A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
was written and became revered as one of the most influential English language works. The
drama presents themes that have been echoed in a large number of subsequent works. Among
these themes are revenge, madness, religion, fate and free will, friendship, the dynamic between
fathers and sons, betrayal, and mourning. Of these themes, many are explored in the Star Wars
saga, such as the father-son relationships, and fate and free will. Both concepts are present in
each of the six films and take form among a variety of characters. These father-son relationships,
while oftentimes not biological, spark a journey that eventually leads to one man completing his
fate. The most prevalent of these relationships occur between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin
Skywalker; Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi and Luke Skywalker; and Anakin Skywalker and Luke
Skywalker. Of these characters, two in particular stand out to exemplify the character of Hamlet,
as he struggled with both his relationship with his father and his fate. By the very nature of
Hamlet and his father being of royal blood, a connection is made. The very idea of a line of
succession implies that a son will resume where his father left off, and this is precisely what
occurs in Star Wars.
At first glance, Star Wars would seem to have absolutely nothing in common with
Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but if one were to look more in depth, one could see that the two dramas
have much in common. Hamlet, the titular character, is the Prince of Denmark, placed in a
position, from which he cannot escape. Though he tried, he could not best the powers of fate and
succumbed to his destiny. His fate was to kill his uncle, Claudius, in order to avenge the murder
of his father, King Hamlet. This vengeance is achieved after a long period of inaction on
Hamlet’s part, however, he eventually succeeds in killing his uncle. On the other hand, the Star
Wars saga is a long and complex tale that follows a man’s ultimate fulfillment of his destiny,
framed within the rise and fall of the Galactic Empire. Within the broader storyline, two men, a
father and a son, are instrumental in bringing about the creation and destruction of said empire.
These two men are Anakin Skywalker and his son Luke Skywalker. Anakin and Luke battle with
but eventually yield to the power of fate. These stories present the age-old conflict of free choice
versus fate, concluding with fate emerging victorious, regardless of the steps taken by each
To look at these two men as Hamlet characters, one must look at them separately,
through different lenses. They have different stories that ultimately converge in a victory of fate.
Both born and raised on the desert planet of Tatooine, Anakin and Luke appeared to be
seemingly average children, however, that is not the case. They were thrust into adventures of
epic proportions. Under the guidance of Obi-Wan Kenobi, the two men were nurtured in their
understanding of the force and embarked on their journeys to fulfill an ancient Jedi prophecy.
In order to fully understand the father son dynamic, one must look at the structure of the
Jedi Order. The order is a monastic group of knights that can harness the energy of the force – a
supernatural, metaphysical power. The Jedi are masters of the light side of the force, while their
evil counterparts, the Sith, tap into the dark side. Recruits are taken at a young age and trained
with the order until they are ready to be taken in by a master. Due to the large amount of time
spent in one another’s company, these relationships become more akin to paternal ones with the
master becoming a parent and the padawan (apprentice) becoming a son/daughter. While both
Anakin and Luke received more unconventional training, the bonds formed between them and
Obi-Wan are irrefutable.
Obi-Wan Kenobi first meets the child Anakin while he was a padawan himself. ObiWan’s
Master, Qui-Gon Jinn had stumbled upon Anakin while searching for parts to repair his
spaceship. Qui-Gon recognized Anakin’s potential with the force and believed this meeting to be
one of fate. According to an ancient Jedi mysticism, there would one day be a “chosen one” who
would bring balance to the force, and Qui-Gon believed Anakin to be this person. In a tragic turn
of events, Qui-Gon was slain in battle, leaving the future of young Skywalker unclear (Episode
Although reluctant and reserved at first, Obi-Wan Kenobi decides to take Anakin as an
apprentice (Episode I) and the two soon form an inseparable bond with Obi-Wan becoming a
father to the boy. As the films progress, one can see this bond tighten, with Anakin calling Obi-
Wan the closest thing he has to a father (Episode II) – that is until Anakin eventually falls to the
temptations of the dark side of the force and becomes Darth Vader. His fall from grace seems to
contradict the ancient prophecy that stated that the chosen one (Anakin) would bring balance to
the force (Episode III). This conversion brings about the destruction of the Jedi Order and leaves
Obi-Wan broken hearted at the loss of his adopted son. Obi-Wan, however, still loyal to the pre-
conversion Anakin decides to watch over Anakin’s son, Luke Skywalker, who was born of a
forbidden affair between Anakin and a senator. Obi-Wan, in an effort to hide the existence of
Luke from the corrupted Vader takes the newborn child to Anakin’s only surviving family on
Tatooine (Episode III).
