In the action-packed human-, alien-, and droid-filled universe that is the Star Wars saga, adoption has been a running theme throughout the twisty trilogy of trilogies—even as far back as when the famous words “A LONG TIME AGO IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY…” stretched uber-large across movie theatre screens (remember those?) for the first time in May of 1977.
Time and again, the long-running tale, sometimes referred to as the Skywalker Saga (because let’s face it, where would Star Wars be without Luke Skywalker?), has threaded in adoption storylines as part of larger themes that play on hope, good vs. evil (aka The Force), and the interminglings of family, friends, and friends who turn out to be family.
The Adoption Journey of Luke and Leia
Sci-fi fans are first introduced to Luke Skywalker (played by Mark Hamill) in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope as he shares a somewhat awkward conversation with his Uncle Lars and Aunt Beru. Luke has made a discovery that he doesn’t yet understand and it’s clear there is something deeper going on than a slightly strained family discussion around a dinner table.
The somewhat angsty, curious Jedi-to-be sensed there was more to life—and that just beyond what is known is something greater. Moviegoers watched a sullen Luke make his way outside to watch the twin suns of Tatooine set for the night, setting the scene and setting us up for a twist that would come two movies later. “The scene is a favorite amongst Star Wars fans, and for good reason. Having hope, and trusting that there is something to believe in that can not be seen with the five senses inspires optimism, creativity, and hope. It is no wonder this moment has captivated so many generations of moviegoers,” writes Starwars.com blogger Dan Zehr.
Luke had no idea at the time just how far his curiosity and hope would take him, eventually (after a lot of soul searching and “pew pew” action sequences) reuniting him with (spoiler alert to that third movie) his long-lost twin—the fair, feisty, and fierce Princess Leia.
And even though perhaps it wasn’t common for female characters to take center stage in blockbuster movies way back in the ’70s (especially in an action film), Leia (played by Carrie Fisher) did just that. So while Luke was working things out down on the moisture farm (yes, moisture farm) on Tatooine, Leia was flying high in space as part of the opening scenes, setting the stage for things to come on a Rebel ship being chased by a Star Destroyer.
An Even Longer Time Ago…
As the story goes, after the twins (Luke and Leia) were separated at birth in an attempt to be protected from an uber-evil Sith, Luke was taken by legendary (both in the story and with generations of fans) Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (originally played by Sir Alec Guinness) to the unassuming, dusty desert planet of Tatooine, where he was adopted by his father’s stepbrother, Owen Lars (played by Phil Brown), and his wife, Beru (played by Shelagh Fraser).
Twin sis Leia, meanwhile, had been raised by Senator Bail Organa and Queen Breha Organa on the slightly more stately planet of Alderaan. Unlike our introduction to bored teenager Luke, when we meet Leia, she is in the thick of the early-mentioned galactic fight having been captured by (ahem) Darth Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker) onboard the resistance ship Tantive IV, where she is acting as a spy for the Rebel Alliance.
Unbeknownst to any of these characters, they have a bond bigger than anyone could or would imagine for possibly another movie and in some cases, another trilogy to come.
So, if you’ve been following this hyperspeed description, both Luke and Leia were adopted by relatives or trusted friends at the bequest of birth mom, Padmé Amidala (played by Natalie Portman). in the hopes of protecting them against birth dad Darth Vader.
Confused? Please remember that we’re covering a lot of ground here at warp speed with many years in between!
What it comes down to, though, is that similarly to planet Earth real-life adoption stories, our beloved, fictional Star Wars characters played out story lines that demonstrate many of the uncertainties, joys, and tragedies oftentimes encountered by birth families, adoptive families, and children who make up the adoption community.
In Star Wars, as in many birth and adoptive families—who try to do their best on behalf of the children— oftentimes there are secrets, mistakes, and lifetimes of learning, healing, and acceptance (both of others and self).
“Luke, I am Your Father”
Perhaps one of the most thrilling and poignant moments of Star Wars is the scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke discovers the dark truth about his past. After nearly killing Luke in a fierce lightsaber battle, Darth Vader says the famous line, “No, I am your father.”
It is a turning point in the story that takes us from a place of adventure to a place of something way, way deeper. It leads Luke to a place of confusion, guilt, and eventual understanding and healing as he comes to terms with the deep secret of his past, how it will impact his present, and what it will mean for his future.
And let’s not forget he doesn’t even know he has a sister yet.
It isn’t until the Return of the Jedi that Luke and Princess Leia, now a General (so would that be Princess General? General Princess?), learn of their familiar relationship.
The sweet and startling revelation comes just after the Rebel’s victory celebration high up in the treeline with the loveable Ewoks on the planet Endor. Luke and Leia take a stroll away from the music and dancing towards what very well could’ve been a fine ending to the movie. Instead, stunned viewers were treated to the following heartfelt exchange and trilogy game changer between the newly united twins:
Princess Leia Organa: Luke, what’s wrong?
Luke Skywalker: Leia, do you remember your mother? Your real mother?
Princess Leia Organa: Just a little bit. She died when I was very young.
Luke Skywalker: What do you remember?
Princess Leia Organa: Just images, really. Feelings.
Luke Skywalker: Tell me.
Princess Leia Organa: She was very beautiful. Kind, but sad. Why are you asking me all this?
