Like a lot of folks in my generation, that weird one born in the ’80s that falls in-between Generation X and the full-blown Millennials, Star Wars was one of my introductions to science fiction. The Empire Strikes Back is one of the first films I can remember seeing (I didn’t see the original film until some time later, so my young self actually considered A New Hope to be a prequel). It definitely inspired my standards for cinematic adventure and epic space tales. I loved its scope, its universe-building, and the fact that it balanced dark threats with fun banter. But one part of its fairy tale aspect came to bother me in my high school years: the Skywalker family.
I love myth and fairy tales, but grimace when I come across a story that emphasizes someone as a savior mainly due to their family line. I enjoy someone proving that they’re amazing because of how they were raised and by whom, and certainly amazing people can be raised by wealthy and influential family. But in general, I’m not wild about putting faith in royal bloodlines. My parents and my grandfather, proud of his Irish heritage, instilled in me a distrust of royal authority and anyone who held power just because they were born into it. I like when Superman is said to be the son of Krypton’s greatest scientist and astronaut rather than the planet’s most politically powerful and famous family. I prefer the version of Aquaman’s story where he’s elected to be king of Atlantis rather than being given the thrones by a city he’s never been to before simply because his mom was royalty.
So by my late teens, the sheer influence of the Skywalker family started bothering. I thought, wait, this isn’t a story of rebellion fighting an empire as much as it is about a magical kid arguing with his evil wizard dad and another evil wizard about how the galaxy is run. Leia was a powerful figure, but then it turned out she was a Skywalker too. So only the Skywalkers got to decide how things go? It all came down to them? It didn’t ruin the story, but it did cause some of the shine to fade for me.
But hey. Opinions change. Teenage me was also more into angst and being contrary, more interested in the cynical joke. Older me, now in my early 30s, is a different kind of fan and decided to look at Star Wars with a different lens. It’s not just a fairy tale about a royal line of mages with cool swords. It’s got quite a lot to say about social responsibility.
Neither Luke nor Leia start the rebellion. Vader doesn’t start the Sith. These things existed before them. Vader becomes powerful in the Force and part of his fall from grace is that he puts himself above others, deciding he knows what is best. But Luke does not do this. He doesn’t tell off superior officers because they don’t have the power to move things via thought alone. He doesn’t dismiss higher ranking officers as mere pawns just because they can’t sense the presence of others or know how to glimpse the future. He considers himself one among many and rises in the ranks through his actions. He trusts in others and relies on their help.
Leia was considered royalty on her planet Alderaan, but she chose to serve on the Imperial Senate. Such a decision puts her into a much larger world, dealing with a galaxy rather than a planet, but also makes her one among many who serve. She chose this life. She had privilege and power and yet chose to ask, “What can I do to help and serve on a larger scale?” So the opening scene of the Star Wars saga introduced us to this woman of privilege who believed in social responsibility. We then also learn she’s a rebel. So despite the fact that loyalty would likely have gotten her greater power due to her status and influence, she chose yet again to serve the greater good, to make sure that common people had someone championing for them and were not swept aside by the powerful.
Luke and Leia eventually learn of their true heritage. They could join their father, become the rulers of this empire. Vader tells Luke flat out that he is willing to overthrow Emperor Palpatine so that the two of them can rule side by side rather than share power with a politician who manipulated his way into authority. But the Skywalker children refuse. Luke’s final confrontation with Vader and the Emperor is not a battle between wizards vying for control. Luke is fighting for the sake of not being put into power. He, and Leia elsewhere, are directly defying the idea that the power they were born with gives them the right to force their will onto others. They’re setting aside the classes they’re seemingly entitled to and choosing to be part of a community.
With heroes such as these, it’s no wonder how many they inspire, including a space pirate who decides to put aside selfishness and cynicism for the sake of serving a cause greater than himself. Star Wars is a fairy tale that subverts the royal hero trope. The entire saga features, at its core, a message that people from different backgrounds, beliefs and classes all having something useful to contribute. That’s pretty amazing. That’s one of many reasons why I never get tired of this saga.
Thanks for letting me talk. May the Force be with you.
Alan “Sizzler” Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) is the author of the New York Times best seller Doctor Who: A History. He moonlights as an actor, a comic book historian and a consulting geek. He has contributed chapters to Star Trek & History and The Walking Dead Psychology. As a child, he wrote fan-fiction about a vampire Jedi with a purple lightsaber. He now owns a purple lightsaber.