By now it should be possible to discuss The Force Awakens without issuing a spoiler alert, since everyone in this galaxy has probably seen it.
I was tempted to use “Everything old is new again” for the way SW7 harks back to the original movie, but it turns out several commentators have already done that. Then I thought using the phrase “Back to the Future” might express the sense of familiarity the new movie evokes for old-time fans—but it turns out a number of reviews have already done that too (for example, here, here, and here). Somebody’s even done a Star Wars-Back to the Future mashup.
The great thing about the Internet is that it’s easy to find out what everyone else is saying. The depressing thing about the Internet is that, when you set out to say something, someone else has probably said it already.
Is the familiarity of Episode VII’s tropes a strength or a weakness? Is director J.J. Abrams just rehashing old material, or is he providing us with a charming return to our roots?
In this case, I think imitation is the sincerest form of homage.
The familiar moves came off well, by and large. Heroes with downtrodden humble beginnings – that’s classic storytelling. Desert planet—Actually, I could have done with a new setting. But the landscape does express the aridity of Rey’s prior life, and it allows for some nice contrasts. (“I didn’t know there was this much green in the whole galaxy.”) And we aren’t there for very long, after all.
Invoking family dysfunctions and mysteries also harks back to the original trilogy, of course. The angle that struck me particularly (since I’m old enough to appreciate it) is that “Rey Who?” sparks as feverish a storm of fan speculation as Darth Vader’s Empire Strikes Back bombshell.
It’s hard to remember now, when “I am your father” has become a ubiquitous meme, that at the end of ESB we didn’t really know whether Vader was telling the truth. He probably was; it was too good a narrative twist to pass up. But those us who were still attached to the image of Luke’s heroic dad spent three years trying out alternative scenarios.
Even more, we debated “There is another.” We canvassed every conceivable answer to that mystery, and some that were inconceivable. Same with Rey’s parentage: I’ve already heard suggestions that are all across the map.
At least, on Disney’s more aggressive release schedule, we’ll only have a year and a half to run this issue into the ground, as opposed to three years back in the 1980s. Which is a good thing: by the time Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, we had overthought the matter so much that the actual revelations were almost anticlimactic.
(Of course, the real answer, obviously, is that Rey is Chewbacca’s daughter. They hit it off so well, and he accompanies her to find Luke at the end. This explains why Han, Chewie’s old friend, is so protective of her. She doesn’t look like Chewie, you say? We can just assume that Wookiees develop all that hair and the growly voice later, post-adolescence.)
By and large, I enjoyed the frequent callouts to Star Wars IV-VI. The new movie combined the nostalgic recognition of familiar themes with the freshness of new characters and relationships. Rey and Finn and Poe play off each other well, but not in the same way as Luke and Leia and Han. Abrams has restarted the story without having to reboot.
On the other hand, there were a couple of repetitions that could be dispensed with.
The biggest (in every sense) is the Death Star. Er, Starkiller Base. The whole end sequence in SW7 was fun, to be sure. But we’ve seen this scenario twice already in the original trilogy. Three desperate attempts to blow up an Ultimate Weapon is enough. Can we agree, no more Death Stars, no matter how big they are or what fancy names we give them?
We need something different for the third trilogy. It’s not as if there aren’t other mythic motifs available. I’ve always felt the third trilogy would work well as a Quest. Let there be something Our Heroes need to find to set a New Republic or new Jedi Order on the right track.
With the classic quest theme in mind, the fact that Luke set out looking for “the first Jedi temple” is suggestive. He’s not just on this island as a hideout; he seems to have been looking for something. What might one be looking for in the Jedi temple that would make a good MacGuffin for Episodes VIII and IX? The “Holocron,” a Jedi teaching device invented for the Star Wars Expanded Universe, might be a good candidate. (In a year or so, we can look back and see how far off-track I was—which is the fun of making rash predictions.)
We can analyze all these questions to death while we’re waiting for Episode VIII to come out. But if we’ve learned from the 1980s experience, we may prefer just to enjoy the anticipation.