Why do so many of us love Star Wars? Is it the cool action scenes? Could it be John Williams’ score or ILM’s special effects? Or, is the trademark Star Wars comedy that keeps us coming back? Whatever it is that draws us to a galaxy far, far away, I believe that the core of what makes Star Wars great is its underlying themes that can be found in each trilogy. Now that Episode IX has been released on digital and physical media, I wanted to take a look at the themes of the sequel trilogy. I love Star Wars because of the mythology and themes that make me think on a deeper level, so let’s dive in!
The Reluctant Hero
In the beginning of The Force Awakens, we are introduced to Rey, the hero from nowhere. I love Rey’s introduction as a scavenger on a desert planet. She is immediately relatable as a regular person that seemingly has no place in the story of the Skywalkers, yet she becomes the hero. I think this is a very important message to young people (or anyone), that anyone can be a hero. Rey is the beacon of hope the galaxy needs, and this truth becomes more evident in The Last Jedi.
In the amazing (literal) cliffhanger at the end of The Force Awakens, we see Rey attempting to hand Luke’s lightsaber back to him. She believes Luke is the legend and hope that the galaxy needs to eliminate The First Order. When Luke refuses and Rey discovers the truth behind Luke’s failure, she connects with Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, and believes he is the only hope left. It isn’t until her confrontation with Kylo in Snoke’s throne room that she realizes that she is the one who needs to take up the blade and be the hero. It was such a bold choice by Rian Johnson to reveal (from a certain point of view) that Rey came from no one special, and she has to find her own path in this story. Rey is the reluctant hero the galaxy needs, and a shining example of what it means to be a hero.
Passing the Baton
In my mind, the sequel trilogy has been all about passing the baton to the next generation. Throughout the sequel trilogy, there is very direct imagery of the past leaving its mark on the present. We see Star Destroyers in ruin on Jakku in The Force Awakens. In The Rise of Skywalker, Kylo Ren and Rey battle on the ruins of the second Death Star, “where the last war ended”. The new generation of heroes live in the large shadow cast by the legends of the past: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa. It was essential to have these characters present, but this has always been the story of Rey, Poe, and Finn. One of the biggest questions the sequel trilogy asks is, how do we live up to the legends that have come before us? I think this is a question we all have to answer in our own lives. I remember my grandfather, who was legendary to me, and I struggle to live up to being the man he was. I think we all have legends in our lives to live up to, and we can relate to this theme.
If The Last Jedi is about anything, it is about failure. Any good middle act of a story will test the characters and push them to their breaking point, and Episode VIII does this in spades. I know many fans did not like this version of Luke Skywalker, who can be found guzzling green milk by himself on Ahch-To. Personally, I love the Luke we got in this film because it feels so real. This very hopeful and courageous character from the original trilogy has failed in his task to “pass on what he has learned”, and isn’t failure something we all experience? No one likes to fail, and when we do, we tend to isolate and give up on what we failed at. Sometimes, we need someone else to push us to get back up and try again, and Yoda does this very thing when he tells Luke, “the greatest teacher, failure is.”
The Power of Friendship
The power of friendship is a theme that can be found in both the original and sequel trilogy. In Return of the Jedi, the Emperor tells Luke, “your faith in your friends is yours” as his defining weakness. However, it is friendship and love that conquers evil in the end. This theme is evident in The Rise of Skywalker. Zorii Bliss tells Poe, “that’s how they win, by making you think you’re alone.” The Rise of Skywalker, more than any movie in this trilogy, is about the power of friendship. For the first time, we really get to see Rey, Finn, and Poe as the new “big three” working together. This theme also applies to the climax of the film, as Rey confronts Palpatine. It is so powerful when Rey is laying on the ground, nearly defeated, and she hears the voices of all the Jedi that came before her telling her to “rise”. With the help of a thousand generations that live in her, she is able to defeat evil and bring balance back to The Force.
Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without the theme of redemption. We see the ultimate example of redemption in Return of the Jedi when the greatest villain of all time, Darth Vader, turns back to the light. Going into The Rise of Skywalker, there was always the question of whether or not Ben Solo would be redeemed, and I always believed that he would be. Would it have been something new and different to see Kylo Ren stay on the dark side? Yes. However, I do not believe it would have been as fulfilling. Throughout the sequel trilogy, Kylo Ren has not been a typical villain. He is constantly battling with a pull to the light and the regret of killing his father. The way he is redeemed is so beautiful because it is as if Ben gets to rewind time back to the moment he killed his father, and make a different choice. Redemption is a theme that can give all of us hope, because we all make mistakes and seek redemption.
If there is one final theme I would like to end with, it would be the theme of hope. In my opinion, it is hope that is the quintessential theme running through all of Star Wars. Sometimes, the realities of life can make you feel hopeless. Whether it is a real war that is taking place in the world, or a war within yourself, we all need a spark of hope to get us through the war. Star Wars has given so many people hope for so many years, and my hope is that will always continue.