The recent Rogue One trailer revealed that Jyn Erso‘s father, Galen, will play a pivotal role in the upcoming film. It’s his message to the Rebel Alliance that alerts them to the first weapons test of the Death Star. It also looks like Jyn will be seeking out her father while also trying to steal the plans for the Empire’s greatest weapon. This trailer was the first indication that a parental figure would be one of the focal points of the story. It begs the question: why are Star Wars movies so stuck on tales about parents?
The obvious answer comes from the very first film. Luke is living with an idealized version of his father and is told that he was murdered by Darth Vader. Of course, The Empire Strikes Back subverted that fantasy by revealing Darth Vader to be none other than Anakin Skywalker. This revelation has loomed over Star Wars ever since. Nothing in the franchise has ever topped, “No. I am your father.” Unfortunately, this Maury Povich moment has gone on to become a crucial factor in every subsequent Star Wars film.
We got a whole other trilogy that focused on Papa Vader. That one even made a big deal about his old man by not giving him an old man! Now, that same mindset has led us to The Force Awakens where the biggest question is: who are Rey’s parents?
The Mystery Box/The Parent Trap
J.J. Abrams brought his patented “mystery box” method of storytelling into Star Wars. Naturally, that thinking would be applied to the lead character’s parentage. While it might be a compelling mystery, it also works to devalue Rey as a character. Her importance will be defined more by who spawned her rather than herself and her actions. Putting such emphasis on her parents makes her existence less impacting.
But, this isn’t meant to be just a takedown of that specific story decision. I’m genuinely asking why Star Wars can’t seem to get away from stories that spotlight parents. Is there an overarching theme that the movies want to embrace? Or is it something more simplistic and disappointing?
You Can Never Go Home
Star Wars is a franchise built on nostalgia. Literally. George Lucas cribbed from the sci-fi serials that he loved as a kid in order to create his new world. Family and parents play a huge part when it comes to our feelings of childhood. Star Wars is meant to do that but it seems like it might be more to do with keeping stories safe.
How much you want to bet that the Han Solo spinoff talks about Papa Solo? Or what about the prevailing theory that Finn is Lando‘s son? (Please don’t let that one be true.) Defaulting to stories about parents is an easy emotional button to press with audiences of all ages. Young kids can immediately identify with characters grappling with their parents because they are in the midst of doing just that. Adults can relate to their own experiences as parents or their relationships with their mothers and/or fathers. Parental issues are a four quadrant kind of plot point.
What’s disappointing is that Star Wars can be so much more than that.
A Galaxy Far, Far Too Small
When it comes to feature films, Star Wars hasn’t taken advantage of its limitless potential. The galaxy is an enormous place with a million different stories to tell. Fitting them all into some bottle called “parents, amirite?” is doing this fictional universe a disservice by shrinking it. There are far more complex, difficult, exciting, and fresh perspectives to take with what drives characters in the world of Star Wars.
Rogue One is supposed to signify the birth of something we haven’t seen before in a Star Wars film. It’s a shame it felt the need to cram in yet another story about how a character feels about their parent. That obviously doesn’t mean Rogue One will be bad, but it does mean that certain elements won’t be as groundbreaking as they appear. Hopefully, future Star Wars films can do something unexpected and exhilarating that doesn’t have to do with someone’s mom or dad.