SPOILER ALERT: This Article Contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
No, really, DO NOT read if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know plot details. You’ve been warned.
Friday marked the release of the latest installment in the licensing and merchandising juggernaut that is Star Wars with Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The seventh movie in the franchise has already shattered box office records over the weekend, earning approximately $247 million domestically and $528 globally (the movie hasn’t even opened in China yet) .The Force Awakens has been met with overwhelmingly positive reception and this is largely due to director J.J. Abrams sticking to what made the original trilogy a cultural phenomenon, while largely ignoring the lousy prequels of the new millennium.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens continues the story of the original trilogy that ended with the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi. That film saw the end of the villainous Empire and the death of its most powerful Sith Lord and one of the most iconic villains in movie history – Darth Vader. Episode VII introduces a continuation of the ideals of The Empire with The First Order, led by Supreme Leader Snoke and his Vader-inspired apprentice – Kylo Ren. The dynamic between Snoke and Kylo Ren is reminiscent of the early relationship between Vader and Lord Sidious (Emperor Palpatine in the prequels), but the characterization of Kylo Ren has more parallels to previous Star Wars films.
Kylo Ren is revealed early on to be Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Princess (now General of the Resistance) Leia Organa, meaning that he is Darth Vader’s force-sensitive grandson who is vulnerable to the ways of the Dark Side. This familial twist and connection to Darth Vader is a story parallel that links beloved characters of the original trilogy to the primary villain, much like Star Wars’ most famous twist that Luke Skywalker is actually Vader’s son. Ren’s vulnerability to be seduced to the Dark Side while training to be a Jedi is exactly the story arc that Anakin Skywalker takes in the prequels on the way to becoming Vader.
Perhaps Kylo Ren’s parallels to Darth Vader are a natural progression for his story, but there are other story elements in The Force Awakens that can be seen as part of Star Wars’ greatest hits. Rey, for example, is a new character with a familiar background. She’s a scavenger on the desert planet of Jakku with a connection to the Force and, as will likely be explored in Episode VII, to Luke Skywalker. Skywalker was originally thought to be a regular guy on the desert planet of Tatooine until it was revealed he was Force-sensitive and destined to save the Galaxy. In fact, it has been speculated by avid Star Wars fans that Rey may have a deeper connection to Luke by way of being related to him (perhaps being revealed to be a Skywalker herself).
Another element of The Force Awakens that could be seen as a play on the franchise’s greatest hits is the Starkiller Base that The First Order plans to use to destroy the Resistance once and for all. Essentially just a bigger version of the terrifying Death Star, the Starkiller Base fires a beam that destroys not just single planets, but entire star systems. The third act of The Force Awakens goes through similar motions that A New Hope does with aerial assaults on the Death-Star-like base that, as a Han Solo more experienced with this situation points out, is obviously vulnerable to ‘blowing up.’
The third act also includes lightsaber battles between Kylo Ren and Finn, as well as Kylo Ren and Rey that honor the original trilogy more than the prequels. The lightsaber battles are more deliberate and rely more on choreographed fighting, as opposed to heavy reliance on computer-generated imagery (CGI) that the prequels implemented. Instead of having characters flip all over the screen for meaningless fights, The Force Awakens allows the choreography of the fights to instill a true sense of danger. To this day, fans denounce the lightsaber battles of the prequels and this new film does its best to take lightsaber battles back to a place of wonderment and excitement.
While The Force Awakens can feel like fan service to the millions that were burned by the prequels, it also builds interest in the continuation of the series with fresh characters like Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and the newest, cutest droid – BB-8. The film primarily focuses on these new characters while the older, more established and beloved characters serve complimentary purposes to make the ‘youngsters’ more appealing for a new generation of fans.
Without playing the hits, so to speak, new fans won’t be able to appreciate the history the movie wants to build on. After all, no one going to an Eagles concert would be disappointed if they played ‘Hotel California’, right?
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