The Force Awakens (Part 1 & 2)- The Story Geeks Dig Deeper

The first Star Wars film in 10 years! THE FORCE AWAKENS!
Is it “derivative?” Is derivative a bad thing? Can you really be “seduced by the light?” And what’s with Kylo asking Darth Vader to “show me again…the power of the darkness?” Daryl and Jay are joined by Shannon McCarter from Network 1901! Hear The Story Geeks dig deeper into THE FORCE AWAKENS!

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Ashley’s Take

Where does this film rank in your list of Star Wars films?

Right now “The Force Awakens” is at #5 on my personal ranking of Star Wars films, behind “The Empire Strikes Back” at #1, “The Last Jedi” at #2, “Return of the Jedi” at #3, and “Rogue One” at #4. Fairly or not, it seems like “The Force Awakens” is always getting compared to “A New Hope,” and I used to feel a little guilty about ranking “The Force Awakens” above one of the films in the original Star Wars trilogy. Still, while it’s important to respect the roots of a franchise as beloved as Star Wars, just because something is “older” or “original” doesn’t mean that geeks should feel pressured to always prefer that. You like what you like, and liking something “newer” doesn’t mean you’ve somehow “betrayed” the franchise. Although I have a feeling “Empire” will always be my #1, I’m not ashamed of the fact that three of the new Disney Star Wars films are in my Star Wars top 5! 😉

There’s a 30-year gap between “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens” — 30 years after the death of Darth Vader and the presumed death of Emperor Palpatine. And yet, in “The Force Awakens,” we’re shown another period of unrest. This time, it’s no longer the Empire and the Rebellion, it’s the First Order and the Resistance. On top of that, some of our characters have retreated back to their former selves. Han and Chewie are smuggling again, Luke has abandoned the world entirely, and Leia is the only one who bears any resemblance to her character at the close of “Return of the Jedi.” What do you think about this setup?

I have heard some complaints about “The Force Awakens,” in that we seem to be right back where we started with “A New Hope,” with an evil regime threatening to ignite conflict across the galaxy once again. Some fans have argued this makes the events/sacrifices of the original trilogy seem pointless; did all those Rebels give their lives for nothing?

However, to me the set-up for “The Force Awakens” feels true to life. Human history is a continuing cycle of conflict. Just like World War I led to World War II, which in turn led to the Cold War, it makes sense to me that the First Order would rise from the ashes of the Empire. Unfortunately, there are always going to be evil people fighting for power, and we can’t always stop bad things from happening. Still, it’s always worthwhile to keep fighting for what’s right. Luke redeeming his father and helping to end the Empire still mean something.

The Star Wars sequel trilogy so far has spent a lot of time reflecting on legacy, and what it means to be a legend. I think “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” have shown us how Luke, Han, and Leia all felt pressured to become legends, while in reality they are flawed humans just like the rest of us. Yet they are very much still heroes, and they have a great legacy to pass on to the new generation of Star Wars characters.

“The Force Awakens” has been accused of being a complete remake of “A New Hope.” But, we’ve seen that Star Wars has cyclical arcs to it. Is “The Force Awakens” derivative, is it cyclical, or is there something else going on?

I see “The Force Awakens” as another chapter in a cyclical story, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. It has echoes of “A New Hope,” but “The Phantom Menace” does too, for that matter (i.e. journeying to a desert planet, a young person who dreams of escaping to other parts of the galaxy, the death of a mentor, and so on).

Sure, maybe it would have been nice if “The Force Awakens” had ended with something besides yet another Death Star, but there’s plenty of new material in this movie that prevents it from feeling like a cheap remake of “A New Hope.” Rey has a few parallels to Luke but is a completely different character (a contrast we see even more in “The Last Jedi”). Kylo Ren wants to be Darth Vader but isn’t Darth Vader. Poe Dameron is a Han Solo type character in some ways but is also very much his own person.

The Star Wars franchise is cyclical, and I don’t mind that because real-life history is cyclical. We see people follow some of the same patterns (and make the same mistakes) throughout time. That’s why Star Wars speaks to so many fans, I think; even though it has this imaginary setting, the story also feels authentic and familiar. And I feel like J.J. Abrams did a great job taking us back to that world.

Characters are often defined by their wants and needs. In regards to our new characters, I wanted to get each of your takes on what these new characters are all about based on their wants and needs. We’ll go one at a time…

What’s Rey’s want? Her need?

