Spoiler warning: This article delves into story details and plot points from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
The circle is now complete; with the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the Skywalker story has wrapped up, completing the narrative thread that began with the release of the original Star Wars in 1977. The new film does a wonderful job of reinforcing the themes that had us fall in love with Star Wars in the first place. While it may not be the Jedi way to crave adventure and excitement (which The Rise of Skywalker is full of), fans do love a narrative with themes that remind us of what it means to be human, how to stand up to bullies, the power of choice, and the importance of belonging. Here are a few of the themes that are prominent in The Rise of Skywalker, which echo back to the thematic elements found throughout the legacy of the cinematic Star Wars saga.
Family is not just about biology
The power of family, both biological and surrogate, is perhaps one of the most steadily recurring themes in the entire saga. Whether it is a princess, a scoundrel, and a farmboy teaming up against the overwhelming odds of the Empire, or a former spice runner, reformed stormtrooper, and retired scavenger attempting to subvert the First Order, Star Wars is full of characters from different backgrounds uniting for the greater good. While the initial goal is to help rid the galaxy of oppression, it ultimately becomes more about building a new family with one another.
In The Rise of Skywalker, Rey finally gets the answer to the question she thinks she has needed to know: who are her biological parents? The shocking revelation that her lineage means she is descendant of Palpatine is devastating, to say the least, but it also reminds Rey that, as Maz Kanata told her in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the belonging she seeks is not behind her, but ahead. Her journey to Ahch-To and eventual confrontation with Palpatine are evidence that the family she has with Luke, Leia, Finn, and Poe is the one that matters. These are the people she has been able to depend on for guidance and security, and who have helped her to grow as a person. Her proclamation at the end of the film is a poignant metaphor that Rey knows who her true family is. Much like her mentors Luke and Leia had to overcome their ancestry, Rey similarly chooses to forge a new path and create her own family.
Fear is the path to the dark side
When Yoda said in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace that “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering,” it cemented our understanding of what motivated Darth Vader in the first place: fear. His fear that he would lose Padmé drove him to betray the Jedi and abandon his core values. The results are legendary and catastrophic. Fear led Anakin to the dark side of the Force, and into deadly collaboration with Palpatine.
It was also fear that drove Luke Skywalker to Ahch-To, and arguably allowed for the First Order to grow at a more rapid pace. Luke says as much in The Rise of Skywalker when he tells Rey that fear is what kept him in isolation on the planet for as long as it did. However, he tells Rey, “Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi,” which is another way of saying that once you face your fears, acknowledge them, and overcome them, you are more likely to be able to resist the temptation of fear that leads to the dark side.
Ironically, Rey’s fear of what she might become manifests itself into an antithetical vision of her atop Palpatine’s throne (complete with fangs!). Her choice to run to Ahch-To to get away from what she is afraid of mirrors her master, Luke Skywalker. But once she learns you can’t run from trouble, either real or imagined, she starts to understand the wisdom of facing the inner demons that plague her. Like so many others in the Star Wars galaxy, the dark side, with fear as its ally, clouds everything. Fortunately, Rey has some excellent teachers, as well as more strength than she realizes.
Anger negatively impacts our choices and takes us down the wrong path
One of the reasons fear is so dangerous is because it leads to anger. This anger tends to lend itself to choices that are difficult, if not impossible, to undo. Luke gives into anger on when Darth Vader threatens to turn Leia in his place. Anakin gives in to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren’s blind anger upon seeing Luke Skywalker allows the Resistance to escape and survive. It happens to the best the galaxy has to offer.
It varies in degree but never ends well. For instance, at the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker during her Jedi training with Leia, Rey becomes angry, tosses her lightsaber in frustration, and inadvertently topples a tree onto BB-8. Later in the film, during a pivotal dual on Kef Bir, Rey stabs Kylo Ren with his own lightsaber, mortally wounding her enemy. This is not the path of the Jedi; in fact, she instigated the fight, angered by his destruction of the wayfinder. Once she calms down, gets rid of her anger, and finds peace, she is able to heal Kylo Ren’s wound.
When you stand up to a bully, it inspires others to do the same
It takes a lot to stand up to a bully. They don’t fight fair, never take anyone’s feelings into consideration, and are not kind. Queue the biggest bully in the galaxy, Emperor Palpatine. His constant obsession with galactic domination takes on a whole new meaning in The Rise of Skywalker. He has manipulated both the First Order and the Resistance (similar to his machinations in the prequel trilogy) and now seeks to cement his place as the personification of the Sith from the planet Exegol. He is absolutely overwhelming, but so is Rey. While she is certainly aware of the inherent danger, she does not back down from his persistent menace.
But Rey isn’t the only one to face tyranny. As the Final Order fleet emerges from planet’s crust, heroes need to rise up, too. In a similar vein to the Rebellion during the Galactic Civil War, the Resistance must take on the oppressive Final Order if freedom is to be restored across the galaxy. The First Order has superior weaponry, the advantage in numbers, and malicious intent, but the Resistance has guts, tenacity, and a refusal to acquiesce to any bully, no matter how deadly. Once Lando Calrissian and Chewbacca show up with immeasurable reinforcements, we are reminded, alongside a temporarily defeated Poe Dameron, that once you stand up to a bully, others are inspired to do so as well.
Redemption and choice
In Darth Vader, we have a powerful example of the power of redemption. It is never easy and often comes at great cost, but it can be done. We just have to choose the right path. And the more difficult the path, the more poignant the redemption turns out to be. It certainly took Vader a long time to get out of his own way and choose light over darkness, but when he did, the tide of the war changed, and the Empire was soon defeated.
It is ironic then, that Kylo Ren finds a similar path for himself, especially when he has spent his time with the Knights of Ren trying to live up to the legacy of his grandfather. He wanted to live up to the reputation of Darth Vader, but instead, chooses the path of Anakin Skywalker. Once he faces his inner demons, he helps to subvert the wishes of Palpatine and saves Rey from certain death. Ultimately, it is our choices that define who we are and who we want to be remembered as. Ben Solo, much like Anakin Skywalker, makes his choice at the end, continuing the Skywalker legacy of turning from darkness and heading to the light.
Dan Zehr is the host of Coffee With Kenobi, a podcast that examines Star Wars mythology from a place of intelligence and humor. He is also a high school English teacher with an MS in Teaching and Learning.
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