As new trailers arrive for The Last Jedi, I will add them to this post.
As new trailers arrive for The Last Jedi, I will add them to this post.
In one of the Interlude chapters in the novel Aftermath: Life Debt, author Chuck Wendig takes the reader back to Maz Kanata’s castle on the verdant world of Takodana. While Kanata and her castle/world have appeared in a spattering of stories since she was first introduced in The Force Awakens, she has otherwise not received greater treatment in the Star Wars canon. Her unmistakable absence has left me disappointed since what we learn about Kanata and her connection to the Force in The Force Awakens is incredibly fascinating. Still, I know that her story will eventually receive a much larger treatment – I shared my own idea for a story that would suite her in a previous post– and in the meantime smaller stories like the Interlude in Life Debt satisfy my need to know more about her.
Now, while I am happy that we are given this glimpse of Kanata in Life Debt, the Interlude also includes a rather peculiar remark which Kanata voices about the state of the Force. It is an otherwise subtle comment, coming on the last page of the chapter after she handles a minor situation that unfolds in the fortress she calls home. Standing on a parapet of the ancient castle, she is approached by the droid 8D9 who tells Kanata that “Peace has returned to the Castle.” In turn, Maz states the following:
“Good, good, good. Still. Peace has not returned to my heart. Something is off balance. Some stirring in the Force has made the water turbid. Hard to see. But I think it best we be prepared.”
What is so strange about this comment, what made me immediately stop reading the novel and left me in deep contemplation, is the phrase “Something is off balance.” Given that she follows this by saying there is “some stirring in the Force,” it is obvious that Kanata is referring to the Force being off balance. But what makes this so odd is the timing of her statement, coming only a handful of months after Anakin Skywalker – redeemed by his son Luke – fulfilled his prophetic destiny as the one who would bring balance to the Force. The entire trajectory of Anakin’s life, guided at times by the Force and at other times by his own feelings and actions, led him to that moment aboard Death Star II where the balancing act would finally be completed. It was not the first action towards fulfilling the prophecy, but it was, so far as Star Wars lore is concerned, the last.
Again, this is what makes Kanata’s statement so strange. How can it be that the Force is already stirring, that Maz Kanata can sense that the Force is off balance when the Chosen One literally just completed the balancing act? This question has bugged me ever since my first reading of Life Debt, and while a handful of explanations/ideas have been floating around in my mind, some way of reconciling what she says with the reality of Anakin’s actions has eluded me. For the life of me I just can’t figure it out, at least not in any crystal clear way. Of course, it would be simple enough to just ask Chuck Wendig for an explanation, but going to the author for answers isn’t how I tend to roll. Besides, I am sure Wendig is a busy guy, and he surely has better things to do than answer every question/comment a reader throws his way. But I digress…
Basically, I think the simplest explanation is the one that probably makes the most sense: Kanata’s senses are correct, the Force feels off balance to her because it is off balance, a result of whatever is “stirring” within the mystical energy field. But beyond Kanata telling the truth, we really cannot extrapolate a great deal, there is just not enough information to help us understand the relationship between Anakin’s balancing act and the Force being off balance once again. While we cannot understand that relationship we can, however, acknowledge that if Kanata is correct then Anakin being the Chosen One and balancing the Force is called into question. Is it possible, we must ask, that Anakin did not actually balance the Force in Return of the Jedi? Or, if he truly did balance the Force, what could have caused the Force to be off balance right after he had fulfilled his prophetic destiny? And on this point, are we as fans okay with this new imbalance to the Force knowing that it runs the risk of undermining the fundamental lore at the very heart of the six Star Wars films George Lucas created? Or, is there potential for this new imbalance to add to that lore in a way that honors and expands, but does not detract from, Lucas’ original vision and story?
“Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change our world.” – Gautama Buddha
Ever since The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015 there has been a lot of speculation about the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. To be fair, questions about Snoke’s identity began even before the film came out, but in the wake of the movie’s release the conversations about the First Order’s mysterious, Force-sensitive leader exploded. Just doing a simple Google search of “Snoke” will result in a trove of articles, videos, and podcasts attempting to identify/explain who Snoke may or may not be. With the next film, The Last Jedi, only months away, conjecture about Snoke will undoubtedly ramp up, and if his identity remains a secret beyond Episode VIII the cavalcade of Snoke theories will continue to pour onto the interwebs until Episode IX arrives.
Like others I too have my own theories and hypotheses about Supreme Leader Snoke, and while I won’t be putting each and every one to paper in any elaborate form, I never-the-less find myself constantly drawn back to my Snokie thoughts. Honestly, I just can’t help myself. Mystery breeds curiosity, it attracts me like a moth to a light, drawing me in and igniting my imagination. From there my imagination runs wild, my brain using the information available to me – information from the Star Wars movies, novels, comics, games, etc. – in hopes of figuring out something about Snoke’s mysterious identity. At times I return to the same theories my mind has conjured up, at other times I head down a different path, a new thought leading me on an imaginative journey which may center on Snoke’s disfigured face, or perhaps his connection to Kylo Ren, or his relationship with General Hux, or his statements about the Force/Jedi, and so forth.
Mystery breeds curiosity, and as the trove of Snoke-related articles/podcasts/videos prove, the mystery surrounding Supreme Leader Snoke has captivated Star Wars fans of all types. While I certainly haven’t sifted through every Snoke theory or hypothesis, I have dabbled in a handful that have crossed my path. Some theories have left me really intrigued, and I have incorporated ideas from these theories into my own musings. At other times I have found theories uninteresting or based on questionable Star Wars logic. Still, even in moments where I am not captivated or believe a Star Wars-related flaw exists in the theory, I can still appreciate that the theory means something to that person, that they put the time and effort into its construction. After all, it is hardly my place to trash someone for engaging in space fantasy inspired speculation, to tell someone their Snokie ideas suck simply because I might not agree or because I have my own theories.
Yet, there has been a proclivity within elements of the Star Wars fan base to do just that, to tell people that their Snoke theories suck. The phrase “Your Snoke Theory Sucks” has become a spontaneous, uncritical and churlish way to throw shade on any theory that explores Snoke’s mysterious identity. Well, I am here to tell you this: if you have a Snoke theory, it absolutely does not suck. Is it possible that when Snoke’s history, background and identity are finally revealed that your theories, or my theories, end up being incorrect? Absolutely! The potential to be wrong is omnipresent, a reality that always exists when one engages in contemplative and abstract thought. But here is a little secret: when it comes to Star Wars, I don’t theorize because I think I am 100% right, I theorize because it is fun. And if you have fun theorizing about Snoke, or anything else in Star Wars, then I say keep it up. We all might end up being wrong, in fact we probably will be wrong, but who the hell cares?
Check out this piece by Michael from My Comic Relief for an expanded take on the topic:
I spend a lot of time pondering the internals of the Star Wars universe – the characters, events, factions, spaceships, philosophies, etc. – but I also spend quite a bit of time thinking about the Star Wars franchise in general. These days, it’s hard not to think about the trajectory of the franchise since Disney – which purchased the franchise from the original creator/owner George Lucas in 2012 – has been announcing and releasing new content left and right. Movies, TV shows, novels, comics, video games, and more are adding to the already rich trove of stories that populate the universe, while an endless line of new merchandise in every shape and form pops up on a seemingly daily basis. Plus, Disney is building two different Star Wars-themed lands where fans can enjoy “being in” the Star Wars universe.
