Jedi that was, Jedi to Be – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Star Wars: The Force Awakens [Part II]

From the previous blog in this series:

The first big question with The Force Awakens was, for a fan like myself who liked it all, from Cloud City and Naboo to Tatooine and Gungans, if I would continue to love it now that Lucas wasn’t driving things.

The Preparation

During the “Journey to The Force Awakens,” I prepared myself for something all nerds thought was impossible after 2005: a continuation of The Adventures of Luke Skywalker.

I wondered if they could surprise me, as Lucas had surprised me with the prequels. (And to reiterate, it was a pleasant surprise, so don’t go on with your attempts at wit.)

I wondered what they would do to deepen the mythology I’d come to revere, and whether they were using the trove of notes from Lucas’ archives to shape this chapter.

After (many) years composing Star Wars apologia, things were distractingly open in direction and interpretation.

Ben Kenobi talks to Luke Skywalker on Dagobah in Star Wars Return of the Jedi.
“One last time: Owen wasn’t actually my brother. Ignore that part.”

The Mistake

As part of the months leading up to The Force Awakens, I re-read old Star Wars stories. I read new Star Wars stories. I conjectured about the what the trailers were showing. A fair number of my predictions were correct, but predicting that there will be a lot of running in a JJ Abrams film is like predicting that the sun will rise.

I was hopeful, but skeptical. When they announced that the “Expanded Universe” was discarded, something of which I had been a proponent for years, I rejoiced and applauded that they’d opened their possibilities back up for stories and characters.

When I saw “a third Death Star” in the release poster (later revealed on-screen as “Starkiller Base”), I openly registered my discomfort. I did a lot of this “on air,” appearing on both my own podcasts and others to offer thoughts on these things.

I cannot overstate how much I delved into things in the final months leading to the release of The Force Awakens. The core question I kept returning to was whether it would “elevate itself from entertainment to art,” as I think Lucas managed.

I recognize this now as a significant part of my baseline error. Inadvertently, I’d fallen into the same trap hard-core fans fell into in 1999. After spending time studying Star Wars History as if it were a college course, I was going to measure The Force Awakens against an unattainable standard.

It was going up against what I thought of Star Wars.

The Result

While watching the film, I didn’t watch it so much as observe it. I studied it. I treated it the way Lucas has come to treat his own work: as a sociological piece to be dissected and discussed as a treatise on Big Important Things. I watched it with a lot of friends, and the opinions ranged from enthusiastic embrace to…me.

I came out of it with a chip on my shoulder. I harped on the callbacks and what I thought were the clumsy attempts at humor. Me, someone who liked Jar Jar, was complaining about the humor. The irony was, in fact, lost on me.

We’ll come back to all of this later in the series.

The Next Level

After seeing the film, I spent nearly six hours debating it on various podcasts.

The blame is on me for this. But I don’t think any “nerd” can deny that the desire to Speak with Authority About Things skews our perspective. To be fair, I think that’s a condition common to most people nowadays.

He’s going to talk about the movie for more than six hours. You’re going to want this.

The ultimate moment of clarity, though, was to realize I had frozen my opinions of “what Star Wars was” in amber and wasn’t giving the film a fair shake. Once again, I made the exact same mistake that fans made in 1999, and what some repeated along with me in 2015.

The Reason

It’s been long cemented in the minds of die-hard fans that Star Wars is some sort of stellar apocrypha born full-formed within Lucas’ brain. Lucas turned, in his later years, very professorial. He was no longer just telling stories, he was acting as an instructor to his audience.

And being what I believe is a star student, one who loved even the classes others hated, worked to my disadvantage. I had to embrace what I was in college and challenge what my professor had taught. I had to, in the words of Yoda, unlearn what I had learned.

I had to come back to The Force Awakens understanding that no decision in a script is taken lightly, nor is it accidental. Given that, what was it trying to say both in its own context, and as a meta-work within the frame of Star Wars itself?

For a quick peek at some of those thoughts, I invite you to download and enjoy the commentary track for The Force Awakens in which I participated as part of Aggressive Negotiations on The Nerd Party network.

Up next: The Further Adventures of the Meta-Narrative.