Star Wars: The Formula Re-Awakens

Warning: This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force AwakensIt’s no secret that the new Star Wars movie has already been immensely successful. It broke a bunch of records during opening weekend, and is poised to continue to do so for the rest of its theatrical run. The movie has already been reviewed dozens of times, yielding mostly positive results. So what is it about The Force Awakens that has everyone so excited?

The Force Awakens is a return to and a revamping of the formula that made the original trilogy instant classics. The clear cut battle of good vs. evil, light side vs. dark side, is just as clear as it was in the very beginning. The Empire have been reincarnated into the First Order, and the Resistance have taken the place of the Rebels. It is said that if we do not know our history we are bound to repeat it, and this is never more clear than it is in The Force Awakens. Many refer to the Jedi, the Force, and the events of the six previous films as stories and myths, questioning their truth (despite the fact that only thirty years have passed between episodes six and seven). Sure enough, the First Order have created a new, hyper-destructive space station, which is immediately compared to and shown to be much bigger than the Death Star. Of course, in the end the Resistance are able to destroy it, and we get our happy ending (for now).

If this sounds familiar, it should. The plot essentially mirrors that of A New Hope. Some might call this lazy writing, or an easy way to capitalize on new audiences who may not have seen the original films. But really, it’s just a return to the roots of the franchise. The Force Awakens signals the start of the next trilogy, but this trilogy is self aware. It knows that the prequels were, in many ways, a far cry from the story and characters that made Star Wars great. So it calls back to the story that made us all fall in love with Star Wars in the first place. It brings back Han and Chewie, in all of their scruffy glory. It brings back Princess/General Leia, who still loves Han but is still beyond taking his crap. It brings back the conflict between the dark side and the light, the struggles of families being torn apart, and, most importantly, it brings back the humor that was present in the original trilogy.

But The Force Awakens was clearly made for an audience in 2015. The biggest change here is the inclusion and depth given to women in the new film. Of course Leia was the resident female badass of the original trilogy, but even she was often times reduced to needing to be rescued or romantically pursued. In The Force Awakens, she and Han Solo have separated and she has gotten herself a promotion, rising to the rank of general and heading the entire Resistance. She is tough and will do anything she can to destroy the First Order, but still has human vulnerabilities, made clear in her conversations with Han and desperation to repair her relationship with their lost son, the infamous Kylo Ren.

Most importantly, The Force Awakens introduces Rey, an orphaned junk collector, living on the desert world of Jakku. Rey embodies many of the traits that made the original trio great: Han’s daring, Luke’s kindness, and Leia’s take-no-crap attitude. For this, many have accused her of being a “Mary-Sue”, a character too perfect to possibly exist.

Yet multitalented characters like Rey are nothing new in the Star Wars universe. After all, how many things on that list are outside of the grasp of Han Solo? Anything Han couldn’t do was surely covered by Luke or Leia, with plenty of overlap in their abilities. But what makes Rey special isn’t necessarily that she can shoot a blaster or fly a spaceship. It’s that none of these qualities exclusively define her. She isn’t just “The Mechanic” or “The Fighter” or “The Force User” or even “The New [Insert Member of Original Trio Here]”. She is a skilled young woman who got sucked into the battle between good and evil and is fighting it the best she can. She is not invulnerable. She is captured by the First Order and experiences utmost devastation when Han is killed by Kylo Ren. But Rey is allowed to be both emotional and powerful, something rare for women in film or television.

While little girls in the 80’s may have only had Princess Leia to look up to in the Star Wars franchise, little girls today can look up to General Leia, Rey, or any of the many female pilots and fighters shown throughout the film. There is no doubt in my mind that even more great female characters in the films to come. The Force Awakens may follow the plot formula that A New Hope set up in 1977, but the level of characterization that J. J. Abrams and his brought to the film’s female cast goes far deeper than any of the six preceding movies ever dared. The new trilogy may be bringing back Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, but it’s clear that this time around the women are the real heroes.

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