Let’s discuss something that has never been discussed before in the history of humankind or Star Wars: Nature vs. Nurture.
(yes, that was sarcasm)
My husband said to me the other day, “I wish I could have known your grandfather. I feel like he is to blame for a lot of your controlling tendencies.”
That stung. I know I’m controlling, but to go so far as to pin it on someone you’ve never met means that you’re really looking for and trying to understand something that’s beyond your grasp. (To give you some background, I had not spent a lot of time with my grandfather as he lived in Australia, yet I have a lot of personality traits that are so similar that those in the family that did know him well have given me the adoptive name of “Dalai Grandpa”.)
But honestly, I do that too, more than I’ve cared to admit so the fault does not only lie with my husband. I’ve asked my mother-in-law multiple times about her parents and if my husband’s less than favorable traits were present in them. I try to understand something about him that doesn’t seem to align with other parts of what I know. Some of it is the need to understand and as human beings, we seem to be wired to always understand deeper reasons instead of accepting what cannot be explained. Other times, it’s a point of deflection for why something is abnormal. “Oh, he was just born with those traits,” is something I find myself saying.
How does that reflect in the universe of Star Wars? Are the characters we love so much shaped by their environment and who raises them or are they a product of those that produced them?
The most interesting case to look at would be Luke and Leia. Both are siblings but separated from birth from each other and their natural parents. Further, they were not told who their father was, though we learn in Bloodline that Leia was told that Padmé was her mothers “years ago”. I believe it was also mentioned that she had researched her and found out what she could about her.
Since Leia knew she was adopted, and researched Padmé, we could say she was influenced into acting more like Padmé. This is my own personal opinion as a fan, but the only way Leia seems similar to Padmé is in her political leanings. Her adoptive parents were also very active politically and knew Padmé on a personal level. Perhaps because of this, their decisions were influenced with a bit of, “What would Padmé have done?” when they raised Leia.
Interestingly, I feel that Leia veers closer to the Padmé we knew from the Prequels in TLJ. Her stoic front and the way she emanated a calm aura while the battle raged and the Resistance crumbled on the way to Crait, reminded me more of Padmé than Leia’s disposition in any other movie. But some of me wonders if that is nurture or just age and experience?
Luke does not seem to channel much of Padmé. Raised as a farmhand by his Aunt and Uncle, he lived a quiet life away from the political atmosphere. But there is that one line all fans remember from Aunt Beru,
Luke’s just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.
This line infers that there is something about Luke that despite all the nurturing he has received on Tatooine, he will never be cut out for the life that his uncle and aunt have tried to provide him. Aunt Beru’s line is a strong case for the nature argument.
Throughout the rest of the movies, you see Luke struggle with this. He is always yearning to know more about his father, and when he finds out, he struggles to figure out who he is. Does nature mean that he will fall to the dark side too?
In some ways, TLJ tried to tackle this problem, but instead it focused too heavily on the legacy of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, then the inherent traits present in Luke. The legacy of Vader is almost too superficial as opposed to what is within you and can never be shaken.
Or can it? Can you rise above the nature of who you are and who you were born as? I think we see this in Luke as a constant battle. Will the anger overtake him and will he turn to the dark side? We see a glimpse of it in the cave in ESB, we see it when Vader finds out he has a sister in ROTJ, and we see it in TLJ when he glimpses the dark side in Ben Solo.
Interestingly, the only movie where we see Luke’s nurture actively present is in the first one, ANH. But even then, there are so many references to his father from Aunt Beru to Obi-Wan, that it makes Luke’s nature seem unavoidable – though, at the same time, it’s something everyone keeps trying to avoid.
With Han Solo we only know that Solo’s father worked on YT-1300 ships and that he wanted Han to fly them (as opposed to creating them), but they were not close.
After his father’s death, Han Solo turned to the streets for his home. Corellia was a rough and tumble world when the Empire had control over it. Han was part of the White Worms gang, where he had a criminal life. By all accounts, Han Solo was a lot of nurture. Han even gets his last name in a nurture way – it’s given to him by an Imperial officer when he enlists in the Empire because he’s alone. A name has such weight, that this also probably affects who he is: alone and only working for himself.
But then why does even Qi’ra think he is a good man? Why do Leia and Luke see more potential in him? By all accounts, from what we’ve seen, he should be out for himself in a way that Tobias Beckett was. Why does Han become steadfastly loyal to a Wookiee, gaining a friendship that spans decades until his death? If Han is mostly nurture, why do people believe his nature is good? Is there something genetically within him that makes him good, or does that also come from his nurture side?
Lastly, let’s take a look at two examples that would be strictly nurture and not a combination of both nature and nurture: Ahsoka Tano and Finn.
All the Jedi Knights of the Republic, barring Anakin, are fabulous case studies of nurture vs. nature. Taken from their home world at birth when the Jedi discovered their Force abilities, they are raised by the Jedi as their primary caretakers. They are taught about the Force, the ways of the Jedi, and how to be a Jedi Knight, and potentially Master. They are influenced by Jedi all around them as well as any missions they might be placed on. As a padawan, the Jedi they are placed with become as close to family as they will ever get. The only nature they get to fall back upon are their species, but that might barely register depending on the kind of species.
Yet, they each seem to have a distinct personality. Ahsoka is a bright, cheery Jedi Apprentice who is always looking to improve herself and eager to take on tasks. She finds ways to tease Anakin and is almost playful in her own feisty way. With the Mortis arc, she shows a side of her that is quite cruel and frustrated. As she grows older, an introspective side of her emerges, as well as a deep-rooted sense of right and wrong. Instead of re-joining the Jedi Order after they wrongly accuse her and cast her out, she decides to part ways with the Jedi Order, showing a maturity that I’m not sure many can match.
It’s difficult to say what is nature here specifically but based on how many different personalities we see of the Jedi Apprentices in TCW, we can assume that nature plays a role even though they have been conditioned by their environment. I am sure that the Jedi also fostered a welcoming environment that would have allowed true personalities to come forth. It could also explain why despite all the Jedi upbringing, there are some that still turn to the dark side. Could their true nature have a natural disposition to rage, anger and attachment making it easier for them to turn when needed?
Unlike the Jedi, I do not think the First Order stormtroopers were allowed such freedom in expressing their personality. Though scarily similar in the way both the Jedi younglings and stormtroopers were taken from their family at a young age, the First Order tried their hardest to make everything nurture and stamp out any nature that reared its head. An interesting experiment when looked at objectively, and I believe probably more “successful” than the Jedi in brainwashing people to be unswervingly loyal to an order, but as we saw in TFA – nature cannot be completely ruled out. Finn was given a designation of FN-2187, and as seen earlier, names can have a heavy influence on who you are. Identification numbers creates a further detachment from a true self.
Yet Finn, for all his nurture, did not want to kill unarmed, innocent civilians on Jakku. In Before the Awakening, Finn rescues a fellow stormtrooper on a simulated mission and gets chastised for it by Captain Phasma. Finn seems to have a very strong nature streak within him and he is constantly full of conflict. Even after deserting the Empire, he struggles with remaining loyal to the cause. Where would this internal struggle, loyalty to Rey, and brash attitude come from, if not from nature?
I have gone on too long in this post…and have sadly not been able to go into the clones, Hera Syndulla, Rey, and Anakin Skywalker – all characters who were at the forefront of my mind but had to be cut for lack of attention spans of readers. I mean, heck, if you made it this far, maybe I should just create this into an essay and submit it somewhere!
From your own personal opinion – what do you think wins more strongly? Nature or nurture? When looking at yourself, what rules stronger within you?