As a lifelong fan of Star Wars, the fact that the franchise is going strong definitely makes me happy, but this also comes with a catch – too much of a good thing isn’t always great. While I am excited there are new Star Wars stories being told and merchandise being sold, there is also a certain amount of burn out that also comes with all of this. Admittedly, it is a bit odd for me to say this since I maintain this site devoted to Star Wars, but it is also the truth – at times, being a Star Wars fan can be utterly exhausting.
Some of this Star Wars exhaustion is a natural symptom of over-indulgence, a symptom which necessitates moving away from the franchise for a while so I can enjoy it more fully another day. Having a site like this where I write about Star Wars certainly adds to this particular form of burn out, and at times, I have to step away from the computer or notebook, giving myself time and permission to not even think about Star Wars.
On the other hand, some of this burn out is just a general fatigue associated with having to maintain interest in such an expansive franchise, one that is not going to stop growing anytime soon. Just as I look up at the night sky and have difficulty processing the vastness of space, a similar feeling of being overwhelmed hits me when I think about the vastness of the Star Wars franchise, a vastness that encapsulates past, present, and future. While I can appreciate all that Star Wars has to offer, providing fans of every type with something they will love, on a personal level, the more Star Wars grows, the more exhausted I’ve become trying to keep up with it.
And so, I have found myself trying to reconcile my lifelong exploration of the “galaxy far, far away” with the continued growth of the franchise and the gambit of ways it is making me feel: overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt out, and at times even uninspired and bored. In other words, I have found myself for some time now in the rather peculiar position of trying to decide how I will continue being a fan of the franchise (talk about first world problems). What do I mean by this? Well, it means I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my relationship with the franchise in general, and the content of the Star Wars universe in particular. It means that because I do not have an endless supply of time, energy, and money – especially money – to devote to a fictional universe that will probably still be growing when I am on my death bed that I have to decide which aspects of Star Wars I will continue to participate in/enjoy and which parts I am just uninterested in/do not feel are worth the effort.
In truth, this isn’t an entirely new approach to the way I engage with Star Wars. We all have our personal preferences and gravitate towards certain things, and I have always been the type of person who likes parts of Star Wars more than others. Even before George Lucas sold the franchise to Disney I was selective about how I participated in the franchise, what merchandise I bought, and yes even which stories I gravitated towards. For example, I can honestly say that while I am well versed in the stories of the now Expanded Universe (EU; now officially called Legends…bleh), there are some Expanded Universe stories I have never touched and know almost nothing about. Case in point: The Old Republic online game. Perhaps one day I will get around to playing The Old Republic or checking out those EU stories I haven’t read, or maybe I won’t.
Like the Expanded Universe I am already treating the “new Expanded Universe,” the Disney Canon, the same way. While I have done my best to keep up with all of the stories being released, it became very apparent early on that it just wouldn’t be possible to do so. This hardly means I haven’t tried my best, but it does mean that I am well aware there are tales I have missed and probably will never experience. Since I have no interest in subscribing to Star Wars Insider magazine, I miss out on the short-stories that appear in each edition. I have certainly read a few here and there, but otherwise I’ve missed most of them and am not rushing out to read them. This is also true of the discontinued Star Wars Rebels magazine, each issue containing a story in the form of a comic. I’m sure those comics are quite fun, and perhaps I will check them out at some point, but for now I’m just not that interested in going out of my way to read them.
In turn, even of the new stories I have encountered in the Disney canon (and this goes for the EU as well), I’ve absolutely loved some, really disliked others, and have otherwise mixed emotions about a handful. I thought Kevin Hearne’s novel Heir to the Jedi was rather bland, have been underwhelmed by the novels in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath series, felt the Chewbacca comic series left a lot to be desired, and walked out of my first viewing of The Force Awakens asking myself what the hell I had just watched. On the flip side, I really enjoyed playing the now discontinued Star Wars: Uprising video game, absolutely love the Princess Leia and Lando comic series, was blown away by Christie Golden’s novel Dark Disciple and James Luceno’s novel Tarkin, and have really enjoyed the rich layers being added to the canon thanks to the animated show Star Wars Rebels.
But just because I love one particular story or dislike another doesn’t mean I find perfection/imperfection in everything. I might not love Heir to the Jedi but there are some very good moments in the novel, The Force Awakens has grown on me over time, the Uprising game was fun but also incredibly tedious, and even though I am really loving Star Wars Rebels I’ve been a vocal critic of the overuse of the Jedi and the Force in the series. For me, being a fan of Star Wars is not a zero sum game, a matter of either love or hate. Rather, more often than not it boils down to shades of gray, the acknowledgment that stories that I feel are wonderful still have flaws, and those I believe fall short do have some redeeming qualities.
None of this is to say that my particular reactions/thoughts on each Star Wars story, or my moments of exhaustion, boredom and dispassion with the franchise as a whole, must be globally accepted. My personal fandom is no more or less important than any other fan, and my subjective experiences of Star Wars need not dictate the experiences others have. Besides, I can think of nothing more absurd than being a fan of Star Wars and lording my fandom over others. No, I am far more interested in sharing aspects of my fandom with others, engaging people in rich conversation about Star Wars. By maintaining this site, my hope is to always do just that: share aspects of Star Wars that stand out to me – the good and the bad, inspirational and discouraging – and open the floor for conversation.
And that being the case, I have to ask: what are your feelings and opinions on the current state of the Star Wars franchise? Am I the only one who has moments of Star Wars fatigue and boredom, or are there others like me who are out there? If you care to share your thoughts and feelings, leave a comment.
In my last post – The Force Awakens Without Lando – I noted my disappointment that Lando Calrissian did not make an appearance in The Force Awakens while the other main characters from the Original Trilogy were included. I’m not going to rehash that entire post here, but I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t done so. I will point out that in the post I acknowledged that The Force Awakens was a good movie even though Calrissian was missing from it. And besides, I am hopeful that he will be appearing in Episode VIII and/or IX.
So why, might one ask, am I discussing Lando once again? Is there more to be said about his absence from The Force Awakens? No, not really. Instead, I wanted to extend the conversation on Lando by turning to the 30-year period of time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. So far, only a handful of stories have taken shape (across various mediums) which have begun to populate this New Republic/Rise of the First Order era. And yet, of those stories that have begun popping up, two characters in particular have been noticeably absent from this era: Luke Skywalker and (you guessed it) Lando Calrissian.
A while back, a guest post from Michael Miller considered Luke’s absence from this era of stories, and I definitely think you should check out what Michael had to say. In the meantime, I’ll cut right to the chase: I find it incredibly odd and definitely confusing that Lando has been such an incredibly minor – and at times blatantly absent – character in the this particular era of the Star Wars timeline. Now, I say this with the full awareness that Lando has popped up in a few post-Endor stories (I’ll come back to these momentarily). Plus, it’s important to note that Lando has been given a great(er) deal of attention in stories that take place before Return of the Jedi. Notably, in the show Star Wars Rebels, Calrissian has made a couple of fun cameos and Lando was the main character in a five-part Marvel comic series aptly named Lando. In fact, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the Lando series was one of my favorite story-arcs added to the Disney canon, perfectly capturing Lando’s personality, vocabulary, demeanor, and overall style.
