I Saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens!

I’ve seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. For the most part, I love what J. J. Abrams has accomplished. Have you seen it yet? If not, you won’t want to read further. There are some major spoilers.

It is only a minor spoiler to mention the fact that, when the introductory text rolls at the start of the film, we learn that Luke Skywalker has gone missing. Only later do we learn the backstory to that. He had begun training a new Jedi order. One of his apprentices had turned against him, leading him to abandon the entire project and become a recluse. That apprentice, introduced as Kylo Ren (one of the Knights of Ren), turns out to be Han and Leia’s son, whom they named Ben Solo. We also discover that the Force is very strong with Rey, who is expecting her parents who left her on Jakku to come back for her, and has no Jedi training. Her back story, that of Max von Sydow’s character who has information about where Luke Skywalker is, and the story of Supreme Leader Snoke are left a mystery.

Ben Solo Kylo RenThe tragic story of Ben Solo is not filled in in detail. Who is Snoke and how could he get access to one of Luke’s apprentices and lead him astray? Ben feels the light side calling to him, describing it as temptation in much the way a Jedi would experience the call of the Dark Side. There is something beautiful about this, rather reminiscent of Jesus’ idea of infectious purity, that purity can make the profane holy, rather than it simply being the unclean which can contaminate and render impure. And the action which he takes in an attempt to be free of his pain and cut out the lure of the light once and for all is one that I didn’t see coming, and which I’m still not sure I’m ready to talk about. But the whole thing is in keeping with what George Lucas said about the previous six films. It is about parents and their children, the legacy we leave and the way they in turn change our lives. And so, while some might view the similarities to the earlier films as a bit too much – desert world, droid with important information, etc. – it symbolizes well the fact that history is full of stories which are very similar. History repeats itself, because there is no final victory of good or evil. Both are woven into the fabric of life itself, and the interplay never ceases, even as the dominance and dynamic may change. And so the idea that remnants of the Empire don’t just vanish, but emerge again and seek to make a comeback in a fashion that reminds us of fascism, even after the Republic has been restored, isn’t at all implausible.

Indeed, there is an interesting article that has been circulating, about the radicalization of Luke Skywalker. If one defines evil as being willing to kill others in order to establish one’s own power, then the Sith, the Empire, and the First Order are evil. But if one defined evil as disloyalty towards those in power, lack of resolve, and weakness, then the Jedi, the Rebellion, and the Resistance are evil. The choice is not between good and evil, but two ideas of what is good and evil, and the new movie seems to be faithful to that element of Lucas’ vision. The Republic goes from being a bastion of democracy, to dysfunctional and divided, to an empire, to a republic again. Unless we are committed to a particular vision of what is good, then we will become precisely what, at one point, we claimed to be fighting against in whoever our opponents happen to be.

There are great visual moments in the film, such as when the Star Destroyer blots out the planet from view, and when Kylo Ren stops a blaster bolt in midair. I was surprised that I didn’t find any new themes in the score that immediately wowed me in the way Williams’ melodies have in the past. But the use of themes from previous movies, and new music which was reminiscent but different, was just right.

I assume if you have read this far that you have seen the movie too. What did you think of it? In particular, what do you think of the spiritual and ethical themes in the film and the way they are treated?

Others around the web have been talking about Star Wars and related topics, including Sojourners, Forward (on the franchise’s Jewish connections), and professors at Georgetown University.

 

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  • Jonathan Bernier

    I really like the way they presented the characters of the original trilogy as in-universe legends. Probably my favourite line of the entire film comes from Rey: “Luke Skywalker? I thought he was a myth!”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Part of me instinctively thought that 30 years wasn’t enough time for living legends to come to be thought of as myths. But then I realized that information probably circulates around a galaxy much as it would around a world without modern media.

  • arcseconds

    As the prequels were on the whole not good, remakes in general are patchy at best, and Abrams’ s work on Trek has been less than impressive (the first movie was passable, the second quite bad), I went in with low expectations.

    It’s a bit hard to know what to say. Taken on its own, it’s actually quite good. But a large chunks of it is a carbon copy of Star Wars, with a bit of Empire Strikes Back thrown in for good measure. And honestly, while one expects a little homage and starting off with something familiar might be a good idea, and on balance I’d prefer this than a travesty, the extent to which this is done seems both incompetent and bizarre to me. At least Eragon re-set it in a fantasy setting.

    Honestly, did we really need droids carrying important information bumping into abandoned children on a bloody desert planet again? If this part was all set in, say, a derelict city being overrun with jungle, then at least it would have a different and novel look, and would seem a little less like being handcuffed to Lucas’s opening salvo. Having a novel look is a better way of being true to the original trilogy than copying the look wholesale. And for goodness sake, find some different aesthetic for Supreme Commander Serksis. To the extent that he’s not the Emperor, he’s Lord Voldemort.

    And those are just a couple of art design matters. I could go on: it would be way more interesting to not just have Han Solo wearing the same clothes and doing the same job as he did, but rather, say, be trying to be an elder statesman, and when the negotiations just get the better of him, going in and getting out his own jacket. A superweapon that wasn’t a Death Star except bigger and more destructive would be nice. (Is Abrams 14 years old or something?)

    (The First Order presumably must be on a bit more of a budget than the Empire, and in fact on the whole that’s how they come across. So how did they manage an even more superer super weapon?)

    All of this could be done without changing the overall plot one iota, and it would make it seem less like Groundhog Day.

    It’s a pity, really, because in the few places the movie did dare some originality it was quite good. I like Rey. Crawling around a derelict Star Destroyer was cool. Kylo Ren, while initially I was rolling my eyes at the similarity with Darth Vader, it turns out he’s actually a much more interesting figure, more interesting in fact than Vader, and nicely screwed up. And he has a good reason for looking like Vader: he’s essentially trying to be Vader after all. Fin was a nice idea, although ultimately seemed a bit flat to me. I think we could have done with some flashbacks for him as well, rather than expository dialogue. A female stormtrooper commander whose face we never see was a nice touch, too. While I’m not overall a fan of the super weapon planet thing (I can’t even remember the name of it and it’s not worth looking up), sucking a star to power it was kind of cool.

    I expect we’re in for more of the same in the next movie. There’s obviously going to be Jedi training, mirrored with dark side training for Kylo Ren. Probably there will be a big background reveal for Rey: any bets on being Luke’s daughter?