Some people will try to tell you that the Star Wars saga is about the conflict between the light and the dark sides of the force, between the Jedi and the Sith. Some will defend the Jedi as virtuous warrior monks. Others will try to tell you that the whole story is about bad parenting.
Star Wars is really about family, but it is too easy to blame the parents and the Skywalkers in particular. The films in fact illustrate how the main factions of Force-users, both light and dark, break apart the natural family. I make the extended case in an essay for the Public Discourse, “The Family and the Force.”
Here’s a teaser:
When we identify the mutual disdain for the family that is characteristic of users of both the light and the dark sides of the Force, we can begin to understand the revolutionary depth the Skywalker family represents in the Star Wars universe. Contrary to both the Sith and the Jedi, the Skywalkers are deeply committed to their familial bonds.
Only the bonds of love forged in the natural family can bring true balance to the Force. There are big spoilers in the piece itself for those of you who haven’t yet seen “The Force Awakens.” And below the break (and below this line), I’ll discuss a few more spoiler-ish items that I didn’t have space to treat in the larger essay.
First, as further evidence that the dark side Force-users take family ties and twist them for their own purposes, Kylo Ren’s dilemma, his feeling of being torn apart, is due to what he perceives to be the contrary legacies of his mother and father, on one side, and his grandfather on the other. So just as the family relationship remains constitutive for Anakin even as Darth Vader, so too do these relationships continue to be important generations later even as Kylo Ren embraces the dark side.
Second, given the parallels with “A New Hope,” it is clear that Rey is somehow connected to the Skywalkers. I think it makes the most sense for her to be the second child of Han and Leia, which would recreate an element of the brother-sister dynamic between Leia and Luke from the original trilogy. But perhaps she is also Kylo’s cousin. If she turns out to be Obi-Wan’s daughter or Anakin reincarnated, as some speculate, this would be quite disappointing.
And finally, much of the blame in Jeet Heer’s piece on the Skywalkers for their messed up families has to do with how “Darth Vader himself becomes a negligent dad.” Now this needs some explication. At the time of his fight with Obi-Wan on Mustafar, Anakin is deep in the grips of Darth Sidious. He therefore comes to believe that Padmé had cuckolded him with Obi-Wan, and the ensuing conflict is largely driven by the feelings of betrayal on both sides. The relationships here bear more than passing resemblance to Shakespeare’s Othello, with Anakin as Othello, Obi-Wan as Michael Casio, Padmé as Desdemona, and Sidious as Iago.
The Jedi think there is a thin line between love and hate, and therefore reject all emotion. But there is an even thinner line between an artificial disinterest and hate, which is why the Jedi are so often wrong about the Skywalkers: they are wrong about human nature and the human family.