A Therapist Looks at Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Part 1

Posted on December 20, 2015


SPOILER ALERT!  If you have not seen the film and want to not have knowledge of plot revelations beforehand, do not read this post until after you have seen the film.

While you are deciding whether or not to read this, I will tell you some stories.  If you do the math, you can figure out that I was in high school when the first Star Wars film came out.  I grew up in LA County and my girlfriend and I drove into Westwood to see it on the really big screen.  In those days you would wait a long time (7 years) before a film came to TV (there was no VHS, DVD, or Blu-Ray).  So if you wanted to see it more than once, you had to keep going back during the theatrical release (which of course I did).  When The Empire Strikes Back was released, I was in college in San Diego.  I waited multiple times in 2 hour long lines to see it in the theatre.  In 1983, I saw Return of the Jedi with my wife (then friend and colleague).  We were not even dating at the time, but that was something of the launching point for our relationship.

As you might gather, the Star Wars films and I have some history together.  Of course, I saw The Force Awakens on the opening weekend.

Okay, if you haven’t stopped reading yet, the spoiler is coming.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here is how I would have titled the post: A Therapist Looks at Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Part 1, Han & Leia.

It has been 32 years since we last caught up with Han and Leia.  They were clearly an item at the end of Return of the Jedi.  In this film, they use neither the word “married” nor “divorced,” but it is clear that they were each other’s significant other and that they are now separated.  Han has returned to his smuggling ways, and Leia is a general with the resistance.  The catalyst for the split in their relationship was the loss of their son Ben (named for Obi-Wan?) to the dark side.

Granted, these are fictional characters, but it makes sense.  It is not a given that the loss of a child[1] signals the end of a marriage, however, divorce rates are higher as are incidents of Major Depressive Disorder for parents who have lost children (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841012/).  For an already strained relationship, the stressor of losing a child can be more than the relationship can bear.

Additionally, people grieve in different ways.  A partner who does not outwardly show their grief may be seen as cold and uncaring.  A partner who is openly grieving may feel overwhelming to a partner who copes with his or her grief by shutting down and soldiering on.

Han and Leia do not appear to blame each other, but this is also a potential relationship stressor.  As one tries to make sense of the loss, there is the risk of blaming one’s self or blaming one’s partner.

Add on top of that the stress of Leia leading the resistance (first against the Empire and then against The First Order[2]).  Her only other living relative, her brother Luke, coped with his grief and guilt over his nephew by disappearing to some unknown part of the galaxy.  The stressors and losses would put tremendous pressure on her relationship.

I don’t know what kind of marriage counseling was available in a galaxy far away, but they would have needed it.

[1] And Ben is not dead.

[2] Why is it that Empire Stormtroopers and First Order Stormtroopers have the exact same uniforms?