Piiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiissssssed off, that is the feeling I have walking out of The Force Awakens.
Sadly, the news I was so excited about three years ago regarding the new Star Wars film is tragic—the worst of what I feared might happen, did. Taken by itself, The Force Awakens is a very good movie, the acting is good, the special effects everything that you’d expect, the directing, the writing all very good—then there’s the music by John Williams—upper level wonder. Unfortunately for Disney, Star Wars is much more than one movie now and Disney did exactly the wrong thing. Like rumored, they abandoned the Expanded Universe and they killed off Han Solo in the first movie of a three-part trilogy which was my favorite character. While on the business side I can understand why they did—Harrison Ford was 73 at the start of The Force Awakens, so it’s not a bad idea to start planting the seeds for future characters. However, killing off Solo without having the context of the greater story developed over the last two decades is extremely problematic for the Star Wars franchise. Here’s why.
About 15 years ago a super Star Wars fan was talking to me about the novels that came out every few months and wondered why I wasn’t reading them. I explained that if the books didn’t come straight from the mind of George Lucas that I didn’t consider them part of the Star Wars canon. However, the novels leaned very much on the character of Han Solo and his marriage to Princess Leia and their three children Jaina Jacen and Anakin. So figured I’d give the books a try. I had tried the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn and couldn’t accept it, but decided to try again with Vector Prime. It was a great book—although Chewbacca died—and I was hooked. I have since read most of the Expanded Universe novels which have greatly over-shadowed the original movies in sheer content and emotional story arcs.
I thought there was a whale of a story developing at the end of Apocalypse involving The Abeloth and that The Force Awakens would be about that massive galactic conflict—which would have been great. Disney could have given the hard-core Star Wars fans what they wanted while giving a new generation of fans what they wanted. The old characters could have faded out leaving the new very strong character of Jaina Solo to have filled the boots of her father nicely—and that would have been appropriate. Everyone could have had what they wanted out of Star Wars. But that’s not what Disney did with the help of J.J. Abrams, and Kathleen Kennedy. They thought they knew better than all the minds who had been guiding the Star Wars stories through three decades of New York Times best sellers so they screwed with the story with a progressive agenda which was the worst of my fears.
If they had stayed with the Expanded Universe storyline, they could have still had a Latino lead character, a black character and a strong female lead to reach all their target demographics. But they did more than that—they weakened Han Solo considerably and made him a self-sacrificial parent who threw himself on the sword of Kylo Ren at the end. He and his marriage to Leia obviously went bad and the kids were damaged leading to his son (Ben) turning to evil. Suddenly the very strong characters of the Expanded Universe were modernized into dysfunctional parents who had screwed up their children and felt guilty about it. At the end of The Force Awakens, “General Leia” is alone with no signs of family—except the daughter Rey to find out who she truly is. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of The Force Awakens—in the novels the son of Han, Jacen falls to the dark side over many books and his intentions were always good. Han stayed with his wife for many years and they had a pretty good family life. Han was always a rock solid person in those stories giving Star Wars geeks the father figure they didn’t have in real life—and it worked well in a mythological way. The daughter Jaina was the new light of the next generation—The Sword of the Jedi.
