why is Luke's last name Skywalker?

Glenn here.

I've seen the original Star Wars Trilogy like a billion times. And yet one morning this week as I was getting ready for work did a new thought about the films suddenly pop into my head. This very week. After 30+ years of exploring and obsessing over every tiny facet. The subject line says it all:

Why is Luke's last name Skywalker?

In broad strokes (and without getting into too much of the detail "revealed" in the prequel trilogy, which I don't really consider on the same level as the originals), Luke and Leia are twins whose father is Darth Vader. Yoda and Obi-Wan separate them and scatter them to the far edges of the galaxy to spare them the fate of being killed by, or worse, raised by, the evil Dark Lord. Leia is handed over to a prominent Galactic Senator, and her name is Princess Leia Organa. Luke is brought to Owen and Beru Lars, childless farmers on the desert planet of Tattooine. But no one calls him Luke Lars. His name is Luke Skywalker.

OK, so maybe it's a detail I did think of before (you would not believe the conversations I've had about the minutia of Star Wars over the years), but it never struck me with such resonance as it did today. Luke and Leia are adopted out to save them from the Dark Side of the Force. And yet, bizarrely, despite the fact that everyone in the galaxy knows that Anakin Skywalker turned into Darth Vader, and Yoda went into hiding in a remote swamp, and even Obi-Wan changed his name to disguise his presence, Luke remains openly a Skywalker. He calls his adoptive father, who's literally Darth Vader's brother, Uncle Owen. It shouldn't have taken the Empire more than a couple weeks to figure out that there's a Skywalker kid on Tattooine, the very planet that old Darthy himself was born on. That's like the worst witness protection program ever. Really, all they had to do is just change the baby's name and not ship it off to the most obvious place to look for a Skywalker.

By now I've probably lost anyone who's not as intimately familiar with these movies, so I'll bring it back to point. Which is that I've been noticing a lot more lately how the media treats adoption. The message time and again is that adoptive parents aren't the "real" parents, and only a reunion with the "real" (read: birth) parents will make the child complete. Star Wars is only an extreme example of that. But even in this age of open adoption, this belief persists with shows like "Find My Family" (as if to suggest that the adoptive family isn't "theirs" but just a proxy for the true family).

Now this is a complex topic, and can't be resolved by using more examples from sci-fi movies. But it seems to me that the continuation of this belief system tends to do more harm than good when it comes to people's beliefs about adoption. It appears to be a holdover from the days, not so long gone, when adoption was a hush-hush thing that you didn't reveal to your child until she was "old enough to understand" (as if there's ever a good moment to drop a sudden, often devastating bombshell like that). In a sense, we put adoption in the back of the attic with all the rest of the family secrets that we don't talk about in polite company.

Increasingly, that's changing, and the "professionals" are finding that integrating a child's adoption story into his life from an early age, as something that's just a fact of life - not to be hidden away - leads to a far more healthy child from a psychological standpoint. It takes the teeth out of adoption when it's treated as just another way to create a family, and not just a last resort for desperate parents.

For our part, we don't exactly how much, but our Birthmom will be a part of our, and our child's life, forever. That doesn't mean she'll help us raise Junior, but in a sense she will, because her presence - even as a photo in his room - will serve to normalize something that in our recent history was treated as shameful. I'm not suggesting the little guy won't have issues around his adoption, but we'll never have to hide it, or keep it secret, or pretend it didn't really happen, or strategize for the perfect moment when he's 8 or 10 or 20 to reveal that he was born from another mother. And really, because he's the child of a white woman and an African-American man, it's going to be pretty hard to keep something like that a secret past the day when he notices our skin color doesn't match up perfectly.

A friend and former boss of mine (if she's reading this now, she knows who she is) revealed shortly after we first started telling people we were going to adopt, that she was adopted. I was surprised, because I didn't know that I knew any adopted people. But also very heartened by it. As we've been on this journey, I've often sought out signs that adopted kids are just as happy and normal as biological kids (or just as unhappy in so-called normal ways, as we've all had our issues). Along with the research I've done, this friend completely assuaged all those fears just by being one of the most awesome people I know. She recently responded to someone posting about how much they loved the reunion scene at the end of "Find My Family" by writing (paraphrased): "Adoptive babies love their adoptive mommies and daddies, no reunion necessary."

