There are spoilers below. I’m trying to minimize them. You’ve been warned. Remember that many Bothans died to protect you from this information, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want it spoiled, please stop reading.
The $238 million domestic and $517 million worldwide box office for Star Wars: The Force Awakens are just the beginning of a haul that will mean a lot of smiles at the next Disney shareholders’ meeting. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a very good movie, but I think it’s even better than you think.
First, Peter Suderman at Vox calls it “a prime example of Hollywood’s nostalgia problem” and writes that “(t)he movie proves why sequels should expand worlds instead of just revisiting them.” Tyler Cowen writes
Meh. The first hour was a drag, as dozens of classic Star Wars memes were repeated in derivative and mostly uninteresting fashion.
Patience, masters Jedi.
First, they’re expanding the world with the spinoff “anthology” movies, the first of which (Rogue One) arrives next December. Second, the critics are right that it’s basically the same story as Episode IV, but there are subtle differences that are, I suspect, central to the overall arc of the new trilogy.
Specifically, my interpretation of the new trilogy hinges on Maz Kanata’s words to Rey after she finds (SPOILER ALERT) Luke’s lightsaber. Maz has seen all this before:
the Sith, the Empire, and now the First Order. In this light, the similarities (which are coupled with subtle differences) between The Force Awakens and especially A New Hope make a lot more sense–and therefore, I don’t think it’s an example of modern decadence, as Ross Douthat would have us believe. Here are a few thoughts:
Luke couldn’t wait to get off his desert home world of Tatooine because he wants to go find something. Rey doesn’t want to leave her desert home world of Jakku because she’s waiting for someone to return.
Luke and Rey know there’s something big going on in the galaxy, and it’s something they’re not (yet) a part of. Luke to R2-D2 and C3PO: “you know of the rebellion against the Empire?!” Rey to Finn: “I’ve never met a resistance fighter before!”
Han Solo doesn’t want to join the fight but is redeemed by the end of the movie. Finn just wants to get away from the First Order but is redeemed a bit earlier (and I think a lot of the complications Tyler Cowen wants in Finn’s character will be revealed in the next movie). My only worry about Finn is one that has been expressed on Twitter numerous times: when he shoots at something, he hits it, and that leaves me wary of his stormtrooper bona fides.
The Empire tries to crush the rebellion and rule the Galaxy with a giant gun in A New Hope and an even bigger gun in Return of the Jedi. So naturally, the First Order seeks to bring order to the galaxy….
…by building a really big gun. But this isn’t just the size of a small moon: it’s built into a planet and can destroy entire systems, not just individual planets. The Starkiller looks like another metaphor for hubris.
Consider Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope: “Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.”
And this exchange between Luke and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi:
Luke: Your overconfidence is your weakness.The Emperor: Your faith in your friends is yours!
It looks like Vader was right: “The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.” It also looks like Luke was right: the Emperor’s overconfidence led to his downfall, and Luke’s faith in his friends was ultimately rewarded.
Finally, the similarities between the first acts of The Phantom Menace, A New Hope, and The Force Awakens make what I think is an important if unintentional point, and one that is in my mind reinforced by what Maz says about constant evil. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the lives led by Anakin, Luke, and Rey no matter who is in charge. What difference does it make to a slave, farmer, or scavenger in the Outer Rim if the galaxy is ruled by the Republic, the Empire, the new Republic, or the First Order? Would life on Tatooine or Jakku be fundamentally different had the emperor failed to overthrow the Republic or had the rebellion failed to overthrow the Empire? I’m not sure.
Some people are criticizing The Force Awakens because it looks like there is nothing new under the suns. When all is said and done, that might be the series’ most important message.