Much like the Force itself, there is a core theme that binds together the Star Wars universe. But rather than the clash of good versus evil, or light versus dark, that core lies in the DNA of the characters themselves. It's a theme at the center of the main saga, in spin-offs, at the heart of Rogue One, and the cause of most speculation surrounding Star Wars 8.
The theme in question is the theme of family. Aside from the obvious Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker reveal, family relationships have had a significant meaning in the franchise, often the motivating factor behind character's decision making. With the recent announcement that Valene Kane will play Lyra Erso in Rogue One as Jyn's mother, it looks like the anthology will also be sticking to the crux of the cosmic narrative.
So what family-based motivations present themselves in Star Wars? The best way to explore is in episodic order — rather than release date — starting with Anakin Skywalker. In The Phantom Menace (1999) Anakin's mother, Shmi Skywalker, claims that he has no father, leading to speculation he was conceived by the Force, making him the miraculous son of the metaphysical.
Anakin's Transformation Into Darth Vader Is Motivated By Family
Anakin's subsequent journey, and his transformation into Darth Vader, is incentivized by the theme of family. His blood-thirsty massacre of Tuskens in Attack of the Clones (2002) was an act of revenge for their kidnapping of his mother. Also, his vulnerability toward the dark side was preyed on by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith (2005) — he lured Anakin with the promise of protecting his love, Padmé, and their unborn child.
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During A New Hope (1977), Darth Vader's transition to the dark side was complete, and the Sith Lord's devotion to the diabolic appeared impenetrable. When Luke Skywalker is first introduced, audiences were oblivious to the true nature of Luke's parentage; instead, Obi-Wan told Luke that his father, Anakin, was killed by the mysterious Darth Vader, not fathered by him.
This set up The Empire Strikes Back (1980) to expand on this relationship. Just as significant as the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke's father is the fact that prior to this, Vader attempted to convince his mentor, Darth Sidious, that Luke could be transformed to the dark side. The impenetrable armour of evil was showing some weakness in the name of family; rather than kill Luke, Vader wants to take him under his wing. Luke declines the invitation and the pair fight instead.
Again family is the catalyst for events in Return of the Jedi (1983), in one of the most significant familial moments in the series. Although initially refusing Luke's plea to turn to the light side, Darth Vader puts his own life on the line to save Luke from Darth Sidious's attack, defecting from the dark side and proving that family can triumph evil. In the same episode, before Vader's death, Obi-Wan also tells Luke that Princess Leia is his sister, which Vader later confirms.
The Force Awakens: Taking The Theme Of Family Further
The Force Awakens (2015) not only continues the theme of family, but enhances it. New villain Kylo Ren is a conflicted individual, enticed to the dark side by Supreme Leader Snoke, but also struggling to fully commit to evil. It is revealed Ren has deep ties with the original trilogy crew; originally named Ben Solo, he's the son of Han Solo and Princess Leia, making him Luke's nephew and Darth Vader's grandson.
Ren is shown to have a deep affinity for Vader, and Rey picks up on his fear of never living up to his grandfather's fearsome reputation. However, unlike Vader, Ren allows family to propel him further into the dark side. When Han Solo approaches him in an attempt to rely on his paternal intuition, Ren drives his lightsaber into his father's heart, killing him and signifying his complete transformation to uber-villain.
Kylo Ren was also responsible for his own massacre, like his grandfather. But unlike Vader, Ren's motivation was based on the order of Snoke. Once a Jedi apprentice under the guidance of Luke, Ren slaughtered his fellow pupils. It wouldn't be unreasonable to say that Kylo Ren is the first family member to completely disregard blood ties in favor of the dark side.
This year's Star Wars anthology film, Rogue One, is linked to the main saga by more than the opening crawl. New protagonist Jyn Erso is recruited to steal plans to the Death Star, and her recruitment isn't pure chance; her father, Galen Erso, helped to construct the planet destroying base as repayment to Orson Krennic. The official novel to the film also revealed that Krennic saved the Erso family, hence the debt.
Most of the speculation around Star Wars 8 is based on family, too, in particular Rey's parentage. A popular theory claims that Jyn Erso could turn out to be Rey's mother, while others suggest she could be Luke's daughter, based on Princess Leia and Han Solo seemingly knowing of Rey's backstory. Supreme Leader Snoke is also caught up in the familiar family debate, with some theories suggesting he is Luke's grandfather, and Anakin's father.
What Does This Mean For Star Wars 8?
So if family is key, what does it mean for Star Wars 8, and beyond? There's a high chance Rey's true heritage will be revealed in the next instalment, and considering the franchise's history, it won't be a surprise if she is related to another well-known character.
The combination of family and the battle between good and evil, as witnessed with Darth Vader, could also be followed by Kylo Ren. The Commander for the First Order is currently at the Episode I Anakin level. Could Star Wars 8 see a return to the light side, perhaps thanks to the return of Luke, in the same way family brought Vader back from the dark side?
Whatever happens next, one thing is for sure: When it comes to Star Wars, it's a family affair.