Here, one can see many similarities between Anakin and Hamlet. Both of these two
characters were aware of their fate, yet their choices reflect an effort to avoid it. Hamlet goes
mad and spends much time contemplating and procrastinating his vengeance, while Anakin
completely disregards the prophecy and chooses what he believes to be his own path. His fall to
the dark side can be compared to the madness of Hamlet in both conditions render them unable
to achieve their final purpose.
After a gap of approximately 19 years, Luke Skywalker is introduced as a new
protagonist for the series. After unwittingly purchasing two droids that were previously owned
by members of the rebel alliance (the faction committed to the abolition of the empire and the
establishment of a republic) and are searching for Obi-Wan Kenobi. This purchase can be seen as
an act of providence and sparks a chain reaction that eventually culminates in the fulfillment of
the prophecy. After one droid, R2-D2, runs away, Luke follows him to the home of Obi-Wan
(known to Luke as Ben Kenobi) and learns of the force and his father (Star Wars). Ben tells
Luke that Darth Vader murdered his father and gives Luke his father’s old light saber (the
weapon of the Jedi). Due to an unforeseen turn of events, Luke and Ben are forced to flee
Tatooine and embark on a journey to locate the Rebel Alliance. They, along with the two droids
and two hired pilots, are unintentionally trapped in the Death Star, a massive imperial space
station equipped with the weaponry to destroy entire planets. On this station, Ben confronts
Darth Vader, his old apprentice, and with Luke watching, sacrifices himself so the group can
escape. Although they knew each other for a very brief period of time, Ben’s death had a very
profound impact on Luke. Skywalker and his companions escape to a rebel base and prepare to
mount an attack on the Death Star. During the assault, Luke is one of the few pilots remaining
and makes his attempt to destroy the space station. Just before he takes the shot, Ben’s voice
calls out telling Luke to use the force. Luke does and the station is destroyed (Star Wars).
Though Luke and Ben’s platonic relationship is short, Ben becomes a father of sorts to
the young Luke. He introduces Luke to a new life in harmony with the force and reappears as an
apparition several times offering Luke guidance and support. While he does not seek revenge per
se like the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, Ben plays a pivotal role in advancing Luke’s actions
throughout the rest of the saga. The ghostly characters parallel each other in this way – King
Hamlet seeks retribution for his murder; and Obi-Wan Kenobi seeks peace and tranquility,
manifested as the end to the Galactic Empire and resurgence of the Jedi Order. Both Luke and
Prince Hamlet are the only hope for their ghostly fathers.
The next and final relationship to be examined is the one between Luke and Darth Vader
(Anakin Skywalker). Theirs is a complex one, like many father-son relationships. As the story
progresses, Luke confronts Darth Vader, believing him to be the man that killed his father. A
duel commences and Luke loses his right hand in the battle, rendering him unable to fight. It is at
this time that Vader attempts to lure Luke to join the dark side. Luke refuses and Vader informs
him that Obi-Wan was not entirely truthful, and in reality, he is Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker
(Empire). During his recovery, Luke struggles with the gravity of this revelation.
On the surface, this can be seen as a deviation from the father-son relationship seen in
Hamlet, however, that is not the case. When the spirit of Obi-Wan appears to Luke, Luke
inquires as to why Obi-Wan lied about his father. Obi –Wan responds saying:
Your father... was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. He ceased to be Anakin
Skywalker and "became" Darth Vader. When that happened, the good man who was your
father was destroyed. So what I told you was true... from a certain point of view (Return).
