story, structure and trajectory:

A deep dive into The Force Awakens story, and its ramifications on the Star Wars saga.

After an agonizing wait, Star Wars: The Force Awakens finally entered cinemas in December, 2015. The seventh chapter of the Star Wars saga, pioneered by acclaimed and somewhat controversial auteur George Lucas with 1977’s Star Wars (later re-titled Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), was released to initially universal critical praise. However, somewhat reflecting the reception to 1999’s The Phantom Menace (the first in Lucas’ controversial Prequel Trilogy), a mass backlash soon hit TFA, particularly over the conceptual, thematic and story similarities with Lucas’ original trilogy, particularly A New Hope.

The purpose of this piece is to discuss the story and structure of both The Force Awakens, and the overall Star Wars saga, particularly in terms of structure, trajectory, story and plot.

You are now entering a spoiler zone for all 7 star wars films, including The Force Awakens. Proceed with caution.

Whilst Star Wars started as the little film that could, under George Lucas‘ watchful eye, it grew into a saga of six films, each piece of a carefully planned structure.

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Lucas as a filmmaker and writer could perhaps best be described as a cohesive, structured storyteller. He has little to no time for flashbacks, time-jumps or any break in storytelling, preferring to make each chapter cohesively explore a certain series of events from start to finish. Apparently, it’s poetry.

Whilst turning his initial breakout film into a saga, Lucas quickly established a structure that underlay the original trilogy, and quickly replicated this structure to underlay both the prequels, and the saga as a whole.

Let me break this down for you, not in release order, but in chronological order, in best to show you the underlying structure to the Star Wars saga.

 

THE PREQUELS.

  • Galaxy stability. The Republic has been in control for a thousand years, with the Jedi order in a position of power within the organisation. 
  • Suddenly, an opposing force with ties to the Sith order causes outlying damage to the organisation, bringing all parties into a massive war.
  • Over the three films, these wars damage and change all our characters and parties. Finally, the ruling government is forever changed at the end of the third film, with the ruling religious order (The Jedi) usurped by their opponents (The Sith). 
  • Our main characters who survive are set on trajectories: Obi-Wan to protect the son of his fallen friend, Yoda into exile, Anakin as a broken shell of himself, his only connection to the world being his new identity as the Sith Lord Darth Vader. 

What is interesting is the idea that the galaxy has largely been in a state of normality and consistently since the events of the destruction of the Sith Order (mythology introduced in Episode I). This is a crucial point when connecting it to the Original Trilogy.

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THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY.

  • Galaxy stability. Empire has been in control since the events of the last film, set 19 years before, with the Sith Lords holding power within the organisation.
  • Suddenly, an opposing force with ties to the Jedi order causes outlying damage to the organisation, bringing all parties into a massive war.
  • Our characters who have returned from Revenge of the Sith are true to their trajectories: Obi-wan is a hermit watching over Luke Skywalker, Yoda in exile, Vader an evil Sith Lord.
  • Over the three films, these wars damage and change all our characters and parties. Finally, the ruling government is forever changed at the end of the third film, with the ruling religious order (The Sith) usurped by their opponents (The Jedi). 
  • Our main characters  are set on trajectories: Luke as the last Jedi, his mission being to rebuild the order, Han as a rebellion general who has put his smuggling days behind him, and Leia embracing her ties with other people, rather than just her responsibilities to her leadership.

As you can see, underlying structure and trajectory play a huge role in the Star Wars saga. So, leading off of this idea, how should The Force Awakens have looked?

WHAT THE STRUCTURE AND TRAJECTORY OF THE STAR WARS SAGA, AND PARTICULARLY RETURN OF THE JEDI, SUGGEST THE FORCE AWAKENS SHOULD LOOK LIKE.

  • Galaxy stability. The Republic has been in control since the events of the Original Trilogy, with a rebuilt Jedi Order holding power with in the organisation.
  • Suddenly, an opposing force with ties to the Sith order causes outlying damage to the organisation, bringing all parties into a massive war.
  • Our characters who have returned from Return of the Jedi are true to their trajectories: Luke is a Jedi master, successfully rebuilding the Jedi Order and having ties to the government, Leia are married and have a family, Leia serving in the Republic as a senator, and Han as a Republic General.

Now, obviously, this isn’t the film we got with Episode VII.

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Writers JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt chose a different route, which can be traced back to a single event which alters the trajectory and course of the saga.

That event being, sometime between Episodes VI and VII, Ben Solo betrayed his family, destroying the rebuilt Jedi, once again leaving Luke as the last remaining Jedi. This event broke up his parents, resulting in them reverting back to their “A New Hope” selves.

THE FORCE AWAKENS.

  • Galaxy stability. The Republic has been in control since the events of the Original Trilogy, with –NO religious order– holding power with in the organisation.
  • Suddenly, an opposing force with ties to the Sith order causes outlying damage to the organisation, bringing all parties into a massive war.
  • Our characters who have returned from Return of the Jedi are false to their trajectories: Luke has reverted into a banished pariah, Leia and Han reverting back to who they were at the beginning of ‘A New Hope’: A rebel leader, and a two-bit smuggling criminal.

Clearly, there is a disconnect in The Force Awakens to the original 6 films. So, what happened?

Well, within fan circles, it is quite clear that the filmmakers behind the would-be Episode VII hold little love for Lucas’ prequel trilogy. A return, both visually and story-wise, to the Original Trilogy was always likely. According to Lucas, the filmmakers were interested in making a retro film, in the vein of the original film. A big point of contention in the Star Wars fan community is the closeness of TFA‘s narrative to Lucas‘ original film. Whilst some call it a homage, others angrily believe it to be borderline plagiarism. 

The decision to purge the Jedi order, again, reeks more of a desire to see the Jedi hold a place similar to the one they held in ANH rather that good storytelling.

Either way, the decision to skewer so closely to A New Hope’s structure and plot points clearly forced the filmmakers away from the Star Wars Saga trajectory structure.

 

why this conversation matters.

Let me ask you this. After seeing The Force Awakens, what has changed in the galaxy since A New Hope?

  • The Jedi order is decimated, with evil force-users having a larger grip on the galaxy.
  • An evil galactic force with a super weapon terrorize the galaxy.
  • A group of glorified freedom fighters are all that oppose them, using beat up old ships and hiding on a forest planet.

IT’S THE SAME DAMN THING.

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Now I haven’t touched on The Force Awakens as a film. I could discuss it’s similarities to A New Hope, it’s casting, in particular its use of characters and decision to replicate the look and technology of the Original trilogy without progressing it.

I would contend that, in skewering so close to the original Star Wars film, JJ Abrams have made a fundamental error with dire consequences for the Star Wars saga.

What is the point of Luke Skywalker, as a character? Why should we root for him? He literally has made no progress or headway for the Jedi Order since the original film. What was the point of all that struggle, all those wins and losses, if we’re at the same point as we were in A New Hope?

By bringing down the trajectories and victories achieved in Return of the Jedi off-screen before the events of the latest film, Abrams and co. have destroyed to the payoffs and purpose of the Original trilogy. The films is rendered meaningless: its events, victories, losses, all counting for nothing. We are led to believe that Luke will restore the Jedi, that this is what Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Luke fought and (except Luke) died for. Only for it to be rendered meaningless at the hands of a 15 year old emo, Kylo Ren. After seeing TFA, we realize that the Jedi order is in exactly the same, if not a slightly worse position than at the start of the original trilogy.

If you liked The Force Awakens, then cool. I’m glad for you. I didn’t. Hopefully Rian Johnson can make something that makes us both happy.

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