So far, Disney has disappointingly blown their first chances of reinvigorating the Star Wars franchise on two homages to A New Hope, The Force Awakens and Rogue One. Don’t get me wrong, A New Hope is one of my favorite movies, but as Scott Renshaw tweeted: “We don’t need another love letter to original STAR WARS. It sometimes feels like the entire last 40 years of movies has been that.”
What I don’t like about Rogue One is that it’s trying to replace A New Hope‘s place as the beginning of the Original Trilogy—heck, the beginning of the whole saga if you watch it in the Machete Order, and what I don’t like about The Force Awakens is that it’s trying to be so much like the Original Trilogy that it copies it with only a few shuffled beats, but I didn’t realize how exactly that makes The Force Awakens problematic until now.
It’s not that The Force Awakens is an unwatchable movie; the new cast is dramatically compelling, and it has a couple of great lightsaber fights (“Traitor!”). With that, the other fundamental problem is that it’s a cliffhanging first act that I won’t be able to fully judge until the last two acts come out.
I can understand why Disney retreaded familiar territory; many audiences were alienated by the drastic differentness of the Prequels. However, the Prequels’ failure was more in their incompetent execution than in their ideas, but Disney decided on competent safeness over competent differentness to launch their era of Star Wars. That actually gives me a greater appreciation for the Prequels’ singular if flawed creative vision.
But there’s a bigger problem to the The Force Awakens retreading A New Hope than just “I’ve seen it all before”, and that is, by retreading A New Hope, The Force Awakens makes the Rebellion’s ultimate victory in the Original Trilogy worthless. Thirty years later, there’s still an evil empire, there’s still a rebellion, the Jedi are still myths, there’s another laser-firing, planet-sized super weapon… Heck, Darth Vader’s return to the Light is made meaningless by the villainous Kylo Ren’s idolizing of Vader.
Sure, The Force Awakens feels like the Original Trilogy, but it wouldn’t have replicated that spirit without subverting the Originals’ ending. But the Original Trilogy doesn’t stay with us just because it’s fun; it stays with us because it’s about the redemption of the ultimate villain, and the Prequel Trilogy, to its credit, brings even more meaning to this redemption by turning it into a fulfillment of a prophesy: the destruction of the Sith and the restoring of balance to the Force through the triumph of the Light.
If you don’t count the Prequels as canon, then it makes sense that the Dark Side-wielding Knights of Ren could come about. But Disney clearly accepts the Prequels as The Force Awakens features a brief voice cameo by Ewan McGregor’s Obi-Wan and Rogue One features the return of both Jimmy Smits’s Bale Organa and Mustafar. If the destruction of the Sith was so big a deal that it was foretold that it would bring balance to the Force, how could the Dark Side rise again?
There are at least two explanations as to how the Force can become unbalanced after Vader’s sacrifice: the prophesy has been proven false, or it hasn’t actually been fulfilled yet. With the latter explanation, Vader is a red herring; perhaps Rey’s an instant superhero because she turns out to the real Chosen One who will bring balance to the Force. That’s the only way this could make sense to me, yet it would further insult Vader’s redemption.
So, could Disney have continued the story of Star Wars while keeping the weight of Return of the Jedi‘s climax? Yes, but they would have to have embraced how the titular wars would never be the same after the destruction of the Sith. Since they couldn’t embrace that, then perhaps they should have left everything that happens after the Originals up in the air.
Of course, the Force, with its two sides, is a spiritual entity that can’t be predicted. But if Disney wanted to keep both Light Side users and Dark Side users while honoring the first two trilogies, how about instead focus on an even longer time ago in a galaxy far, far away, like the Old Republic? How about a trilogy that explains the origins of the Sith and who prophesied the Chosen One? Better yet, how about a re-release of the theatrical Originals to replace the Special Editions’ reign on store shelves?
Alas, the damage of Disney’s big-budget fan filmmaking is done. I don’t see how the rest of this Sequel Trilogy can redeem The Force Awakens‘s mistakes. There’s only one Star Wars trilogy that truly matters: the Original Trilogy. Even without the one or two ways the Prequels add to it—and I’m not pretending their interpretation of Anakin Skywalker isn’t an insult to it—, it’s still the quintessential modern fairy tale. The magic of the Originals may never be sincerely replicated, but the Force will always be with it.