Skywalker and Son
Skywalker and Son: The Semiotics of Junk in Star Wars as Power and Wealth in Correlation to Father-Son Relationships
By Michael Lewis, M.S.
The dawning of the Star Wars saga coincided with the sunset of another American classic. One was a dramatic science fiction movie franchise, while the other was a situational comedy television series. Both have earned an endearing place in American culture, and as diverse as their genres are, both share one same basic trait – junk. However, the junk is not all it appears on the surface. While junk appears on the screen, at its core it represents the abstract notions of power and wealth. In this analysis, we will show that Star Wars is at its core a postmodern version of the beloved American classic comedy Sanford and Son.
Junk plays an important role in the central theme of the quest for power and wealth in every Star Wars movie. Junk is shown to the audience throughout the various subplots in various forms - from the beginning of the saga, in which we find Anakin Skywalker working in a junkyard, to the middle, when we are introduced to Anakin’s son, Luke, who arrives in a ship constructed of junk, to the end, when we find father and son reunited amongst the junked ruins of a space station. Anakin constructs a pod racer and C3PO from junk. Anakin, as Darth Vader, reduces Princess Leia’s spaceship to junk. Luke Skywalker purchases a junk droid from junk traders known as “jawas.” Han Solo flies a junked spaceship that is continually in need of repairs. C3PO is blasted apart into junk in Cloud City and comes into the possession of junk collectors called “uganaughts.” And finally, the final scene of the entire six-movie saga - we see an “ewok” using the junked helmets of Imperial soldiers as drums. Throughout the entire saga, in nearly every scene, there is junk – as an ever-present reminder to the audience of power and wealth.
The central theme of “junk as power and wealth” was also prominent in a TV series that aired just before the Star Wars saga hit theaters around the world. Set in the 1970s, this beloved television show called “Sanford and Son” also dealt with the complex societal issues surrounding junk. The show centered on a father and son team of junk collectors and closely paralleled the Star Wars saga.
Both stories deal with sons whose fathers want power and money, yet their sons only want the love of their father. In Star Wars, the central plot deals with Luke Skywalker’s struggle with his father, Darth Vader, just as in Sanford and Son, where the central plot deals with Lamont Sanford’s struggle with his father, Fred Sanford. In Episode V of Star Wars, Darth Vader wants his son to join with him and rule the galaxy together, just as in Sanford and Son, where Fred Sanford wants his son to continue to work with him on schemes to get rich quick.
In both stories, the sons are motivated by different goals than their fathers. Luke Skywalker wants to attend the Imperial Academy and become a pilot, but his father makes every effort to stop him. Lamont Sanford also wants to be more than he is, but his father also makes every effort to stop him from pursuing his dream as well. We find, though, that the tactics of Luke’s father, which include dismemberment, making threatening statements, and attempted murder, and far more severe than those used by Fred Sanford, whose chief tactic consists of calling his son a “Big Dummy” and faking a heart attack. However, the fact that either father resorts to these tactics shows how difficult it is for them embrace the lives their sons have chosen, and thus both fathers take on the characteristics of the oppressor to keep their sons in the family business of making, collecting, and selling junk while pursuing dreams of wealth and power.
Both stories have similar conclusions as well. In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker goes away to Dagobah to complete his training in the “Force”, returns to confront his father, and in the end, is able to convince Darth Vader to forego his evil ways and rejoin the good forces of the “Jedi.” In the end, the Jedi are united together and will presumably live the rest of their lives in peace. In Sanford and Son, Lamont goes away to Alaska to work on the pipeline. He returns, confronts his father, and convinces Fred to sell the house and junkyard and move to Arizona. While they do not become rich in either saga, both father and son finally put aside their differences and start a new relationship together based on love and not junk (power and wealth).
Yet, there are also some slight differences in the stories also. In Star Wars Episode IV, Luke’s Uncle (as the father figure) was afraid that Luke (as the son) was going to run off with Ben Kenobi (father’s friend) and get into trouble. In Sanford and Son, though, it was Lamont (the son) who was afraid that Fred (the father) was going to get in trouble with Grady (father’s friend). One could also argue, though, that Luke (the son) was afraid that Darth Vader (his real father) would get in trouble with the Emperor (father’s friend).
But was George Lucas paying tribute to Sanford and Son in the Star Wars saga? Clearly, the jawas, uganaughts, and even the ewoks (although to a lesser extent) are all representative of the “junk collector” image of Fred Sanford. The weathered look of the jawa sandcrawler seemed to represent the same weathered look of the Sanfords’ truck. But in Episode I, the character of Watto seems to represent the “junk dealer” image of Fred Sanford. Watto deals in junk – and gambles - as a way of getting rich quick, just as Fred Sanford did. The character of Watto is drawn with the same stubble Redd Foxx sported in his portrayal of Fred Sanford, and also speaks with a Sanford-esque gravelly voice. Clearly, Mr. Lucas had Fred Sanford in mind when developing the character of Watto, and it is a fitting tribute to the series to which Star Wars owes so much.
It should come as no surprise that when The Donny and Marie Show did a parody of Star Wars in 1977, they chose none other than Redd Foxx to portray the character of Obi-Ben Pinocchi, a parody of the character of Ben “Obi-wan” Kenobi. This is the ultimate moment when the two universes collided – the one time that both Sanford and Son and Star Wars shared a single stage.
Are there other connections between Star Wars and Sanford and Son? After Sanford and Son, Redd Foxx’s other shows (The Redd Foxx Comedy Hour, Sanford, and The Redd Foxx Show among others) were all disappointments. Similarly after Star Wars, George Lucas’ other efforts (Howard the Duck, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Radioland Murders among others) were also box office disappointments. Are these coincidences, or could it be that after portraying the complex relationship between troubled fathers and sons, there was no other project that could reach the high artistic merit achieved in either of these series?
It is very clear from this evidence that Star Wars was much more than a fantasy story between good and evil. In reality, it is a story about junk and how junk, representing wealth and power, corrupts to a point where it destroys the relationship between father and son. It is a story centered on the people who collect and deal in junk. It is the story of a son who does not want power, riches, or even junk from his father, but rather his father’s love. It is the story of how junk is such a part of our lives that without junk, there can be consequences on a global – or in the case of Star Wars, galactic – scale.
Star Wars and Sanford and Son appear on the surface as two separate and wildly different entities, but at heart, they are the same timeless story – of a son’s love for a father and the impact of junk upon their lives. What we must take away from both series is that no one must allow junk – or power and wealth – to come between a father and his son.