I'm not suggesting it's all going to be a perfectly easy path we're taking - heck, our path has been anything but easy. But it's good to know that in the real world of adoption, not the fake Hollywood world, you don't have to spend your life hoping your kid never finds out the truth, because the truth is right out in the open.

And all that said, I don't think Star Wars would have been half as cool if the hero was named Luke Lars, Jedi Knight.


Anna said...

Awesome post!

Anonymous said...

I am a transracial adoptee and I have recently found my birth family. Unfortunately my birth mother passed away 6 years ago. I was able to meet a bio brother and sister and that meeting(I don't call it a reunion because that implies we have met before) did bring me peace and some closure.
My adoptive parents were a part of the meeting and were very happy for me and I saw healing take place in them as well as they found out my placement with them really did mean a better life for me.

I am able to separate the two and always have. My adoptive family is my family and that is my Mom and Dad but my birth family who I share some connection with is important and they hold answers to questions I have always wanted to know. They have answers that only they can answer and every week when I watch that show those same answers are asked and answered. As an adoptee that show helps me sort out a lot of my feelings and is comforting to know a lot of the adoptees just want to know the true story behind their adoption. The desire to find my birth family doesn't mean I love my family any less. In fact it was hard to voice the desire to find my birth family because I didn't want to hurt my Mom and Dad.

I get that Hollywood puts their spin on it but there is some amazing healing that can take place by meeting your bio family. I am more complete because I have an amazing family and now a connection to two people I have never had.

Glenn said...


Thank you so much for you comment.

I didn't mean to imply that an adoptive child's birth story should be hidden, denied, or swept under the rug at all, so I hope it didn't come across that way. We specifically chose an open adoption and are spending a lot of time right now with our birthmom-to-be, learning about her (and by extension the birthfather), getting photos, etc., because we want our child to know where he came from and hopefully have that as a part of his life so maybe - just maybe - the answers and sense of connection to his history he desires are already part of his life.

I was saying, however, that it seems that the media really treats adoptions as temporary, using terms like "real parents" at times, and "reunion" and other loaded phrases that suggest an impermanent connection. Whatever positive can come from a show like "Find My Family" I'm all for though.

Thanks again for the awesome comment!

brianlibby said...

Very interesting post. I've too thought that Uncle Owen's place was the first location the Empire should have looked for Luke and Leia. As far as the Skywalker name goes, the only thing that might have made keeping it doable was that the Empire may not have had records or census information for Tattoine citizens. It's still risky using the Skywalker name, of course. Leia didn't do so with her adopted parents. Maybe Luke's use of the Skywalker name has to do with the fact that Owen and Beru were upfront about the adoptive process, like you mention being the case in trends with real adoptions today.

Peter Moran said...

Love the post. I have no answer, but am just a fellow Star Wars fan.

AmandaA said...

When your son is 4 or 5 you will be able to discuss these fine points together. Incidentally, I was pondering this exact point regarding Luke's name *yesterday* as Isaac and I read "The Story of Darth Vader" together. Yes, me...

Nishant said...

they found out my placement with them really did mean a better life for me.

Work from home India

Anonymous said...

This is a great post! I have to share this with my husband -- a soon-to-be dad through adoption and a huge Star Wars fan. :)

Anonymous said...

Anakin believes his children to be dead, as that is what he is told. tatooine is emphasized over and over again that it is a backwater planet that no one would choose to go to, which implies that most people who would find the information that luke is alive to be important, would never travel there, and if they did would probably not leave the city of mos eisley, which is shown that luke does not travel to often. don't forget there is a whole PLANTS WORTH of people to hide in, and what are the chances that someone who is an important political 'big-wig' in the imperial machine would happen to run into a peasant farmer in the off chance that they visit a wasteland planet with no political or strategic importance. Darth Vader knows about Owen and Beru, however I doubt he is forthcoming with this information to anyone, and again, given that he believed the children to be dead, he would have no reason to visit unless he was feeling nostalgic. As for Owen and Beru, they are simple farmers who probably don't grasp the true importance of the name skywalker. When they met Anakin he was a bit odd, however I think based on their memory of him, they would not believe he would try to harm them or luke.