Rey wants her family to come back so she’s no longer alone on Jakku. She desperately clings to the hope that they will return, even though I think deep down she knows they’re never coming back. What she needs is a family and sense of belonging…though that doesn’t necessarily have to come from her biological family. She looks up to Han and Leia as mentors, and Finn becomes a good friend. In a way, the Resistance is her new family.

What’s Finn’s want? His need?

Finn really just wants to get away from the First Order — and once he’s escaped, he wants to keep running. However, once he has escaped, his need is similar to Rey’s. He needs a family and a place to belong, and he also needs a purpose. He doesn’t fully buy into the Resistance as his new purpose until the end of “The Last Jedi,” though.

What’s Poe’s want? His need?

Drawing just from “The Force Awakens,” I’d have a bit harder time nailing down what Poe’s wants and needs are. I feel like we just get hints of his character in “The Force Awakens.” But once you bring in “The Last Jedi,” I’d say Poe’s biggest “want” is to be a leader. He likes to take chances and call the shots, although he learns that he also has to deal with the consequences of his actions as a leader. What Poe needs is to learn a little humility, and by the end of “The Last Jedi,” his experiences have helped him to become a better leader.

What’s Kylo’s want? His need?

I don’t know if Kylo really knows what he wants. He *thinks* he wants unlimited power, and control over the galaxy, but at the end of it, I don’t think he really wants to take Snoke’s place and be the new supreme leader. What he really wants — and needs — is to find peace and belonging. That’s why he’s so desperate to make a connection with Rey; he needs someone to understand him and value him.

Which of the new characters is your favorite, and why?

I also love Rey and Finn, but my favorite new character is Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, and, depending on how Episode IX plays out, he may become one of my all-time favorite Star Wars characters, period. The sequel trilogy so far has added some really interesting layers to this character. On the surface, he seems like an angsty Vader fanboy who can’t control his emotions. But the more we get to know him, the more we realize that he’s a broken young man in a terrible amount of pain.

Snoke has been poisoning his mind, preying on him and abusing him. His parents are galactic legends, and though I don’t believe Han and Leia were terrible parents, Kylo probably felt like he had to grow up to be a legend too and prove himself worthy of their legacy. And when he finds he can’t, he rejects that legacy and rebels against his past. He’s got this restless Force energy buried inside him, and maybe Luke wasn’t the best person to try to train him how to harness that without turning to the dark side.

Kylo has the odds stacked against him, and he has made some truly bad decisions. But there’s still some light flickering amongst the darkness, and I feel like he can still attain redemption (though there will probably be a high price to pay).

The three new lead characters on the Resistance side are female, Hispanic, and black… What sort of impact does that have?

As a female geek, I always appreciated Carrie Fisher’s performance as Leia. She’s a strong leader and fighter, and the other characters respect her for that. It’s important to have more female characters like this, and to have other diverse characters in leading roles. Our world is this amazingly diverse place, and our entertainment needs to reflect that. It’s important that all fans feel welcome in a franchise and can find characters they relate to. I’m glad that my favorite galaxy far, far away is becoming more diverse. Plus, Rey, Finn, and Poe are just awesome characters anyway!

Lor San Tekka tells Poe that, “Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in the Force.” And later, Maz tells Rey and Finn that she’s seen multiple forms of evil, “The Sith, the Empire, and now the First Order.” And that, by definition, creates a distinction between good and evil. What are the storytellers, from George Lucas to Gareth Edwards to J.J. Abrams, telling us is good and what are they telling us is evil?

I actually feel that sometimes the Jedi have been part of the problem in the galaxy — and Luke actually calls them out for that in “The Last Jedi.” That’s probably another discussion for another time, though, and in its purest, most uncorrupted form, I believe the Jedi religion really is all about doing what is good and helping others. The Sith, along with the Empire and later the First Order, may not see themselves as evil, but their leaders are selfish and misguided, and they don’t really care about compassion, empathy, or helping others.

At the most basic level, “good” is helping others and putting others’ needs before your own. “Evil” is choosing not to care about anyone else but yourself and hurting others to get what you want. Throughout the Star Wars franchise, we’ve seen a constant struggle between good and evil, but good always wins. It reminds us that those who choose to follow the evil path may win some battles in the short term, but it’s never worth it in the end.

What drove Palpatine, Vader, and the Empire? What’s driving Snoke, Kylo, Hux, and the First Order? Is it the same thing?

