Editor’s Note: Contains NO spoilers for Rogue One.
My son’s name was almost Luke. Seriously. And it wasn’t even my idea.
My wife and I had decided to give him an “L” name to honor my Mom, and it was a toss up between Liam and Lucas. Upon his arrival, seeing his shock of red hair, we went with the name that doesn’t evoke thoughts of the famous Jedi. But his first movie was still a Star Wars film: the Rebels premiere I saw with NYC Dads Group.
Being a Star Wars fan myself has meant my son has lots of merchandise from the franchise. Books, toys, shirts — you name it. Most notably, he’s inherited my old die-cast Millennium Falcon from 1979. But while he knows who many of the important characters are, he has yet to really sit down and watch the movies straight through. He’s not quite old enough yet.
Now I’ve learned the hard way not to plan too much for my kid. He once rejected what I thought would be the perfect first Halloween. That’s how it is with kids, as many parents know. This is the same boy who greeted the grandfather he hadn’t seen for two years by throwing up all over him, after all. So, I’ve accepted that whatever vision I have for watching Star Wars with him will probably not turn out as expected.
Still, I can’t help but look forward to it, simply because fatherhood itself is such a strong theme in all of the films. Both the original and prequel trilogies center around an orphaned boy, and one turns out to be the father of the other. This is a theme we see, if not repeated, then reflected, with Daisy Ridley’s mysterious Rey, also Force sensitive, also left in another’s care on a desert planet.
Nor is fatherhood a theme left only to the Skywalkers. Jango Fett forged a strong bond with his son, who would turn out to be notorious bounty hunter Boba Fett. While their lives definitely couldn’t be considered wholesome or even safe, it can’t be argued how close they were to each other.
So if fatherhood is such a strong theme in Star Wars, what is that Star Wars wants to tell us about fatherhood?
Enter Darth Vader. Jango Fett’s fatherhood choices may have been more than a little questionable, but next to Vader he comes off like Ward Cleaver. Galactic genocide kinda has that effect. No matter how awesome a moment it was for Vader to save Luke, it can’t be argued that old Darth was bad news. I mean he’d already cut off his own kid’s hand by then.
Still, when push came to shove, Vader couldn’t stand by and let The Emperor kill Luke. While that may not redeem him in the eyes of the Galaxy at large, it did give him a moment to truly be with his son. In the eyes of his son, at least, Vader got his redemption, and became a Force Ghost while Ewoks danced with the Rebel Alliance.
In The Force Awakens, we got a flip side of that. Han Solo, no matter how much we love him, still abandoned his family, and roamed the stars as a rogue and scoundrel. And yeah, he returned to find his wayward son, Kylo Ren, but just as it looked like he might forge the connection he lost, Kylo ran him through.
And can I just say that the image of the dying Han reaching up to give his son a last touch on the cheek was burned into my brain permanently. It was just traumatizing to watch.
Neither are themes of fatherhood limited to characters who are the biological parent of their younger counterpart. Obi-Wan Kenobi had a hand in mentoring two generations of Skywalkers. While they may have bickered, there was no question Kenobi formed a strong bond with Anakin Skywalker, as he’d promised his own father figure, Qui-Gonn Jinn that he would.
Of course, not all father figure characters were good either. Emperor Palpatine put on paternal airs in order to gain control over Anakin. He made Skywalker think that the Jedi had abandoned him in order to unleash Darth Vader’s power upon them.
Throughout the films, as fatherhood is examined through different characters and scenarios, abandonment comes up again and again.
Luke, Anakin, Rey, Finn, Kylo and Rogue One’s Jinn are all separated from their parents. Some have father figures, such as Bail Organa, Qui-Gonn, Obi-Wan, Uncle Owen, or, chillingly, Palpatine, and some do not.
Some become fathers themselves, and although they bungle the job, find a way to redemption at the end or die trying. Or both.
But the ultimate point of all of this is how important fatherhood is. Luke spent his life on Tatooine wondering who his father was, hanging on stories of his adventures. When the horror of the realization that he was Vader’s son faded, Luke became determined to redeem him.
We see that happen when Vader finally throws off Palpatine’s influence to save Luke, when not even the deaths of millions of innocent people could sway him away from the Dark Side.
Is the fact that fatherhood is such a strong theme of Star Wars a motivation for me to want to make watching the films with my own son a special experience? I’d be hard pressed to deny it. But mostly, Star Wars is just a fun time for me, and that’s what I want to share with my own kid.
Star Wars has become more than a film franchise at this point, it is now actually generational. I’ve spent the majority of my life as a Star Wars fan. We’re coming up on 40 years (GAH!) since the first film was released, so I have literally grown up with it. It’s something I want to pass down to my kid.
But I also want to see it vicariously through his eyes. Liam has made life fresh and new and exciting again, as children can do for you. Watching Star Wars as he sees the films for the first time is an experience I cannot help but look forward to.
Because no matter how much Star Wars talks about fatherhood in the sense of abandonment, he’ll always know how important he is to me, and that I’m excited to share everything that I love with him.
And, oh, man, if he had been named Luke, that moment when Vader reveals he’s Daddy Skywalker would have been beyond awesome. Woulda had the mask ready to go and everything.