I remember where I was when I first heard that Star Wars would be coming back. I never thought that it would happen after the widespread distaste for the Prequels, but nevertheless, we were officially getting a sequel trilogy with the original cast returning.
This movie could have gone very wrong. Fortunately, it didn’t, and people like it a lot for the most part. Yes, it borrows most of its plot structuring from A New Hope, but it helped make the world feel familiar and comforting.
I, for one, saw this movie five times in theaters, which is more than I’ve ever seen one movie on the big screen. There was just something about it that was so great and that reignited my love for Star Wars.
Much of what this movie operates off of is the legacy and nostalgia of the Original Trilogy. One of the very first lines of the movie – in a conversation between two new characters – references Leia. When Poe Dameron reference her as a general, Lor San Tekka says he sees her as royalty. “Princess Leia” is one of the most iconic characters in cinema history, so to refer to her as such so early on puts you in the good graces of the audience.
But beyond this, the entire plot of the movie revolves around a missing Luke Skywalker. When Luke was first introduced to the world outside of Tatooine, he thought the Jedi were just a myth, or else he just didn’t know much about him. So it is quite poetic for him to now be the nominally mythical one. Finn and Rey both believed Luke was just a legend until he was confirmed to be real by Han. Luke’s presence looming so large over the plot of this movie just shows how much The Force Awakens reveres what has come before it (in the Original Trilogy, at least).
The point is completely driven home when Han and Chewie show up on the Millennium Falcon for the first time. “Chewie, we’re home,” Han says. We have the classic setting of the Falcon and its rightful owners in Han and Chewie and now we finally feel like this is completely Star Wars. This comfort is what allows us to settle in to finding out that Han and Leia didn’t have a happily ever after and that Luke went into hiding.
Additionally, Kylo Ren somehow has Darth Vader’s helmet and is practically worshipping what he thinks it stands for. This alone shows how important having complete accuracy is. If Kylo knew what Vader had done just before he died, he may not be looking to him for the same kind of guidance.
And again, Kylo’s (Ben Solo’s) parents didn’t have the happily ever after that we may have expected after an ending like the one in Return of the Jedi. These characters are different. They’re the same people, but they have had years of experiences to change who they are. Just like reconnecting with an old friend after 30 years – they are the same person physically, but they probably aren’t quite the same person that you remember. This idea with Han and Leia primes us for the change that will be coming with Luke’s character in The Last Jedi…
Speaking of Luke, there is a stark contrast between the way he appears at the end of this film with the way he appeared at the end of Return of the Jedi. Here, he is dressed all in white, as a potential savior figure, when there, he was dressed in all black for the whole movie (check out my Return of the Jedi deep dive for more on that). Ultimately, this is misleading given what will come in The Last Jedi, but it gives Rey and the audience hope, at least for a time. It just shows, though, that nothing is certain. No matter how much we think we know someone, people are still capable of anything.
All the while, when Han Solo is killed, he falls from the dark red coloring that surrounded himself and his son into the light blue chasm below. This simply goes to show that at the core, he is still Han Solo. He is still good, no matter what may have happened to his son.
A lot of what happens in The Force Awakens deals with the outside narrative surrounding the movie itself. As I mentioned earlier, there was uncertainty coming into this movie regarding what it would be. It turns out that there were a good deal of secrets to be kept. Who were Rey’s parents? She says herself that it’s a big secret. Who is Snoke? What is and was Luke doing? How did Maz have Luke’s lightsaber?
Lots of questions were brought up that kept fans speculating until the next installment was released (only to leave many of them disappointed and angry).
But aside from all of this, there are plenty of winks to the audience in the dialogue. Regarding the Falcon, Rey says, “This ship hasn’t flown in years!” to which our excited reaction is, “Yeah, we know!” It’s quite something just to see the Falcon flying again, but this time with better special effects.
Finally, Snoke asks Kylo if he has felt an awakening in the Force. This is an obvious reference to the title of the movie, which is in itself meta. The Force, or Star Wars itself, has been dormant for years at this point. For it to awaken and return engendered so much hype and excitement that you can’t help but be giddy.
Darth Vader was an intriguing villain because he was so mysterious. He was frightening and in a scary looking black suit. But at the beginning, he didn’t have many layers to him. He was instantly a cinematic icon, but he wasn’t instantly a compelling character. Kylo Ren, on the other hand, is instantly compelling.
Kylo is a moody, entitled loose cannon who is in a constant power struggle with General Hux. And as we find out, he is deeply conflicted.
We find out early on that Kylo feels a pull to the light side that he is trying hard to resist. He uses the spirit of Darth Vader to try to keep himself evil, because in his eyes, Darth Vader is the pinnacle of the Dark Side. Kylo’s internal conflict makes him a much more intriguing character than Vader was at his introduction.
In addition, much of the conversation about Kylo is about the ability to turn him back to the light. Leia and Han have clearly had their own relationship severed because of what happened to their Ben Solo. Because of this, they want him back badly. This allows Leia to offer a valuable insight into the nature of the relationship between a father and a son.
When Han expresses his doubts that Ben will ever turn back to the light because Luke was unable to reign him in, Leia observes that Han will be able to do it because Han is Ben’s father. The light that is still present within him should be able to recognize a father’s love. Ultimately, Kylo uses this very idea against Han when he kills him. For that moment, it seems like all hope for him is lost, as red comes completely over his face. But The Last Jedi shows the conflict that will always be present in him.
Before Kylo strikes down his father, though, Han is able to tell him that it will never be too late for him to come home. And this is always true, even in life. No matter what we have done, we always have the capacity for remorse, while others have the capacity for forgiveness. It remains to be seen what will happen with Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, but this idea gives hope.
Freedom and Patience
All of the newcomers in the main cast want some sort of new freedom that they didn’t have before. Even though Rey always wants to wait on Jakku for her family, she wants to be a pilot. She wants to be free from her life as a scavenger.
Rey staying on Jakku lets her practice patience, though. Patience is one of the few ideas that Yoda and the Jedi preached that is actually beneficial. As I’ve noted in past deep dives, many Jedi teachings are actually detrimental to life goals. This is one that is good and should be practiced.
Meanwhile, Kylo Ren wants freedom from the pain of having to live up to his family and freedom from the pain of being torn apart between the light and dark sides. He thinks that killing his own father will help him achieve this freedom, but it actually makes everything much worse.
Finn was taken from his family as a young child and basically became a slave to the First Order. Storm Troopers aren’t known for having the luxury of the freedom of choice, but Finn exercises that very luxury. In so doing, he chooses his own new name, which allows him the mental freedom and courage to fight back against oppression.
Finally, Poe is the charming flyboy pilot. It’s fairly obvious that when he is locked up, he is less free, and when he is in his cockpit, he has the freedom to do whatever he wants. But being in the cockpit represents the ability to choose your own way, the same way Han chooses to come back to help Luke back in A New Hope.
There is a reason flight is such a common theme in fantasy stories such as Star Wars. The luxury of choice isn’t one that everyone is afforded. But when given the opportunity to choose between right and wrong, seizing the opportunity and doing the right thing with it is of paramount importance.