What Star Wars Doesn’t Get About Moms But Maybe Gets About Family

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This post contains SPOILERS for The Rise of Skywalker!

First off, I didn’t hate The Rise of Skywalker. There was a lot of fun, there were lots of fun moments and I found the conclusion pretty satisfying. It was a fine enough movie if you went into it wanting a silly action spectacle with space wizards and laser guns. It was fine as cinematic candy with no nutritional value.

Star Wars, in general, is fine if you don’t think about it too much, but unfortunately, this franchise occupies such a massively influential place in our culture that we have to think about it. It’s a franchise that has the potential to say important things and teach important lessons, and I even like some of those lessons but there are other places where the entire series really falls short. One of the worst offenders is the way Star Wars fails to understand moms.

We’ve talked about this on The Mary Sue before. Princess Weekes has talked about how moms in Star Wars and Marvel serve the purpose of giving birth then dying. The dead mom trope isn’t limited to those franchises either. It’s epidemic in our culture and I just have to say, as a mom, I hate it. Star Wars, however, has been a particularly egregious offender, because, for a film series obsessed with lineage, it’s never about the maternal side of things.

There are several Important Moms in Star Wars and they all get the short end of the narrative stick when it comes to their biological children. I hate to say it, but the original trilogy is by far the worst when it comes to this because it forgets that moms exist entirely. The whole story is about Luke and his father and nowhere does he or anyone ever even mention his mother or how she died. The same is true for Leia and her adoptive mother and poor Leia never gets any storyline with her bio parents at all.

image: screencap Jake Lloyd and Pernilla August as Anakin and Shmi Skywalker in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace"

The prequel trilogies seemed to be on a track to fix this. They made Padme a strong, competent, smart woman…and then she just dies of a broken heart. This is maybe the worst offense of the prequels to motherhood (and parenthood). Now, I know I’m not speaking dor every parent in the world here but I think I’m speaking for a lot of moms and dads here when I say: when your kid is born, it becomes the most important living thing in the world to you.

The fact that Padme didn’t fight to live for her children goes against every instinct of being a parent. It was so dumb and it served to weirdly, make Shmi Skywalker the best parent in Star Wars up until that point because she allowed her son to be sold to some space wizards on the bare hope that it would give him a better life. That’s tough and weird, but that kind of sacrifice is what you do for your kid.

Which brings us to the sequel trilogy. In terms of moms it’s a mixed bag, because again, everything comes down to kids and their male relatives, despite Leia being so important. We had a real opportunity here to explore parents and children in conflict here, what with Han and Leia’s son having turned to the dark side but…we didn’t get that.

We never got to see Leia fighting for her son or even really interacting with him. The best thing I can say is that Leia and Han were both willing to die to reach their kid and also died loving him no matter what – that’s definitely something real and important…even though I know it pissed a lot people off.

Rey and Leia hug in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker trailer.

I have to be somewhat forgiving to The Rise of Skywalker for how it dealt with Leia and Ben. The filmmakers were put in an incredibly hard situation with Leia’s story and her character in general after Carrie Fisher’s untimely death and I think they did the best they could with what they had, but I still lament that we never really got to see a true reunion for mother and son.

There’s one other mother in the film: Rey’s mother. Played by Jodie Comer. She doesn’t get a name (neither does Rey’s dad) but she does get a story where, of course, she dies to protect Rey. But again we have a mom abandon her kid rather than staying to protect them. There’s no reason Jodie Comer couldn’t be a nobody on Jakku with Rey and make sure she didn’t grow up feeling alone and abandoned but…alas.

It isn’t all bad though. Star Wars is very into people being defined way their bloodlines and the films often forget that it’s not our genetics that make us, but the people that care for us as we grow. A mom isn’t important because she bore you, she’s important because she loves you more than herself. Leia proves that in her sacrifice to reach Ben, even though that scene is clumsy (again, I don’t blame them for that), but it also shows in her connection to Rey.

This is where, strangely, I think The Rise of Skywalker gets something right. Yeah, the movie undoes some of The Last Jedi by making Rey a Palpatine but…it also emphasizes that it’s our found families that matter more than our blood for many people. Rey does end up with a mom (and a dad, or…weird uncle or something) that cares for her: Leia. Her connection to the family she chose helps her defeat the “family” she was born into and…I kind of like that.

Rey learns from her chosen parents that it’s not power that defines anyone, but what you chose to do with it. There are many flaws in the film, but I do appreciate that as a message. It’s unfortunate how that counters the idea that anyone can be powerful, but it does feel thematically inline with a lot of common Star Wars ideas about family so, you win some, you lose some. Rey is a Skywalker, but should be an Organa.

It’s still very evident to me that Star Wars wasn’t made with a mom’s input, but sadly, not a lot of things are. I hope there are franchises with this sort of impact in our future where moms to more than die, and that we have new legacies to look forward to. Now, go call your mom and remember to wear a jacket.

(images: LucasFilm)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.