This piece contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Now’s your last chance to turn back!
Star Wars has always had a firmly-expressed family theme, whether it was the connection of the Skywalkers or the found family vibes between droids C-3PO and R2D2. In Rise of Skywalker this theme is resoundingly continued, with director JJ Abrams definitively framing the franchise around blood, awkwardly retconning The Last Jedi to make Rey the granddaughter of previously-assumed-to-be-dead Emperor Palpatine. With this retcon, the Star Wars movies become a tale of two bloodlines, both of which have defined the past few decades of the universe. Once you get over the horrifying idea that Emperor Palpatine fucks, the issues here come in two parts.
First, in tying the fate of the universe to a half dozen people, Abrams further entrenches Star Wars in the view of history where events are wholly defined by noble (in more ways than one) individuals. This is the view that says that it was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, not the tireless work of abolitionists and the changing socio-economic and political situations of the time. The same view says that Winston Churchill was responsible for beating the Nazis, not the millions of soldiers from the USSR who died on the Eastern Front. In this perspective on history, only these innately noble individuals could have driven events in the direction in which they moved through the sheer will and heroism only these individuals could ever possess. In other words, the galaxy-wide Resistance and the broader fight don’t matter.
In Rise of Skywalker, there is a moment in the climactic battle where it seems like all is lost for the rebels, but at the last minute, allies from across the galaxy come to their aid, in spite of the planet-killing threats of the brand new, Palpatine-created Final Order. What is superficially an awe-inspiring moment about unity in the face of overwhelming odds ultimately rings hollow, because as much as the brilliant and triumphant score tries to convince you otherwise, these people don’t matter at all. Instead, what matters is the conflict on the ground (in a new throne room, no less) between Rey (one genetically endowed noble), killing Palpatine (her grandfather) alongside new good guy Ben Solo (another genetically endowed noble) — the rest of the struggle is just decoration.
The other main issue is that it creates a hierarchy of heroism based on blood. As much as Finn is implied to be ‘force-sensitive’, he can never be a true noble hero like Ben Solo, even though Finn faces much more overwhelming odds in his abandonment of the First Order. The same could be said for Poe leaving his spice-dealing crew or Jannah’s desertion of the First Order. Whilst all of these people face overwhelming odds to get where they are and fight for what’s right, it is those of “noble blood” (Ben and Rey) whose heroism is “crucial.” In the creation of such a hierarchy, Abrams essentially says that in the world of Star Wars, only a select few can be the champions of good and this select few aren’t decided by dedication, willpower, or even the randomness of the universe. They are instead decided by blood (and the midichlorians therein).
More Star Wars
- Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker Spoiler-Free Review
- Star Wars The Rise of Skywalker Spoiler-Heavy Review
- How KOTOR 2 Made the Force Interesting
This feels eerily similar to eugenics and the concept of social Darwinism, the pseudoscience which dominated late 19th/early 20th century western intellectual thought and declared that genetics/heritage lead to lower IQs and that people with “weaker” blood are subhuman. The uncomfortable proximity to this idea is only made more apparent when we recognize that in Rise of Skywalker (and most other Star Wars films), every prominent force user is white and (ostensibly) able-bodied. Social Darwinism was (and still is) used to justify colonial/imperial atrocities, as well as a wave of violence against disabled people, so the connection is unavoidable.
Critically, what this fixation on bloodlines does is recreate the structures which are the foundations of the imperialism and fascism which the overarching Star Wars narrative is meant to be pushing against. European imperialism has historically been justified on the basis that there were select people (Europeans) who were capable of ‘saving’ indigenous groups, setting themselves above these “subaltern” people due to their European blood and heritage. The fascism of the real world, which is so frequently evoked in relation to The First Order, is similarly reliant on the idea that there is an Innately superior group with this superiority often relating to blood.
Yet in Rise of Skywalker, we are told that these same ideas of genetic hierarchy are the only thing which can save us. We’re told that with a sense of noblesse oblige, these individual members of superior bloodlines will feel a moral pull to stop the systems which give them their elevated position. This idea requires a fundamental misunderstanding of what resistance and revolution actually entail. The European empires of the 20th century didn’t fall because a few Good European Nobles decided to take on the system, they fell because post-war conditions and persistent indigenous resistance made them functionally impossible to maintain. A similar story can be found in the fall of most oppressive systems. In focusing on these bloodlines, Abrams creates a false narrative where only the master’s tools can dismantle the master’s house, essentially taking the aesthetics of resistance and revolution and creating a “nicer version” of the same fundamental ideologies.
To fully analyze this focus on blood we also have to look at who it excludes. If power is based on blood heredity, then are relationships between people of the same sex somehow less meaningful because they can’t transfer their power to their offspring? It doesn’t help that this takes place within a franchise that barely acknowledges the existence of queer people and refuses to focus on them, even when the actors are clamouring for it. Or how about those who biologically cannot have children, or those who generally don’t want to biologically reproduce? If transference of power is entirely based in blood, then a hierarchy of relationship types is created which prioritizes those unions which can bear (powerful) children. In making legacy largely an issue of blood, the ideas of found family present throughout Star Wars are fundamentally undermined, since those ties are still deemed to ultimately be secondary to those found in blood.
Above all, what this hyperfixation shows is a lack of imagination. Star Wars provides such a broad and extensive canvas that reaches deep into both sci-fi and fantasy, so to root the talents of the wielders of the existential and mysterious Force in bloodline is not only counterproductive, but profoundly boring. Mystery is replaced by midichlorians and wonder-filled potentiality shrinks. Instead, we’re given a world where only those of noble blood can truly save us – and where’s the hope in that?