Parenting lessons from Star Wars

Can you name a great parent in the Star Wars franchise?

Our favorite Star Wars characters possess a lot of great qualities: bravery, cunning, perseverance…. Great parenting skills, however, are not a shared trait in our favorite galaxy far, far away. Many of the main Star Wars characters are parents: Darth Vader, Han Solo… even Emperor Palpatine managed to spread his seed. Furthermore, we witness many of the most beloved characters longing for relationships with their parents–particularly Anakin, Luke, and Rey. What we find amidst all these familial longings and relationships, though, is a lot of absenteeism. Finding a present parent in the Star Wars universe is like finding a coyote–there’s evidence they’re present, but you never actually see them.

What does Star Wars teach parents?

In the end, all there’s left to do is send kids into the universe with a blessing that The Force will be with them, always.

We get short glimpses of present parents. Anakin’s mom, Shmi, seems like a good parent. She was self-sacrificing, caring, and present–until she isn’t. Disney is making an attempt to overcome their absentee parent reputation through the surrogate relationship between Baby Yoda and the Mandalorian. The Mandalorian is, at least, present–though not necessarily a natural when it comes to the finer art of nurture. Similar things can be said for Jango Fett–who was both present and concerned for passing something on to his son, Boba. Jango’s downfall was that he wasn’t very discerning about what activities made for good parent-child bonding experiences.

Most Star Wars kids receive little screen time with their parents however. It’s ironic for a franchise where the stories are so driven by familial love.

The prequel trilogy is arguably driven by Anakin’s need to protect his own family. The original trilogy tells the story of Luke’s quest to redeem his father. The sequel trilogy gets a story boost from Rey’s search for her family and Kylo Ren’s wishes to break free of his. Yet, with all these family relationships at play, there are few examples of stable family relationships.

I was raised on Star Wars. As a toddler I accompanied my own family to see the blockbuster original. Not long after, my room became a stand-in battleground where little plastic Rebel commanders directed maneuvers against little plastic Imperial Snowtroopers.

I learned a lot from the Star Wars story. I was inspired to trust. Luke’s persistence inspired my own perseverance. I long held a belief that I should either “do or do not, there is no try.”

Could there be anything to learn about parenting from Star Wars?

It hasn’t let me down in any other area of my life… so there must be, right?

Think about Luke’s longing to know more about his father. Then recall his danger-fraught quest to bring his dad back from the Dark Side. Think about Ben Solo/Kylo Ren’s animosity towards his father–who he felt abandoned him. These stories remind us how much children look up their parents.

Shoot, even when Daddy Vader freezes Luke’s best friend, pummels him with space boxes, and cuts off his hand, Luke still seeks to kindle a relationship with his dad. The pull to have a parental relationship is strong–much like The Force. (I needed to say it, please don’t stop reading.)

Luke himself was not a parent–at least, as far as we know… in this universe (there are some old novels where Luke sires a few Jedi-pups, but they’re no longer canon). Nevertheless, Luke attempts to insert himself as a father figure to a number of would-be Jedi, until Kylo Ren rebels and destroys their little Jedi family.

Luke was heartbroken in his perceived failure. So heartbroken is he that he retreats from all relationships. In a poignant scene in Episode 8, The Last Jedi, Luke got a visit from one of his former father figures, Jedi Master Yoda. Yoda reminded Luke that he was commissioned to pass on what he had learned–not just the successes, but the failures as well. Our children–both our figurative kids and/or our literal kids–will learn from our mistakes as much as they’ll learn from our successes.

Still from Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Yoda concluded his little pep talk in saying “we are what they grow beyond.”

Mistakes matter because they provide fodder for learning. Yoda encourages Luke to not just run from his mistakes, but to see them and move on from them. I suppose there’s wisdom in admitting that I’ve made mistakes in my parenting, and to see those mistakes and move from them, too. So instead of doubling down on conviction the next I lose my temper a bit too quickly, I should admit my harsh words and raised tone wasn’t necessarily warranted and move on.

“We are what they grow beyond.”

Master Jedi Yoda

Perhaps there’s something to learn from Star Wars’ absenteeism, too. All those kids rose up to overcome some pretty tough situations. I mean, they weren’t without their issues (looking at you, Kylo Ren). But perhaps there’s a bit of wisdom in giving kids space to achieve something on their own. Star Wars certainly does not come out in support of the helicopter parent.

At some point, we’re going to have to unleash our kids on the universe. Perhaps the best we can do is give them some room to meet the universe with the blessing that, like the Force, our support may not always be visible, but it will be with them… always.

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