I’m going to talk about Star Wars in this post – adding my small view point on a subject that has already been studied and dissected and scrutinized by so many others, in either the ‘academic‘ sense, the business sense, the ‘viewing it through the lens of recent history‘ sense or just fans gushing or slamming it in one fashion or another.
I’m not going to spoil the film for anyone, so I won’t be posting details about what happens in the film++ – what I will be talking about is something that you will either agree with – or disagree with.
What I’m talking about – is the similarity between Episode VII and Episode IV and how I think that has been done very much on purpose.
There is a tendency among those who devour entertainment (whether that entertainment is for films, TV shows, comic books or RPGs or cartoons – what have you) and that tendency revolves around the need or want to see new content involving beloved characters. This isn’t anything new – ancient storytellers brought characters back or had a string of tales with them as a central character – from the Labors of Hercules to The Tales of Arthur and his Knights and so forth. In our modern age of so much content competing for our attention and dollar, we have come to expect or even demand two three or even four sequels to properties… in part because a lot of money is made, but also because its part of our culture or collective storytelling experience to want to re-live the same stories over and over.
We are, in a sense, like that niece or nephew you might have — you know, the one that just has to watch their favorite DVD or song over and over and over, ad nauseam until they tire of it and (finally!!!) move on to something else.
We all like to watch and re-watch or re-read these stories because they speak to us on an emotional or unconscious level… they inspire us in some way.
Star Wars has inspired several generations of people – who will go on to create something – a painting, a story, a game, a comic book – that will inspire others. That inspiration is the real gift of Star Wars.
Just before entering the theater to see The Force Awakens, I had seen a post on Instagram where I read the following words: (I’m paraphrasing here because as soon as I understood them I stopped reading any further) “I was disappointed in the film because its basically a re-make of Episode IV…”
And after seeing the film, I’m of the opinion that that statement, while not necessarily accurate, also isn’t entirely untrue.
As I was watching the film, I was very aware of moments that echoed the images that have been burned into the brains of any Star Wars fan’s brain – The First Order mirrors the Empire, the sandy terrain of Jakku mirrors that of Tatooine, Rey is a mirror of young Luke, the projected image of Snoke mirrors that of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back (though when first presented he appears to be some sort of giant Sith Lord which is pretty creepy until we discover its not his true form), etc. And the biggest one – literally and figuratively – is the Starkiller, (the planet annihilating weapon that is itself a planet) the next generation of the Death Star. Heck the last third of the film is almost note for note the same sequence from Episode VI with a ground battle taking place at the same time as a space/aerial battle. And as a side note – the bad guys from the Star Wars universe really need to have better security or engineering when it comes to these gigantic planet destroying weapons… the way to destroy them is always too easily discovered and exploited. 🙂
Any Star Wars fan already knows that Luke’s last name was originally Starkiller, so it’s a nice nod to the source material to use the name… yet there is the sense that you are watching the same events play out you’ve already seen before . But I stick to my thesis that that’s by design.
Star Wars was conceived as a homage to the cliff-hanger serials (and other full length films as well) that George Lucas watched as a child – the weekly installments of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers or Sky King or half a dozen others that graced movie screens across the country or were shown on Saturday afternoon TV… black and white tales of good guys and bad guys, with high stakes and outlandish plots or gimmicks. In fact, this video illustrates just how deeply Star Wars is stamped on our collective film going experience since its release: Star Wars Minus Star Wars and which points out how repetitive our stories (and images) are.
And so, here in 2015 with The Force Awakens we are once again being drawn into the traditional type of heroic story arc that people have been telling each other since we first formed languages to tell them.
The cinematography and camera work in VII is better than IV – not necessarily better, but more visceral. The equipment and technical improvements of today’s filmmakers allow for some types of shots that were just impossible to do back in 1977 – though what we are used to today is a direct result of some of the equipment and techniques that were invented in order to get the first Star Wars made in the first place. What truly matters is the characters – because story is character after all – and Episode VII in that regard matches, and in some ways, surpasses the characters in Episode IV.
Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) do a fine job as the young, next generation of persons who have been drawn into the conflict of the Light Side vs. The Dark Side. I found their characters to be engaging and real – I was rooting for them from the first moment I met them. Rey has the potential to surpass Luke as our favorite Jedi… that may sound like a bold statement, but I’ll stand by it. Finn is a mix of Luke and Han and it will be fun to see what direction they take him in Episode VIII. Throw into the mix the familiar faces of Han, Chewie, Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2 and yes, Luke… it was just the right amount of new and nostalgia all rolled into one package.
I’m not going to address the idiocy that arose after the first trailer was released and the stink that was made about Finn being a stormtrooper. What is more interesting to me is that the First Order stormtroopers are not the clones from Episodes II and III.
These stormtroopers are conscripted at a young age and conditioned to be shock troops – so, we not only get Finn as a First Order soldier – but we get female stormtroopers too. That’s awesome.
As for the rest of the characters in the film – we are shown only briefly the skilled pilot Poe Dameron, a high ranking resistance fighter in General Leia’s army – and the hodgepodge of aliens in Maz Kanata’s place are a blatant call-back to the Mos Eisley Cantina.
The villains were for the most part one-note – as villains can be. But try as the Stars Wars films might (in The Force Awakens and in Episodes I -III), it still has yet to match or surpass the pure evil thrill that is Darth Vader.
There are pages and pages that have no doubt been written about that particular character’s impact, so I’m not going to go over that here – suffice it to say that even though The Force Awakens tries to valiantly re-create the menace of Vader with the character of Kylo Ren, it just doesn’t quite do the trick – but again, Kylo’s background and motivations are somewhat different than Vader’s.
The ever-present threat of Vader in The Empire Strikes Back is so well presented, that when the reveal that happens in that movie occurs, it has such an impact that the ripples of it are still being felt in the Star Wars saga… as is evidenced by what is shown to us in The Force Awakens.
Why did JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan write a script that hearkens back to Episodes IV and V? Why do we recognize similarities between scenes and settings and characters in these films? Why is the main through-line of these films that of the relationships between fathers and sons?
I’m sure there have been any number of term papers and film school theses about that last one — and I’m not going to get that deep into the underpinnings of what is or what isn’t going on in these films – but I will say that we feel such an attachment for them because they are really are us only on a grander scale.
We all have family issues; we all of us have been unhappy with our station in life, have gazed off into the distance and longed for something better…
We all long for adventure and for the sense that we are important – that we matter. And that I think, is why the Star Wars films have echos of similar scenes and settings and characters in them.
Because we are not only watching an epic story of events in long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away… we are watching our hopes, our need for good to triumph over evil.
We tell these stories over and over and in a similar fashion because new generations are seeing these tales with fresh eyes, and will tell them to those that come after… because they are necessary.
Do you think it just a title? No, A New Hope is much more than a title… its what we keep coming back for.
And so while there may be complaints about The Force Awakens, I just want to go on record and say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. My favorite moment (and it involves the character of Rey) made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, a huge grin to spread across my face and my inner hero to stand up and cheer.
And that’s the magic of Star Wars… for a brief moment, you are the hero. And that is something worth repeating.
Over and over.