Yet, even though Lando is the star of his own comic series and has a spattering of appearances on Rebels, I am left to wonder why he is not a more noticeable and active presence in the stories unfolding in the weeks/months/years following the Battle of Endor. Like I said, he has shown up here and there, but these moments are few in number and relatively shallow.
For example, in Claudia Gray’s novel Bloodline, set 24 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, Lando sends a message of support to Leia as she deals with the fallout of the Galactic Senate learning that she is the daughter of Darth Vader. A kind gesture on Lando’s part, to be sure, but nothing he actually says in the message is detailed, nor does he factor into the novel in any other way.
In the four-part Shattered Empire comic series, set in immediate aftermath of the Battle of Endor, Lando actually appears in Issue #001 and #003. In Issue #001, Lando participates in the battle (flying the Millennium Falcon) and is present for the celebration which immediately follows the Rebel victory, chatting it up with Han Solo and other soldiers. Nothing new or surprising there. On the other hand, in Issue #003, Calrissian leads a New Republic into the Battle over Naboo, stopping the Empire’s operation to destroy the planet. Pretty awesome, I have to admit. Besides, it makes perfect sense that in the days, weeks and months after the victory at Endor, Lando would continue to serve as General in the Rebellion-turned-New Republic. However, his very next chronological appearance on the Star Wars timeline makes a lot less sense…
In July 2016, Lando was part of an update to the game Star Wars: Uprising. While I eagerly welcomed his addition to the game, hoping that his arrival would add a dynamic new layer to the game plot/story, my enthusiasm quickly turned to utter confusion and disappointment. Allow me to explain. When one initially meets with Lando in the Longstar Marketplace on the planet Burnin Konn, Lando lays out his profitable reasons for sneaking into the Anoat sector (which serves as the location for the game and is under Imperial blockade) and is willing to cut you in on the deal. In turn, Lando gives you a job to raid the Imperial base on Nar Hypa, a moon orbiting the planet Mataou, a mission which yields some basic materials, credits, and trophies (which can be used to purchase other goods). Excited to discover what would come after my first “Lando Job,” I quickly became discouraged when I realized Lando was not going to immediately send me on another run. Surely, I figured, if I waited a day a new mission would be ready for me…and I was right! Logging into the game a day later, I was greeted by an in-game message that “Lando has a job for you.” I eagerly scooted over to the Longstar Marketplace, sought out Lando, and was presented with the EXACT SAME MISSION! The same map, Imperial forces spread out in the same places, and a similar payout. Since Lando was introduced into Uprising, his “jobs” are always the same. And, to make things even more ridiculous, Lando just keeps standing around the Longstar Marketplace. One would presume that at some point he’d make his way to the Carbon Score Cantina…
Now, unless one counts some credits and a handful of in-game material as meaningful, Lando’s presence in Uprising is, to put it bluntly, entirely pointless. That is, it is pointless as of right now. While Lando’s inclusion in Uprising currently lacks any significant purpose, I am hoping that his role in the game will be expanded, especially considering the game is set in the days/weeks/months following the Battle of Endor. In short, since a (former?) Rebel/New Republic General was able to infiltrate the Imperial blockade of the Anoat sector, making his way to Burnin Konn, one would think (and hope!) that he would have plans to provide aid to the forces fighting Imperial oppression in the sector. Of course, Lando might also end up indefinitely loitering in Longstar Marketplace, his presence having no outward effect on the overall goal of breaking the Empire’s blockade and freeing the sector. Honestly, at this point, who knows what will happen with Lando in the Anoat sector.
Then again, who knows when or how Lando will show up again in a post-Endor story. I’ll be sure to update this post the next time he does.
Addition: On September 22, 2016, the game developers of Star Wars: Uprising announced that Uprising will permanently shut down in November 2016. As someone who consistently played the game since it came out, I am naturally disappointed although not surprised. The game failed to live up to a number of expectations, and while I enjoyed the lore which it added to the rich Star Wars canon, game play consistently fell short, particularly given its repetitive nature which I detailed (in part) with the “Lando Missions.”
In light of this development, I am left wondering what this will mean for Lando Calrissian, Perhaps, even though Uprising is shutting down, a novel or comic will be written that completes the game’s primary story – the liberation of the Anoat sector – with Lando taking on a larger, more central role. Or, perhaps he will simply be stuck in limbo, continuing to stand around the Longstar Marketplace on Burnin Konn while the New Republic defeats the remnants of the Empire at Jakku. I suppose only time – and more stories – will tell what Lando’s role will end up being.
Admittedly, I was disappointed that Lando Calrissian, our favorite smooth-talking “galactic entrepreneur,” was left out of The Force Awakens. While arguments in defense of his absence have typically revolved around that fact that he was not an “original” character in the Original Trilogy, I have consistently felt that this argument is flawed. True, Lando was not in A New Hope and was only introduced at the outset of the Third Act in The Empire Strikes Back. But from his first appearance as Baron Administrator of Cloud City and onward, Lando Calrissian (portrayed by Billy Dee Williams) was elevated to “origial character” status, playing a critical role in the major events which unfold in the remainder of Original Trilogy.
This being the case, it’s especially important to remember (as if one could really forget) that Lando not only commanded the Rebel Starfighter squadrons during The Battle of Endor, but that he also flew the Millennium Falcon into the superstructure of the Second Death Star and (with the help of X-Wing pilot Wedge Antilles) destroyed the battle station. So sure, Lando wasn’t an “original” Original Trilogy character, but his actions – culminating in his heroics in Return of the Jedi – absolutely established him as a character equal in importance and stature with R2-D2, C-3PO, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, and Han Solo. The iconic last scene in Return of the Jedi, which includes each of these heroes, as well as Lando, is visual proof of this obvious fact (see the featured image above).
Further, the “not an original character” argument also falls short because Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb, both secondary characters introduced in Return of the Jedi, were in The Force Awakens. While it is pretty damn awesome that Ackbar and Nunb are in the film, it is none-the-less perplexing that Lando was left out while they were not. In fact, this is even more perplexing when one remembers (again, not that one could forget) that Nien Nunb was Lando’s co-pilot during The Battle of Endor. His co-pilot!!!
Now, in stating, albeit briefly, why I think this particular argument for Lando’s absence is flawed, I also have to acknowledge that after watching The Force Awakens, I don’t really think Lando could have fit into the movie all that easily. It is certainly conceivable, for example, that he would be hanging out at Maz Kanata’s Castle on Takodana, but had he been there when Han, Finn, and Rey enter, his presence would have taken away from our introduction to Maz Kanata. And, had he been a member of the Resistance high command on D’Qar, his presence may have felt much more like a basic cameo, just one voice among many offering insight into the battle against the First Order.
