At the time of writing these show notes, the J. J. Abrams directed feature film Star Wars: The Force Awakens has shattered more records than you can shake a lightsaber at, including the fastest film to reach $500 million domestically and the fastest film to top $1 billion globally. Just 10 days after its general release, it is already in fifth place for the top grossing movies of all time. Let’s face it, there was no way we could get away with NOT giving the new Star Wars movie the Are-You-Just-Watching-treatment.
It’s tough to discuss this sweeping movie without spoilers, but the cultural subset of those interested in the film seem to have done a remarkable job keeping some fairly big reveals from the various media streams. One darkly humorous social media post quips, “This No-Star-Wars-Spoilers thing is the closest I’ve seen Americans work together since 9/11.” Interesting how much importance has been placed—and maintained—on not spoiling the experience for others.
The Force Awakens scoreis by none other than Star Wars veteran, John Williams, and he continues to bring a remarkable sense of action and awe to the franchise, blending new offerings with music traditional to the Star Wars universe.
At a rating of PG 13, the movie is nice and clean in regards to language and sexual content, but does have the Star Wars typical gratuitous amounts of science fiction action-violence. As always, we encourage you to head over to Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn movie review site and check their in-depth analysis of the family elements of the movie. The Force Awakens goes right where the three prequels left the reservation: VII returns to the character-centered and storytelling focus of the original trilogy where episodes I, II and III sacrificed story and character for the flash of CGI. This is a clear return to the roots, and J. J. Abrams does a great job with it. He also does an admirable job milking the presence of some of the original cast without going overboard.
May the Spoilers be With You
The overarching story was nearly identical to that of A New Hope. Not only does it closely follow the monomyth formula set forth in Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, but it makes use of many of the same story elements as the original movie. Aimless young adult on a desert planet comes across a wayward droid which happens to be carrying critical intelligence for forces in opposition to a Nazi-like imperial regime. Over the course of following where the breadcrumbs lead the young hero, a penchant for the supernatural is discovered and the first steps towards learning to use the mysterious power are taken. Along the way, a father figure/mentor is killed before the young hero’s eyes and said hero is galvanized toward defeating the seeming evil incarnate who struck down the mentor. Strangely. despite practically recycling much of the story, the creative team behind The Force Awakens managed to do it in such a way that we not only didn’t mind, but actually felt like we were reunited with an old friend.
If you want to check out the news story regarding the North Carolina Solar farm that we discuss in the episode, you can find it here. Lo and behold, the event has even garnered its own Snopes.com entry.
We also discuss the ownership and history of the lightsaber that Rey encounters in the lower levels of Maz Kanata’s establishment. As it turns out, the lightsaber here is the same lightsaber that makes its first appearance in Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. Presumably built by Anakin between the events of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, this is the same saber that Anakin uses to slaughter the children of the Jedi Temple. The significant thing here is that the last time viewers saw this specific lightsaber, it was spiraling off into a mine shaft on Bespin, along with Luke’s right hand, after Darth Vader severed it from his body. Maz tells Rey that the lightsaber’s journey is a story for another time, but you know it’s got to be interesting.
The heavy use of the parallels between The Force Awakens and A New Hope may actually be setting up the Jedi story as that of a cyclic history, suggesting that the story may be in how the events diverge from the cycle.
One of the recurring, and in my opinion, most interesting discussions regarding the nature of the Jedi and the Star Wars universe, is the question of whether or not the Jedi are actually the good guys. There are several articles that look at this in a fair amount of depth, but here is one to get you started. Clearly, though, the way that The First Order is portrayed (and the Empire, before that) is intended to evoke a universal revulsion associated with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party.
