I loved Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As a kid growing up watching the original trilogy on VHS back in the 80s and then watching the prequels on screen as a teenager, I was excited when I heard of three more Star Wars movies, albeit a little worried as well. After some issues with the prequels, I didn’t want to get overly excited only to be disappointed in the end. Happily, The Force Awakens did not disappoint. That being said, I’m taking to my keyboard to take a look at some of the various aspects of The Force Awakens from a literary and storytelling perspective in a series of posts. This does contain spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want it to be ruined, then bookmark this and read it later. You’ve been warned.
The storyline of The Force Awakens follows the idea that everything old is new again. Everything that once was and has gone away is returning again. Viewing the movie with that in mind made the storyline predictable for me, but predictable isn’t always bad. The Force Awakens shows us the cyclical nature of life. The sins of the old are visited upon future generations, as are blessings. Darth Vader’s legacy doesn’t end with his death, and neither does Luke’s when he disappears.
The story of the Star Wars universe is a cyclical one of balancing of the Force. Powerful players will rise up on either side, dark or light, as needed. It’s only natural that someone like Kylo Ren would pop up after the death of the Sith Lord Emperor and his apprentice Darth Vader. After Luke disappears, there are presumably no more Jedi, so the light side is bound to awaken in someone; hence, Rey.
Now, there are plenty of throwbacks in Force that I could mention (“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and “Noooo!” to name a couple), but I want to look some trends that show up throughout the franchise and how they impact the overall story.
“The Force is strong with this one.”
The Phantom Menace, A New Hope, and The Force Awakens all begin with a fatherless character on a desert planet in need of acceptance. We eventually find out that character has an unusually strong connection to the Force.
It all starts with Anakin Skywalker. He and his mother are slaves on Tatooine, and Anakin has to more or less fend for himself. Since he has no father and was conceived by the Force itself, Anakin has a need for belonging that he finds under the tutelage of Obi-wan, who become the father figure Anakin needs and eventually a close friend. His exceptionally strong connection to the Force reveals itself in the whole pod racing arc as Anakin appears to have unusually quick reflexes, allowing him to navigate the dangerous course. What he really has is the foresight of the Force.
Likewise, there’s Luke, orphaned on Tatooine and living with his aunt and uncle who treat him almost like an unwanted stray. His desire for something more show he wants to belong to something greater. Like his father, we find out that he has a strong connection to the Force, although it doesn’t really manifest until Luke uses the Force to guide his proton torpedoes into the exhaust shaft of the first Death Star. Luke doesn’t understand his connection to the Force until he meets Obi-wan, who also become like a father figure to him.
And so we come to The Force Awakens, where we meet Rey, who grew up for all we know by herself on the desolate planet of Jakku. While she has had chances to leave, she claims she doesn’t want to because she is waiting for someone to return. After seeing a flashback of a young Rey screaming at a ship flying off the planet, one would assume that one or both of her parents dropped her off on Jakku and left. She eventually finds herself belonging to a company of misfits: Finn, who has abandoned his stormtrooper armor, and Han Solo and Chewbacca, two smugglers who disappeared after the destruction of the Empire. As the title indicates, the light side of the Force awakens inside her, and even though she’s had no training other than learning to defend herself on Jakku, she is adept at using the Force. She figures out how to use Force persuasive on her own, maybe with a little help from experiencing Kylo Ren attempt to break into her own mind with the Force.
The question then: Why orphans? Why is each protagonist in these stories an orphan? The simple answer, to establish sympathy along with the Underdog factor. Nobody expects anything great from any of these characters. Anakin has the cute little boy factor that helps us overlook some of his more annoying qualities, but we really do sympathize with his situation. Luke may be whiny, but he’s also a teenager. Plus, he’s had to live with folks who are not his parents. Anyone who’s been around teenagers from broken families understands how tough teen years can be for those teens. The same is true for Rey. We sympathize with her character because she is completely alone and taking care of herself. Her steadfast faith that someone will return for her is inspiring and makes us want to pull for her. She’s struggled her entire life, and we want to see her win.
Deep down inside of us, we enjoy watching characters come from nothing and accomplish great success. It gives us hope for our own lives. Most of us are like these characters, everyday people with nothing seemingly special about us. What we see with Anakin, Luke, and Rey is the idea that each person possesses something that makes us stand out from the crowd. We only have to take the time to find out what that is. The orphaned underdog gives us hope for ourselves, so whether we realize it or not, we quickly find ourselves pulling for these characters.