Examining the Grand Themes of Family in ‘Star Wars’


In anticipation for the "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" release this December, we're talking all things family and legacy embedded throughout the franchise.
Photo by Lucasfilms


A simple poster was released by Lucasfilm ahead of the “Star Wars Celebration” in April this year in Orlando, Florida. The geek within me melted with joy over the beauty of the artwork and the sheer scope displayed in a single image. The official key art for the event by artist Paul Shipper shows off 40 years of “Star Wars” characters from the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy and the sequel trilogy. With just one image, I began plotting how I could get my hands on a hard copy without having to go to the Orlando event. Suffice it to say, it’s not difficult to get “Star Wars” fans excited. Throw all the major characters together in a poster, and we’ll throw our hard earned cash at Disney.

The thing about this poster that particularly speaks to me as a “Star Wars” fan and as a lover of cinema is seeing three generations of the Skywalker family together: Anakin, Padme, Luke, Leia, Rey (who I personally believe, at this point in time, is Luke’s daughter) and Ben/Kylo Ren.

It immediately reminds me of what I love most about “Star Wars”: the grand themes of family and legacy.

Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, has emphasized that the “Star Wars” saga is about the Skywalker family, even going so far as to calling it the Skywalker saga. George Lucas once said the prequel movies were meant to echo moments in the original trilogy. As shown in the beautifully edited “Star Wars Poetry video,” the family story rhymes in “Star Wars.” We see father and son, mother and daughter and pivotal moments in their lives that mirror one another. Even the events in each trilogy match up. A star base is destroyed and a mentor figure dies in the first films of each trilogy. A Skywalker loses his right hand in the second films. Anakin/Darth Vader makes a crucial decision in the third films that changes the course of the galaxy. And as we’ve seen in “The Force Awakens,” the sequel trilogy seems like it is continuing the “Star Wars” rhyme.


Photo by Lucasfilms

In “Star Wars,” we also see history repeating itself. It rights wrongs while also creating new problems. Actions reverberate across time. Decisions made by characters in Anakin’s generation lead to the dissolution of the Jedi Order and the oppressive rule of the Empire in Luke’s generation. The death of the Empire in Luke’s generation leads to the rise of the First Order in Rey’s generation.

When my grandfather passed away in 2009, my parents sat down with my brother and me and told stories about our family history. They talked about how my grandparents had fled China after the Chinese Civil War and how my parents were born and raised in Taiwan. We learned about how they immigrated to the United States, and how some family members were left in Taiwan. They drew a family tree for us, showing where my brother and I were placed on the massive branches, where our cousins were in relation to us, how we’re scattered across the globe and the tales of drama and turmoil within the family over decades.

Every family has its fair share of history and drama. All of those family dynamics play out in “Star Wars.”

This is no more evident than in “The Force Awakens” when we see the latest Skywalker generation echoing the past. When Kylo Ren speaks to the mask of Darth Vader, he swears to his grandfather that he will “finish what [he] started.” It is a poignant scene where a grandson wishes to continue the legacy of his infamous grandfather. He has Vader’s blood flowing through him, and that family connection places a great pride and burden in Ren. When he lashes out in anger with his lightsaber or displays his deep insecurity over his inability to live up to his grandfather’s reputation, we see flashes of Anakin Skywalker, complaining about being held back by his mentor and not being able to meet his full potential.

That is “Star Wars.” It’s a family drama on a galactic scale across generations. With the upcoming release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” we will finally see how this all plays out in the next generation of the Skywalker family. Will writer/director Rian Johnson continue the echoes of the “Star Wars” rhyme, or will he embark on a new path for the saga? December can’t come soon enough.