I would like to go through a “gallery” of characters appearing in the new films who, in one way or another, have remarkable forerunners in the pre-Disney “expanded universe” of Star Wars novels and games. This is not an attempt to look for “copies”, and very likely not even for sources of conscious inspiration. The filmmakers have probably not read all the old Star Wars books (if any). Take it, rather, as an interesting journey into the Star Wars authors’ mindset, an attempt to unveil some inherent qualities of the Star Wars universe and its characters. Are there “Star Wars archetypes” that are simply destined to reappear, no matter who writes the story? Are there some common traits those types of characters always have? Or are they too different?
Let us start with one of the most striking examples.
The Solo Twins
And let’s start with a double portion. Since the films are about a “new generation”, it is completely natural to look for similarities in the generation after Luke and Leia’s also in the expanded universe sources. These, in the pre-2014 canon, included twin kids of Leia and Han Solo: Jaina and Jacen.
Jaina and Jacen played major roles especially in the New Jedi Order and Legacy of the Force novel series. As twins from the Skywalker family, they are both Force sensitive and, unsurprisingly, they share a special Force bond. The story plays a lot with the trope of “twins – two parts of the whole, light and dark”, and with the expectation of which of the twins is going to fall to the Dark Side. Jaina may first seem to be the one getting dangerously close to the Dark Side, but Jacen is the one who suffers – both physically and emotionally – and eventually, he is the one who falls and becomes Darth Caedus. He kills some of his family members and turns the Galactic Alliance (a structure which, at his time, is in place of the Republic) into a controlled society in a quest to bring order and safety to the Galaxy. Eventually, he is defeated and killed by his sister.
Not So Much For Rey, But…
The similarities, especially Jacen’s to Kylo Ren’s story, are quite many on first sight. So many that when Episode VII came out, many fans, in their quest to figure out Rey’s parentage, looked for parallels in the story and possible inspiration. In vain, as we now know. Rey isn’t a Solo (or a Skywalker, for that matter). With the “Rey Skywalker” theory out of the table, there is very little to connect Rey and Jaina Solo. Jaina was said to have aptitude for mechanics and became an ace pilot, but that was about where similar traits ended. Jaina lives a privileged life all in all, while Rey is “no one”. Rey wasn’t flirting with the Dark Side and she isn’t the progeny of the “great family of heroes”. The only major similarity may exist in her fateful bond with Kylo Ren.
I intentionally say “may”: we have no idea how Rey’s/Kylo’s story is going to end. It seems, if nothing else, that they are not “destined” for mutual conflict: the new films have been stressing enough the fact that their future is still in their hands. The nature of their bond is also completely different to that of Jaina and Jacen, and any further connections and comparisons would therefore be purely arbitrary.
…the “Prodigal Son” Is Coming
Jacen’s similarity to Kylo Ren is much closer. Psychologically, Jacen Solo is a very interesting character especially thanks to Matthew Stover’s novel “Traitor”. Stover’s Star Wars stories generally tend to get quite far on the psychologising side, and “Traitor” doesn’t Jacen’s fall to the Dark Side (that comes much later), but rather some shaping elements of his life that help understand him as a character beyond the classic “and then he became evil” stereotype: a long period of suffering while surrounded by enemies, loss of a childhood friend, inner struggle combined with his internal worldview challenged. So far, we know very little about Kylo Ren’s background, and aside from the one fateful moment with Luke, and his misguided inspiration with Darth Vader, we are lacking the insight into his psyche that we got with Jacen Solo. I daresay such an insight would have to be quite different in Ben Solo’s case.
Whatever we may think, Jacen’s and Ben Solo’s story contain the same archetype – the “next generation Skywalker” who embraces the wrong side of his heritage and turns against the rest of his family. It is a trope that comes naturally, I daresay it had to come, by pure logic (and down to the fact that he is the child of Han and Leia). It begs a question why did it come so close, especially if the inspiration wasn’t intentional. Meaning for example: why was it in both cases the boy who fell to the Dark Side? (Kylo had no sister, but suppose he could have been a girl.) Is there some “prodigal son” archetype under all this? (And will the prodigal son ever return?)
Who Looks The Part
One last piece of funny trivia. If you look at the pictures and descriptions of the characters, you’ll notice that there is a lot more similarity between the outward appearance of Rey and Jaina than between Jacen and Kylo. Jacen has always been described as taking more after Han Solo, whereas Kylo Ren clearly takes more after Leia – although he styles himself after young Anakin, creating a mix pointing towards multiple of his ancestors. It just happens to be a funny coincidence that out of the four, Rey and Jaina look probably the most alike, even if they are nothing alike in personality and (probably?) not much in fate – but from the “visual perspective”, the confusion of the fans regarding Rey’s bloodline is much more understandable.