In Defense of Episode VII

WARNING!!! THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE! IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, YOU MAY NOT WANT TO READ THIS UNTIL AFTER YOU GET OFF YOUR ASS AND GET TO A MOVIE THEATER ALREADY!

 

Okay, that being said, I want to address several things I noticed in the latest installment of Star Wars that have led me to both love it and disagree with many critics. By the way, the only canon I will take into account are the movies themselves.

First of all, the biggest critique I think I’ve seen is that this new movie is just the first movie (Episode IV) rehashed. This is both true and not true. Yes, basically, the plot is nearly beat for beat Episode IV, not including the confrontation between Kylo Ren and Han Solo. That’s from Episode V. But, there is good reason for this: familiarity. When George Lucas first made Star Wars, he had no idea that he was going to be able to make any more movies. The first one had to succeed in order for that to happen and NO ONE thought it would, except Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I have actually interviewed actors from the original movie including Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and even they thought it was going to be some shlocky, sci-fi B-movie at first. The X-Wing pilots from the finale of the film got together to go to the premiere in London ready to boo the film and throw popcorn at the screen. They were all stunned when they saw the final product. Why?

Again, familiarity. Of course, the cutting edge special effects helped too, but today, SFX don’t impress people that much. But we do still connect with familiar scenes and characters from our childhoods. The original Star Wars incorporated actual scenes from The SearchersCasablanca, and The Hidden Fortress. The main characters were four archetypes first made iconic in film in The Wizard of Oz. Luke is the “brains of the operation” (Scarecrow); Leia wonders if Han “cares about anything” (Tin Man); Han refers to Chewie as “you coward” (Cowardly Lion); and Leia has to be returned to her home, the Rebellion, by the three unexpected heroes (Dorothy).

J.J. Abrams has done the same thing. He has taken what is most familiar to Star Wars fans — Star Wars — and framed his introduction of the new galaxy, new characters, and new situations along the lines of the original trilogy (though not much from return of the Jedi). Just each moment has a twist: Finn seems to be a Jedi aspirant, but it’s Rey; in the confrontation between father and son, the son is evil and actually does kill the father; the hero of the assault on the giant, evil weapon is a great pilot, but NOT the protagonist of the film; no one knows Rey’s actual connection to the whole Skywalker family, if there is one at all. What, do only Skywalkers wield the Force now? Which leads to the next point…

Character development. First of all, what action adventure movie has a lot of character development? Do we know Han’s background? Other than he was a smuggler and a pirate, no. We don’t even really know why Chewbacca hangs out with him. And we do know SOME things about the new characters, but they need to develop over three movies, not one, so there are still questions, thankfully! I can’t stand when everything is explained and I’m not allowed to wonder anything. (Disney, please do NOT make a Han Solo movie!)

So what do we know about the characters? Poe Dameron is a great pilot for the Resistance. He’s your average heroic, white male character, and probably the flattest of them, but he’s not actually a protagonist. He’s more of a sidekick character who provides another sidekick — BB-8. Finn doesn’t even know his real name because he was a stormtrooper, who are no longer clones but people raised to be stormtroopers, being trained from infancy to fill that role. Sound familiar? It’s the only real nod to the prequel trilogy: the Jedi used to do that! Oh, did the movie just get better for you? Also, why is Finn the only Stormtrooper to suddenly get a conscience? He must be different somehow…

Then there is the main protagonist, Rey, who has no family name, but does remember her family a little. We know she was abandoned as a small child for some reason on Jakku. We know that she has learned several survival skills growing up on a harsh world. We know she is connected to the Force, and, somehow, Luke Skywalker. Everyone wants to guess what that connection is, myself included, but no one has any idea except those who are making the films.

As for Kylo Ren, we know A LOT about his background. He’s the most fleshed out character out of the new batch. He is the son of Leia and Han who started his Jedi training with Luke, but, somehow, was lured to the Dark Side by Supreme Leader Snoak — the new “phantom menace” — to finish what his grandfather, Darth Vader, started, which is why he is obsessed with everything Vader, like some fans I know, and collects Vader memorabilia. He struggles with his internal fight between his Skywalker side that pulls him toward the light and his Vader side that pulls him toward the dark. He is still immature and young, which is why he throws temper tantrums when things don’t go his way. He cannot control his anger, which, of course, is what feeds the Dark Side. But, he is also the smartest Jedi, dark or light, ever! His lightsaber has a cross hilt so no one can cut off his hand! Looking back at all the movies — yes, I’ll admit to the existence of the prequels — that’s the key move of a Jedi: literally disarm your opponent. Ren’s lightsaber prevents that, so why is everyone harping on this one little change that makes sense? Because it’s new. But then they complain that the plot is old. Why? Because some people are never happy and they never will be. Don’t listen to them.

Finally, the one thing I do agree with the critics on is the Starkiller base. It’s just a bigger Death Star and couldn’t we have something more original? I do like that it has the original name of the protagonists of the series. Anakin Skywalker was originally Anakin Starkiller. And, yes, its size does suggest that the Empire may not have really fallen at the end of Episode VI. They were, after all, an Empire that spread throughout the galaxy, so it stands to reason that blowing up another Death Star would not destroy the whole Empire just as it didn’t in Episode IV. Yes, the Emperor was killed, but why wouldn’t there be someone ready to take his place? There was for every Emperor of Rome. The First Order is well-organized, well-funded, and well-equipped. The destruction of the Starkiller base obviously has not destroyed it. So maybe the politics of this galaxy far, far away is not as simple and black and white as it seemed back in Episode VI. That’s something else the prequels did show. There is a lot of grey area in politics, even out there in space.

So, yes, Episode VII has a lot of familiar points to it. But they are comfortable, which we like. They make us cheer each time one of the original cast members appears on screen, including the Millennium Falcon, because we’re glad to see them back. They are what allow us to accept Rey as the protagonist because she has a lot in common with Luke from back when my generation was young and hopeful and wanted to be more than just the regular mortals we are. That comfort is what makes us weep when Han dies because we have loved him for so long. But Episode VII has new things too. New heroes who are NOT the same as the old ones. New villains who are more complex from the start of the series rather than later on when we find out they have deeper connections. And new questions: Who is Rey? Who is Finn? What has Luke been doing for thirty years? Will we see more of Captain Phasma? Will Kylo Ren ever return to being Ben Solo? Where did Snoak come from and where is he really? What is he really?

And, there was no Jar-Jar Binks, no midichlorians, no long senate meetings, no stilted dialogue, no unbelieveable relationships, and no destruction of really cool-looking characters that we wanted developed but didn’t get because he was dead before anyone could get to know him. (I like Darth Maul.)

So, stop complaining. Go see Episode VII again and open your mind to it. Search your feelings. You will see that it makes you feel good to be back in the REAL Star Wars universe again. Don’t be angry and upset by it. Those feelings lead to the Dark Side.

PS: Went to a New Years party last night and met a 58-year-old man who prefers Episodes I-III and did not like VII. I still can’t figure out how he exists.

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