Have kids? Plan to have kids? Want to live in the galaxy far, far away with them? Don’t. Why not? Parents in the Star Wars universe have among the worse fates of any characters in the franchise, and the proof is found across the films and the expanded universe. One need not look any farther than the man in the black mask, Darth Vader, to recognize to what a high degree parental problems are woven into the Star Wars mythos and its characters. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first, thy name is Skywalker.
Perhaps the two most famous parents, courtesy the prequel films, are Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala. An illicit love that began with childish obsession, the pregnancy of Luke and Leia found cinematic form in Revenge of the Sith, which was capped by the physical death of Padme and the spiritual or philosophical death of Anakin Skywalker. In a heartbeat, two of our heroes of the original trilogy are essentially orphans. Well, almost, because they instantly are given adoptive parents, Bail and Breha Organa for Leia and Lars and Beru Owen for Luke. Thankfully, both these sets of parents loved their adopted children and lived long prosperous lives. Except, they didn’t, before the final act of A New Hope, they, too, are dead. At least the twins grew up to be good parents themselves, right?
Turns out the Skywalker line is simply cursed when it comes to raising children or acting in the role of parents. Luke opens a new Jedi academy, where for all intents and purposes, he exists as a father figure, only to see all his pseudo-children, his students killed by his actual nephew, Ben Solo and Ben’s followers, the Knights of Ren. Luke then takes the high road by fleeing every responsibility left to him as the sole remaining Jedi. Leia, unfortunately, does little better, raising the kid who massacred the new hope for the Jedi, and as we all know, plunged a lightsaber through his father’s chest. Right, let’s just move on from the Skywalkers.
Before we continue the sad listing of doomed parents, it’s important to appreciate why tragedy seems to follow them. The short answer is drama and entertainment, a formula that goes back thousands of years in human history. In the Old Testament, father figures are routinely tested and forced to endure punishments, be it Moses leading his people/children free from slavery, only to never reach the promise land or King David, has to deal with one son essentially rebelling against him before choosing another, Solomon to replace him. In Greek tragedy, Oedipus’s father, Laius is killed by his son, and in Shakespeare, the troubles of King Lear are well known, while Hamlet’s father’s death is used to kick off the plot. However, it’s Hamlet whom is the true focused, as is the child of all who have been mentioned, as the loss of a parent or orphanhood are seen as an easy path to adversity for any one hero or heroine.
A common joke about Disney films are that nearly no Disney hero or heroine has surviving parents, a process that began with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and has happened as recently as Frozen. The loss of parents often subjects the hero to the absence of parental support, be it guidance or protection from others who would see harm done, usually for personal gain – think Scar in The Lion King. In the Star Wars universe, it’s more the former than the latter. The death of the Lars or the Organas happen when their children have reached an adult’s age, so symbolize more the characters departure from childhood into becoming adults who must continue on their journeys alone. More often than not, when someone loses a parent in Star Wars it’s either to introduce adversity or to push them down a path they would not otherwise seek.
In The Force Awakens, Rey loses her parents, her entire family, early on, abandoned on Jakku and forced to rely upon herself for much of her life. While the figurative death of that family forces her to adapt, to gain the very skills which will make her such a formidable hero, it’s not until she accepts that death that it transitions into a plot device to help her move on into the journey of confronting the First Order. In the same film, as we mentioned, Ben Solo pursues the death of his father to enable him to transition from child into Kylo Ren, Dark Side user. Across the variety of media that Star Wars takes shape in, the same pattern happens over and over.
In Marvel’s comics, Caleb Dume, now better known as Kanan Jarrus, essentially loses a mother figure in his Jedi Master Depa Billaba’s death at the hands of clone troopers. Without her, and the greater Jedi Order, he becomes that identifiable orphan who is forced to deal with problems much earlier than he should have. He notable thinks to himself that while the Jedi had taught him how to fight, they had failed to teach him how to survive…on his own. In Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath series, Norra Wexley leaves to join the Rebellion, thinking she’s left her son in the care of her sister, but that son, Temmin “Snap” Wexley, runs away and essentially lives the life of an orphan until her return. One of Snap Wexley’s friends and fellow X-wing pilots, Poe Dameron, we also learn in Before the Awakening loses his mother, Shara Bey, while still a child, as well. On the television screen, virtually every one of the main characters of Rebels has lost family, or specifically their parental figures. While Hera Syndulla’s father is alive, her mother isn’t, and quite obviously, the orphaning of Ezra Bridger was a storyline that persisted for a season and a half of the show.
The true story behind the tragedy of parenthood in Star Wars isn’t that becoming a parent is a terrible thing, but a parent’s death is an ancient and strong element of storytelling for character development. Without a doubt, the trend will continue into the future of Star Wars storytelling in its many forms because the parent-child connection is among the most powerful that we, as a species, and indeed, nearly all species, possess. When that connection is lost by a twist of fate, we mourn its absence, and when that connection is severed by purposeful act, we gasp with incredulity and surprise. In Star Wars only one reasonable important character has not yet had to deal with the death of a parental figure, and that character is C-3PO. For the protocol droid’s sake, let’s not remind him that Anakin Skywalker was his creator, shall we?