Joseph Campbell’s influence on the original Star Wars trilogy was palpable. George Lucas brought forward a cohesive and compelling narrative informed by Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey. The wisdom exemplified in the Jedi teachings resonates at a soul level. As such, the original trilogy wasn’t just an amazing space adventure with daring chase scenes and hugely impressive puppetry for its era. It was soul food. It helped the reader believe in deeper meaning and power.
Fans put off by the cheap dialogue, questionable plot, and excessive use of Jar-Jar Binks in the prequel trilogy were looking forward to The Force Awakens. Many of us have wished for a return to the legendary world we last saw in Luke’s poignant moment with the Force ghosts of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. But, regardless of the staggering box office numbers The Force Awakens has put up, fans looking to recapture the deep soul satisfaction of that moment with Luke – the completion of the hero’s journey and the power of redemption – will not find it here.
Unfortunately, similar to director J. J. Abrams’s treatment of Star Trek, The Force Awakens is little more than a visually impressive packaging over a cheap, derivative remix of familiar elements. Adorable, highly merchandisable beeping android? Check: BB-8. Scary evil guy in a mask with a modified voice? Check: Kylo Ren. Father-son conflict between good and evil? Check: Han and Ben. Terrifying destructive power in the hands of a well-organized evil? Check: the Starkiller Base. (It even looks like the Death Star. Just bigger.) Random person out in the middle of nowhere gets caught up into a huge battle between good and evil and discovers tremendous gifts? Check: Rey.
The most absurd remix of all is that Kylo Ren’s mask comes off and he turns out to be a whiny, uncontrolled emotional adolescent of a man who strives to be as evil and powerful as his idol, Darth Vader, yet expresses torment about being “tempted by the light”. It seems as though Abrams wanted to take the thread of Luke Skywalker going from whiny youth to wise Jedi, and follow a similar trajectory for Kylo Ren from whiny youth to evil overlord. In this, he seems to assume that the dark and light sides of the Force are interchangeable. But Luke’s journey to the light is one that resonates for us because it is part of our human evolution. Darkness is a temptation, rather than a call, because however attractive it may seem, we know on a soul level that it is not the right choice. Light is not a temptation, but clarity. In this understanding, Kylo Ren’s situation becomes preposterous.
Finn’s story, that of a stormtrooper who repudiates the First Order and joins the rebellion, could have been so much more than it was. How does a stormtrooper, cloned and trained to obey orders without question, evolve a conscience and the lateral thinking to escape? Where did these stirrings of conscience come from? Does he ever miss the life he knew? These elements would have made his story more powerful. Abrams had the opportunity to truly mine a narrative of evolution and redemption, but instead sends it up with cheap and safe dialogue, making Finn a shallow cowboy character.
There is so much creative potential for us to tap into in every moment, if we are open. More fresh ideas can come zipping through our minds and fingers than we can ever put into finished creative works. It is all out there in the ethers just waiting for us to co-create with it. Why then would anyone settle for remixing what has already been said, without improving on it?
When I first heard that George Lucas was bitter about no longer having a role or say in The Force Awakens, I was tempted to think “good riddance” given his handling of the prequels and re-issues of the original trilogy. Having seen the movie, though, I understand his bitterness. Under Abrams, the Star Wars universe has lost its soul.
Yet… in the final scene, Rey reaches Jedi-turned-hermit Luke Skywalker in his exile and holds out his lightsaber to him, summoning him back to the path. It resonates with the hero’s journey and gives me hope that Episode VIII could turn things around – especially since it appears that J. J. Abrams will not be producing or directing it. But I hope that Episode VIII’s new creative team takes a moment to go back and study Joseph Campbell.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and the Communications Manager for Kupid’s Play Records. In addition, she is the editor for Parvati’s forthcoming book “Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie”.