Shang-Chi: A Star Wars Story

Great art is rarely original. It builds off the strengths of its predecessors and pulls in the accepted norms of its form. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which George Lucas used to build his narrative for Star Wars, is a testament to this. Lucas pulled from the narrative history of mythology, filmmaking, and storytelling in the same fashion that later creators would build off of his additions to the lexicon. That has made its way to the modern day and can be seen throughout the only cinematic universe that could arguably equal or pass the impact of Star Wars: the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The latest episode in that saga, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, keeps the connection strong.

On the surface level, there is a supernatural aid via a talisman passed down to the protagonist. Luke Skywalker receives his father’s lightsaber, while Shang-Chi obtains the Ten Rings from his. Likewise, both essentially receive their Excalibur through the downfall of their father, leaving them to take up the legacy and advance it into a better future. In order to do so, both Luke and Shang-Chi have to reconcile their relationship with said fathers. Only through showing the father that he can still change, even when all seems lost and the majority of their lives have been a tale of hubris and wrongdoing, can said change occur. This leads to both Anakin and Wenwu giving their lives in order to make sure that their sons are able to right the wrongs that they had created. 

Those wrongs all centered around the relationships of the respective parents. While there were many factors in Anakin’s fall, the lynchpin was his wife, Padmé. Even after her death, Darth Vader tried to resurrect Padmé, not so much for love as for absolution. If he could bring her back it would make all the travesty and tragedy understandable, if not justifiable. Wenwu behaves similarly, becoming obsessed with bringing back his bride, Ying Li, who he believes to be trapped in the hidden land of her origin, Ta Lo. While in this dark place, both emotionally and literally, these fathers and husbands go to great lengths and kill many others. It is only their sons, both of whom remind the father of the mother, that can bring them back.

Those sons are likewise motivated and pushed by women of great importance in their lives, the sisters they spent years separated from. From the start of his journey, even before knowing they are twins, Luke is motivated by Leia. Her message gets him off Tatooine, her rescue leads him to the Rebellion, and her support helps him in the darkest of hours. Two instances in particular validate this point,, the first being when Vader taunts Luke about his sister. “Sister,” he says. “So you have a twin sister. If you will not join me, perhaps she will.” The very idea that his father would target his sister should Luke fail sends Luke into a rage in which he abandons all pretenses of civility. But that rage is important, as it leads to him throwing away his lightsaber to face down darkness with naught but love. All of which is sparked by Leia’s existence. 

Even thirty years down the road, in The Last Jedi, Luke is brought back into the struggle to save the galaxy when he reconnects with Leia. He is tortured by the fact that he failed her and wants to make their relationship right again. This is the same place Shang-Chi is in when he follows the postcard he believes to be from his abandoned sister. It may not be as obvious as the Luke and Leia dynamic, but Shang-Chi wants to do right by Xialing as well. Whether or not he made the wrong choice in leaving her, as Luke left Leia, is up for debate, but the collateral damage remains nonetheless. Thus, both heroes have to reconcile with their sisters and what they left them to become, Xialing running an illegal fighting ring and Leia trying to save the galaxy once more. That reconciliation heals. 

In the end, that is what Star Wars is about. Embedded in all the action, in between the ideas of hope and redemption and found family, is the need to come to terms with one’s self, one’s family, and one’s circumstances. As Shaun transforms himself fully into Shang-Chi throughout the film, he goes on that exact journey. All he’s missing is a lightsaber. 

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