Since an overwhelming majority of the world has yet to see The Force Awakens, I’ll make this as spoiler-free as possible and speak in generalities so as not to ruin anyone’s experience when they do see it. Since you’re reading this, you’re either extremely curious or want to have a little comfort in knowing that J.J. Abrams and gang have done the franchise we all hold dear justice. In short, they have done it a great justice. It’s difficult to pin down all the many nuances that make The Force Awakens such a special achievement, but here are five universally splendid examples on how the Star Wars Universe just got bigger and better.
Note: Everything mentioned here can be found in one of the existing trailers, so if you’ve seen them, the most damage I can do is in providing perspective.
The Price of War
In the trailers, we see Daisy Ridley’s Rey living among the ruins of a historic battle between the Rebellion and the Empire. Star Destroyers, AT-ATs, and many other signature vehicles all have a plot in the planet Jakku’s starship graveyard. It’s a phenomenal way to pass the baton from old to new. Our memories are so ripe with those images and designs that it’s instantly transportive in our imagination. Showing these iconic crafts in the context of war and the resulting damage of it is a brilliant conduit for The Force Awakens. We’ve often been told of great battles and loss through dialogue, but as of yet we haven’t actually seen it. To witness these magnificent machines transformed into shelters and tombs allows us to revisit beloved vehicles from the saga, but more importantly, it showcases the cost and fallout of what came before.
Stormtroopers are Relevant Again
Your mileage may vary on the Prequels, but one thing is for certain: expendable droids and clones are boring. Because a computer can render thousands of things fighting each other on a battlefield doesn’t mean it should do it. Especially in Star Wars where the more personal a conflict is, the better. Whether they were clones or droids, countless cookie-cutter troops in the Prequel Trilogy made no emotional connection. In the original trilogy, Stormtroopers were imperfect, came in various sizes, and even bumped their heads on doorways. They could be persuaded to alter their droid search habits and were adversaries that, while not particularly effective, were fun. Fun. That’s a word that certainly is back in the Star Wars mythology again. Making a Stormtrooper with a conscience a major part of the new film goes a long way towards strengthening their place in the canon and John Boyega’s Finn’s interactions with other unique stormtroopers take it many steps further. Though Captain Phasma hasn’t yet lived up to her potential as a character, the bottom line is that Stormtroopers are relevant again. Cool again. Fun again.
Kylo Ren and the New World of the Force
One of the emotional gutpunches in the trailers for The Force Awakens has been in seeing the melted, ruined helmet of ol’ Darth Vader. Even after 15 years of knowing who Jake Lloyd and Hayden Christensen are, that helmet still packs a wallop. Though many people tried to change the fact, Darth Vader is still cool. What makes the arrival of Kylo Ren so interesting is how he incorporates the fallen villain into his vision. Gone are the binary days of Sith Lords and Jedi Knights. Instead there are gray areas that create very interesting possibilities. Without spoiling anything, I will simply say that Kylo Ren and his approach to the Force is a game-changer. His youth, his power, his history, and his Darth Vader “fandom” help flesh out what could have very easily been a one-dimensional character. In actuality, the result is a character who may already be the most layered villain the series has ever seen.
Disinformation About the Jedi Order
In the trailers, the most beloved smuggler in the galaxy confirms to his young allies the truth about the events that transpired in the previous films. “It’s all true,” he tells them of Jedi Knights and the Rebellion. We as an audience know this, but it goes a long way towards showing how much has changed in the galaxy in the wake of the destruction of the Empire. Facts became stories. Stories became myths. Myths became putty the storyteller could mold into whatever form they needed to execute their wishes. The First Order’s currency is in how they use that information, spreading a different reality across the galaxy to the point where Luke Skywalker and his adventures are to the residents of the Star Wars Universe as Greek Mythology is to us. In A New Hope, there was a great deal of that skepticism and it helped create an environment where disbelief was a great hurdle to leap. The years have not been kind to the memory of the Jedi Order and it helps make The Force Awakens a much more unpredictable foundation for drama.
Protagonists We Care About
Without bashing the Prequels too heavily, it’s fair to say that it’s been a while since there were new characters in the world of Star Wars that made the emotional connection to their audience as did Han, Luke, Leia, and their rogue’s gallery of robots and creatures. In Finn, Rey, BB-8, and Poe Dameron the most vital and difficult task the sequels have is accomplished in spades. These are not only fun and likable heroes to follow, but ones who we’ve only scratched the surface of. They are cast well, they leave The Force Awakens with many questions to be answered, and they have unique identities. Unfortunately, it makes the wait for Episode VIII that much more painful.
Here’s hoping I didn’t spoil anything. In the coming months we are going to dig much, much deeper.