Post by Nathan Blake
I have decided, in covering the biggest movie of the year, to take a break from writing out and out reviews in order to analyze a key question of the Star Wars saga and provide my theory as to where this latest trilogy is going.
*This post contains plot points for The Force Awakens.*
This is perhaps a foolish undertaking, as all of this could be proven wrong in 17 months when Episode VIII hits theaters. Regardless, there are some unanswered questions that have plagued this series ever since the original trilogy which intensified in the prequels and may finally be reaching their peak in this latest installment, The Force Awakens.
I will focus on one of those questions: what it means to bring balance to the force.
While I found Episode VII to be among the series’ best entries in terms of characters, effects and even plot, the degree to which it replicates much of A New Hope and, in some ways, The Phantom Menace, seem to imply that we are going to see a lot more of the same, but perhaps with one major twist in the conclusion, that may take this series past the binary of good vs. evil and make film history even as it mirrors the history of belief systems in our world.
To begin, it is important to review some parallels between the first two trilogies of the Star Wars saga. Episode I and Episode IV begin with the force, and the galaxy, in imbalance. While the trade disagreement in Episode I seems petty compared to the ongoing battle between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance at the beginning of Episode IV, both conflicts have far reaching effects on politics, business and liberty throughout the many systems that comprise this fictional universe.
At the end of each of the first two trilogies, the imbalance has been made worse. Yes, I am talking about the end of Episode VI. The dark side has been, supposedly, defeated. The light has prevailed and is apparently dominant. The film seems to imply that balance has been restored to the force, with Luke being the only living Jedi left in the galaxy and the Sith now wiped out. But hold on. This is in contrast with and yet a similar conclusion to Episode III, in which the imbalance was tilted in the other direction. Most of the Jedi have been murdered. Only two currently survive, not counting infants Luke and Leia, who are years away from being able to use the powers they have been born with. The interpretation that the second trilogy ends with the force just as much out of whack as when Anakin turned to the dark side is made all the more plausible within the first five minutes of The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren, while never referred to as a Sith, is a Jedi who betrayed the light side and is now number two in command of the First Order, which grew out of the remnants of the Empire.
Clearly, balance has yet to be brought to the force. But if having the dark side in control is not the way, nor is having the light side run everything, what would truly bring balance? What does this all powerful force want? Is it as simple (and yet, as difficult to attain) as co-existence between the dark and the light? Are the two never meant to be in balance? Certainly, the latter conclusion would serve Disney well, as they could go on making these movies (as they probably will anyway) until a Death Star, asteroid or some other tragedy causes this world to explode like Alderran. But balance may in fact be more complex than co-existence between light and dark, or light prevailing for good. It may be that the force itself is just fine, but those who claim to believe in it have some learning left to do.
One could look at the repetition in this franchise as a metaphor for the many decades, sometimes centuries, it takes for people to change their minds and figure things out. Another parallel between Episodes I, IV and VII is the discovery of a new “hope” by a master or veteran of some sort. In Episode I, it is Qui-Gon Jinn who discovers Anakin, whom he believes will fulfill the prophecy of bringing balance to the Force. In Episode IV, Old Ben Kenobi reveals to Luke that he is the offspring of a Jedi and may be the last hope for defeating the Empire and bringing this oft spoke of balance back to the Force. And now, Episode VII includes Han Solo meeting up with both Finn and Rey. Both have potential to become great warriors. Han fills the role of Qui-Gon and Old Ben in this film, in which he is the wise old one who waxes philosophical about the Force. And just like in Episodes I and IV, the wise old guardian is killed shortly after imparting his wisdom to the nubes. Yet there is a key difference: Han Solo is not a Jedi Knight. He has come to believe in the Force, and his offspring is strong with the Force, which we know is because Kylo Ren has Skywalker blood in him, passed on from his mother Leia. But a few key scenes have raised questions from fans and possibly point to an unraveling of this idea of being born “strong with the Force.”
As far as we know at this point, neither Finn nor Rey are Skywalker offspring. It is possible in Rey’s case that this may not be the case. A memory or flashback that occurs when she touches the Skywalker lightsaber shows that she was left behind by someone? Who? Her mother? Was her mother perhaps the wife/girlfriend of Luke? But the Jedi are not allowed to have romantic relationships, and we’ve seen what this did to Anakin in the prequel trilogy. This also explains why Leia is not a Jedi in the new film. She must have loved Han Solo enough to turn away from the Jedi religion so she could marry and have a child. Nothing in The Force Awakens implies that the old Jedi codes about marriage and childbearing have changed. But even if Rey is somehow the offspring of a Jedi, and that explains how her skills with a lightsaber are better than Finn’s, she still has not had much training. Both Luke and Anakin had at least some training before using the weapon in battle, yet Rey is pretty successful in her first duel with Kylo Ren despite not having any formal training.
