The Force Awakens Is Exactly What We Wanted, By No Accident
It is no easy feat to capture the original magic of Star Wars: A New Hope, but somehow JJ Abrams has done it. While George Lucas tried to create a new experience with Episode I, II and III and arguably did, it isn’t what we wanted. Here’s Lucas’ take on the latest film from his recent Charlie Rose interview:
“They wanted to do a retro movie. I don’t like that. Every movie I work very hard to make them completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships, make it new.”
New isn’t what we wanted though with the prequels, but we accepted the hand we were dealt. Star Wars is just too good a universe to let go and Disney saw the potential. They bought the franchise to make it profitable once again.
Here’s where it gets challenging for the writers. Star Wars has a special place in our collective culture. Clearly, fans want more of the same. As a father of three, I want my kids to get as excited as I was the first time I watched the original movies. How can you make new movies while capturing the spirit of the old ones?
It is clear that JJ Abrams pulled it off. “The Force Awakens” is an absolute blast and has fans literally cheering in their seats. It was a masterful stroke of genius on the part of JJ Abrams and the other writers (Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt), but what exactly did they do?
Well, this is all speculation and based on my own observations, but they may have intentionally designed the characters to deliver a familiar story.
Consider the movie from the perspective of the writers and the challenge they faced. They were handed a massive epic franchise where fans have made it perfectly clear they want more of the same. You can’t have more of the same though for two reasons. First, remakes and re-hashes don’t resonate culturally the way a Star Wars movie should. Second, your main villain is dead. So, you need a new story and you need a new Darth Vader.
Enter Kylo Ren. He clearly has an internal struggle between the light and the dark side. The ‘Dad’s theory’ that Kylo Ren is trying to unite the force by going to the dark side first is great. Yet, Kylo Ren doesn’t make sense otherwise unless…well, he’s trying to be Darth Vader.
In the movie, his efforts to be Darth Vader are apparent. He doesn’t need the mask like Vader did, yet he wears it. He also directly makes a reference to completing what Vader started and even has Vader’s destroyed mask and possibly his ashes.
But Kylo Ren isn’t the only one that wants him to be Darth Vader. The writers want him to be Darth Vader. In turn, they know that ultimately the fans want another Darth Vader. What better way to make us hate him than by having him (SPOILER)!
And so, we have Kylo Ren as a self aware character who is repeating the experience of the original trilogy by attempting to be that same villain. He is driving the plot forward by literally rebuilding the past. In the climactic exchange between Kylo Ren and Rey, he seems happy to be in conflict, as if he sees her as the challenger that he needs to become more like Darth Vader.
This brings us to Rey. There is a lot of speculation on her origins, but she could be the new Luke, quite literally. Her backstory is similar to Luke — loner, no true parents, and the backdrop of a desert planet. On the surface, it is familiar, but it goes deeper than that. Before you jump ahead, no she isn’t his daughter.
I was talking to my 6 year old son lately about Luke’s lightsaber and I mentioned that he lost it during The Empire Strikes Back. This is, of course, the lightsaber that turns up in The Force Awakens.
That brings us to this moment.
Luke’s right hand is firmly grasping his lightsaber. Maz Kanata has this lightsaber, but where did Luke’s hand go?
In the Star Wars universe, there are clones everywhere. This technology was used by the Jedi before to create an army. Isn’t it entirely possibly that someone used Luke’s hand to make Rey? David Grossman comes so close to this realization in his take on it.
Having Rey be a clone based on Luke’s hand would tie Rey directly to the most famous scene in the original trilogy.
When Rey brings Luke’s lightsaber back to him, she is literally making him whole. Luke never went down the road that Darth Vader did by losing everything. The hand was as close as he got. By returning, she makes him complete. Ultimately, she brings Luke Skywalker back into the story and completes the service to the fans.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens is an excellent movie on its own, there appears to be this subtext of brilliance as well. By incorporating characters intent on recreating the experience of something else, the writers have delivered something that plays to what we’ve wanted all along — something the same, yet new.