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What Owen and Shmi Can Teach Us About Han and Leia

hanleia-reunion

Intrinsic to the premise of a sequel trilogy—obviously—is the notion that Return of the Jedi was not, in fact, the end of the Star Wars story. Proceeding from that, there are two basic strategies with which to approach further material; the Bantam-era Expanded Universe tried one in which the characters lived more or less happily ever after, and The Story would therefore concern itself only with minor trials and tribulations; speedbumps instead of true pitfalls. Eventually that approach turned off enough people that the Del Rey-era EU took the second road: one along which things could really go horribly wrong.

But let’s not get into all that again. The thing is, the missteps of late Legends notwithstanding, you can’t do a true follow-up to the original trilogy without Big Things Going Wrong. It wouldn’t be as interesting for new audiences who weren’t desperate for as much Big Three material as they could get, and it certainly wouldn’t have been interesting enough to drag all three original actors back into their respective robes, hair buns, and stripey pants.

Proceeding from that, then, is the unpleasant fact that getting new movies means our beloved Big Three had to fuck some things up.

No matter how well Luke managed to correct the Old Jedi Order’s mistakes, someone was going to turn to the dark side. Even if Snoke is an ancient Sith fresh from an extended stay in carbonite, that would be a big important thing that Luke totally missed—to say nothing of his being able to corrupt Luke’s own nephew. And no matter how functional a New Republic Leia managed to build, someone, somewhere was going to decide stormtrooper armor was just too damned cool to not bring back into fashion.

These things are givens. Reasonable minds can, and have, disagreed over the exact degree to which The Force Awakens recreated the sensibility of the OT, but there was always going to be some version of this and some version of this—because that’s the kind of story Star Wars, at least in “episode” form, is built to tell. And that, at last, brings me to my actual topic: were Han and Leia bad parents?

Possibly? But that a) doesn’t preclude them from being good, even exemplary, people, and b) depends a great deal on what you think “good” parenting even is.

This subject came up recently in response to a comment by Adam Driver on the TFA Blu-Ray about Kylo’s parents having been “absent” and “selfish” when he was growing up; of course, whether that’s completely accurate or just Kylo’s opinion (or Adam’s opinion of Kylo’s opinion) is very much up for debate—and debate we did. The fact is, we have almost no in-universe information about Kylo’s youth, and likely won’t for some time.1 So rather than draw midi-chlorian-rich blood from a stone, what I’d like to do instead is talk about the parenting we’ve actually witnessed thus far in the Star Wars saga—that of Shmi Skywalker and Owen Lars.

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Even at nine, the Anakin Skywalker of The Phantom Menace is understood to already have something of a temper. He’s certainly excitable, but no more so than your typical young child, I don’t think. Considering that he’s been raised as a slave on an unforgiving planet by a single mother, he seems like a remarkably balanced kid. He certainly didn’t pick that up from Watto, so what we’re left with is the conclusion that Shmi has been doing a hell of a job. Despite the random-ass circumstances of his birth, she loves her child deeply and values his health and happiness above all else; in a very real sense, he’s the only thing she has in this life.

Yet when a hairy stranger arrives at her door and (eventually) offers to take him away forever so he can live a life of struggle and sacrifice, she lets him go. Because it’s what he wanted. When he has a last-second moment of doubt, she puts on a brave face, assures him everything will work out, and sends his precocious butt packing. That child then grows up to murder millions. Was Shmi a good parent or a bad parent?

Anakin’s son ends up with Shmi’s in-laws, a nice if not especially grandiose couple back on that same unforgiving planet. The adoptive mother, Beru, is caring and open-minded (and likely had far more to do with Luke’s mild temperament than she gets credit for), but her husband Owen—who doubtless cares for the boy in his own way—is far less concerned with what young Luke wants than with keeping him out of trouble. He discourages Luke’s interest in flying and racing, doesn’t even like him talking to the neighbors, and would die a happy man if Luke never accomplished anything of greater significance than having those units in the south range repaired by midday.

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We don’t know how Owen felt in his and Beru’s final moments. Maybe he wished Luke had left for the Academy after all, and thus avoided the fate Owen was then facing, or maybe he simply cursed Anakin’s memory one last time for bringing such madness into his life—not even knowing that Anakin himself had effectively ordered the troops to his door. But we can say with reasonable certainty that if Owen had lived and gotten his way, Luke’s life would have been much safer and easier—because he would never have left Tatooine, never have redeemed Anakin, and never have saved millions of lives from the Empire’s tyranny. Was Owen a good parent or a bad parent?

