I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And what a relief too. After years of anticipation and apprehension, we finally witnessed J.J. Abrams’s vision of the future of a galaxy far, far away. His contribution was a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe that holds up well on its own and within the larger context of George Lucas’s saga. The prevailing theme in The Force Awakens is legacy and any discussion of this film must address what came before.
There are mild-spoilers contained within this post, read on at your peril.
In the eyes of most Star Wars fans, the original trilogy have become icons that have defined a generation. These three movies have created their own legend that is nigh untouchable. The prequel trilogy only furthered and reinforced that legendary status. The failures of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith only gave fans more reasons to love the original trilogy.
This was the atmosphere that J.J. Abrams stepped into. Back when Lucas was in the planning stages of Episode I, he approached Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg, asking each of them to direct the next chapter of the Star Wars saga. Each of them declined, with Howard calling it “too daunting.” Not only did Abrams take on telling the next story in the Star Wars universe—continuing the story of Luke, Leia, and Han—he also faced the great expectations of a fanbase looking for amends to be made.
Abrams wisely grounded his film in the sights, sounds, and even structure of A New Hope. The Force Awakens serves as a bridge from one era to another. It’s a safe play by Abrams and he pulls it off flawlessly. It pays tribute to the best parts of the original trilogy while still telling a compelling story with compelling characters in its own right. By the end of the film, we’re presented with a new and unknown future for the saga. For the first time since the end of The Empire Strikes Back, we can’t confidently predict where the storyline is headed.
The weight of this legacy even penetrates the film itself. We learn from Rey and Finn that the events of the previous six movies have passed into legend. They come face to face with one of these legends early in their adventure and he confirms the truth behind these myths. In a way, they spend the rest of the film living their own version of the events of the original trilogy. The mythical patterns and parallels contained within the first six films are alive and well in this new episode.
Even the family heritage of the two main characters in the film, Rey and Kylo Ren, defines their character arcs. They both wrestle with those who came before them in their own tragic ways. They’re confronted by the sins of their fathers and must forge their own identity in the face of this dark past. The specters of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker loom over them. These themes should come to define this new trilogy.
Its clear J.J. Abrams understands the mythic legacy of Star Wars. He’s infused The Force Awakens with themes and motifs that play off that legacy while kicking off the next chapter for the modern audience. The characters, the storylines, and the actors who convey these ideas must strain against this legacy too. Everything hinges on the performances of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver. This is their saga now and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.