Luke Skywalker: I have no memory of my mother. I never knew her.
Princess Leia Organa: Luke, tell me. What’s troubling you?
Luke Skywalker: Vader’s here. Now, on this moon.
Princess Leia Organa: How do you know?
Luke Skywalker: I felt his presence. He’s come for me. He can feel when I’m near. That’s why I have to go. As long as I stay, I’m endangering the group and our mission here. I have to face him.
Princess Leia Organa: Why?
Luke Skywalker: He’s my father.
Princess Leia Organa: [disgusted] Your father?!
Luke Skywalker: There’s more. It won’t be easy for you to hear it, but you must. If I don’t make it back, you’re the only hope for the Alliance.
Princess Leia Organa: Luke, don’t talk that way! You have a power I don’t understand and could never have.
Luke Skywalker: You’re wrong, Leia. You have that power too. In time you’ll learn to use it as I have. The Force is strong in my family. My father has it. I have it and… [looks directly at Leia] My sister has it. [waits for the words to sink in] Yes. It’s you, Leia.
Princess Leia Organa: [astonished] I know. Somehow, I’ve always known.
Enter a Rey of Light
“Go strap yourself in, I’m going to make the jump to light speed.”
– Han Solo (played by Harrison Ford)
Okay everyone, hold on tight as we fast forward nearly 40 years (Earth time) and Star Wars fans old(er) and new alike are introduced to the character of Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), a mysterious scavenger who had been “left behind” on the remote planet of Jakku as a child.
Much like Luke way back in the early days, wise-beyond-her-years Rey feels like there is more out there for her—much more—although she isn’t quite sure what it is and how she will ever escape the harsh life she’s living.
Also, like Luke and Leia, Rey will soon become involved with the Resistance’s conflict with the First Order in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Young Rey goes on to train to be a Jedi under Luke and Leia and faces a whole new slew of formidable enemies along the way, including Emperor Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid in later years)—who is revealed to be Rey’s grandfather in The Rise of Skywalker.
Skipping ahead two movies (Episode VIII – The Last Jedi and Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker), much more is revealed about Rey’s roots as well as her journey to discovering who she is and how she fits into the broad yet connected dynamic of the Skywalker, Solo, and Palpatine story.
We follow Rey while she searches for her identity, including who her parents were and why they had chosen to “abandon” her.
Like many children, including adoptees who bear the scars of not knowing and trying to piece the puzzle together, Rey is not always happy with the answers she receives even if they bring her the closure she desires.
Some of what she is told is false, thanks to fiery and very much confused Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver), the offspring of two Star Wars favorites (spoiler alert: Princess Leia and Han Solo). While Kylo intentionally throws Rey off the true path by providing a false narrative that she had been left behind by junk traders who could’ve cared less about her, the truth is, Rey came from way nobler, if not evil, roots. Think Emperor Sheev Palpatine. Uh oh.
For the record, Kylo was pretty “mixed up” and confused at the time, unsure of his own past or loyalties.
Truth is (as would be revealed later), similar to Luke and Leia, Rey also was hidden by her birth parents who had wanted to protect her from her evil grandfather.
Discovering this truth is difficult for Rey at first as she faces an inner battle of who she thinks she is versus who she thinks she is (genetically) destined to become. Especially with a frenemy like Kylo Ren.
Rey, it turns out, is comforted upon finding out that her mentor, Leia, has known all along of her roots and, despite Leia’s own worries, still welcomed and embraced her into the Skywalker and good guy fold.
As a result of their belief that good can in fact overcome evil, both Leia and Luke become Rey’s “new family” and somewhat of spiritual guides (you’ll have to watch to understand) who ultimately lead her toward a path of light and away from the darkness that she is afraid lives inside her.
Spoiler alert: Rey later adopts the name “Skywalker” to honor her mentors (Leia and Luke) and the Skywalker family legacy.
The closing scene of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (and I’m skipping A LOT here) shows us Rey returning to Tatooine (the home planet of Luke Skywalker from the very first Star Wars movie, as you may recall).
An elderly woman passes by and asks Rey for her name. The curious woman follows this up with, “Rey who?” Rey pauses for a moment as she sees a vision of the ghosts of her now spiritual mentors Luke and Leia, smiling down on her.
“Rey Skywalker,” she answers, embracing her new identity as she walks off smiling into the twin sunsets of Tatooine—similar to the binary sunset Luke had gazed upon so many moons ago in a galaxy far far away.
The Director on Adoption
Of note, perhaps all of these carefully crafted adoption story lines are more than just creative storytelling: they touched on something important to the American film director George Lucas. Best known for creating the Star Wars franchise (among many other films), Lucas is an adoptive dad of three himself.
Lucas, who adopted a daughter, Amanda Lucas, in the early 80s with then-wife Marcia Lou Griffin, went on to adopt two more children as a single parent—daughter Katie in the late 80s and son Jett in the early 90s. He has one biological daughter, born in 2013, with his wife Mellody Hobson.
His three eldest children all appeared in the three Star Wars prequels, as did Lucas himself.
Ready to Watch?
If you’ve never watched Star Wars and feel like seeing what we’ve been talking about, check out this complete list of Star Wars films that should help you to navigate through the galaxy and the series (in chronological order) along with Luke, Leia, Rey, and the rest of this most loveable cast.
And may the force (and the fourth) be with you!