Why Star Wars: The Force Awakens Made Me Feel Terrible
Let me preface this with three key things.
First, there are MAJOR SPOILERS here. If you haven’t seen the film, don’t read further. Frankly, I’m surprised you even clicked.
Second, while the original trilogy were important films of my childhood, I am only a casual adult fan of the franchise. I played with the Kenner action figures as a boy, but when I grew out of that, I lost interest in most things Star Wars. I never collected memorabilia and never had any desire to explore the Extended Universe. I didn’t mind the prequels. They were fine, just not special. In all, I assume my passion and knowledge for the franchise is on par with the average person.
Lastly, this is not a complaint about the filmmaking itself. These are top-notch storytellers and their challenge was massive. J.J. Abrams is one of our best and Lawrence Kasden is one of my heroes. There are so many wonderful things about the film, but those are well covered elsewhere. This is a movie the studio makes when they really want to reboot a franchise for a younger generation but know the older fans would raze the studio if they did. Charged with that task, I think they did as good of a job as we can reasonably expect. That’s not a back-handed compliment, but a sincere one. You would never make everyone happy and yet it appears this team nearly did! Pretty impressive.
The Force Awakens is a very good film by just about any standard. This is simply a piece on why I had such a negative EMOTIONAL reaction to it.
So, all that being said:
Why Star Wars: The Force Awakens made me feel terrible.
More than anything else, I found it a deeply sad film. The story negates every one of the triumphs of the original trilogy. The victory over the Empire didn’t last and the Rebels are once again guerrilla partisans, now called “The Resistance.” They did not bring peace to the galaxy, but simply another, even deadlier war.
The choices made in order to “reboot” the franchise effectively turned the original trilogy into Word War I. An unprecedented affair in death and destruction that solved nothing and planted the seeds for another, even more deadly affair with the same participants decades later. Suddenly the celebration on Endor is as pathetic as the observation calling World War I, “The war to end all wars.”
In The Force Awakens, they are not fighting to preserve the gains of the original trilogy (because they were apparently lost a long time ago) but instead are right back where we started. The Empire may have changed its name but they clearly still rule the galaxy and are back to destroying planets again (five times the holocaust this time.) Much like killing off Newt and Hicks in between Aliens and Alien3, they have destroyed the triumphs of the last film, before even starting the next one.
Because of this, I spent the first thirty minutes of the film confused. I didn’t understand why there were stormtroopers and Tie Fighters and Imperial Cruisers again. I may have been too disoriented to grow attached to the new protagonists as they never stuck with me (Though from my understanding, others did not have this problem.) When I finally surrendered to it and decided to just worry about it later, a deep sadness crept in. There was this slow realization that the battles and sacrifices made in the first trilogy were all for naught.
None of it really mattered. Any of it. It all starts again, but worse. Much like Episodes I-III, Episodes IV-VI are now just prequels themselves to a larger battle and an even bigger tragedy.
Which leads me to next deeply sad thing. All the personal stories were failures as well.
Luke Skywalker is ultimately the same failure Obi-Wan was with Anakin Skywalker. He trains a Jedi who ultimately betrays him and murders the others. Luke learned nothing from their experience and repeats the same mistakes.
I suspect now that it’s best not to train Jedi at all. No one can seem to do it well enough to avoid killing millions.
Perhaps most disappointing, Han and Leia’s love story is now a tragic one. They didn’t last, they did not bring joy and comfort to each other, but instead brought massive heartbreak and pain for themselves and the whole galaxy. Their child grows up a genocidal murderer, destroys all the hope for a new generation of Jedi and ultimately even kills Han.
They would have been better off never getting together at all.
Try to rewatch Return of the Jedi now knowing how much pain their relationship brings to themselves and to everyone else. I wonder how we would all feel watching Hitler’s parents dancing and celebrating at their wedding. Would it feel like a celebration? I doubt it.
Which brings me to the death of Han Solo. Personally, I would have been just fine never seeing Han Solo die. I don’t think I would have ever felt that I missed out. But if they thought it was important for the story and the franchise (I understand they got to get these old guys out of the way), at least give the man a dignified death. He dies in a pathetic useless gesture to “save” his kid who, at best, would have been executed for war crimes anyway. I certainly understand a father’s attempt to save his son, but we’re not talking about a junkie caught stealing car radios here. This man is a vicious murderer who ordered the coldblooded massacre of a village and just participated in the destruction of five populated planets. And that’s just what we’ve seen.
Han Solo’s sacrifice means nothing. He is a lamb to the slaughter. It doesn’t save a planet, doesn’t allow others to get away (it actually puts them in more danger) and while I appreciate the journey of this selfish man ultimately dying in a selfless act, it is also a USELESS act. He deserved better.
Real life is this cruel, but a childhood fantasy with a beloved character shouldn’t be.
I have more complaints, but they seem small in comparison. I wasn’t a huge fan of recycling so much of the plot of chapters IV and VI. Three out of the last four chapters having planet destroying “Death Stars’ just seems crazy to me. And as good as J.J. Abrams is, action scenes are not where he shines the most. I didn’t understand why a man trained to be a warrior since he was an infant could be such a poor fighter. At times, Finn felt more like Woody Allen than a stormtrooper. I didn’t understand the coincidence of the Millennium Falcon being available for them to escape in, etc… But these misgivings are certainly more than made up for by all the wonderful things they did right, so it seems silly to harp on them.
I am far more concerned with how the movie made me feel when it was all over.
Obviously, everyone comes into such an important cultural event with their own baggage. I am no exception. It triggered something in me that I didn’t anticipate. I was fully expecting to love this film. I avoided trailers and commercials, photos and articles. I wanted to know nothing. Once I found out Abrams brought in Lawrence Kasden I felt like it was in very good hands.
But I left the theater feeling an overwhelming sadness.
It’s business and I understand that. But the need to revive a franchise so it would last at least a few more decades created a never-ending war. One without hope. It’s a galaxy where history repeats itself, where no one learns from their mistakes, and every victory is actually a far worse, more tragic defeat in disguise.
For me, the Star Wars universe went from a battle between light and dark, between good and evil, to one that reeks of nihilism where everyone is punished for simply being alive.
That’s what I expect from Game of Thrones. That’s not how I want Star Wars to make me feel.