Our generation has recently experienced something extraordinary—the revival, or rather, the awakening of “Star Wars,” a beloved franchise that has gone down in the books as one of the greatest series of all time. Now that “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” has been out for a little over a month, smashing records in the process, the dust has started to settle on how this film holds up to the others.
When “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” premiered in 2004, many fans—myself included—thought that this was the end of the story in that galaxy far, far away, leaving original director George Lucas’ lackluster prequels as our lasting impression of the universe. I am not necessarily one of those
In preparation for the film, I viewed the original trilogy beforehand to see Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher in the early days of “Star Wars” as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia Organa, respectively. Because of that, it was easy to see the similarities in plot points between the new movie and “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” and I was not the only one. Many have criticized the film for being a “rip-off” of the original film, or at the very least, too safe.
I won’t pretend that these accusations don’t hold merit. With Daisy Ridley’s Rey taking on the role of Luke Skywalker, and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo acting as an Obi-Wan Kenobi figure, there is no denying these similarities between films. However, I would argue that the film needed to be safe in order for it to be successful. What didn’t work in the prequels was its unfocused plotline and lack of action and character development. If director JJ Abrams had chosen to go down the path of total innovation, he would’ve risked these same problems in addition to alienating audiences who have grown up with “Star Wars” and remember it a certain way. The movie had impossible expectations to begin with, so the fact that it has become the third highest-grossing movie of all time and bolsters a 93 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is an enormous accomplishment.
This movie has awoken something truly remarkable in its release. “The Force Awakens” has arguably been discussed more than any other film, promoting theory-crafting, debates and countless other events. Furthermore, it advances movies as a platform for advancing diversity in the media. There has been a lot of controversy recently regarding the lack of representation in the Oscar nominations, prompting the Academy and the film industry itself to incorporate more diverse roles. Long before this debate began, however, “The Force Awakens” could hang its hat on its own casting. With the delightful Daisy Ridley leading the way as Rey, the franchise has created a strong female lead that gives both hope and a role model to young girls, proving the heroine is just as capable as the hero. In addition, the movie includes ex-stormtrooper Finn, played by black actor John Boyega, and pilot Poe Dameron, played by Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac. These two actors are fantastic in their roles, and through casting like this, “The Force Awakens” can promote more progressive ideas, which is something that has been lacking in the media lately.
In addition, the revitalization of the franchise resonates with the film industry’s more recent trends toward nostalgia. New reboots, remakes and continuations of franchises are being announced all the time, from the reimagining of “Ghostbusters” with female leads, to the release of “Mad Max: Fury Road” and speculation that “Labyrinth” will be made in lieu of David Bowie’s passing. This trend is not necessarily a good or bad thing, but it is undeniable regardless, and “The Force Awakens” emphasizes this trend. Seeing the actors from the original trilogy does so much more than mere “fan service.” In many ways, “The Force Awakens” is a stepping stone from the previous trilogies toward something greater. Seeing the movie reinvigorated my interest in “Star Wars,” as I know it has for many other fans. It balances nostalgia while opening the door to diversity, relevance and the belief that this galactic tale has so much more to offer us moving forward.