Han and Leia, in comparison to Owen and Beru and even Shmi, are complicated people. They have all manner of conflicting loyalties, biases, and personality quirks; that’s what made their romance so exciting. But “exciting” is pretty much the opposite of “stable”. Add latent Force-sensitivity and the responsibilities of establishing a government on top of what would have been a turbulent pairing even under ideal circumstances, and it’s very, very easy to see how growing up with their bedroom down the hall could have been rough—at least as rough as the times they weren’t around at all. That’s not a “happily ever after” kind of situation, but it’s damn sure a more interesting one, and it’s completely plausible for these characters to have found themselves there once their war was over. So would that make them good parents or bad parents?

The answer—as many parents would tell you—is that you can never really know for sure. Some kids start out easy and some start out troubled, but raising them to adulthood is an endless string of unknowns multiplying unknowns, and the best you can do is just that: your best. Shmi wanted a happy and fulfilled child, a perfectly laudable goal, and she ended up with a monster. Owen wanted a safe and secure child, also laudable, and ended up with the Savior of the Galaxy.

At the end of the day, each of the Skywalker men became what they did due to decisions they made as adults: Anakin to betray the Jedi, Luke to leave home, and Ben to murder his own father. Their childhoods are important factors in those decisions, but to assign moral judgment to their parents is both unfair and obscures the truth of all this: it’s a story. Han and Leia’s job isn’t to be perfect, or even admirable, it’s to be believable, and compelling. “Happily ever after” is neither of those.

  1. While I’m still reading Bloodline and won’t be spoiling anything in this piece, I will note that it clarifies Ben’s current status fairly early on—if there’s more than that I haven’t gotten to it yet. []

4 thoughts to “What Owen and Shmi Can Teach Us About Han and Leia”

  1. A good read! I think that if your piece makes anything clear, it is that to have this discussion would require a much more in-depth definition of what a “good parent” is.

    I also think that the question of Han and Leia’s role in Kylo’s fate is indicative of the pop-psychological attempts to explain all shortcomings as the result of an unhappy childhood. Even if we could establish what a “good parent” or a “bad parent” is, the vast majority of human experience would suggest that whether a person is “good” or “bad” has little correlation with whether their childhood was happy. After all, not every monster has an unhappy childhood, and not every unhappy child grows into a monster.

  2. I don’t think the importance of the Solo/Organa family home life can be overstated. I’m extrapolating here a bit, but Leia was a politician, busy helping to rebuild the Republic. Han was a bit of an adrenaline junkie – the farthest thing from a stay-at-home dad. With mom down at city hall, dad feeding his need for speed, and Uncle Luke scouring the galaxy for Force-sensitives to rebuild the Jedi order, little Ben may have been a bit of a daycare/latchkey kid with little familial input. Then enters Snoke who begins to blow on a spark of darkness in Ben, perhaps regaling him with tales of the Old Republic and the Galactic Empire, of Sith and Jedi. Leia begins to see the smoke and sends Ben off to military school with Uncle Luke. The coals of darkness continues to smolder in Ben until they erupt into a dark flame that engulfs Uncle Luke’s new Jedi order, all the while being slowly and gently fanned along by Snoke.

    This scenario is actually very reminiscent of the Genesis account of Adam and Eve being tempted and deceived by the serpent. While God was in another part of the Garden, Adam and Eve were near the forbidden tree. While they were isolated, the serpent appeared and cast doubt upon the notion that eating the forbidden fruit would bring death. Instead, the serpent convinced them that the forbidden fruit would bring knowledge, and they’d be like God. In Ben’s isolation as a child, Snoke showed Ben a view of the world from a different point of view, and that what many consider “forbidden” could bring him knowledge and power.

    This could serve as a bit of an allegory for those of us with children, who sometimes forget that raising kids needs to be a front-and-center priority, not something to be treated like “leftovers”.

    1. I think calling Han an adrenaline junkie is a bit of an oversimplification but broadly I agree with you. It’s going to be very interesting to learn exactly how and when Snoke came into Ben’s life.

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