Yes, I just saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yes, there WILL be some spoilers in this post. But opening weekend is now over, so I’ll risk it. I’m not posting them to ruin your movie, but this movie is absolutely worth talking about. I’ll even go so far as to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens could be the best movie of the generation.
Of course the score itself is iconic (who doesn’t love a John Williams score?). The acting is superb. Not only do the old actors bring back their characters with perfect delivery, the new additions to the story are well-written and well-performed. I understand there was some hullabaloo from racist fans about having a black Storm Trooper, but that’s ridiculous nonsense.
The story was perfect. J.J. Abrams has outdone himself. The story is a perfect blend of homage to the original trilogy while moving the story-line forward in a new direction. As a fan of the original three (but not so much Episodes I-III), I thought this new episode honored the original spirit and character of the first films and passed the torch to the new generation (an amazing feat J.J. Abrams also did with his Star Trek reboot).
But the biggest take-away I had from Star Wars: The Force Awakens went far beyond the story, acting, or special effects (which were pretty sick). For me the biggest take-away was the issue of identity.
Identity is a theme that plays from the beginning to the end of the film. Every character wrestles with the question: Who am I? This theme is even jokingly referenced when Han Solo comes face-to-face with C3P0. Han is speechless and C3P0 says, “You probably didn’t recognize me because of the red arm.” We never know why the droid has a red arm, but it’s a humorous way of pointing out the theme that will weave in and out of every character’s plot.
Let’s look at how identity plays out:
Kylo Ren – he’s the new villain, the new Darth Vader. But he’s never talked about as a Sith Lord. Instead he’s the leader of the Knights of Ren. But the audience is never clued in to who these mysterious knights are. Ren himself wrestles with the question of identity during a moment of prayer/introspection where he is talking out loud to the damaged helmet of Darth Vader. Ren confesses that he can feel the light calling out to him.
At the beginning of the film, Ren is talking to the leader of the Resistance who says that, even though The First Order (The Empire 2.0) comes from the Dark Side, Ren does not. Still, Kylo Ren wants to continue in the tradition of Vader, his grandfather, and asks Vader for the strength to continue in the power of the Dark Side of the Force.
Rey – The new heroine in the Star Wars saga. She’s a mystery. All we know is that she’s been abandoned without parents on a planet made up of a lot of sand (hmmm…kind of like a young Skywalker we knew in Episode IV). The Force is strong with her, and when she touches Luke Skywalker’s old lightsaber she has some stranger vision/revelation.
At the end of the film, Rey is left standing face-to-face with Luke Skywalker and holds out his lightsaber to him. Aaaaaand that’s when the credits roll. What?!? Wait, who is she? Is she Luke’s long-lost daughter? Is she some other connection? The “Who am I?” question fills Rey’s story is one that will continue through the next movie(s).
Finn – I like Finn a lot because he has a very real struggle with his “Who am I? question. He starts out the film as a Storm Trooper. When Kylo Ren orders his Troopers to kill an entire village, Finn freezes. He knows that the order is immoral, and he cannot carry it out. He then helps a Resistance pilot escape from The First Order because “it’s the right thing to do.”
This is one of the strongest identity stories in the film because Finn does a complete about face: he moves from being a foot soldier for the First Order to openly defying an evil organization and fighting to bring about its downfall.
Han Solo & General Leia – The first identity issue is clearly seen with Leia. Those who grew up with the original trilogy know that “Princess Leia” just seems like the right title. Now we can’t call her that – she’s a general in the Resistance. There are a few references to the “Princess” throughout the new movie, like when Han and Leia get into a fight and C3P0 looks at Han and declares, “Princesses!”
But the biggest element of their identity story comes out as they work through some of the issues of a relationship that is strained after dealing with the loss of their son, Ben Solo.
The loss of a child is a huge strain on marriages, and, unfortunately, many relationships are unable to cope with the loss and the couple ends up splitting. Such is the case with Han and Leia. Finally reuniting after a long separation, Han tells Leia that they all had to deal with it in their own way – so he went back to doing what he does best. Leia replies, “We both did.” Smuggler, rebellion leader, husband, father, back to smuggler. Princess, rebellion leader, wife, mother, back to noble leader fighting an evil regime. Their identities are in flux as their lives go through chaos (which is actually normal and very human). In a heart-wrenching scene when Han comes face-to-face with the lost son that tore his marriage apart, Han tells Ben, “Come home. We miss you!” His identity as father overrides all other identities and concerns.
The father/son identity has always been a strong motif in the Star Wars saga, and is in The Force Awakens just as much as it was in any of the others. It’s also one of the strongest motifs in the Bible.
In fact, the issue of identity is seen from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Identity is one of the eternal human quests. “Who am I?” is a deeply profound question every human wrestles with at some point.
- In the Garden of Eden, the serpent convinces Adam and Eve that they shouldn’t let God hold them back – that their identities could be more powerful if they chose their own path, if they were their own god.
- On the mountaintop, Moses asks the God in the burning bush, “Who should I tell the Israelites who sent me?” God’s answer, “Tell them, ‘I AM’ sent you.”
- When Jesus is baptized the heavens open up and God declares, “This is my son.”
- In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus characterizes God as a father who is distraught at losing a son and is willing to go to extreme measures to celebrate the lost son’s return.
See? Identity. It’s the question we all want answered. This is the reason why Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a tremendous story. It’s not about the effects or the acting or any of the other stuff (that DO, indeed, contribute to making it a terrific film).
This is a great film because it asks the question we all ask. Who am I? And how we answer that question determines our path—in this life AND the next.