In 1980 George Lucas brought audiences a Star Wars scene (and more specifically, a line of dialogue) so iconic that it has become indelibly ingrained within popular culture ever since. “No. I am your father” has been endlessly quoted, misquoted, parodied, and ripped-off for years. It is one of the most defining moments in the Star Wars movie series.
Then, in the final instalment of Lucas’s first science fiction movie trilogy, he pushed it too far with Princess Leia. Seeking to replicate that same buzz of excitement that we got when we learned our hero Luke was related to the ultimate Star Wars villain Darth Vader, we were told that Luke was also related to Princess Leia.
In itself, the moment is harmless. Sometimes, it can be satisfying when characters connect together in unexpected ways. On the surface it brings a sense of order and coherence to the events of the action movies, as if it were all meant to happen through the intricate designs of fate. But this seemingly small reveal has had a disproportionately significant, negative impact on Star Wars ever since.
After not one, but two surprise reveals of a familial link, there is now the expectation that genetic connections are a part of Star Wars. If one important character isn’t related to another previous Star Wars character, that is the plot twist rather than the opposite.
This is mildly annoying, but it also has a detrimental impact on the quality of Star Wars output. The prime example for this is the woebegotten sequel trilogy. This trilogy of adventure movies was plagued by constant speculation about Rey’s lineage. Could she be Luke’s secret, abandoned daughter? Was she the child of an Obi-Wan Kenobi who gave up on the Force while living in the harsh desert of Tatooine? Perhaps she was the sister of Kylo Ren. Or, maybe she had some hidden connection to Qui-Gon Jinn.
The Force Awakens left this intentionally open-ended, teasing some grand link to names gone before. Rightly, Rian Johnson and The Last Jedi firmly rejected this, and ended the nonsense notion that the life of the galaxy was in the hands of one bloodline. He explained that, gloriously, Rey was a nobody. He jettisoned feverish fan expectations, and told us that while not everyone could be the wielder of great power, anyone could be.
That was temporary. Out of the many sins of The Rise of Skywalker, the choice to retcon Johnson’s plot progression on the question of Rey’s heritage was the most egregious, retrograde of the lot. The Rise of Skywalker insisted that we forget Johnson’s lessons, in order to establish that Rey was, in fact, the granddaughter of the resurrected Sith lord Emperor Palpatine, hence her enormous talent.
What could have possibly compelled Abrams and co. to make such a sigh-inducing decision? Unfortunately, it stems back to Princess Leia. With his eagerness to connect not just Luke to Vader, but Leia to Luke as well, Lucas unintentionally established the precedent that these familial links were integral to Star Wars.
This has held the Star Wars series back. There was a time – specifically in the aftermath of The Rise of Skywalker – where I thought this insular self-referentiality could end up being terminal for the franchise. I worried that this lazy insistence on connecting new stories to old ones (exemplified through the obscene fascination with characters’ lineages) would stifle the creativity in Star Wars to such an extent that it would be unable to successfully create movies or TV series which were fresh and exciting.
Their individual merits aside, Rogue One was the expansion of a plot point almost half a century old, while Solo was the unnecessary backstory to Han Solo and Chewbacca. It was happening on the small screen too.
With characters like the Star Wars bounty hunter Boba Fett, Jedi like Ahsoka and Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the Rebellion fighter Cassian Andor all getting their own shows, I couldn’t see any hint that Star Wars had a desire for progression, with new characters and new stories. Almost everything, like with Princess Leia’s genetics, seemed like it needed to be anchored to something that had come before.
But there is still a glimmer of hope. The blissfully defiant Andor season 1, has shown that Star Wars can thrive when it frees itself from constant callbacks and allows for expansion. It is determined to tell its own story even within the limitations of being a prequel to a prequel which is a sequel to prequels. It proves that Star Wars is bigger than one family.
Star Wars is at its least interesting when it looks inward at an increasingly interconnected web of stories, and that tendency started with Princess Leia. Every new character is a blessing, and new stories free from the weight of Star Wars’s own past are the perfect venue for creative storytelling. So, acknowledging that: long live genetic freedom.