WARNING: Contains spoilers for all seven existing 'Star Wars' movies. If you haven't seen 'The Force Awakens' yet, do not read this.
The new 'Star Wars' movie is out, and by all accounts it's a pretty decent movie -- a worthy reboot/sequel to a franchise which spent the past 15 years or so hampered by some comically misguided prequels.
Having seen the latest edition, and mostly thoroughly enjoyed what Abrams, Kasdan et al have served up, it also became clear that there is a major problem with this saga, and it has nothing to with those Prequels.
In fact it goes back to undoubtedly the greatest movie in the series: 'The Empire Strikes Back'. And to arguably the most iconic scene of the whole series to date. You know the one: "No... I am your father."
Great twist, right? Provides extra depth and emotion to already iconic characters. Cements the series' place in popular cultural consciousness for all time. Awesome. So why could this possibly be a problem?
Well, let's call back the very first 1977 movie called 'Star Wars' and try to take its plot in isolation from all the material that came after.
Luke Skywalker is an orphan boy living with his Aunt and Uncle, with dreams of getting involved in a galactic conflict against the Empire the scale of which he can barely comprehend while stuck moisture farming on a desert planet. He meets a wise old knight from an ancient order. The knight was good friends with Luke's father, who it turns out was a Jedi Knight too, the best star pilot in the galaxy, and a cunning warrior.
At this point, we've got a fairly decent breadth of main characters and families all involved with each other and the Force. There's Luke and his Dad, Uncle, Aunt, etc. There's Leia and her Dad, there's Darth Vader and Obi Wan. There's a sense that with that many families involved, we're dealing with a large-ish society here -- it gives a feeling of unlimited potential protagonists, and we just happen to be focusing mainly on Luke.
Then, in the next movie, there's the big reveal:
Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Vader: No, I am your father.
All of a sudden, we go from having several family lines to focus on, to basically only having one -- the Skywalkers. It's a dramatic collapse of scale in the series. And that was just the beginning. Then we get the I-am-your-brother reveal in Jedi, and this 'family-relationship' reveal becomes de rigueur in 'Star Wars' screenplays.
But it didn't need to be this way. OK, Luke's father was a Jedi -- and that gives him an impetus to want to learn the ways of the Force, plus his family was killed by the Empire, so he's super-pissed, and maybe even susceptible to Dark Side influence as a result of his anger -- that's all fine motivational stuff -- it works.
But as soon as you make Luke and Vader tied together in a genetic bond, it's a very short slide down a slippery slope to having the Force dictated by midi-chlorians -- they're both Genetic. The Skywalkers are often even described online nowadays as a 'Force Sensitive Bloodline'.
And so now we have 'The Force Awakens' and **Spoiler Alert** they're trying to pull off the same business -- maybe worse than ever before. Take Kylo Ren. Not a mere baddie, but Leia and Han's corrupted son, and therefore Darth Vader's grandson, and another Skywalker by blood. And Rey, who is so strong in the Force without having been trained at all, that she can outmanoeuvre battle-hardened TIE fighter pilots on her first space ship flight. And who are her parents? We don't know! But there are constant intimations that they are significant.
Looking back, it seems clear. 'Star Wars' would have been a whole lot better if Vader hadn't been made to be Luke's father. 'Force Sensitivity' in the saga should have continued to be shown as something anyone can develop, through discipline, focus, and training. Yet, since that 'I am your father' reveal, we've been restricted to following the adventures of a single, genetically distinct, somewhat incestuous kind of Royal Family. Focusing solely on this Skywalker 'bloodline' turns it from a Space Opera, into just a Soap Opera.
And that's a shame, because Star Wars has the potential to be a very powerful myth for our age, yet it's prevented from being truly universal by this notion of hereditary greatness and/or significance. In order to create a truly great modern myth, more suitable to our ideally egalitarian, meritocratic society, then mastery, or sensitivity to the Force ought to be something that is accessible to all characters, if they have the will. Something to work hard for, rather than something to inherit.
The way-too-long version of this piece originally appeared on Facebook here.
Visit Hugo Farrant's website www.hugothepoet.com