Friday, January 15, 2016

The Star Wars Universe Reset

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode VI: The Force Awakens, which has been out for almost a month now and has been seen at least once by everyone in the Western world.

A big complaint some folks have about The Force Awakens is that it takes away the happy ending we saw in Return of the Jedi. In what seems to be kind of a trend these days, the movie has a ton of backstory that's only addressed in ancillary material (books, comics, etc). Supposedly, after the events of Return of the Jedi, our heroes reestablished the Republic and spent a good many years kicking the Empire's butt all over the place. But eventually a newly-armed Empire reinvented itself as the First Order and came roaring back with a vengeance thanks to the New Republic's complacency.

I have no idea what historical parallel they're trying to draw here
In the movie, the First Order destroys the Republic's seat of government and space fleet with their totally-not-a-Death-Star, so now our heroes are essentially back where they started in the first trilogy: part of a tiny resistance against a more-powerful Empire, and some fans are not happy about this.

My question to this upset group of fans is: what did you think would happen when Disney announced that they were making a sequel trilogy and that Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford were coming back? Did they think we'd get three movies full of Luke, Leia, and Han reveling in how trouble-free their lives are now? That the new trilogy would be named Episode VII: Life Is Good, Episode VIII: No Problems Over Here and Episode IX: Let's Take The Rest Of The Day Off?

When Disney decided to move ahead with this new Star Wars trilogy, they had three basic options:

  1. Set the story a hundred years or more after the original trilogy when the original characters have all died.
  2. Have our heroes face a completely new threat that's not the Empire.
  3. Have the Empire rise again and spoil Return of the Jedi's happy ending.
Any of these options would have let to some kind of fan complaint. In this day and age, unfortunately, being a "fan" of something too often means complaining on the Internet about how much you hate the newest iteration of it. 

If Disney went with Option 1, the fans would have complained that they missed a golden opportunity to bring back Luke, Han, and Leia.

If they went with Option 2 and ditched the Empire altogether, the fans would have complained that the new movies didn't feel like Star Wars.

But maybe you're saying: "I'm not mad they brought the Empire back, I just don't like how they did it. It should've been more like the Thrawn Trilogy: everything's going well and then the Empire shows up. They didn't need to break up Han and Leia or have Luke exile himself after his students got killed."

I sympathize, but I think the way things were ultimately handled is far more compelling. Part of the fun of The Force Awakens is figuring out the new status quo. We're thrown into the middle of things and have to figure out what's going on.  And I like how the mystery of Luke Skywalker drives the plot along,  making his final reveal a very powerful moment.

As for Han and Leia, it was never going to have a happy ending, anyway. As soon as we knew Harrison Ford was definitely returning, I knew Han Solo was going to die. Both Ford and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wanted it to happen in Return of the Jedi thirty years ago, and I assumed Ford would insist on it as a condition of returning. Han and Leia breaking up over their son's fall to the Dark Side of the Force may not be very happy, but it does feel very real.

Also very genuine is Luke's failure with Ben Solo (a.k.a. Kylo Ren) and the destruction of his new Jedi Order. Remember, Luke barely had any Jedi training, and most of what he did get came from Yoda, whose rigidity was a big reason why the Jedi in the prequels were blind to Palpatine's machinations until it was too late. And I have a feeling that Luke's failure will be more understandable once we learn more about Supreme Leader Snoke.

I certainly understand why some longtime fans are upset with The Force Awakens, and they're entitled to their feelings. But I found it to be a pleasant reset of the Star Wars universe, and I'm excited to see what comes next.

NOTE: Because the topic of the post before this one is very controversial within a certain Internet fan community that rivals the Westboro Baptist Church in its tiny size and irrational hatred for anyone who even slightly disagrees with them, I've enabled comment moderation for the time being. Thank you for understanding.