How the Family Epic in ‘Black Panther’ Works Even Better Than ‘Star Wars’

Black Panther is here, and it’s gotten glowing reviews. There are multiple reasons for that but one that shouldn’t be overlooked is how the movie paints a story of a family full of complicated characters. Given this framing device, we couldn’t help but think of Star Wars.

Both movies bring up the idea of there being good versus evil, then blurring those lines between family members. But there are ways that the Marvel movie used its family epic to its fullest potential. Here are seven ways the family epic in Black Panther works even better than Star Wars.

1. The context of what the family is fighting over is clearer

Black Panther T'Challa

T’Challa knows he has an uphill battle on his hands beginning with his father’s death in Captain America: Civil War. | Marvel

Star Wars, in the beginning, started out as a very simple story and then built up the family epic over a longer period of time. What tore son and father apart in that story was that Darth Vader became seduced by the dark side and Luke Skywalker turned to the light to fight him.

The opposite ends of the force could really serve as a symbol for anything. Often imagery from Nazi Germany is used in the movies, so tyranny seems to be the main subject the franchise is focusing on. But Black Panther is much more specific about its family dilemma.

T’Chaka believes Wakanda should be an isolated country from the rest of the world. His brother, N’Jobu, believes Wakanda should share its knowledge to help others be free from oppression. In a way, making the conflict vague could make Star Wars relevant to many debates, but the specific conflict Black Panther brings up is relevant to all countries at almost all times.

The clearly defined moral issue at the center of the movie helps the audience talk about an important subject in real life and gives its characters the opportunity to have clearer motives.

Next: Black Panther brings this theme up faster and is all the better for it. 

2. The complexity of the good and bad in a family is acknowledged quicker in Black Panther

Luke and Darth Vader battle in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

The light and the dark sides of the Force were well-defined when Star Wars began. | Lucasfilm

Star Wars starts off as black and white when it comes good and bad. But over time (and several more movies), things get more complex, with Luke finding out who his father is and eventually questioning if any Jedi could avoid being seduced by the dark side.

Black Panther managed to address this complexity and handle it beautifully in one single movie. The family reveals happens early on, so we see our hero T’Challa deal with the possibility of bad in his family and question what it means. Does his father killing his uncle actually make him the bad guy? Is he on the wrong side of the debate of what Wakanda should do with its borders?

The similarities between T’Challa and his cousin Killmonger is also acknowledged, and they have room to deal with it. Whereas Luke does try to change his father (and in a way, does), the change is more one-sided between the two characters — mostly because because there’s only room for”good” and “bad” and no in between in Star Wars. 

In Black Panther, T’Challa changes his opinion because of Killmonger, therefore, becoming more like him — and that’s actually a good thing. Killmonger also undergoes some changes, seeing beauty in the country he was about to destroy before his death. This family, when they eventually come together, makes both sides better in the end.

Next: The female family members aren’t pushed aside.

3. The female family members aren’t sidelined

Lupita Nyong's Nakia stands to the left of Letita Wright's Shuria while holding weapons in Black Panther

The women of Wakanda get in on the action right away. | Marvel

Princess Leia is undoubtedly one of the most iconic female movie characters of all time. Part of that is because she leads a group that includes two men who once tried to “save” her. She has a leadership role in society and pushes against tyranny from the start.

However, she has gotten sidelined multiple times throughout the history of Star Wars. It took years for her character to use the Force on screen, and she never really got as much time with Darth Vader, despite being his daughter.

In Black Panther, the female characters are treated better. Shuri is behind both Wakanda’s technology and her brother’s amazing suit. She is in the middle of battle multiple times, fighting beside him. Also, it’s acknowledged that she could have challenged her brother for the throne in the challenging ceremony, but she simply chooses not to.

Meanwhile, their mother, Ramonda, doesn’t seem to prefer one child over the other because of their gender. She genuinely supports both of them and wants what she thinks is best for Wakanda. Darth Vader, on the other hand, is much more focused on Luke — probably because he is allowed to use the Force for so long, unlike Leia.

Next: The family in Black Panther represents multiple things.

4. The family dynamic in Black Panther represents real-world themes

Black Panther

There are both historical and modern themes present in Black Panther. | Marvel

Part of the reason why the Marvel movie is getting so much acclaim is because the story works on multiple levels. Killmonger being a descendant of Wakanda but raised in America parallels black Americans who are descendants of the people of Africa, but are sometimes considered outsiders by them. The family is really a representation of what has happened to a continent and its people over generations.

The Wakanda royal family also represents the old ways of a country before globalization. In the movie, the younger generation ushers in a new era, deciding to open its borders to the rest of the world.

Star Wars’ use of family dynamics doesn’t quite work as an analogy. It’s simply a way to frame a story and once again show that the difference because good and evil is up to personal choices rather than fate. The strategy obviously works great (since Star Wars is so iconic), but it doesn’t get you thinking quite as much as Black Panther does.

Next: Black Panther‘s family villain is more complicated than this Star Wars icon. 

5. Killmonger has more good in him than Darth Vader

Killmonger

Killmonger is a complex character. | Marvel

Darth Vader is one of the best movie villains of all time. Part of the reason for that is that he’s really good at striking fear into others. But what he lacked for a long time was the hope of there ever being any conflict in him. It does eventually arise, but it takes a while.

The great thing about Killmonger is that he is a villain who has seemingly good intentions. He wants the oppressed all over the world to be empowered. But he goes about it the wrong way, resorting to weapons rather than education and aide.

Despite that, Killmonger has more good in him, and we see it almost right away. This makes him start and end as a complicated character, and he is all the better for it.

Next: How Black Panther handles a big family of characters is impressive.

6. Black Panther handles a bigger family effectively

Florence Kasumba and Lupita Nyong'o in Black Panther

Black Panther makes balancing family dynamics on screen look like a breeze. | Marvel

The family in Star Wars has grown over time, but it started out very small with Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia. The majority of the time, the family is also separated to tell their own stories, although they are eventually brought together.

Things could have easily gotten confusing with Black Panther because there are multiple generations and a lot more familial characters than in Star Wars. However, every member plays a key role in the family dynamic, and the story they tell together is one that is effective and compelling.

Next: We can’t forget that there is another important family in Black Panther.

7. There is more than one family at play

C3PO, R2D2, Luke Sykwalker, and Leia in Star Wars

Though things have now expanded, Star Wars began with a very small cast. | Lucasfilm

Since Star Wars started off with one family, it made sense that fans expected the new trilogy to continue that theme through Rey’s parents. But  Star Wars: The Last Jedi didn’t do that, and the movies may be better off for it. However, Black Panther’s use of multiple relationships is even more interesting.

Like T’Challa and Killmonger, Nakia and Okoye have different perspectives on what Wakanda’s duty to others should be. It’s a great choice to include this because it allows for even more female characters to play key roles in the ultimate decision for the country. We also get to see another side of this society through characters that are outside of the core royal family.

While Star Wars does seem to be branching out to include more families through stand-alone movies like Rogue One, it’s pretty impressive that Black Panther has already kicked off a strong family epic that doesn’t miss a beat throughout the entire movie.

Follow Nicole Weaver on Twitter @nikkibernice.

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