These two possibilities are certainly not the only spots Lando could have appeared. However, I don’t really find it necessary to speculate on every moment Calrissian could have popped up in The Force Awakens. Instead, I’d much rather note that these and many other scenes could have accommodated Lando and his unique, out-going personality, but in doing so the scenes – and by extension the film – would have needed to be fundamentally altered to make his appearance meaningful. Certainly, writer/director J.J. Abrams might have been able to find a way to do this, perhaps installing General Calrissian into the Resistance and putting him center-stage to determine the attack plan against Starkiller Base. Yet, for whatever reason(s), Abrams chose not to include Lando, and again, while I’m disappointed by Lando’s absence, I think the movie Abrams made is a good one even without the “old smoothie.”
Besides, with Episode VII in the books, we must now look toward Episode VIII and IX for Calrissian to make another glorious onscreen appearance. And, even though the IMDB page for Episode VIII does not list Billy Dee Williams as part of the cast, I can certainly imagine a scenario in which Lando’s inclusion hidden until the last possible moment. In fact, I would be quite pleased to go into the film unsure if Calrissian was to appear, only to find out he IS in the movie.
Granted, there is the possibility that Lando will not be in Episode VIII (or even IX), and if this is the case my disappointment is gonna quickly morph into outright anger…and I have a feeling I won’t be the only Star Wars fan feeling that anger.
Check out my follow-up to this piece: Lando Loiters in a Marketplace
Guest Talker: Andrew
A few weeks ago while watching Return of the Jedi, I was struck by a particular scene. In fact not a scene per se but a small section of a scene that lasts for just over ten seconds in total. It occurs in the middle of the film just after Luke Skywalker contemplates his father (now Darth Vader, formerly Anakin Skywalker) and pronounces, “then my father is truly dead“. Luke is led away by Imperial Stormtroopers and as the doors shut one senses a distinct lapse in Vader’s demeanour as he places his black gloved hand on a steel girder in the corridor where the scene takes place. Although Vader is masked, one is left with little doubt as to the turmoil boiling within him which his son has sensed only moments before being escorted away.
This is a scene that I am extremely familiar with and it’s no exaggeration to say that I have viewed it hundreds of times at this point. Many of you reading this will be in the same position. An interesting point of note however, is that as time progresses in Lucasfilm’s new canon, layer upon layer of light and shade is gradually being cast onto erstwhile familiar scenes. What made this particular scene reverberate once again for me was both the advent of a sequel within the cinematic saga – namely, The Force Awakens, and the work on Anakin/Vader’s back story that we are now aware of from the new canon (the novel Lords of the Sith, and television series The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels).
Now I’m no neuroscientist, but I’m in no doubt that some neural connection (figuratively or otherwise) fired within me during my recent viewing of this “Vader scene” in Return of the Jedi. I think that having been shown evil and vulnerability co-existing so obviously on screen in the character of Kylo Ren, I may now have increased sensitivity towards those traits within Vader. One can’t help but note the incongruity of Kylo Ren seeking strength in Vader’s artifact (his Mask), when Return of the Jedi shows us, particularly in its last scenes, that Vader himself obviously harbored tensions between internal light and shade. Indeed, those tensions within Vader would have occurred not just in that scene but presumably at other points that George Lucas did not show us. Our insight into Kylo Ren has shown us that witnessing a character purveying violence and atrocities, does not mean that they aren’t conflicted. We know that Ren seeks strength from his Sith relics, erroneously viewing Vader as a pillar of pure, un-tempered dark power.
Ironically it is actually Ren’s insecurities that heighten his ability to strike fear in the viewer. Vader’s representation of ultimate martial strength may have been underpinned by the portrayal Lucas chose to focus upon in episodes III, IV, V and VI. Importantly though Lucas also spoke of the need to use Vader sparingly so as not to dilute his impact on the viewer.
Consider for a moment your perception if all you had seen of Kylo Ren was the Battle of Jakku, the interrogation of Poe Daemeron, and the killing of his father Han Solo. You would in all likelihood take the view that Ren demonstrated darkness and nihilism on par with Vader. As it is, due to the different approach to character portrayal within Episode VII, we have been given an insight with a wider focus as plot device. In turn that insight sends us back to what we have seen before and makes us wonder if the same kind of internal conflict occurred in Vader’s early years, only to be buried deep before ultimately being released by his son Luke in advance of his final hours at Endor.
In The Force Awakens itself we see Kylo Ren, formerly Ben Solo, also struggle with a pull towards the light, the draw of his family, and the effects of surprise dissent and challenge. Vader’s struggle, although less obvious, is sensed by Luke and is driven by his son’s appeal to the traces of the Anakin Skywalker that his father once was. What adds a further dimension to the scene in question from Return of the Jedi, and shades of gray to Vader’s portrayal in the overall saga, is the fact that we now know so much more about Anakin than we once did.
It’s worth noting in this context that I write this article after the broadcast one of the most heart-rending moments in the Star Wars canon, the confrontation between Vader and his former Padwan learner Ahsoka Tano. Forged in The Clone Wars series, their relationship as Anakin and Ahsoka reached its cessation (for the time being) in the Rebels Season 2 Finale, “Twilight of the Apprentice.” Like the scenes within that finale, this scene in Return of the Jedi is rendered so powerful through a contextual knowledge of the Star Wars saga. We now watch such scenes while projecting both forwards and backwards in our Star Wars knowledge. This isn’t compulsory for viewer enjoyment, but it will significantly enhance it.
Unlike a viewer of the Return of the Jedi scene in 1983 we are now aware of a cinematic portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, the innocent young boy from Tatooine, and his desire to assist the stranded Qui-Gon Jinn and Padmé, we are aware of his later awkwardness as a teenager, and his ultimate seduction by Palpatine towards the ways of the Sith immediately in advance of Mustafar. We know of the Shakespearean tragedy of Anakin’s fall in Episode III Revenge of the Sith, and his becoming the symbol of terror known as Darth Vader. Likewise, we know that those events occurred due to a desire to save and preserve family, and in some respects as a response to loss of family, both his mother Simi and his wife Padmé, and his unborn child (in fact his unborn twins although he didn’t know this).
Now we see Vader facing his only son, a son who senses a residual light within Vader through the Force. Luke is certain that there is good left in him. Let’s watch the scene in question, paying close attention as the scene builds towards its conclusion:
The scene begins with an exchange where Luke acknowledges his father and Vader notes his acceptance of the familial relationships. Luke qualifies this however. His first move in this meeting of minds is to state “I have accepted the truth that you were once Anakin Skywalker…”. Note how quickly Vader interjects, instantly snapping that, “that name no longer has any meaning for me!”. The reaction of Vader is instinctive; Luke has sparked a reflex triggered by Vader’s most private of ruminations. Luke persists however stating that, “It is the name of your true self you have only forgotten” and concludes “that’s why you won’t bring me to your Emperor now.” Watch Vader closely in the background behind Luke. He marginally but notably withdraws. Crucially there is no sense of aggression or loss of control. Instead Vader’s eyes, or at least his direction of vision indicated by the direction of his Mask, turns towards Luke’s new lightsaber. One senses an indication of remorse, regret, or contemplation. The crisp ‘snap-hiss’ of the lightsaber igniting then throws us, and immediately breaks any sense the viewer has that Vader doubts his position in any way. The noise, one of the many unique sounds in the Star Wars universe, snaps the viewer back into focus on the peril Luke is facing.
