A Trilogy Awakens

The center of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is not visual effects (as exceptional as they are) but family dynamics. And that’s a good thing.

MPAA Rating: PG-13
USCCB Rating: A-II
Reel Rating: (4 out of 5 reels)

The Force Awakens may be the most anticipated film of the Millennial generation as proven by the insane number of internet plot theories that circled during the months prior. You can see my own predictions here (only one turned out to be true). Despite concerns and tensions arising from the distant memory of the prequels, it turns out we had nothing to fear. Even on its own, The Force Awakens is a thrilling popcorn treat; as part of the Star Wars saga, no one could have asked for much more.

I’ll try to keep hush about important secrets for those who’ve not yet seen the movie, but it’s near impossible to discuss it without spoiling something, so fair warning; those who wish to remain blissfully ignorant, read no further.

Some thirty years on, a new Republic has been established. The Empire remains in the form of the First Order, kept at bay by a group of fighters called the Resistance led by the now aging General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). Both groups are searching the galaxy for Luke Skywalker, who mysteriously vanished after one of his students, the sinister Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), destroyed the new Jedi Academy. The rogue pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) hides the information about Luke’s whereabouts in a droid, the adorable BB-8, who is rescued by scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) and ex-stormtropper Finn (John Boyega). They resolve to return the droid and help save the galaxy.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because this is also the plot line of A New Hope. So many elements were similar that my brother-in-law cynically labeled it a “reboot” of the original. My wife was even harsher, calling it a “shameless rehash.” I prefer the term “homage.” After three prequels (that hopefully will fade into a distant memory), director J.J. Abrams’ most important task was preserving what Star Wars stood for: sympathetic heroes, dastardly villains, adorable robots, funny lines, and the “golly-gee-this-is-cool” sensibility. Everything any fan could want is in place and in good proportion.

On a spiritual level Star Wars has always presented a pantheistic universe that operates in a cyclical manner as the light and dark sides of force balance each other out. This is perhaps the series’ greatest weakness as it undercuts the thrust toward goodness, sacrifice, and even holiness. The neo-monistic worldview is not too problematic for children, however, since good is shown to be clearly better than evil and always emerges victorious in the end.

Science educator Bill Nye recently described Star Wars as “Shakespearian”—an observation that struck me as especially true in this installment. The center of the film is not visual effects (as exceptional as they are) but family dynamics. The Force Awakens introduces several new branches of the Skywalker family tree, including a new plucky protagonist and a twisted antagonist, both of them deeply fascinating. The decisions made by each family member affects all the rest, and he consequences of selfish or selfless actions made many year before continue to ripple. It’s a potent reminder that every human being comes from a family and, even if their time is brief, their existence affects the universe forever. In an age where the endless cycle of violence is becoming more and more apparent, this fact provides both necessary caution and needed hope. No matter how lost someone may seem, the love of a father or a mother or a sibling can bring them back. It’s still a good idea, however, to have a lightsaber around—just in case.

It goes without saying that The Force Awakens is a glorious feast for the eyes and the ears, but it has the heart to match. It remains to be seen whether the next two can bring it full circle, certainly a promising start. As Han would say, “Great shot, kid! Don’t get cocky.”

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About Nick Olszyk 205 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online and listen to his podcast at "Catholic Cinema Crusade".

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