Editorials

In the father’s shadow: representation of daughters in Star Wars

Rogue-One-Galen Erso

Star Wars is often thought of as the story of fathers and their sons. Despite the addition of the sequel trilogy and its complicated relationship between Han Solo and his troubled son Ben, the saga weaves the tragedy of Darth Vader, a tale told in two parts. First comes the fall and then redemption, with a young Luke saving his father and, by extension, the galaxy through love.

Despite the prevalence of fatherhood as plot and theme, there are few other examples than the aforementioned that have any real emotional or narrative significance. One interesting example is that of Jango Fett, the bounty hunter whom the clone army was modelled on. Aside from a financial payment, Fett demanded an unaltered clone for himself which he would raise as his own son. There’s undoubtedly ego at play here, and religious connotations too, with a father truly raising a son in his own image. However, I’m inclined to believe that Jango’s own upbringing was far from perfect, and so he’s attempting to cleanse the stains of his own past.

But as the Star Wars canon has developed, father and daughter relationships have become increasingly visible and important. Few of them last, though, and most are mired in tragedy and heartbreak. The trend began with Princess Leia, the daughter of Anakin Skywalker. Apart from being used as a means of baiting Luke into anger, the fact she is Vader’s daughter has little bearing on her character or the overarching story – at least until The Force Awakens. Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline explores the political ramifications of the post-Empire galaxy discovering this truth, one which irrevocably changes Leia’s relationship with the New Republic.

Rogue One and its tie-in prequel novel Catalyst brought one of the most complex and inspiring father/daughter relationship in Galen and his stardust, Jyn Erso. Tragedy mires this relationship early on, with Galen attempting to cut ties with the Empire and keep his family safe. With the Death Star project stalled, the Empire comes a-knocking for Galen and his scientific genius. In the confrontation, his wife Mira is shot dead and Jyn escapes only to be recruited into an increasingly extreme rebel cell. The unit is fronted by Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera, who becomes a kind of surrogate father figure, despite never being able to fill the voice in Jyn’s heart. Indeed, Saw abandons her at sixteen, for her own “safety”.

rogue-one-jyn-erso-yavin

Jyn wears the weight of the world on her shoulders, tormented by dreams of her parents, and finding herself in and out of jails. She’s apolitical, having washed her hands of causes, and does what she needs to get by. As proved in her smattering of Forces of Destiny episodes, though, Jyn has a good heart that compels her to do good, even when it’s at odds with the shroud of nihilism and aliases she’s drawn around herself.

As the Empire came for her father years before, the Rebel Alliance comes calling for Jyn. Her relationship with Saw Gerrera is a means of locating her father, whose still intrenched in the Imperial war machine. Jyn tells the Alliance she imagines her father is dead, that it “makes it easier”, though we as viewers know this is only a half-truth. It may make the reality of their separation easier to bear, but her dreams tell another story.

With little other choice, Jyn enlists in the mission which brings her face to face again with Saw. It’s something of a family reunion, and a bitter one at that, but there are more important matters. A pilot inspired by Galen to defect from the Empire brought a game-changing recording to Saw. Inside is critical information detailing the iconic flaw in the Death Star and where to find the schematics to exploit it. But for Jyn, there’s a much more personal slant to the message.

Rogue-One-Galen Erso-hologram.png

And here’s where the enormity of Galen’s sacrifice and love for his daughter are revealed. Knowing that if he refused, the Empire would simply find someone else, Galen bore the pain of leaving his daughter and built a weakness into the design of the super weapon. Though Galen himself says it best:

We call it the Death Star. There is no better name, and the day is coming soon when it will be unleashed. I’ve placed a weakness deep within the system. A flaw so small and powerful, they will never find it. But Jyn, Jyn, if you’re listening… My beloved, so much of my life has been wasted. I try to think of you only in the moments when I’m strong, because the pain of not having you with me – your mother, our family – the pain of that loss is so overwhelming I risk failing even now. It’s just so hard not to think of you. Think of where you are. My Stardust.”

Shortly after learning his love for her burns bright enough to eclipse the Death Star he helped design, Jyn is reunited with her father. But it is short lived. Galen is fatally injured in the cross fire between the Rebels and the Empire. “I have so much to tell you,” he says to her before succumbing. One final gesture leaves Jyn filled with the love her father held for her after discovering the plans for the Death Star were codenamed ‘Stardust’.

Though father/daughter relationships have lingered in the shadow of their male counterparts in Star Wars, the last few years especially have expanded on existing connections whilst introducing others. Many of these are marked out by tragedy or absence, but we’re moving towards more meaningful and honest representations in the saga. One of Rogue One‘s most moving moments sees Jimmy Smits reprising his role as Bail Organa, the adoptive father or Princess Leia – a relationship that has been expanded on in recent years through novels and comics.

Think also of Hera butting heads with her war hero father Cham Syndulla, before the two eventually find some peace between them. Looking ahead in the Rebels timeline and audiences were treated to a few precious scenes between Sabine and her father. He’s nurturing, encouraging and nothing but proud of his daughter.

As my own daughter grows, I’ll continue to cherish these relationships in Star Wars and look forward to what’s in the store for the franchise until she’s old enough for us to sit down and enjoy them together. Father and Stardust.

 

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