It is from this point of view that one can see Anakin/Vader as a King Hamlet/Claudius figure to
Luke’s Hamlet figure. Despite being the biological father of Luke, the Anakin Skywalker that
begot Luke is dead, usurped and replaced by his alter ego, Darth Vader. One could almost
perceive this man through the scope of a person suffering from a split-personality disorder – one
persona is Anakin (King Hamlet) – the other is Darth Vader (Claudius). Although Darth Vader
did not physically murder Anakin like Claudius did to King Hamlet, he transformed Anakin from
a defender of all that is good to a physical manifestation of evil. Despite all of this, Luke believes
that there is still good in his father and makes it his mission to defeat Vader and resurrect and
In the final installment of the Star Wars saga, Luke, now a fully trained Jedi confronts his
father for the last time. Taken prisoner aboard a partially constructed Death Star, Luke
participates in what could be considered to be a final showdown between good and evil. Darth
Vader and his Sith master, Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious), make one more attempt to convert
Luke to their ways. When he refuses, Palpatine tortures Luke to the point that Darth Vader is
overcome with guilt and anger at the sight of his son’s pain and sends Palpatine falling to his
death. (Return). It is here that Darth Vader is vanquished and becomes Anakin Skywalker again.
Unfortunately the resurrection does not last long as Anakin mortally wounded himself as he
defeated the emperor. This is seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy, as Luke and Anakin have
rid the galaxy of the evil power of the Sith, bringing balance to the force. The story concludes
with a celebration of the empires defeat, and as Luke glances out, he sees the apparitions of his
two father figures, Obi-Wan Kenobi, his adopted father and Anakin Skywalker, his biological
Each of these relationships helps to exemplify the importance of fate within the series.
From the introduction of the prophecy to its culmination, one can see fate as a driving force.
From the moment the prophecy was introduced at Qui-Gon Jinn’s encounter with young Anakin
Skywalker, each action of the story leads to its fulfillment, albeit in an unexpected way. The path
taken to the fulfillment of the prophecy reflects the supremacy of fate, however, many of the
steps taken were choices made freely. Among those steps are Obi-Wan’s decision to train
Anakin; Anakin’s choice to submit to the temptations of evil; and Anakin’s eventual decision to
reject evil. Regardless of the fact that the prophecy was fulfilled, the choices made by Obi-Wan
and Anakin provided the vehicle by which it was attained. Had Obi-Wan chosen not to train
Anakin or had Anakin chosen not to succumb to evil, the prophecy would still have been
fulfilled. Though speculation is needed to see how these events could have occurred differently,
fate and chance dictated that they materialized regardless of the path taken. Fate has tremendous
power, and while men may try to fight it, it always emerges victorious. In both Hamlet and Star
Wars, the characters were unable to best fate and ultimately capitulated to its power.
Furthermore, Luke’s actions epitomize him as an instrument of fate. Reiterating on the
idea of a line of succession, Luke was compelled to take up the mantle of his father and complete
his destiny. Luke becomes an ideal son in that he makes possible the achievement of both Obi-
Wan and Anakin Skywalker’s goals. The rehabilitation of Darth Vader that Luke caused is
dually significant. Luke avenges the metaphorical death of Anakin and the corporal death of Obi-
Wan, fulfilling his Hamlet role of vengeance, enabling Anakin to complete his Hamlet role of
achieving one’s destiny.
The themes explored in Hamlet are ones that are timeless. In many works, such as Star
Wars, ideas such as father-son relationships and fate and free will are explored in great depth,
and oftentimes draw parallels between said work and Hamlet. Although Star Wars and Hamlet
seem to be polar opposites, they are works rife with parallels. Many other parallels between the
two works do exist, however the most prevalent ones are those of father-son relationships and
fate and free will. Star Wars is not the first nor is it the last work to parallel Hamlet, but it
provides an affirmation to both the significance and universality of the themes probed by
Shakespeare in Hamlet.
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Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Billy Dee Williams. Twentieth Century-Fox
Film Corporation, 1980.
Return of the Jedi. Dir. Richard Marquand. By Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas. Perf. Mark
Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Billy Dee Williams. Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of
Denmark. New York: Washington Square, 2003. Print.
Star Wars. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher. Twentieth-
Century Fox Corp., 1977.
Star Wars, Episode I, the Phantom Menace. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Ewen McGregor, Liam
Neeson, Natalie Portman. Sony Classical, 1999.
Star Wars, Episode II, Attack of the Clones. By George Lucas. Perf. Ewen McGregor, Hayden
Christensen, Natalie Portman. Sony Classical, 2002.
Star Wars, Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. By George Lucas. Dir. George Lucas. Prod. George
Lucas and Rick McCallum. Perf. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Hayden Christensen.
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