Even the wardrobe choices emphasize the stark world views of the opposing sides, with the First Order (once again, like the Empire before it) all in harsh blacks, whites and chromes, while the resistance is garbed in the much softer earth tones. In Episode III, Obi Wan tells Anakin, “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” The Sith may deal in absolutes, but it would appear they aren’t the only ones—their tailors seem to as well. This is illustrated as Finn sheds his Stormtrooper armor in favor of Po’s Rebellion jacket. Earlier even than that was the marking of Finn by the blood of his fallen comrade—an earth tone red ocher contaminating the perfect white of his Stormtrooper armor.
If Abrams and crew continue on the path of Campbell’s hero’s journey, it may well be that the original cast members—with almost 40 years audience’s emotional investment—will fill the roles that will lead to their death in furtherance of the protagonist(s) stories. Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens seems to speak to Han’s certainty that all hope is not lost for Ben a.k.a. Kylo Ren. This certainty of a father willing to give his life to grant his son a chance to redeem himself is paradoxically contrasting to the roguish smuggler who shot Greedo and ended up on the rather expansive bad side of Jabba the Hut. Was Han’s love for his son blinding him to the possibility of the patricide, or was it a willing sacrifice—an investment in the ongoing redemptive arc of Kylo Ren? [Correction: Leia was the one who voiced the line that there is still light in Kylo Ren, not Han Solo.]
Standing in contrast is the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren, alluded to in the dialog between Leia and Han. It suggests not only the importance of Han’s position as Ben’s father, but also may address the hermit-like aura that Luke emanates in the final scene of the movie. How did Ben’s fall to the dark side contribute to Luke’s disappearance? Perhaps more importantly, how has it contributed to his psyche?
The entire Star Wars universe is a deeply “spiritual” one, but not in any way that could reasonably be called Christian. Each entry in the series has served to reinforce the new age oneness of all things, even down to the existence and function of the Midichlorians. That is not to say that there are no parallels to be drawn—certainly, they can, but they are not intentional parallels. But like most of the fare coming out of the entertainment complex, it is up to the Christian viewer to assess what he or she sees through the lens of Scripture, applying critical Christian thought. Enjoy the movie! We certainly did! But remember to subjugate that experience to the understanding to which we are called; that of the sinful nature of man and the irresistible grace of our triune God.
As an interesting aside and trivia fact, the Stormtrooper that Rey convinces to release her was Stormtrooper JB-007, played by none other than James Bond himself, Daniel Craig.
One of the most persistent themes we noticed in The Force Awakens was the importance of the Truth. Ironically, Han Solo was the delivery mechanism for most of it. Not only is Han Solo the crafty smuggler and the sacrificing father, but he is also witness to the truth: the truth not only of the Jedi and the Dark Side, but also to the truth that women always see through lies. The truth is mentioned by Maz, when she gently chides Rey for not accepting that her family would not return for her; this seems to be a line specifically included to make the viewer wonder what Max does and does not know. As sons and daughters of God, we are witness to the ultimate Truth in this world of self-deceit: God’s Word is Truth.
The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. (Psalm 1[19:16]0)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
As with every movie of a large franchise, there more than a few Easter eggs hidden throughout the movie, some of which are genuinely hilarious (Space Balls fan, anyone?) If you’d like to be pointed in the direction of some of the more obvious ones, check this out.
Lastly, in case you are interested, the final scene of the movie is filmed on the absolutely gorgeous location off the coast of Ireland, on Skellig Michael. A desolate island, it housed a monastery from the 8th to the 12th centuries and looks just as natural in a scene from Star Wars as it does on a coastal cruise in Ireland.
Conclusion—The Time Machine
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is unoriginal in the best way possible. For those in generation X and before, it welcomes us back into world of the mysterious force and shares with us the story of discovery. We walk into the theater in the third, fourth or fifth decades, and walk out feeling, just a little bit, like the kid who was first wowed by lightsabers and wookies, Obi Wan and Darth Vader. The new trilogy has wiggled its way into our hearts. It’s important to remember, though—none of it compares to the reality of Christ and our need for His saving grace. The mythical FORCE can’t save us any more effectively than pretending we don’t need the saving in the first place. Our one and only hope lies with Christ.
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