Star Wars has always been about family. From the very beginning Luke wondered about his father as he pushed against the domesticated life of his Uncle Owen. The Empire Strikes Back put parenting at the center of the story with an epic battle between father and son. The father pleads with his son not to throw away his life, not to go down the path of destruction, but to join him and together rule the galaxy. It’s no surprise the new films make family a central focus. Rey, like Luke, wonders about her family, when they might come back, if they’ll come back at all. The Force Awakens makes her lineage central to the new trilogy; The Last Jedi works hard to address the issue in a particular, and for the record I think more interesting, way. The Rise of Skywalker corrects the The Last Jedi’s course, placing lineage once again front and center.
The more interesting family story, to me, is the fate of Kylo Ren. Straight from Greek tragedy, Kylo Ren kills his father, not to marry his mother, but to rule the galaxy. The story is an example of differentiation, a path that parents want for their son, only to be short circuited by ambition grounded in a mythical past. I’m told grandparents and grandchildren share a tight bond because they have a common enemy—parents. Kylo Ren is a child heading down his or her own path, driven by the identity of his grandfather, consequences be damned. This is the more interesting battle in the film— the struggle between Kylo Ren and Ben Skywalker. Han’s death in the Force Awakens was necessary; Kylo Ren needed to kill Han Solo for the sake of Ben. Can you imagine having to live with Han Solo as your Father? Luke as an uncle? The Skywalker Jedi patrol as the family business? As painful as it was, Han Solo had to die; Ben Skywalker had to make his own life. Given the circumstances, the only way to do so was to turn to the dark side.
As painful as it can be, this struggle is a valuable part of life. The Last Jedi was right to suggest that our identity isn’t determined by our bloodline, by our lineage, by our parents. The Rise of Skywalker is also right that, though we are not determined by it, family matters. This film is about parenting, it’s about sacrifice, and it’s about children making their own way in the world. Of course it’s about hope, but not for the galaxy. It’s hope for our kids—that through all the struggle, through the dark side and the light, our kids will be all right.