Rebirth of Reason

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (movie review)
Posted by Ed Hudgins on 12/23, 9:52am

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (movie review)
by Edward Hudgins


If you liked the original Star Wars trilogy, as I did, grab your popcorn! You’ll no doubt enjoy the sequel, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But be prepared to discover political confusion in the Star Wars universe. (No spoilers ahead.)


Star Wars heroes and humor


The Force Awakens recycles plot elements, scenarios, reveals, bar scenes, Death Stars, and surviving characters from the original trilogy created by George Lucas. Thus you’ll have a feeling of familiarity that might have you asking, why couldn’t director J.J. Abrams come up with something original?


Fortunately, he includes most of the spirit and humor from the originals in the sequel, and it’s great to see Han Solo and Chewbacca in action again. The two new good guys, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), aren’t initially fighting for high ideals. They just want to survive. Rey is a poor scavenger on a desert planet who longs for her lost family. Finn is a storm trooper who, in his first battle, decides he doesn’t want to kill innocent women and children, so he defects. But these two rise to the occasion when faced with the conflicts of a wider world. Abrams’ characters here channel some of Lucas’s use of the insights of Joseph Campbell, who explained the archetypes of heroes in myth. Rey and Finn are doubly archetypical, reflecting the epic heroes of myth and the heroes of the original trilogy at the same time.


Political confusion in a galaxy far, far away


You don’t go to a Star Wars movie for political commentary, but politics has been central to the franchise. Unfortunately, Abrams offers confused politics and misses a chance to offer something really interesting and thought-provoking.


Of course, in the prequels, Lucas wasn’t as exactly clear, either, as he traced the fall of the Galactic Republic and the rise of the repressive Galactic Empire. Secessionists wanted to break away from the Republic. But why? Their ranks included a Trade Federation, Banking Clan, Commerce Guild, and Corporate Alliance. Were they free marketeers trying to avoid Republic regulations—good guys!—or corrupt cronies—boo, hiss—who wanted to use political power to suppress competitors?


What does stand out in the prequels is that the Republic falls due to the abdication of power by the Galactic Senate and concentration of power in the hands of a Chancellor—secretly an evil Sith Lord—in order to fight foreign wars or internal enemies, real or manufactured. Lucas makes parallels both to the fall of the Roman republic and the rise of Hitler in Germany.


Wasn’t the republic restored?


The original trilogy had clear political lines just as it had clear good guys and bad guys. The Empire was evil, ruled over by the Emperor with the aid of Darth Vader. Han Solo was a smuggler, striking a blow for free trade! The Empire is overthrown by plucky rebels who favor a republic.


In Abram’s sequel, it seems like the victory of the Rebellion over the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi never happened. It is 30 years after Luke Skywalker, Leia, Han, and the gang presumably restored the Republic. In the film’s opening crawl we’re told “Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed. With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE.”  We then see First Order storm troopers, led by a Darth Vader wannabe named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), attacking the Resistance. We later learn that the First Order wants to destroy the Republic because it supports the Resistance. What’s the relationship between the Republic and the Resistance? What’s the First Order’s real beef with the Republic? Who knows?


Two archetypes of revolution


Overthrowing tyrants can provide good plot fare for movies, but in the real world what comes after the revolution is even more interesting. Here we have two archetypes... (Continue reading here.)

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