J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan essentially took the big themes of the novels and retold the story of Jacen’s fall to the dark side moving around the names of the characters and having him confront his sister—in an epic lightsaber battle. Knowing all that felt cheap to me. It took Star Wars from an epic pinnacle of the highest mythological order and dumbed it down to be simply another Avengers movie. It was fun to look at, but the content was certainly watered down from the types of bold stories that were told in the novels. I will probably see future Star Wars movies just to see what they do and how they look—like I would a superhero type of film—the many times the Batman story has been told, or Spiderman—even Superman. But with Star Wars, Disney had a unique opportunity to build on a massive story arc, and they screwed it up—rehashing the old by putting their own stamp on it in a way that did a disservice to the fans who helped carry the franchise for so long with their loyal support. Clearly the emphasis by Disney and Kathleen Kennedy was to weaken the original characters from the bold embodiments of their youth into guilt driven losers in the future—which might make them relatable to a larger audience who feels the same anxieties. Of course they had to plant the seeds of an interracial romance—which felt forced—and was distracting. Han returned to his days as a smuggler instead of the reliable family man that he was in the books. Luke was in hiding feeling guilt for creating Kylo Ren though his failure in teaching future Jedi—which in the books Luke had built an entirely new Jedi Order. In the books all the lead characters were strong and determined personalities who had suffered through unimaginable sorrows, but were still people a reader could lean on and trust to do the right thing in the end. In The Force Awakens it is obvious that the all the old characters were flawed, especially Han Solo. This was obviously a conscious choice to make him more relatable to the modern viewing audience instead of just trusting the story the way it had evolved over the years with great success.
There has been an effort from The Alliance to Save the Star Wars Legends Expanded Universe shown at the link below to save the storyline of these movie from just this kind of misery. But, Disney didn’t listen and they’ll pay for that. The Force Awakens will make a lot of money, but it won’t be as much as they could have made. They just handed the next generation a bunch of loser characters not quite sure of themselves putting an emphasis on progressive values instead of American traditional ones. The Force Awakens is about sacrifice and the greater good whereas a theme which always ran through the original trilogy was individualism and following a personal bliss. Han Solo as the individual always had the answers to save the Luke and Leias of the galaxy from their altruistic tendencies. In The Force Awakens it is Han Solo that needs saving from his guilt over failing their son in ways that aren’t yet shown. Essentially the decision to turn Han Solo from an Ayn Rand type of character into a Shakespearian tragedy was meant to erase his lineage of strength into something modern audiences could identify with.
The result for me, and I’m sure many others, is that I completely reject these new stories by Disney. I just came out of seeing a premier showing before it opened officially on December 18th 2015 and my sorted emotions tell me that this story in The Force Awakens is not real. I can’t accept it as cannon. It’s actually pretty stupid. It represents another case of activist filmmakers trying to plant progressive Huffington Post values into a very traditional American story for the sake of unifying the world around common values. To do that they dumbed down the American influences of individuality, and created a much more “inclusive” universe that was the obvious intent they had in making the film. People like Arianna Huffington will love this new Star Wars. John Wayne would have hated it.
I can deal with the death of my favorite character. What I have a problem with is weakening their presence out of a desire to appeal to a weakened society—where movies are made by committee rather than by strong individuals. The Force Awakens obviously understands that few people have intact families these days and that people can’t relate to the type of strength that Han Solo projected which has carried the franchise quite frankly for forty years. They made a conscious decision to weaken Solo—hand over the Millennium Falcon to a “girl” (his daughter) and reflect the values of the present global community instead of the values of the story itself. They cheapened Star Wars in ways that will be very costly in the years to come. So while the movie was beautiful to look at and had many elements that are respectable on the surface, the underlining message was feeble and a tremendous disservice to the fans who have stuck with the story religiously all these years. Star Wars had a chance to be above modern politics, but the filmmakers failed to carry it to those lofty heights. Instead, they surrendered to the currents of modernism—and the movie shows it desperately. The movie felt to me like a fake and something to reject—which is not what Disney wanted, I’m sure. Forever for me, and many like me, there will always be the Expanded Universe where Han didn’t leave his wife and fail his children with some “force bending” scheme of time to save his daughter from the wrath of her brother, Han’s failed son—and the Jedi master Luke who lost his pupil to the dark side. I’m sure there is a story of redemption in the next episodes, but by then—who cares. Disney already screwed up the story with renamed characters and repeated themes which were already told in the novels years ago. And in that respect, The Force Awakens fails in every way that it never intended.
The prequels were a LOT better.
Rich “Cliffhanger” Hoffman