Star Wars & Cyclical Storytelling

Watching people turn on The Force Awakens has been pretty interesting over the last few weeks. It was all breathless anticipation for a bit, giddiness when it was released, and then the backlash immediately started to make itself known within a few days.

In the interest of full disclosure, I loved it and will probably see it again before it leaves theaters. My faith in any project involving JJ Abrams has been reinforced with Adamatium – whether it’s the new Cloverfield movie (that somehow managed to stay under wraps this entire time) or something he dreamed up with a 6 year old kid over lunch. Doesn’t matter, I’m in. So feel free to begin sharpening up the knives if you wish.

The main complaint I’ve heard is that The Force Awakens is basically a reboot or re-telling of A New Hope (Episode 4). I feel this is misguided for two reasons…

#1 – It’s not like A New Hope was some incredible original idea that no one had ever had before, it’s the hero’s journey and coming of age. George Lucas was studying Joseph Campbell while writing Star Wars and was interested in the myths that are present in all cultures. Lucas was also basing the story and structure off the old serials he’d grown up with as a kid. Saying that TFA isn’t original is a gigantic “Duh!” moment because neither was ANH – it was a tried-and-true story structure and path that hundreds, if not thousands of authors have used throughout time.

#2 – It’s supposed to similar.

Okay, so the second point might seem a little simple, but stay with me for a moment… Star Wars is nothing if not cyclical. Luke learns the ways of the Force from a master Jedi and is then tempted by the Dark Side – the same way that his father was. Luke breaks the cycle and brings balance to the Force where his father succumbed to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader. In TFA, we’re catching another person learning the ways of Force, but the villain is at a slightly different place in his path. Rey is obviously strong in the Force and is able to use her powers by the end of the movie – Kylo Ren is still fighting with his final turn to the Dark Side. Instead of getting yet another bad guy who’s driven from the get-go, we have someone who is still somewhat on the fence and we get to see his final turn – a bit like the end of Revenge of the Sith.

Then there’s the little matter of Finn and who exactly he is and whether he’s on the path to becoming a Jedi as well. This adds in something new that hasn’t been present in either of the other trilogies – another Jedi beyond the master/student or hero/villain form that’s worked in the previous 6 movies. That’s a huge difference going forward.

As for the other criticisms, I don’t know what to tell you other than there’s some fans for whom nothing will ever be as good as the original trilogy. I can understand that since there’s a special place in my heart reserved for that summer when my parents got HBO and they were running Star Wars pretty much around the clock. But at some point, you have to admit that a lot of the criticisms are fairly petty and fall flat. At best, TFA is a solid to really good movie – at worst, it’s damn sight better than The Phantom Menace, which gives a some hope for this upcoming trilogy.

 

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