At a basic level, yes, they’re all driven by the same motivation: power and control. They all want to rule the galaxy and reshape it in their image. However, the First Order strikes me as more overtly radical and less patient than the Empire (Palpatine spent a looong time building up to his take-over of the Republic and kept his Sith allegiances quiet). Snoke wants to be like Palpatine, I think, but he’s not quite there; perhaps his need to rely on larger-than-life projections of himself indicates he’s more of a smoke-and-mirrors show.

Similarly, Kylo sees himself as the reincarnation of Vader, but deep down he isn’t. Which actually leads to the next question…

Three part question… (1) Kylo Ren wants to finish what Darth Vader started. How would you define what Darth Vader started? (2) Why is Kylo “seduced by the light”? What’s happening there? And (3) What do you think Vader — if it was truly Vader showing him anything and not a trick of Snoke’s — showed him to feed this desire for “order”?

Kylo could mean several things by “finishing what Darth Vader started.” Does he want to finish the work Darth Vader and Palpatine started together, bringing the galaxy under the control of the Empire? Or does he want to recruit Rey to help him strike down his master, similar to Vader’s attempt to recruit Luke to help him destroy the Emperor? After seeing “The Last Jedi,” I’m more inclined to go with the latter. Kylo is desperate for power and respect, because he thinks that will release him from his inner turmoil (although deep down he probably already knows it won’t).

Kylo wants to see himself as fully committed to the dark side and the heir apparent to Darth Vader, but he keeps feeling the pull to the light. The Ben Solo side of him just won’t die. Despite what he may say, he isn’t fully lost, and I think the Force is trying to bring him back into balance.

I don’t think Vader is trying to push Kylo to the dark side; I think that’s a trick of Snoke’s. In “Return of the Jedi,” we saw that Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker eventually returned to the light, and if Anakin could reach Kylo I believe he’d try to help Kylo be redeemed (please, please, please let there be an Anakin Force ghost in Episode IX!).

“The Force Awakens” has a lot to say about belonging and being a part of something greater than yourself. And it shows how that feeling can lead us to good and/or evil choices. What do you think it is about loneliness and belonging that have such a powerful impact on us?

All of us have felt lonely at one time or another. When you feel like you don’t belong, it chips away at your self-confidence and the joy you find in life. We all want to feel like we’re a part of something and that we have a higher purpose. However, it’s important that the groups we seek to be a part of aren’t toxic and that the “higher purpose” that we crave is a worthy one.

Many of the characters in “The Force Awakens” experience loneliness and feel a need to belong, which is what makes them relatable. For some, like Rey, that loneliness leads her to form friendships with other characters like Han and Finn, and she does discover a worthy cause to fight for. However, in Kylo’s case, his loneliness drives him deeper into the dark side and causes him to make increasingly bad choices. He ends up pushing people away, only increasing his loneliness.

Do you think Kylo is more frightening with the mask on or off? And why?

There’s always something a little terrifying about a person in a mask, especially if you don’t know who the person is underneath. A mask dehumanizes its wearer and conceals their expressions and emotions, often making it impossible to guess what they’re thinking or feeling. This is precisely why Darth Vader was so scary in the original Star Wars trilogy; people didn’t know who or what he really was.

That’s the same effect Kylo is going for; he wants to be terrifying and mysterious, but all the mask does is cover up his pain. Which, interestingly, is pretty much the same thing Darth Vader’s mask was actually doing. Kylo is using his mask to play a role he’s not fully committed to; Ben Solo isn’t completely gone, and his struggle with the light and dark sides of the Force continues.

I find it intriguing that Kylo actually takes off his mask for Rey. Even though he might not admit it, I think he wants her to know that he’s still human, and he desperately needs someone, anyone to care about him.

This new trilogy kicks off another round of discussing George Lucas’ spiritual framework that makes up the Force. Why do you think the Force — and even bigger than that, spiritual conversations as a whole — remains relevant?

Fans have been fascinated by the Force ever since the first Star Wars movie came out 40 years ago. We’re intrigued by its powerful and mysterious nature…which is probably why many fans reacted negatively to the introduction of midichlorians in “The Phantom Menace.” They took away too much of the sense of mystery and wonder surrounding the Force. I think that’s partly why I’m such a fan of the sequel trilogy so far; the new movies have done a good job making the Force seem mysterious again.

As a person of faith, I believe people are fascinated by concepts like “the Force” because we were created with a desire to seek out a higher power beyond ourselves. We long to understand more about the universe and why we are here. I feel that Star Wars really resonates with fans because it inspires them to be curious and start seeking out answers to their questions about the universe.

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