Over the weekend, Disney posted a teaser announcing that filming had begun on the eighth Star Wars installment. If you're one of the scant few Americans who somehow failed to see The Force Awakens in these past two months, the trailer opens on that film's pivotal final scene. Spoiler Alert.
What occurred to me after watching this bit--and failed to occur to me any of the three times I actually saw The Force Awakens in the theater, was how misguided a gesture Rey's proffering the lightsaber* to Luke seems. Rey, dude, the man has his own sword. One he built himself. Further, Luke Skywalker was unable to defeat his father using Anakin's lightsaber. It was only when he built his own weapon--when he began to move past his father's shadow, that Luke stood a chance of defeating Vader.
Not that Rey can be expected to know any of this. Though she grew up in the wreckage of that war, its details, like the details of any major conflict long gone, are smeared and indistinct. And though he defeated Vader, Luke still fell to the Emperor, saved only by the love of his father.
Darth Vader's legacy weighs heavily on Star Wars. Back in the late Nineties when George Lucas was backpedaling on older statements he'd made about a nine-part saga, he insisted that Vader was the main character of Star Wars, and that the six installments were all about a man falling to darkness and being redeemed by the love of his son. It's an awkward fit, and even though the new trilogy moves beyond him, the influence of Vader is felt pretty strongly in the narrative, even though he is absent from it. The First Order is modeled directly on his old job, and Vader's grandson patterned his entire personality on who he thinks Vader was. Both the sword and Vader's helmet are used as fetish objects, material ties to history and to the magic that powered that history, used to claim ownership of that history. In the climactic fight between Kylo Ren and Rey, Ren insists the weapon belongs to him. He's staking a claim--quite obviously--on ownership of Anakin Skywalker's legacy. By defeating him and taking the sword to Luke, Rey is refuting that claim.
But what is the legacy of Anakin Skywalker but one of failure? His own to live up to the ideals of his order, and Obi-Wan Kenobi's, who failed both Anakin, and later, after giving Luke his father's weapon, Luke himself. Obi-Wan sent Luke Skywalker to war on a lie**. It's telling that when Rey touches the saber, she's brought back to that fight in Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back, that traumatic moment of defeat and revelation for Luke, around which the entire original trilogy pivots.
Kylo Ren's fall parallels Darth Vader's pretty deliberately, and that lightsaber is a symbol not only of Obi-Wan's failing Anakin, but Luke's failing Ben Solo. He tried to do what Obi-Wan did, and he failed in the exact same way. That Kylo Ren so desperately wants to be Darth Vader will eventually be his downfall, but if Star Wars' far-away galaxy is ever to move beyond the endless cycle of fall and redemption, of Empire and Rebellion, it needs people who will stand on their own, out of the shadows.
* Or, since she's Space British, "lightsabre".
** Or, you know, a retcon.