Acton Institute Powerblog

Slavery, Shmi Skywalker, and Star Wars

As the final installment of the final trilogy of the Star Wars saga opens today, it’s worth thinking about where this blockbuster franchise and cultural phenomenon started. And by that I mean where the story of Anakin Skywalker started in Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

I got to revisit some of this as the earlier movies have been playing on repeat on cable TV leading up to today’s opening. The part I noticed as I flipped through the channels was the really painful dialogue between Anakin (now a Jedi apprentice) and Princess Amidala as Anakin keeps having bad dreams about his mother.

Recall that in The Phantom Menace, Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn takes Anakin away from his mother Shmi, leaving her in slavery to Watto, a junk dealer.

Anakin is 9 years old at the time Qui-Gon separates him from his mother. He’s 20 years old when he is tasked with protecting Padme Amidala, and when, beset by nightmares, he violates his Jedi orders and returns to Tatooine to look for his mother. Anakin has been separated from his mother for more than a decade, and in the meantime no one has bothered to concern themselves with Shmi’s fate.

If there’s anything that demonstrate’s the decadence of the Jedi order, it’s this absolute indifference to the natural affection between a mother and her son, the careless disregard for the evils of slavery, and the fetishization of emotionless disinterest.

We must never forget the crimes of Jedi like Qui-Gon Jinn.

For more on how the natural family is the reality that both the Jedi and the Sith seek to undermine, you can see the argument I make in “The Family and the Force.” And for more on how the deconstruction of Star Wars tropes in The Last Jedi prefigure the kind of revolutionary attitudes towards nature and natural institutions (like the family), read my apologia for Episode VIII.

I haven’t yet seen The Rise of Skywalker, but I’m hoping that this final film in the cycle finally does justice to the bonds of familial love and acknowledges the injustices of slavery in addition to the flaws of orthodox Jedi ideology as well as Sith obsession with power. In this way there is still hope that Star Wars might find balance in the Force.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.