With the release of the final trailer yesterday, the hype machine for the newest entry into the Star Wars saga is at full power. I’ve been guarding my anticipation, making sure to keep my expectations at a healthy level. I’ve tried my hardest to avoid spoiling the movie and have steered clear of the rumor mills. The reactions to The Force Awakens have stretched from unrestrained excitement to tentative curiosity to indifference. And I think the continuum of these responses is tied to your opinion of the prequel trilogy.
For most Star Wars fans, the prequel trilogy was a grand disappointment. Bad acting and seemingly uninspired plot lines relegated The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith to secondary status behind the original trilogy. For those who enjoyed the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker, the extension of the Star Wars saga is just another entry into this wonderful universe. For those who truly hated the prequels, The Force Awakens is just another threat to the “purity” of the original trilogy.
But that’s not why I’m carefully approaching The Force Awakens. I enjoyed the prequels for what they were, an extension of the Skywalker saga giving us a full picture of both Luke’s and Anakin’s story. I’ve always been impressed by George Lucas’ relentless devotion to building a mythical epic, with patterns of plot, theme, visual imagery, and sound. With all six films together, we can truly appreciate the complexity and cleverness of Lucas’ vision. Whether you’re a fan of viewing the films in Machete Order or you’re an ardent believer in the chiastic structure of the six films, these parallels and patterns can be found within each entry into the Star Wars universe.
So what happens when a seventh film is introduced to a complete, six part narrative? Will these parallels and patterns in plot, theme, visual imagery, and sound be carried over without George Lucas’ guidance? This the root of my hesitant reception of The Force Awakens. Do I trust J.J. Abrams to create a film that fits into the mythological structure of the first six films? Or is he building something entirely new?
All of the marketing for the newest film has focused on building a sense of nostalgia for the original trilogy. The second trailer is the best example of this. The initial shot calls back two distinctive images from the Galactic Civil War—an X-Wing and an Imperial Star Destroyer. The narration is almost a line-for-line repetition from one of the most memorable scenes in Return of the Jedi. And the last shot is two of our heroes returning to the ship they called home, the Millennium Falcon.
The third trailer gives us a few more clues about the direction of the saga but the official poster tells us much more about the themes of the movie than anything else we’ve seen:
The three new main characters are front and center and themes of light and dark, good and evil are very prominent. Oddly enough, the protagonist from the original trilogy is conspicuously absent. There are a few theories floating around about the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker but his absence from any of the trailers (outside of his narration) and the promotional materials tells us more about the direction of the saga.
You might have noticed that the official title of the newest film is Star Wars: The Force Awakens—there is no episode number attached to it. While it’s been confirmed that this movie is the beginning of a new three film trilogy, I think the absence of Luke and the omission of Episode VII is very purposeful: this is the beginning of a new saga. While the Skywalkers may still have a part to play in this new mythology, Rey, Finn, and Kylo are clearly the main characters in this new era and the imagery heavily implies a specific connection between Rey and Kylo.
By staying grounded in the sights and sounds of the original trilogy, Abrams is playing off the themes of the first six films, but I think he’s just taking the first step into a larger world. Since he’s not attached to either of the next two films (as director, writer, or producer), I think this film will begin to broaden the scope of the Star Wars universe. That scope has already expanded with The Clone Wars and Rebels and will continue to expand with the anthology films Rogue One and the untitled Han Solo origin. The Force Awakens won’t be directly attached to the first six films and it won’t be an extension of the Skywalker saga, and that is both a relief and a bit sad. Its also proof that there are new stories to be told in a galaxy far, far away, ones that aren’t connected to the Skywalker family.