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.
“Now that’s a name I have not heard in a long time.”
There are alien creatures galore in the Star Wars universe, but both A New Hope and The Force Awakens take mythical heroes of old and put them into new roles as mentor characters. “Old Ben” Kenobi in Hope is actually a highly-decorated Jedi from the Clone Wars. Once Luke finds out that he’s the Obi-wan Kenobi who fought alongside his father, Luke becomes inseparable from this fabled hero of the old days. Luke knows the stories of the Clone Wars, and although the events took place only 20 years ago, they still seem like great myths of old to him.
The same becomes true of both Luke Skywalker and Han Solo in Force. Some 20 years after Return of the Jedi, Han and Luke have become the mythical figures. After helping destroy the Empire, we find out that Luke has disappeared into exile. Han, who became a famous general in the Rebellion, has disappeared as well. As that’s left are stories of their heroics. When Rey meets Han for the first time, she looks at him with a wonder, as one of us may look at Hercules if he stepped out of aGreek mythology book. She’s constantly talking about the “stories” she’s heard of Luke and Han, stories which Han confirms as true.
How is it possible for something so huge as the Clone Wars and the Rebellion’s destruction of the Empire to become so quickly forgotten and turned into folklore? This small fact shows the broad scope of the saga. It wasn’t just a long time ago that this happened, it was in a galaxy far away. For major events like this to get lost so quickly, it can only happen because of the sheer size of the setting in which this takes place. Sure, there’s hyperspace travel and communication, but Tatooine is in the Outer Rim. It would be the same as remote tribes in parts of our world who have no knowledge of World War II. It happens because there are cultures completely removed from the rest of the world. Luke lives on an isolated planet in the Outer Rim that wasn’t terribly affected by the Clone Wars. If you pair that up with the fact that Uncle Owen doesn’t want Luke to know anything about the Rebellion, it’s easy to see how Luke would look at all of this as a folk tale. He’s only heard small bits of information through hearsay.
Rey’s story is a little harder to reconcile. The remains of a Star Destroyer playing a significant part of the opening scenes make it impossible for people on this planet to be unfamiliar with the Rebellion, so ignorance fails as an explanation like we have on Tatooine. Perhaps it’s the sparsely populated nature of the planet itself or the way the remnants look more like ancient ruins than the aftermath of a battle that make it seem as if it happened in some long-forgotten history. Regardless, the characters have fallen into legend and lore, much like our heroes of old. And Rey is like us; she’s heard the stories and probably daydreamed about what it would be like to fight alongside these heroes of old. Now her dreams have come true. And since that won’t happen for me, I’ll just have to live vicariously through the character.
What does this add to the story? It creates an epic, and it also illustrates the significance of the conflict in each story. Obi-wan lives as a hermit in exile on Tatooine, watching over Luke from a distance. Luke in Force has done a similar thing, and Han is off swindling people like he did before getting drawn into the Rebellion. All three of these characters, who did significant things in their time of need, are not needed in the years between. When dire circumstances appear, however, they are brought back because they are needed, but in a different capacity. They are no longer the heroes but the mentors, passing the torch to a new generation. A legacy is only as strong as the ideals that get passed down through the generations. Obi-wan passed the legacy of the Light Side off to Luke, who we would assume will pass them to Rey. And in his own capacity, Han Solo, in a way, passes his legacy on to Rey, who takes her place in the Captain’s chair of the Millennium Falcon.