I finally saw The Force Awakens yesterday, and I’m still digesting my thoughts about the film. Star Wars is such a heavy, cumbersome cultural entity (and I don’t mean that in a bad way) that it can be hard to simply have fun watching a film – even one so dedicated to being fun as this one- without multiple screenings.
I clearly remember talking with my friends about the film excitedly, trying to pick apart the possible themes and twists that the new trilogy would possibly have in store. We were particularly interested in the themes of cycles in Star Wars, partially the cycle of “dark side unbalances the Force, then balance is reestablished,” but also larger thematic and political cycles. Throughout most of the Expanded Universe the stories of Star Wars have largely dealt with conflicts between large, militarized, totalitarian forces and democratized, modernized forces. Now, most of the EU is no longer canon – but I have the feeling that this formula is likely to keep being used, at least within the “old republic” history of the Star Wars universe, but what about the future that has yet to be written? In The Force Awakens we see these familiar forces facing off again, but both are juvenile – beginning to take their first steps. In the prequel trilogy we see the forces at work that plunge the galaxy into an age of darkness, with the original trilogy establishing a “New Hope,” as it were, in Luke and Leia. But even with the Empire destroyed this conflict isn’t over, so where will it go? Will it cycle back to the beginning? Or will the cycle be broken?
Perhaps this is the fulfillment of the Old Testament of the Star Wars universe, ushering in a new age – both diegetically and extradiegetically, in the story and the structure of the films. While the latest film is good, and its threaded many promising narratives, it suffers a bit from trying too hard to ride on the nostalgia of previous films. Its strongest moments, in my opinion, are when J J Abrams uses his own style while still staying true to the heroic narrative. In the future I hope other directors (and audiences) will be more comfortable with stylizing the films to fit this new Universe and its new stories.