Star Wars and the Dysfunctional Family


I like Star Wars as much as the next guy, but I was never super into it. When my friends from USW throw movie quotes around, in unrelated conversation, I usually don’t recognize it until I see them share that twinkle-eyed, nod of appreciation.

Nevertheless, I have connected to the stories of Star Wars in deep and meaningful ways, especially in relation to my broken family. To be specific, when I think of the battle between Luke, Vader and the emperor in Return of the Jedi, I still get a queer feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Sitting in a dark theater, all those years ago, I remember feeling engulfed by the blackness of outer space, soaking through the windows of the Emperor’s Throne Room. The blue light glowing on the instruments and reflecting off the emperor’s cloak; the grating rasp of Vader’s breath; and the hypnotic hum, pulsing in the background, was absolutely mesmerizing. What was the source of that humming? Was it the sound of spaceship machinery? Vader’s life support? The waxing and waning of the essence of evil???

Then there was Luke. To me, ROTJ is when Luke got hot. I’m not sure if I had just reached that age of paying more attention to boys, or if black was just his color. Maybe it was simply the super powerful, Jedi warrior thing he had goin’ on. Whatever it was, it worked for me.

However, what affected me most about this scene, was more profound than a cute guy with a nice light saber. Like Luke, I had dad issues. Like Luke, I had a father who was soldier, damaged by war. I spent my childhood wondering if there was love and approval underneath that uniform; underneath the anger and the pain. When Luke said, “I feel the good in you” to Vader, I understood that longing. I also understood the rage when Luke lashed out at Vader – rage that the emperor tried to exploit.

What was more difficult for me to fathom, was Luke’s forgiveness. Seriously, at that point in my life, I’d have needed a whole lotta years with Yoda to get to that place. Anger is a mechanism of self-defense that makes us hard – but for Luke, it made him vulnerable. It was a revelation to me that in tearing down his walls and leaving his heart exposed, Luke was able to resist the attacks of his enemy.

After some awesome light saber duels and seeing his son refuse to succumb to the dark side, Vader too, let go of his hate. Luke discovered that there was, in fact, love and approval underneath that uniform; underneath the anger and the pain. Tragically, as soon as he found his father, he lost him. Sitting in my soda-stained theater seat, I cried, and cried.

Years later, in real life (sorry Star Wars fans), I also found forgiveness and relationship with my own father. As evidence of this milestone, we planned a trip together. I flew from my home in California to meet him in Colorado, but the night before I was to see him, he died in his sleep – at 50 years old. What a gift to have found him, before I lost him. And I would find myself, standing beside my sister at my father’s wake, like Luke in the forest of Endor – without the ewoks, of course.

  So much for sci-fi fantasy as an avenue of escape. Family dysfunction resonates even in a galaxy far, far, away. But movies and stories also serve to communicate shared experience; to convey empathy and the sense that one is not alone in the realm of the human experience. The Force Awakens, a movie seen by record breaking numbers of viewers, addresses another aspect of familial brokenness; abandonment. As Star Wars fans, we eagerly anticipate the restoration, or alternatively, the redemption, of that broken relationship. As with Luke in ROTJ, there is the potential for so many people to connect with Rey’s story; and be strengthened by it.