Vader says to Luke “your skills are complete – indeed you are powerful as the Emperor has foreseen.” In doing so he brings the conversation back to Luke as the focus. Luke in turn again attempts to persuade and this time we start to anticipate a much more noticeable thaw within Vader. Crucially we are given our first verbal indication of the doubt conveyed earlier only by discrete body language. Vader speaks to Luke and states “Obi Wan once thought as you did…”and the soundtrack theme softens. The viewer is now thinking of the brothers in arms that Anakin and Obi Wan once were. Luke tries to persuade but Vader eventually concedes, “it is too late for me Son“. There is a marked sincerity in Vader’s voice and as he utters the words “The Emperor will show you the true meaning of the Force – he is your master now” one is left wondering if the warped mind of what once was Anakin Skywalker now actually believes that Palpatine will do the best for his son, and the best for the galaxy.
Then comes the highlight of the scene. Luke responds with the words “then my father is truly dead.” Luke’s tone highlights his disappointment but also his courage given what lies in wait for him. It shows the strength of Luke that he is not cowed in this situation. He is confident that his path lies in his Jedi teaching, and his compassion towards his father.
Vader tracks Luke’s withdrawal with the Stormtroopers and this to me is critical. At 3:19 on the video, watch Vader and wonder what is going on behind that Mask, knowing as we now do that Luke was right. What are the thought processes that occur? The door of the elevation capsule closes, and Vader turns and looks out the window of the corridor, there are almost ten seconds that pass while the viewer listens to Vader’s mechanical breathing apparatus and looks into the depths of his blank stare.
Projecting forward, and as noted above, we are at the time of writing exploring the legacy of this scene and the events immediately thereafter. The Knights of Ren in the new sequel era have a false understanding of both this event and those immediately surrounding it. They view Vader as a quasi-Divine figure. We are not quite sure of their relationship with the Sith at this point. What is certain, however, is that Ren seeks strength from the ultimate in Vader artifacts, his Mask, indeed literally Vader’s death Mask. Ren seeks strength to overcome the same emotions that trouble Vader in the scene we are contemplating, and then tragically uses the inspiration obtained from that relic to do what Luke refuses to do: kill his own father, Han Solo.
The reason that I now view this section of Return of the Jedi as one of the critical scenes in the saga is because from it we see the linkages that span from the opening scenes in The Phantom Menace and trace the repercussions those events still have around 70 years later. We see how Luke’s relationship with his father is having a direct effect in the sequel era on a misguided Ren’s relationship with his own father. We see the death of one of the saga’s most beloved characters and the hero of the New Republic slaughtered because of a false impression of strength that has cascaded from the myth of the grandfather to the reality of the grandson. We see Luke’s beliefs and Luke’s obvious failure to impart his own beliefs, and their wisdom, to his nephew who has become corrupted.
This is what is beautiful about these films and why the latest developments in the saga and new canon have enriched and embellished films that we have known and loved for nearly 40 years. With the developments in the beautiful animation found in The Clone Wars and now in Rebels, and the love and passion brought to such works by people like Dave Filoni, we can probably look forward to another 40 years of thoughtful and inspired mythology.
Writer’s note: I know that others will have different takes on these cinematic events and portrayals. As always this is part of the enjoyment of these films and I look forward to exchanges with fellow fans on these issues. Find me on Twitter: @AndrewinBelfast
Guest Talker: Michael J. Miller
In the months leading up to the release of The Force Awakens, one of the most prominent questions on everyone’s mind was – Where is Luke Skywalker? He wasn’t in any of the trailers. He was shockingly absent from the poster. We only heard his voice, narrating a slightly altered version of what he tells Leia about his family and the Force in Return Of The Jedi. Speculation was rampant. And there were even those (apparently the ones who’d never watched Star Wars or totally missed the point of the whole narrative) who were insistent that Luke had fallen to the Dark Side and perhaps was even Kylo Ren. Now, all those questions have been cleared up. But the most important question for me still remains. And I hope I get an answer worthy of the mythic hero of Star Wars.
The answer to this question is important because, to put it simply, Luke is important. Luke Skywalker is the hero of Star Wars. Yes, it’s Anakin’s story but Luke is the force (no pun intended) of redemption that allows Vader to do what must be done. If Anakin is the savior, Luke is the redeemer. And both of them are necessary to bring balance to the Force. So we know where Luke was at the end of Return Of The Jedi – happily celebrating a major victory with his family and friends, while the redeemed Force ghost of his father looks on with Obi-Wan and Yoda. And we know where Luke is at the end of The Force Awakens – doing his mystic hermit thing on a not-so-easily-accessed lake front property in utter isolation. Even R2 was left behind. His hand hasn’t been cared for (presumably), leaving the synthiflesh to rot away and expose the metallic hand underneath.
The question I need answered (the question I am so, so scared won’t be answered with the clarity and detail it absolutely needs) is what has Luke been doing in the thirty years since the Battle of Endor?? One of the major faults I have found with the Disney Canon is that (with few exceptions) it gives us no real worthwhile details. It’s all painted in broad strokes. We are left struggling to fill in almost as many gaps during those thirty years as we had before The Force Awakens was released. Disney seems to perpetually tell stories set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, stories (more often than not in my opinion) having little to no significant impact on the saga, while ignoring the gaping holes in the timeline Star Wars fans want to know about.
The major exception to this rule would be Claudia Gray’s beautiful and brilliant new novel, Star Wars: Bloodline. This was the first novel I’ve encountered since Disney took over that gave me the thrill I almost always found with the old EU. It gave a detailed look at the Star Wars galaxy. It expanded on what was in the films in a way that made logical sense. And the expansions were helpful and felt necessary. Also, she gave us both a picture of Leia that was organic and dynamic as well as new characters who were exciting and seemed to naturally fit in the Star Wars universe. Ransolm Casterfo is the first new character I’ve found in the Disney Canon who seemed as complex and integral to the Star Wars universe as characters like Pellaeon, Natasi Daala, and Talon Karde did the first time I met them.
The novel also left us with some MAJOR question marks in regard to Luke Skywalker. (If you haven’t read Bloodline yet, this paragraph and the next contains minor spoilers about moments Luke is mentioned in passing in the novel but doesn’t address anything that’s central to the plot of the book.) You see, Bloodline is set six years before The Force Awakens. Granted, we only get glimpses of what Luke’s been up to since Return Of The Jedi. But it doesn’t seem like he’s been doing much. He and Ben Solo are bouncing around the galaxy doing…something.
A discussion in the Senate sees Lady Carise Sindian remark, “Princess Leia spoke of her brother, the famous Luke Skywalker, who has been little seen in the public sphere for many years now.” Then Tai-Lin Garr replies, “Since the Rebellion, Skywalker has lived a private life. He has asked no more of the New Republic than any of its other citizens, nor have we just cause to ask any more of him than the substantial service he has already given.” So the last of the Jedi decided to…retire? He’s road tripping with his nephew? Whaaaat??
Judging from the little information the new Disney Canon has provided us, Luke is apparently completely disconnected from the New Republic and almost entirely cutoff from his family. We can infer then IN THE PRECEEDING TWENTY-FOUR YEARS he didn’t rebuild the Jedi Order. So, I ask again, what was he doing?
