The Force Awakens: J. J. Abrams’s Love Letter to Star Wars Fans

Just in case you haven’t heard, Star Wars is back.

And it’s the good Star Wars. It’s the Rebellion-and-the-Empire Star Wars. It’s the everything-is-a-little-gritty Star Wars. It’s the Han-shot-first Star Wars. (Okay, so Han doesn’t mention shooting first, but I’d like to believe it’s implied.)

Thirty or so years after the rebels blew up that second Death Star, the fireworks are over and freedom proved to be more difficult to win than everyone thought. The Empire’s gone, but the First Order has risen to take its place. The Rebellion has rebranded itself as “The Resistance,” resisting the First Order’s threat to freedom.

Thirty years later, though it’s not quite the same story. The Resistance looks a little dingier. Some of those ships are really in need of a hosing. But the real difference on the light side is that old heroes pass the torch to a new generation of x-wing pilots, light-sabreurs, and droids. These young folks talk a little faster and manage to carry their tragedies with a little less grimness. The original trilogy was laced with generous amounts of humor, much of it due to Harrison Ford, but thanks to these young kids, and again Harrison Ford, The Force Awakens is the funniest Star Wars movie yet.

The First Order, on the other hand, seems even more sinister than the Empire was. Abrams uses striking visuals that mimic Nazi rallies to achieve this. Leni Riefenstahl herself could have filmed one particular scene. Even though the First Order shares the Empire’s sartorial aesthetic, it isn’t your daddy’s Empire. The First Order is shockingly young. It’s almost as if their supreme leader filled its ranks with disaffected young people who never experienced the Empire’s tyranny—young people who think that freedom is a threat to order and safety. Is Abrams making a political statement about how quickly the next generation forgets the atrocities of the past?

Speaking of atrocities of the past, Abrams lets us know that it’s okay to forget all about episodes one, two, and three.

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J. J. Abrams has written one long love letter to fans of the original trilogy, reassuring us that the dark days of the prequels have passed, raising expectations of great things to come.

Though things are somewhat different in the galaxy after thirty years, it’s not really an exaggeration to say that every single scene in this movie pays homage to something from the original trilogy. In fact, The Force Awakens contains so many elements from the original trilogy that in the hands of a less able director the movie would have felt derivative and stale. It’s to Abrams’s credit that he keeps the movie rooted in old imagery while maintaining a sense of freshness.

I think he took this approach to the film in order to reassure fans as to which Star Wars universe this new trilogy takes place in—the original, not the prequels— but I’m hoping that the next installment will move in a more creative direction now that we’ve figured out where we are.


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