Ren feels betrayed by Finn, screaming “Traitor!” in order to provoke him to fight. Thus, Finn begins the story within the metaphorical prison and symbolic armor of evil, only to break free and ultimately risk his life for the light of the Skywalker family.
In contrast, we see that Ben Solo also breaks a bond – but the bond is of blood and his own family when he chooses to murder his father, Han Solo. Thus, Ben Solo begins his own story in the light of the Skywalker family, only to break free and ultimately sacrifice his family within his metaphorical prison and symbolic armor of evil.
This defines the significance and narrative power of Rey + Finn vs. Kylo Ren – two children that had their lives and family stripped from them squaring off against the man who threw his childhood and family away. This aspect of the story is at the heart of The Force Awakens, but then completely abandoned in The Last Jedi.
A New Theme of Redemption
Lastly, if Ben were to be redeemed, I have argued that his redemption can no longer narratively give back to the same family he chose to murder – that Ben has crossed the moral event horizon. Dave Filoni later described the same in The Art of The Rise of Skywalker book:
So, like Filoni describes as the narrative through line of Anakin’s redemption, what is the one selfless thing left for Ben Solo to do to be redeemed in a story that sees him murder and destroy the family-as-protagonist?
This is where I have argued that the only soulful redemption arc remaining for Ben Solo is a redeem-it-forward arc. Rather than save the family he chooses to throw away and murder, what if Ben Solo instead gives his life for the safety and survival of someone else in danger of losing what he chose to throw away? In this way, Ben Solo could’ve demonstrated that he truly sees the bigger picture. This message is one of acknowledgement for Ben, that he knows he cannot simply return to the family he’s destroyed, but that he can still uphold their legacy by returning family to someone else that’s lost it.
Who might this story fit well with? Ben’s narrative foil and brotherly-bond – Finn.
Like Leia, Finn could’ve also found a long lost sibling in addition to his connection with the Force. We see Jannah had a similar awakening as Finn when she tells her story about defecting from the First Order. Finn recognizes the Force in Jannah, explaining to her that it’s an instinct, a feeling. This provides a simple and easy connection to family once thought-lost, but now found (and paralleling Rey and Luke’s reconnection). Thus, Ben sacrificing himself for Jannah’s safety returns family back to the man he chose not to be (Finn). If you ask me, Ben giving his life to save his found-family brother from losing the only family he has left would have been a resounding conclusion for the son of a smuggler with no family of his own, and a Princess raised by an adopted one.
Some fans genuinely enjoyed the finale to the Skywalker Saga, but for many others, they left the theater feeling empty or conflicted. What was it that many found to be so unsatisfying about Rey’s victorious conclusion? Stay tuned, because I’ll share my review and thoughts in part IV.
Thank you again for reading along, and as always, MTFBWY….