The final conversation Luke has with Yoda before his death on Dagobah makes this even more confusing. As Yoda lays down for the last time he tells Luke, “Twilight is upon me and soon night must fall. That is the way of things, the way of the Force.” His final words to Luke are, “Luke…when gone am I, the last of the Jedi will you be. Luke…the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned. Luke…there is…another…Skywalker.” The literal final instruction Yoda – the Jedi Master that Kenobi told Luke to find to complete his training – gave Luke was to pass on what he had learned. And the Disney Canon wants us to accept that Luke’s response was, “Nah.” I don’t buy it. It doesn’t make any sense.
Luke wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He spends much of the Original Trilogy trying to become a Jedi Knight like his father. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan taught Luke, “The Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy before the dark times, before the Empire.” So he knows that the Jedi were an order who protected people during the Old Republic before Vader and the Emperor wiped them out. He finds Yoda, completes his training, is instructed to pass on what he’d learned, and THEN DOES NOTHING FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS.
Why?? Again, it makes no sense and a legitimate answer must be given.
This story must be told and it must be told with a depth and intimacy to rival Claudia Gray’s depiction of Leia in Bloodline. A few lines of exposition (and maybe a few flashbacks) in Episode VIII aren’t going to cut it for me. Luke Skywalker is too important a character for that! We need to understand why he turns his back on everything he was, everything he did, and everything he was instructed to do.
As I watched Yoda’s death scene in Return Of The Jedi a few more times, I wondered if perhaps Disney wanted us to buy that Yoda told Luke to pass on what he learned to his family alone. You could make the argument, from the phrasing, that Luke could have interpreted it that way. But we know this isn’t the case. In The Force Awakens, Han tells Rey and Finn that Luke was bringing up a new group of Jedi when Kylo Ren cut the order apart and Luke took off. We know that there can’t be that many Skywalkers around. So, in the six years between Bloodline and The Force Awakens, he was (finally!) training new Jedi. But the question remains, why did he wait? What was he doing??
In the Expanded Universe, Luke spent much of his time after the Battle of Endor learning everything he could about the Jedi to rebuild the Order. By seven years after Endor (in Kevin J. Anderson’s “The Jedi Academy Trilogy”) Luke was taking his first tentative steps in recruiting new Jedi and training them on Yavin 4. Yes there were problems. There were ups and downs. But Luke was passing on what he had learned and trying to restore the Jedi to the galaxy. Why isn’t he doing that in the Disney Canon? Why isn’t he advising the New Republic in any role? What could possibly be going on that’s more important than all of this?
All Luke Skywalker, last of the Jedi, does post Return Of The Jedi in the Disney Canon is…fight for shrubbery?? In the (weirdly lackluster) conclusion to Shattered Empire, our first new canon look at life post-Endor, we see Luke Skywalker and Lieutenant Shara Bey infiltrate the highly secure Imperial base on Vetine…to save two trees. They’re important I guess? Luke says of the trees, “These are all that remain of the tree that grew in the heart of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant. The Force is with them.” And they are clearly important enough for Luke to risk his and Shara’s lives by invading this facility three months after the Battle of Endor. But they’re also important enough for Luke to just randomly and spontaneously give one away to Shara so she could plant it in her family garden?? What? So Luke redeems his father, fights for a shrub (a shrub we never hear about again), and then does absolutely nothing.
We’re supposed to believe that the man who destroyed the first Death Star, who became the last Jedi Knight, who learned from Yoda, who redeemed Anakin Skywalker so balance could be restored to the Force just walked away? He did nothing. For over twenty years. He was just sitting around…waiting? Why? WHY?
The cynic in me believes it’s because Lawrence Kasdan remains pissy that Lucas didn’t use the darker ending he wanted for Return Of The Jedi. As is well documented, Kasdan wanted Han Solo dead and Luke, so broken by his ordeal, to fade into the mist like Shane at the end of the famous Western of the same name. Lucas didn’t go that route (in part, I’d argue because he understands the purpose of myth and what lesson Star Wars was supposed to be teaching us) and Kasdan has been open about his displeasure with it. Well now The Force Awakens rolls around and look what happens! With Kasdan helping with the writing duties Han Solo dies (admittedly, in a powerful moment that I feel served the character and the story well) and Luke Skywalker has disappeared only to be found out in the wilderness alone, not unlike a wounded gunslinger haunted by what he’s had to do (something that doesn’t fit his character or the tone of the end of Return Of The Jedi at all).
Cynicism aside, this is still a MAJOR question that needs an appropriate answer. There’s no logical reason Luke Skywalker hasn’t been active in the galaxy since the Battle of Endor. And every instance he’s shown up in the Disney Canon has only served to make his absence and apparent apathy more confusing. So, when the time comes, I hope we get a story that honors who Luke Skywalker is. The relevant question for Episode VIII is no longer Where is Luke Skywalker? but rather What has Luke Skywalker been doing for THIRTY YEARS that is more important than rebuilding the Jedi? The answer, whenever Disney decides to give it to us, better be damn good. Luke Skywalker as a mythic hero, and we as Star Wars fans, deserve nothing less.
Check out these other Guest Talker posts by Michael Miller:
During my most recent viewing of The Force Awakens, I was slammed by an epiphany so insanely obvious I was shocked it hadn’t hit me earlier. This epiphany came during the conversation Finn has with Maz Kanata while the two sit at a table in her castle. Finn, adamantly stating that there is no way to fight the First Order, is confronted by Maz when she climbs onto the table and crawls towards him. Adjusting her “glasses” as she looks at Finn, Maz states to him that, “I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people…I am looking at the eyes of a man who wants to run.”
Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Finn who tells Maz she doesn’t know anything about him. Of course, we know that Maz is right, Finn DOES want to run, even if she doesn’t necessarily know all of Finn’s backstory. But although Maz confronts Finn and reveals what she sees in his eyes, she does not try to convince him to stay and fight. Instead, she simply points to two individuals who Finn can hitch a ride with to the Outer Rim. And that ends their discussion, as Finn gets up to leave and Maz returns to her seat.
Okay, so far, so good. Now, what of that epiphany I mentioned? Well, in the moment Maz says to Finn that she has “lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people” and that she is “looking at the eyes of a man who wants to run,” the following thought entered my mind:
Kanan Jarrus was running, too.
And with that, the flood gates opened…
What if as he followed his late-Master’s order to “run,” Kanan Jarrus (formerly Caleb Dume) ended up on Takodana, in Maz Kanata’s castle?
What if he when he met Maz Kanata for the first time, she could sense who he was – a Jedi?
What if in conversing with Kanan, in discussing his past as a Jedi, she looks into HIS eyes and sees “a man who wants to run,” saying the same thing to him that she says to Finn?
