The Force Awakens A New Hope For The Series

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened two months ago. It’s a worldwide blockbuster – as expected – and has made more than $2 billion at the box office. I’ve got some thoughts on the movie (shocker, right?) and you’ve had a chance to see it. So let’s make that jump to hyperspace and get into it.

Spoilers ahead…

First – the movie is not bad. It’s clearly better than the prequels. If JJ Abrams’ goal was to be better than The Phantom Menace, he succeeded. I was relieved that SW: TFA had no Gungans, midi-chlorians, or [choose an Anakin Skywalker actor’s name]. So on that front, the movie is a success.

But will it stand as a classic like the original trilogy? Will my children talk about their experience watching The Force Awakens in its original theatrical release as evidence of their geek cred? Well, it’s too early to say.

The challenge in assessing this chapter is inherent in its heritage and stretches all the way back to Star Wars’ origins. As a series, Star Wars stands in stark contrast to Star Trek. The SW/ST cold war has cooled significantly today but, when I was growing up [cue the old man reminiscing music], the two camps could nearly come to blows defending their beloved stories. Star Trek has primarily been a serial drama. A collection of plot-driven stories. While some of the TV episodes or movies have grown larger in the collective geek headspace, generally one week’s story is routine with next week bringing a new planet, a new species, or new galactic challenge. Exploring the final frontier and punching the clock, one episode at a time.

As Star Trek made exploring space – the final frontier – a vocation for otherwise ordinary mortals, Star Wars took a different path. Many geeks (myself included) will point out that SW is not science fiction. It is mythology and fantasy – told epic and primal. Its power comes from evoking the timeless story pattern of the monomyth or hero’s journey. (Side note: if you’ve never heard of it, it’s worth a moment to check it out. No worries. I’ll wait. Back? Good.)

I think the original trilogy stands tall after these years because of the mythical theme of the redemption of Anakin Skywalker. The individual plot points of Star Wars are less important than this theme. So while I was mildly disappointed that The Force Awakens used the same plot structure as A New Hope (even Han points out that they are just going to use the same plan against the Death Star Starkiller Base) in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. We won’t judge it based on the plot. The Force Awakens cued up a potentially-epic theme:

Is there a point beyond which there is no redemption? Can Kylo/Ben ever be redeemed after killing his father? Is that a moment beyond which there is no return?

I’m not saying the plot points don’t matter. The Queen and I both got choked up when Han and Chewie stepped aboard the Falcon. (“Chewie – we’re home…”) In the theater, C-Dog and the Noodle looked at us like we each had two heads. When Han stepped onto the pathway, I got nervous. When Kylo started monologuing, I knew what was going to happen. When Han toppled into the chasm, I teared up.

I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since I saw its original theatrical release. (Geek cred established.) I care about the characters and the plot. But the movies stay with me because of the powerful, timeless myth beneath the surface.

So unfortunately I don’t know what to think about The Force Awakens yet. If this is the first chapter in a new myth, excellent. If it’s merely a rehashing of familiar plot points in order to appeal to the nostalgia of longtime fans, then boo. In order to assess that I’ll be ready for the next chapter as soon as it comes out. I’ll be hoping that we’re watching a new myth for a new generation.

So until then, may the Force be with you us.

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Filed under Essays, Geek 101

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