Finn, a Stormtrooper who has had training mostly with a blaster, also proves adept at using a lightsaber, at least for a while. It is the first time in any of the films we see an untrained non-robot character grab and utilize a lightsaber in battle, though Han briefly used one in Episode V to cut open the tauntaun. Yet all throughout The Force Awakens, it is the ordinary, un-prophesized characters who commit the most heroic acts. They are aware of the idea of the Force, but have had less training in it than any of the other characters from past films. They possess a strong morality with helps them go far, but there seems to be something else helping them demonstrate incredible acts, whether it is in how they pilot the Millennium Falcon or fight with a lightsaber for the first time. It’s almost as if the formal training sanctioned by the Jedi council is irrelevant. Maybe that is the point.
In the prequels, part of Anakin’s problem is that he was cocky and power hungry. The Anakin Skywalker of Attack of the Clones is a whiny, self-absorbed and greedy brat in contrast to the kind little Annie we meet in The Phantom Menace. Maybe that’s what 10 years of being told you are the chosen one and your (ugh) midi-chlorians count is off the charts will do to your ego. Maybe, unintentionally, the Jedi council’s prophecy instilled a sense of entitlement and “all-powerfulness” in Anakin that led to his downfall. They also made it worse by forbidding him to be involved in romantic relationships, a rule that seems really stupid when Anakin later is redeemed from the dark side by the child he and his lover created.
In the ellipsis between Episode VI and Episode VII, we do not know how Luke trained Ren and that Jedi knights that were once again betrayed. We do not yet know if Luke taught the newest batch of Jedi knights in accordance with the long dismantled Jedi Council. But he was trained by Obi-Wan and Yoda, who until they died believed in the light side over the dark side and remained celibate bachelors (as far as we know) until their last breath. If Luke’s training methods relied on the same old idea that some people are born with a special talent for using the Force, then his techniques suffer from the same flaws that led to the downfall of Anakin, which could explain why Han and Leia’s son betrayed the Jedi.
So what is the awakening? The skills displayed by Finn and Rey, as well as the importance placed on Han Solo as the wise old leader, may suggest an erosion in the idea of chosen ones or those born with special abilities. Throughout history, many religions have taught the idea that there were special people, endowed by a god or gods with special abilities, chosen leaders that explain the faith to others; people given the responsibility to save others or cast out the wickedness. But as time has gone by, the influence these religions have throughout much of the world has begun to erode, even if it hasn’t disappeared. Perhaps the awakening in the latest Star Wars trilogy will be akin to an enlightenment, in which the much of the religious structure of the Jedi and Sith begin to be replaced with ideas that knowledge of and education in these skills is what matters. Maybe everyone is equally touched by the Force, and they just need instruction. The balance so many have spoken of may not have to do with the Force itself, but with how living beings interpret its meaning and function. This would make a lot of sense considering how everything the Jedi council has prophesized for generations turns out to be wrong.
It is hard to know what Abrams, Johnson, Trevorrow, Kasdan and Kennedy have planned for the series. The theory I have explored here is just that; my theory. It is based on my interpretations of the films only. I do not know much of the expanded universe, but it does seem that this latest film borrows from it somewhat while working to create its own vision. If this latest trilogy turns out to be nothing more than good vs. evil, with Jedi once again defeating Sith (or the dark side, since Sith hasn’t been used yet), then it will be predictable and somewhat disappointing and repetitive. I believe that is potentially the most likely route that this series will take, though I hope I am wrong. I say it is most likely because the theory I have outlined here would make it harder to create sequels beyond Episode IX. If the dark side and light reach a conclusion that the skills and ideals on both sides have merit, and that the religious teachings that emphasize spiritual exceptionalism were misguided and create a thirst for power, it could end much conflict and lead to a more stable galaxy. But order would mean less conflict for further sequels. Most audiences are probably not interested in a series titled Star Peace. Therefore, the true threat to a balance in the force may be Walt Disney Pictures.
One other problem with this plot trajectory is how much it would anger many of the series’ more religious fans. A lot of people see the light side as a metaphor for their God, and the dark side as embodying sin, Satan, the devil or whatever character their particular religious text points to as a living manifestation of evil. Having the series conclude with the realization that it is the religious teaching of the Force, living beings’ interpretation of higher powers, which is in itself the problem, would be quite distressing for some viewers. But part of me is convinced this may be the risk the powers behind this new trilogy are taking. The evidence is there so far. I guess we’ll find out either way in 2017 and 2019.