What if, what if, what if…
Honestly, I see no reason this encounter shouldn’t happen. No, it NEEDS to happen. Think about it – it would add a fascinating dimension to Maz’s interaction with Finn, the recognition that she hasn’t just seen the eyes of random men who were running, but saw those eyes in one of the last members of the Jedi Order. In this vein, an encounter between Maz and Kanan could function as a building block for Maz’s backstory, a window into her past. While the centerpiece of their interaction would obviously focus on Kanan running from his past life as a Jedi, the conversation could also provide keen insights into Kanata’s views on the galaxy, particularly a galaxy reeling from the aftermath of the Clone Wars. Frankly, after meeting Maz Kanata in The Force Awakens, I would love to hear what she has to say about the Clone Wars, the fall of the Jedi Order, and the rise of the Empire. Plus, it would be pretty cool to see her counsel the young Kanan, providing the young Jedi with her own ancient “Yoda-esque” wisdom.
Speaking of Kanan, it sort of goes without saying but this interaction would be an easy way to bolster the already rich backstory surrounding him. And, there is already a perfect medium for us to see Maz confront Kanan “the runner” – the Marvel comic series Kanan. This series provides a fascinating glimpse of a young Kanan running from the Empire in the days and weeks after Order 66, and I think an encounter between Maz and Kanan would be a natural fit for the series.
So what do you think? Am I crazy for wanting to see Maz Kanata have the same interaction with Kanan that she does with Finn?
Addition: Since writing this piece, the Kanan comic series has come to an end (the last issue was released on March 16, 2016). Sad, I know, but I am still convinced that a meeting between Maz Kanata and Kanan Jarrus would be a great story. Hopefully it is the will of the Force that the two characters cross paths.
While I certainly love sharing my own views on Star Wars, and I could talk to no end about The Force Awakens, it’s also nice and refreshing to get some different perspectives and hear other voices. I’ll definitely be offering my own thoughts and experiences of the film in more of my posts, but for now I wanted to mix things up. So, like I did during Ewok Week, I gathered a smattering of reactions to The Force Awakens from fans of the Star Wars franchise. Check out what they had to say and keep the conversation going in the comment section!!!
From Jenmarie (Check out her blog Anakin and His Angel)
Now that I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times I can tell you that I have fallen more in love with it after each viewing. Each time I’ve seen it I’ve noticed more ties to the other films, I’ve experienced different emotions during pivotal scenes, and I have grown to appreciate the characters even more than I did the first time. I went in knowing that this was going to be a continuation of an incredible story but that it would also be filled with new adventures being led by new faces. I have never really compared the films but have rather seen them all as one taking place at different times with unique stories all intertwining with each other. In my experience, this mindset has allowed me to appreciate each film within the Star Wars Saga for what it is to the very fullest which has resulted in my primary focus being on what I love most about these movies.
That being said, as a fan, I can tell you that The Force Awakens is very much a Star Wars film. If you haven’t seen it yet, you shouldn’t worry. It does a remarkable job of combining the familiarity we have with these movies with the new, and there’s some fresh and extraordinary new content that has made fans like myself go crazy! Like the haven’t-seen-it-in-a-week-withdrawals kind of crazy. Without going into too much detail, the new material consists of things that I’m sure many of us never knew we wanted or could exist in the Star Wars Universe. There are some insanely incredible scenes where the Force is used in a way where you just don’t want the scene to end no matter which side you’re on, light or dark. There are personalities within characters (and a particular droid) that we have yet to see until now and it’s fascinating to watch and wonder what goes on inside their heads, what their pasts look like, and why they do what they do. There are also brand new themes that will tear you apart emotionally. Rey’s Theme is so powerful, it has honestly messed me up once or twice. The Force Awakens is full of memorable moments (both heart-felt and hilarious), exciting action, and tear-jerking scenes that will leave you sitting there in the rawest of forms. It sounds draining, but it’s a great thing to be so impacted by a new Star Wars movie! GO SEE IT!
I thought that the movie was fantastic. It has been years since I was sitting in a movie theater, jaw dropped, waiting for the next scene to happen. I think that the plot and characters were well written, if very derivative (A droid is being hunted for the information it holds, but it crashes on a desert planet only to be discovered by the last remaining person able to use the force who then, through a series of misadventures, makes their way to an older Jedi to be trained, but, on the way destroys the biggest, baddest, most unstoppable space titanic of a weapon”). My biggest issue with the movie actually comes from the original actors. I think that it was great that they reprised their roles, and I went into the movie excited about it but when they appeared on screen it took me out of it for a second, it seemed a little “force”-ed to me (other than Anakin, I loved his cameo). I loved the movie as a whole, though, and am looking forward to the next installment.
From Andy (aka Andykin)
The Force Awakens, oh boy, I was an emotional wreck throughout the whole movie. Seeing all of our beloved characters come back from the original trilogy was like going home. I got those warm fuzzy feelings which lead to lots of joyous tears- the lady next to me for sure thought I was crazy! I was clapping, laughing and crying like a little kid. And of course, I had no shame in it.
Rey was an incredible character to be introduced to and she delivered; she is easily my favorite new character. I could not be more happy with her and the strength she represents as a female. The First Order is so badass, I LOVED the new modernized feel the Stormtrooper armor has. They got a sweet, sleek, upgrade but kept the integrity of the original design. The riot baton was so cool to see in action!
John Williams, god bless that man, (thank you Steven Spielberg for introducing Williams to Lucas all those years ago) he did it again. My favorite track is the The Scavenger, as it has so many beautiful elements to it and personifies Rey so well. Special effects/sound effects were amazziinnngggg, it’s an IMAX dream and still holds up so well in the standard version. My favorite still has to be the humming and sparking of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, you hear him before you see him coming, and I thought that was genius. You gotta tip your hat to the sound editing team for that and so many other things! (pew pew!) So, uh, I think it’s safe to say that I loved this movie and it’s the best time to be a Star Wars fan!
From Alicia (Check out her blog Not So Super Heroes)
Let me begin by saying, I love spoilers. Love them. I read the epilogue to The Deathly Hallows to prepare myself for the possibility that Harry might die. [Spoiler: He didn’t.] That being said, as the release date for The Force Awakens drew near, I found myself wanting to avoid the dreaded spoilers. And, since I’m not a good enough fan, I wasn’t able to see the film until almost two weeks after its release; the anticipation was killing me. But still I attempted, for the first time, to steer clear of blogs, Tumbles, and Tweets. I failed. Miserably. About a week and a half after the release, I learned the truth about my forever love, Han Solo. [Spoiler: He dies.]
Crushed. Inconsolable. There were lots of aggrieved moans and groans. Han dies. I needed to know more. I immediately went to Wookiepedia and got the scoop. Damn that Kylo Ren. Damn him straight to hell. But—by the time I saw the film, I had moved into the acceptance stage of grief and watched the film knowing that my first and constant movie crush was going to die. As I walked out of the theatre, I left with a sense that it couldn’t have played out any other way. And, of course, not being a rube, I knew as soon as the film was announced and Harrison Ford signed on, that they’d kill him off. I just hoped they’d make his death worth something.
I wasn’t disappointed. Star Wars has always been about fathers and sons. The Force Awakens carries that motif throughout. We see Han struggle with his belief that he is not enough to redeem his son, to bring him back from the Dark Side. Han never once shows that steadfast optimism that Luke embodies so clearly in Return of the Jedi. And as Han walks out on the bridge and calls him son by name, he does so knowing how it will end. Han was never enough for young Ben. But finally, in his last act, Han gives Ben everything he has, possibly for the first time.
