Saturday, December 26, 2015

TFA Review 2: That Which Came Before

This blog is about the Prequel Trilogy after all, and it would be impossible to ignore how The Force Awakens relates to the immediately preceding movies. Onward through spoilers!

I’d be surprised if you weren’t exposed to this amount of analysis before TFA came out, but it usually came in the form of “Will these movies disappoint us as much as the Prequels did?” “Will my heart be broken again?”, and second from the top of JJ Abrams’ mind - after “how can I live up to the original” - must have been “how do I avoid the epic pitfall of the Prequels?” He probably thought about this question every day for the past two to three years.

By and large of course, he avoided the Prequels. There’s nothing in Episode 7 of Star Wars that builds on or resolves issues raised in Episode 1. It’s a largely stand-alone movie with only fan service references to the Original Trilogy and almost zero direct references to the Prequels*. He avoided them as an object, because he was trying to avoid being like them so strenuously.

This culminated in the the most destructive scene of the movie: when the new Death Star was revealed and annihilates several planets. These new Alderaans aren’t just random planets allied with the rebels, but are specifically listed as the REPUBLIC (caps in opening scroll). The Nazi-style orator denounces them as the Republic, and in particular denounces the Senate that they will destroy. Who gives a fuck about the Senate, how has this come up at all in this movie so far? But the Senate was one of the most derided pieces of the Prequels (politics zzzzz), and now they have pointedly blown it up. They might as well have said “And we will destroy one especially annoying Gungan too!”

This isn’t necessarily bad.

The greatest moral fear at the end of Return of the Jedi is that the rebels will simply reincorporate the Republic, and start the cycle all over again. The Empire becomes the Republic becomes the Empire. As Obi-Wan says “[You two] form a symbiont circle. What happens to one of
you will affect the other. You must understand this.” The Prequels are achronological sequels to the Original Trilogy, and show what takes place after them as well as before. And we can see from the opening scroll that, yep, Leia and Mon Mothma immediately went about creating the Republic again. Can we ever escape this cycle?

“Yes!” says JJ Abrams, and he blows up a giant referent the Republic. The cycle is officially off the wheels. Now we will see what the Resistance is, with no Republic to stand for.

(Blowing them up is okay. The Prequels aren’t bad movies about a good thing. They are good movies about a bad thing, and it’s healthy awareness to want to be done with that bad thing.)

This also answers the question of “Where was the backstory? What happened between Episode 6 and Episode 7?” Episodes 1, 2, and 3 did.

A Republic was created. It got lazy and corrupt and ignored the Dark Side that pervaded it. This allowed a cynical politician to take power. At the same time, an insecure boy with lots o’ midichlorians became the unhealthy focus of the Jedi, and under pressure he broke and betrayed them for the Dark Side. The remaining “good guys” scattered to hidden holes of the galaxy to plot their comeback. That is what happened after Return of the Jedi.

It’s also interesting to deep-dive into the specific decision to destroy the Republic. Supposedly it is a confederation of planets that the First Order is at war with? And yet, the Supreme Leader decides to use his Starkiller weapon to completely wipe them out not as the culmination of his strategy but… because they might help the Resistance decode a map to one Jedi, Luke Skywalker. That would probably redefine “overkill” by several orders of magnitude.

But thematically this makes sense. Luke represents the magic of the Originals, which everyone wants back. In order to get that magic, you must wipe away your memory of the Prequels. And the Prequels - with midichlorians and the Senate and a thousand monk-imitating Jedis - represent rote knowledge that tries to replace true understanding.


*Okay, the other referent is Kylo Ren, who resembles Anakin Skywalker to a very large degree. His character is some really weird mix of Anakin, Luke, and Darth Vader. But we can talk more about him later.

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