18 December 2015

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and Predictability

Star Wars!

Am I allowed to write a reaction to this movie? Is a bounty hunter going to come after me? Everyone's so nervous about spoilers that I feel like I'm doing something terrible. But I can't help myself. I saw it as soon as I could and that means most of the in-depth, nerd-tastic analysis I'm craving at the moment has yet to appear online, meaning I'm stuck with me. So let me preface this with a very clear

First I should say that I'm no expert on Star Wars. You want my brother for that. I've seen all the movies several times and followed the animated shows: Genndy's non-canonical but awesome mini-series, most of The Clone Wars, and Season 1 of Rebels so far. I even wrote George asking to play Anakin when I was a teenager. But I didn't exactly grow up on it. Its Lucas sibling Willow was my jam.

We had a recorded copy of Return of the Jedi that I thought was pretty cool. Even after seeing Episodes IV and V I still liked it the most. Between that and Caravan of Courage, I thought Star Wars = Ewoks. I know, blasphemy.

So let's say I'm initiated, if not as fully obsessed as some fans. I had expectations like anyone. Some were met in a good way and some were met in a less good way, leaving me with thoughts about predictability. When do you want to be right? When do you hope you're wrong? I think everyone's mileage will differ on that one.

Regardless, it's obvious that The Force Awakens mirrors the original Star Wars. I mean, we knew it was going to because a) duh and b) this franchise has always been about mirrors. (And if you have a bad feeling about that, give a Wilhelm Scream as you set off on your hero's journey.) However, plot "reflection" was basically J. J. Abram's lens flare in this movie, and was glaring enough that it's what I'm most eager to shine a light on. (Wow, so many puns. I apologize.)

I threw together the following comparison pretty quickly, so if you see something I missed, let me know in the comments!

Original Trilogy (Ep. IV unless otherwise noted)
The Force Awakens
A rebel agent
loyal to an Organa
Her adoptive father
has to hide a digital MacGuffin
Death Star plans
Map to Luke
in a lovable droid
who gets stranded on a desert planet
and is saved from junkers
That thing riding a horse with a monitor head.
by a local nobody.
The rebel agent is captured by a black knight with a voice changer
Kylo Ren
with ambiguous authority over/under a British bad guy
That guy who was like Tarkin but younger and angrier.
and is tortured for intel.
by Torture droid
by the Force (except Leia resisted)
The intel escapes with someone less confident
R2-D2 and C-3PO (in the same instance as #5)
Poe and Finn
and they crash and are separated on a desert planet.
Tatooine (same as #5 again)
Jakku (separate from #5)
Thieves come after the local nobody
Sand People vs. Luke
Junker thugs vs. Rey (except she wins)
and then soldiers
so the heroes escape together
Millennium Falcon
Millennium Falcon
and learn about the Force from an aged mentor
Ben Kenobi
Han Solo (Irony!)
only to watch him die later at the hands of the black knight
Kylo Ren
who has history with said mentor.
Was Ben’s pupil.
Is Han’s son.
Oh, and the black knight answers to a holographic Bigger Bad
Emperor Palpatine (Ep. V)
Supreme Leader Snoke
whose plan is to wipe out planets with a large laser-shooting orb.
Death Star (that’s no moon)
Starkiller Base (that’s no planet)
They’re aided by a unique looking soldier who never shows his/her face.
Boba Fett (Ep. V)
Captain Phasma
The orb weapon is used once
on Alderaan
on like 5 planets (including Coruscant I think?)
and then destroyed by the rebels in a mission with starfighters
Luke and co. (Ep. IV); Lando and co. (Ep. VI)
Poe and co.
and an away team
Han and co. (Ep. VI)
Han and co.
but the black knight survives.
Vader in his Tie Fighter
Not sure how, but Snoke gave the order!
Somewhere in there are aliens chilling
Maz Kanata’s hideout
and a tentacle creature
the thing in the trash compactor
the things Han was smuggling
and debt collectors
Poor Greedo
the two teams after Han
and talk of turning the black knight good again.
Luke about Vader (Ep. VI)
Leia about Kylo Ren
The former nobody goes looking for a new mentor living in exile
Yoda (Ep. V)
and is taught about the Force by a short, wise, bald, really old alien
Yoda (Ep. V)
Maz Kanata
and undergoes a trial in the form of a vision that doesn’t make much sense at the time.
The cave (Ep. V)
Rey’s memories (?) triggered by the lightsaber.
It ends by teasing the next installment.
“I’ll meet you at the rendezvous point.” (Ep. V)

I guess what's most striking about this is how much The Force Awakens mirrors the entire Original Trilogy, not just Episode IV. I'm probably overthinking this, but my theory is that this trend won't continue in the other films. The predictability this time around was probably a welcome dose of nostalgia for most fans and did a lot to erase bad memories of the Prequel Trilogy. However, continuing in that vein risks a repeat of the not-so-secretive Wrath of Khan echoes in Abram's Star Trek Into Darkness. The wink-wink nudge-nudge see-what-we-did-there homages would get old.

So since we're talking about predictions, mine is that Episode VIII will not pick up immediately where VII left off. Not only would this be a first for the franchise, but it would continue to mirror Episode V, which, as shown above, we've already seen.

True, skipping Rey and Luke's initial conversations would mean we don't get to see his reaction to the news that Han is dead, or hear about his history with Kylo Ren, or witness his unwillingness to train Rey. But maybe that's a good thing. While The Force Awakens leaves a lot unexplained, the moments when it does drop exposition are among the least effective. Also, another tradition in this franchise is to fill those gaps in time with supplemental material like books, comics, and the aforementioned cartoons, and I'm sure Disney would welcome the opportunity.

I could be proven wrong very quickly ("We're picking up right where we left off!" says Kathleen Kennedy next week), but my hope is that the 2017 sequel will diverge from the path of predictability. What I liked most about VII were the character interactions. Everyone was funny, flawed, and endearing. I even feel like I know Chewy better! So I say let them drive the plot, instead of merely adding their own unique flavor to one we've already seen.


  1. Love! And agree. But on #10, do you mean Rey, not Leia?

    1. No, because I was referring to the similarity between both Leia and Poe being tortured for the droid intel, with the difference being that Leia didn't give it up and Poe did. But you're right; Kylo Ren tries reading Rey's mind, too, and it backfires. So there are actually two echoes of Leia's capture/torture in Ep. VII!