How The Force Awakens Can Still Work
Personally (as you may have guessed since this is my second successive post on the topic), I’m still struggling with The Force Awakens.
New Star Wars will always be exciting, no question – it’s the single-most-important cultural mythology of the last century. But knowing that I’m being fleeced as part of a deliberate and calculated marketing plan tempers my enthusiasm by incalculable degrees, especially when the new entry to the series is as underwhelming a sequel as The Force Awakens was. But then (and this is what Disney is counting on), it’s still Star Wars.
Today I came across a point of view that gave voice to my concerns and helped me to realign my feelings on Disney’s stewardship. Given that this is currently proving the single most divisive event across fandom, I thought it might be useful to share this take on the subject…
On theforce.net there’s an enlightening post by forum user Cryogenic on the lack of episode numbering in The Force Awakens marketing. You can find the full post here (it’s long but well worth a read), but the pertinent section is this:
The “saga” aspect of TFA was downplayed all the way through, from the announcement of the title, to the home video release(s). If you casually glance at the DVD case, for example, and even look hard, you won’t find a trace of TFA being the seventh of anything. The cover disregards the other films by not even mentioning TFA being another chapter; part of an ongoing story. This, in fact, is what is written on the back of the UK DVD:
“Visionary director J.J. Abrams brings to life the motion picture event of a generation. As Kylo Ren and the sinister First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire, Luke Skywalker is missing when the galaxy needs him most. It’s up to Rey, a desert scavenger, and Finn, a defecting Stormtrooper, to join forces with Han Solo and Chewbacca in a desperate search for the one hope of restoring peace to the galaxy.”
There is no episode numeral on the front, back, or on the spine. Nor is there a heading like “The legendary Star Wars saga continues…” (…) It’s as if Disney has committed a quiet genocide on the other movies, using the memory of the OT merely to parlay TFA to disgruntled fanboys, and the PT to model some of its narrative texture and cinematic hooks from (which it does in a more of a latent way compared to the overt copying-and-pasting from the OT). (…)
I’m left with the distinct impression, and I’m not the only one, that TFA is actually something of a reset for the series, and it’s the episode number, in TFA’s case, that is the red herring: more formality than actuality, an archaic honorific. No? Don’t forget, this is meant to be a trilogy of trilogies, when all is said and done. So why is there no hint of TFA’s standing in relation to the other six anywhere on the box? It’s a smart — read: crafty — rebranding that suggests a broader action strategy.
This lends credence to what I believed after first seeing The Force Awakens at a midnight screening back in December – Episode VII effectively doesn’t exist. The Force Awakens is a reboot, plain and simple.
And this reading works.
When agonizing over Luke Skywalker becoming a coward, on Han Solo regressing in character and becoming a dead-beat, on the existence of the Resistance and the First Order in light of Return of the Jedi, or even on trivial details such as the continued use of X-Wings or TIE Fighters some 30 years after their replacements were first in use, I was too hung up on the film as a continuation of the Lucas story. Take that responsibility away from Abrams’ film, however, and it all makes much more sense.
In this ‘brave new world’ of Star Wars we can postulate that the fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker played out differently and that Luke was less directly instrumental in saving his father – after all, why else would he be in hiding and not striving to redeem Kylo Ren? We can assume that Han Solo never had the character arc that we saw in the Original Trilogy and that he perhaps never even removed himself completely from the smuggling life. We can see with Rey’s sudden, amazing abilities that the Force works very differently to how it’s previously been established. There’s cause enough to suggest that Obi-Wan Kenobi was widely known as Ben, at the very least during any encounters he may have had with Han and Leia.
The actors may be the same, the character names the same, but this is undoubtedly a different Star Wars altogether – and viewing the film with that in mind makes it more palatable by tenfold.
All of this has led me to re-consider a purely speculative notion that I’ve had for a few years now: Disney will remake the original films (pithy comments about The Force Awakens aside) sooner rather than later. I think that within the next decade we will see animated versions of Episodes I-VI that will align perfectly with the new Disney continuity. And whilst we still have the original films to enjoy forever, I have no problem with seeing a version of The Empire Strikes Back where Leia doesn’t lay a smooch on her brother.
The total reboot theory gives Disney Star Wars the space it needs to develop into a successful operatic space fantasy in its own right. It lets us look at the Lucas saga as a complete whole (albeit with Clone Wars unfinished) and also affords us a point of comparison to re-judge what the man achieved – something that, as the Prequel generation grows older, is already starting to happen.
Most importantly of all, it would mean that Disney isn’t trashing the Original Trilogy in order to hawk Rebels (moar lightsabers!) or the new films (moar Empire!) because in this new timeline the events of the previous films as we know them simply didn’t happen.
The reboot theory may be an inconvenient truth for the Lucasfilm marketing department to divulge – after all, there are still a few thousand ageing, cash-rich Original Trilogy fans to exploit – but it certainly makes being a Star Wars fan in the age of film as product far, far easier.