As I start to write this, I can hear my family, downstairs, watching Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. I can hear the iconic soundtrack filtering up to where I am writing. I imagine when I simply said, “iconic soundtrack” you started hearing it in your head too.  And maybe like me you notice yourself smiling with associated positive memories of this epic saga.

I love this series and have many fond childhood memories watching Episode IV, V, and VI with my family. This passion for the iconographic series and its subsequent movie releases continued, even until now.

One of my favorite memories, a few years ago, is running through the early morning empty walkways at Disneyland to get in line with my daughter, so that she could participate in a Jedi Training program that climaxed with a real-life, one-on-one, fight against Darth Vader!

While the movies are entertaining, nostalgic, and connect us to decades worth of pop-culture-phenomena, they also explore and capture important themes.

Over the course of the Star Wars series, we witness how a seemingly binary Good Vs Evil plotline becomes much more complex, and transformative. We begin to realize that the characters are far from binary and imbued with the very real human attributes of both good and bad parts. We witness what happens to these characters, and the story, and indeed galaxy around them, as they heed either their good instincts or their bad instincts. We also learn the value of redemption, and that it is never too late to do the right thing and save the galaxy.

Given the proximity to the holidays this year, I find myself pondering on the familial themes in Star Wars.

In this final episode, (the one I hear reverberating from downstairs) the themes around family and inheritance come to a head. This is the episode where we finally learn that Rey is the Evil Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter. This solidifies our understanding as we have witnessed Rey’s internal fight against “The Dark Side of the Force” as she actively fights for the “Good Guys” (The Resistance) as a Jedi. We also continue to see Kylo Ren wrestle with and ultimately reconcile his lineage as a “Good Guy,” born to Princess Leia and Han Solo, despite his efforts to unite himself to the dark side through his heritage to his grandfather, Darth Vader (who we know from previous episodes was also a complicated character himself who ultimately chose family over the Dark Side and saved his son Luke Skywalker, and the galaxy…for awhile).

In my work as a psychologist, I simultaneously recognize that our heritage and childhood don’t get all the credit for where and who we are today; and also, our family and childhood impact us. We carry our heritage and our family experiences with us. They shape us in complicated ways. Star Wars does a nice job of capturing this complexity. It flushes out the value of understanding how our backgrounds shape us, and the decisions we make as a result.

We inherent strengths, values, wonderful characteristics and history from our families. We also inherent experiences, patterns, and traits to overcome. Both of these realities are important and beautiful.

Our ancestors led the way and paved a path to the furthest destination they could reach. Our job is to use their stories, experience, and our inherited strength to continue on and beyond. In that process we need to develop new skills, perspective, and strengths, that help us overcome both our inherited weaknesses, trauma, and pain, and the unique struggles that life chooses to throw at us.

I used to feel resentful about some of my inherited vulnerabilities and family history/dynamics that impacted me in painful ways. I’ve come to realize, however, the value in turning toward those pieces of me and using them to inform my journey in positive and empowering ways. For example, if I hadn’t inherited a vulnerability and experience with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, I wouldn’t know the transformative power of therapy nor have pursued the career that I deeply value today.

As I understand and value these parts of myself, I feel more connected and compassionate toward my parents and grandparents.

I also have grown to really appreciate the strengths and positive traits I inherited from my parents. From my mom, I inherited the ability to find delight in people and the value of laughter. I inherited curiosity from both my parents. I inherited some of my dad’s dogged optimism and the belief that I am in control of my life. I inherited many other wonderful traits from them and have learned important life lessons from their struggles and triumphs.

We are all complex. Our families are all complicated. We all have “good parts” and “bad parts.” We have all acted on both the good parts and the bad parts with varying degrees of consequences. We are connected to our families in visible and invisible ways. We also forge our own destinies. We are impacted by our inherited traits and family history, and we make informed choices about our lives based on those impacts.  We decide what we want to carry with us and what we need to overcome. Our family and history invite us toward more growth and development, while also equipping us with some tools to continue that journey. We also need to build some new tools and perspective ourselves. All of this is true. All of this is beautiful.

Thank you, Star Wars for epitomizing all that wonderful complexity! And for being a series that brings families physically together in united excitement whenever the movies play that theme song! Speaking of which, I’m now off to go cuddle my family on the coach and finish Episode IX with them!