The relationship between father and child is at the heart of the Star Wars series and the singularly most important aspects that elevates the story and makes it unforgettable. Star Wars is, quite simply, an expression of how we relate to our fathers; idolize them, seek them, understand them, hate them, surpass them, and then ultimately forgive them.
Any movie without the father-relationship as a focus is simply not Star Wars.
What was Anakin’s father like?
Star Wars is more than just a good set of movies; it’s more than just some special effects, more than a samurai-western hybrid film, more than good acting, more than the sum of its parts. There’s something kind of spiritual about it, something that hits me right in the gut. I’m talking just about my own experiences here, I really have no idea how it truly affects anyone else, but I’ll assume I’m not in too small a minority here. I feel a strong emotional pull when I watch the movies, nothing that was easy to put my finger on, and I have since I was a little boy. I think this Jungian longing is the strong focus of the story on the relationship between father and child.
The main character in Star Wars is clearly Luke. Luke goes through the biggest emotional and spiritual journey in the films and starts the series off as a know-nothing character to bridge the gap between audience and the films’ universe. It is his ever-changing struggle with his parentage that hooks me in and that strikes that highly resonant chord.
How did my father die?
Your father wanted you to have this [lightsaber] when you were old enough.
I wish I’d known him.
I want to … become a Jedi like my father.
And he was a good friend.
A New Hope starts off with Luke as an adopted child, never knowing his father and raised by his uncle. He has so many questions about his father. Like me, he wants to uncover the mysteries of his ancestry and the most important man in his life. When given a choice to do what he wishes, when he no longer has the guiding hand of his foster parents, Luke chooses to follow his father’s path knowing that it is fraught with danger.
The Obi-Wan figure then steps full-force into Luke’s life. He is a wizened figure, not only the same profession as Luke’s father, but was once a close friend. Obi-Wan takes on the role of surrogate father, teaching young Luke in the ways of the galaxy, and guiding Luke onto his path of personal growth. When Obi-Wan is killed before his young protégé’s eyes, Luke is devastated. He has, once again, lost his father. This sets up his tremendous leap in development as a character, growing into an ace pilot and confident warrior.
Why wish you become Jedi?
Well, mostly because of my father, I guess.
Empire Strikes Back continues the father-focus in a more obvious way. Luke is focused on his difficult new Jedi training because of the echoes from his past and the unshakable drive to become closer to his father in the only way he knows possible. When he discovers the horrifying truth, he must once again re-evaluate his entire universe and purpose in life. Luke has lost a part of himself, shown symbolically through his lost hand. His visions in the cave on Degobah are now understood to hold a deeper meaning: within the dark helmet of Vader lies Luke, just as somewhere within Luke’s soul lay the essence of his father, Vader.
Every time I think about this, it grips me tighter. No matter where I have come from, where I am going, or what I do; my father is with me. I might wish things were different, that he were different. I bet Luke wishes his father wasn’t a dark lord of the sith. Your parents are a physical part of you, and as troubling as it might be, it is undeniable. The same mistakes they have taken, the same demons they have struggled with, are yours as well. Even in death, the sins of thy father have an inescapable grasp.
I can’t kill my own father.
Return of the Jedi finalizes the series and Luke’s father-journey all in one with the well-known triumph of good vs. evil and the destruction of the emperor, the corrupting influence that destroyed the father but was overcome by the son. Vader is redeemed and Luke is at peace; all in all a very Hollywood style happy, predictable ending. I find this film to be the weakest of the series, although certainly not without its finer moments. Namely, the shot establishing Vader’s robotic hand and his dying wish.
When I see the exposed wiring of Vader’s lost hand, it’s a clear connection to Luke’s own black gloved appendage. The whole thing is a little obvious; I’m sure pretty much everyone gets it. Still, I can’t help but not mention that the scene was put together well and shows the ending stage of Luke’s relationship with his father: triumph. Lastly, we are left with the most touching moment in the evacuation of the Death Star. A father’s dying wish is to see his son one last time before he dies. As an adult, that scene has so much more impact on me than when I first watched it.
I would give anything to see my father again.