As has been frequently pointed out, (with both admiration and disdain) “Star Wars: the Force Awakens” bears many strong similarities to the original three installments in George Lukas’s epic space saga. However, in at least one respect, J.J. Abrams’ galaxy far, far away differs crucially from that of Lukas, Kershner, and Marquand.
The original Star Wars trilogy is a classic tale of absolute good and pure evil, its metaphors for which—the Force and the Dark Side—are still among the culture’s most iconic. In The Force Awakens meanwhile, these forces still exist, but they are no longer the emphasis. The film’s only true embodiments of good and evil, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Any Serkis) are mostly off-screen presences, who bear heavily on the film’s action, but do not directly participate in it as Luke and Obi-Wan Kenobi, or Darth Vader and the Emperor ONCE did.
The film’s main protagonist, the resilient, strong-willed scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), seems at first blush like an obvious analogue for the young Luke. Like, him, she is young and restless and possessing of great, untapped potential. But where Luke was desperate to escape his isolated desert planet, Tatooine, Rey, though she is equally miserable, is determined (for reasons that are left mysterious) to remain on and then to return to hers, Jakku. From a New Hope on, Luke was driven with a singular purpose, to become a Jedi Knight and defeat the empire; in The Force Awakens, Rey is mostly driven to survive and, when necessary, help her friends. And fittingly, where Luke was guided along his journey by the moral sages, Obi-Wan and Yoda, Rey is taken under the wing of the quintessential morally ambiguous Star War character: Han Solo.
Perhaps the film’s most obvious attempt to blur the line between light and dark is Finn, a former Stormtrooper who defects from the First Order after being ordered to murder a group of defenseless villagers. He acts both selfishly and selflessly, he is not strong with the force but seems able to recognize those who are, and though he is little match for it, he is at least willing to stand up to the Dark Side.
Even the film’s villains are not without (some) ambiguity. While he also orders the destruction of an entire planet (and honestly, who hasn’t?), compared to steely-eyed Grand Moff Tarkin, Domhall Gleeson’s General Hux comes off more like a frightened child soldier than a heartless warlord. And of course, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the son of Han Solo and Princess Laya and Grandson of Darth Vader, is the film’s ultimate study in conflict. He is petulant and insecure; his mask is a mere artifice, not a second skin like Vader’s, a fact by which he seems deeply tortured. As such, his fate seems less certain than that of any previous Star Wars character: he may fall deeper into the Dark Side, or he may finally see the light, or, perhaps, something in between.
- Star Wars: the Force Awakens, dir. J.J. Abrams