It’s hard for me to sort through all my feelings about The Force Awakens. To start, Star Wars was a huge part of my childhood growing up, and through the podcasting and online community I’ve been fortunate enough to become a part of, it’s helped my life become much better.
Over the last year and a half or so I’ve become more and more a part of the fandom, and a large part of that was following The Force Awakens news as it broke, and the advance spoilers that were released through various reports. The build up to The Force Awakens has led me to some of the most meaningful friendships in my life.
Which brings us to the film! To be able to share it with every member of my family, and to discuss it with friends from around the world, it makes the whole experience that much more incredible! I immediately fell for all our main heroes. Finn was my favorite by a VERY small margin, with Rey a close second. The earnest quality and sweetness of their bond, the seeds of romantic potential on both sides (Finn more than Rey) had me like a teenager with all them feels! I’m pulling for both of them in the future saga films. At half an hour into the movie, I was sold, they’re my new heroes.
I loved Adam Driver’s performance as well. He really nailed the quiet rage and, the more violently expressive kind as well! But his performance was exceptional. Overall, this film was a great way to share in something I love with my family and my new Star Wars family together, and to have fun doing so!
I am completely ready for the future of the Star Wars franchise!
From Mark (Excerpt taken from a piece Mark wrote entitled Star Wars and Good Stories.)
“What makes The Force Awakens so refreshing is its clear attempt to move the series back to a place where it can tell stories about people at their most people-y. Stories about a group of individuals; their hopes, dreams, fears, pains. Stories about lives lived. You and I can’t connect emotionally to intricately woven plots about trade negotiations and senatorial upheaval any more easily than we could emotionally connect to a newspaper. But a story about a boy, lonely, eager to do something special with his life, who finds friends and adventure, who feels the crushing disappointment over his father’s identity on top of the grief he’s always felt for his absence… these experiences we can get. These are things any one of us might actually live through.
Good stories are about people. When a story isn’t about people (or at least people-like things), for better or worse we have a hard time figuring out why we should care. Good stories, as those which connect us to other people across time, culture, distance, or even reality (when we’re talking works of imagination), also connect us to our deeper selves. We love the tale because we see ourselves in it. This connection rings so deeply to who we are as humans, it pulls taut the line between us and the first storytellers, passing words around a campfire about gods, humans, and the nature of the seen and unseen world. In this way, we are also connected to the divine, inasmuch as the desire to create comes from Createdness itself.
This connectedness to Being through story and myth is also an answer to one of the more prominent critiques of the new film. Some feel that Episode VII lacks originality. While I agree that the plot follows the same structure as the first movie, A New Hope, I’m just as quick to say that this isn’t cause for critique. Rather, it’s what works about The Force Awakens. The new film is resetting the myth, not reinventing it. This is what we do with good stories. We develop them, not scrap them. Han Solo takes the place of Obi Wan. Rey is our new Luke. The story isn’t unoriginal for these facts because originality doesn’t always come from inventing new themes; in most cases, it comes from using myths we already know to develop new strands of the tale through old character growth and new character perspective.”
(Check out the rest of Mark’s thoughts HERE.)
When I walked out of our first showing of the film on December 17th I…I didn’t like it. I felt horrible owning those feelings but I didn’t know what to do with it. I mean, I thought it was fun and funny and exciting but it didn’t feel like Star Wars. George Lucas’ absence was obvious. Whether you love Lucas, hate him, or are indifferent to him, you can’t deny that Star Wars is his story. It’s his world, his characters, his myth. So to have a story set in that world, with those characters, but lacking his influence and his vision in the writing and/or directing felt jarring. It felt wrong.
Walking into the second viewing (1:10 Friday afternoon) I knew what to expect and was ready to appreciate the film for what it was. By the third viewing (7:50 Friday night) I found myself really enjoying it. The fourth viewing (9:50 Saturday morning) saw fatigue begin to set in but, after a needed break, the fun was back for the fifth viewing (8:10 Sunday night) and I’ve been enjoying it ever since. As I’ve spent (more than a little) time with this film over the last few weeks I learned something for certain I’d believed would be true.
Star Wars is George Lucas’ story. Nothing, in my mind, can be as good as what was created by the original myth-maker. He thought all of this up and has guided it directly (the original six films) and indirectly (the EU, the Clone Wars TV series, etc.) for over thirty years. Those are the Star Wars stories I grew up with, the ones I fell in love with, and they will always be the bedrock of all things Star Wars (at least in my mind). After all, we’d have none of this if Lucas didn’t share his vision with us. In addition to being the myth-maker, few filmmakers can rival Lucas’ intelligence. I love Star Wars (meaning ALL six films) and I’d argue what he did in his films mythically, theologically, literarily, and creatively, was unprecedented and remains unduplicated. Glance at the works of Joseph Campbell. Google “Star Wars and Ring Theory.” Read any number of books published explaining Star Wars through various faith traditions (from Christianity to Buddhism to Taoism). While the new film does a brilliant job referencing Star Wars itself, Lucas did a brilliant job of incorporating the tapestry of human thought, mythology, and theology to give us a story at once both new as well as ancient and familiar.
My initial problem with The Force Awakens was I was hoping it would (or could) be as good as what Lucas created. I was hoping it would feel like it fit perfectly after Return Of The Jedi. But even seeking that comparison makes no sense. Star Wars has moved into a new era. There was Star Wars. And now we have Star Wars: the Disney Era. Those are two very different animals. Looking at The Force Awakens in this light, I can say I love the film. I do! Obviously, I’ve seen it nine times. It is, easily, the best entry into the Disney Canon (which is how I choose to see this new era) thus far. I’ve loved J.J. Abrams since Alias and he made a film worthy of the Star Wars name. He gets Star Wars, even if he can’t replicate what Lucas can do. The Force Awakens was made with love, by people who clearly love Star Wars. And the end result is something worth seeing (again and again).
What struck me with The Force Awakens was, no matter how exciting it was to see Han and Chewie piloting the Millennium Falcon again, all my absolute favorite moments centered around the new characters. And I think that’s how it should be. In the Disney Canon, Star Wars isn’t the story of Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie anymore. It can’t be. They are Lucas’ characters and their story was Lucas’ to shepherd. The story now belongs to Rey, Poe, Finn, and Kylo Ren. And I can’t wait to see where their story goes!!! They are captivating, layered characters who have worthily claimed their place in my Star Wars-loving heart. Yes, the classic characters will always remain on the periphery of the story, as will Lucas’ influence and presence. But they are not the stars of the story any more.
We are now living in the age of Star Wars: the Disney Era and the story will be shaped by the Disney Canon. The myth is moving in a new direction, and if The Force Awakens is any indication, it’s in good hands. I’ve let go of any illusions that the Disney Era can be as brilliant, connected, and intelligent as Star Wars was with Lucas at the helm. But that’s okay. I’ll always have the original six films, the EU, and The Clone Wars. And as long as we have talented filmmakers who truly love Star Wars, like J.J. Abrams to guide the story, I’ll keep excitedly buying tickets (and spending a day waiting so I could be first in line) to explore the next chapter in a galaxy I love, a galaxy far, far away.