by Alvin G. Burstein
Like, apparently most of America, I was caught up in the hoopla that attended the announcement that they were back: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, the whole Camelot assembly. And like, apparently most of America, I rushed to see the new movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. My reaction is mixed.
The film, viewed with its 3D glasses, has a massive visual impact, augmented by a booming soundtrack. And although Chewbacca seems to be ageless, there was something engaging about seeing Han and Leia showing their thirty years.
What the film’s director/writer, J. J. Abrams, has done is to have repackaged pieces of the original trilogy. The story opens with an orphaned outlander acquiring a droid that conceals a vital bit of information—sound familiar? The orphan, Rey, is repackaged as a woman scavenger and the droid, BB-8, every bit as cute and beepy as R2-D2, propels itself on a roller ball rather than the two legs of the older model. But BB-8 has the same puppy dog, follow you-home personality as its predecessor.
There is also the interplanetary bar scene populated by a variety of exotic unhuman types with unsavory vocations and unattractive habits. And the Millennian Falcon retains its entertaining combination of ramshackle but remarkable performance.
It’s all there and quite entertaining.
And yet there is a hollowness in the plotting that leaves me feeling like artistry has been displaced by prospect of preparing for a sequel.
What made the original tale so compelling was its reference to the Oedipal theme of Luke’s relationship to his father. Murderous striving is dissolved as Luke matures into an adulthood powerful enough to try to rescue his weakened father. Further, Luke’s power is rooted in a mastery developed in his relationship with Obi Wan and Yoda, male mentors that foster and contribute to his slow and painful efforts to grow rather than seeing them as a challenge—a promise that there can be good enough fathering as well as mothering.
In this sequel Rey, whom this sequel hints will become the first female Jedi knight, displays instinctive powers, unearned by laborious apprenticeship. She bests Ren, Darth Vader’s grandson and successor as an evil force, in a light saber duel. Earlier she spontaneously exhibits mind control powers that Luke had to struggle to achieve. Even her companion/protector, Finn, finds himself able to snatch up Luke’s old light saber and challenge, though unsuccessfully, Ren. For them, potential knighthood seems to come easily, rather than requiring a struggle to develop.
Finn is perhaps the most interesting character in this tale, the only one that shows real change. He makes the transition from being a frightened escapee whose only concern is to protect himself to that of a person capable of heroic self-sacrifice. I was left wanting to see more of him, and I suspect therein lies some frankly commercial artistry.
In the original tale Leia seeks to locate Obi Wan, one of the last of the Jedi, in order to save the Republic from being overwhelmed by the Empire. Here Rey enlists Han and others in the search for the new last of the Jedi, Luke.
Luke, like Obi Wan, has buried himself in obscurity. When Rey finally finds him, the immediate threat from the Empire’s successor, the First Order, has already been defused—and in the same way as the Empire’s Death Star. The movie ends with Luke’s turning to face Rey who offers him his light saber.
Will Luke accept it to become Rey’s Obi Wan? Will Ren, whom the evil Supreme Leader Snoke has ordered be brought to him, become the new Darth Vader? What role in Rey’s life will Finn play when he recovers? For that matter, who will Chewbacca and the droids partner with?
Are we being set up for something? Will the Force protect us?