If you are not reading the Catholic Wannabe Critic's blog, I highly recommend it. He as an affinity for pop culture and how it intersects with our Catholic faith. I have particularly enjoyed his insights on Catholicism and video gaming.
Recently, he wrote an article titled "Where Disney's Star Wars Went Wrong." I highly recommend clicking the link and reading the entire thing. It is well worth the read.
However I felt compelled to write a response.
Essentially, his critique of The Force Awakens comes down to two things:
1. It is retread of A New Hope
2. It treads over the ending of Return of the Jedi.
Regarding the first point, I have little area of disagreement. This is also one my biggest areas of contention with this chapter in the Saga.
My only defense of this is the fact that Star Wars works on repeated actions and themes. Anakin's journey and Luke's journey have several repeated beats. As Lucas himself said, "It's like poetry, the stanza's repeat." Anakin, Luke, and Rey are young children rescued from a desert planet to a life of adventure against cosmic forces. This is not surprising and should even be expected. However the Starkiller is so much like the Death Star that it may as well be the Death Star 3.0.
Regarding the second point, I have a bit more to say.
I completely understand the point of losing the happy ending of Return of the Jedi. With the great stories, we want to hold on to that happy ending. To continue on with the adventure means that there are new challenges to face. But this can often be at the expense of the previous story. All of the gains from the last adventure appear wiped out.
Examples of this can be found throughout several franchises. Alien 3 ruins ending of Aliens. Rocky V is like a wet blanket on Rocky IV. Ted 2 threw out all of the character growth from the original.
My favorite comic book series of all time ends with the final page of the hero driving away from his home city to live a quite life of retirement as an artist with his soon-to-be-wife and children. He has not been seen or heard from since in the comic book universe and I am happy for that. He deserves to ride into the sunset and live happily ever after.
But if the adventure is to go on, there must be new troubles.
A perennial canard about the great serialized stories like comic books is that the heroes must fight to prevent the world from falling into an eternal darkness. But if they win, it is only a temporary things until the next crisis.
And that is also the case with Star Wars. There is no final victory for the heroes, only a moment of peace earned.
Catholic Wannabe Critic says that with the rise of the First Order and Snoke, the victory over the Sith appears pointless. If the Force went into balance how did it fall out of balance so quickly?
I think the way to understand this is by understanding the generational choice.
The heroes of the Original Trilogy inherited a mess caused by their parents. They fought hard to undo their mistakes. But the challenge of holding on to that victory for the next generation is a whole different ball game.
Think about the greatest generation. They defeated the Nazis and the tyrannical Japanese Empire, freeing the world from the growing cancer of global fascism. And their children turned into the hippies.
What the hell happened?
There is an old saying, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
Peace can be won. But it is much harder to keep.
The reason why it feels like the heroes only buy time against an ever encroaching darkness is because that is the reality of life.
Human beings have the power to reign down utter destruction on ourselves. But even the best of us can only offer hope with no guarantees. All we can ever leave the next generation is a chance. Even Jesus' saving work is ultimately a free invitation. The choice is still up to us.
And as long as we live in this world, we have to fight a never-ending battle against that darkness. Once we think that this evil is forever vanquished, it merely slowly and subtly worms its malevolent fingers on our souls.
Parents of children understand this. They can do everything right and still find their kids susceptible to the darkness.
As a teacher I take the victories when I can, but I know that I have to keep fighting, to keep pushing forward.
The generation of the Original Trilogy won the victory and gave their children a chance. Han and Leia gave Ben the chance to be a Jedi. He chose to embrace the Dark Side.
When Rey holds out the lightsaber to Luke at the end is it plea for help? Is it an accusation against his abandonment? Is it a call to reclaim his role in the fight? Probably all of them. But the older generation can't always be the heroes of the story. They have to teach the young ones how to be their own heroes.
And the generation after Rey, Kylo, and Finn will also have to choose what to do with the world they inherited.
It's okay that the happy ending does not happen in this world. As long as we have breath, our part in the story goes on.
And that isn't to say that there isn't a happy ending waiting for our heroes.
But that only happens when their story ends. Anakin comes to peace as he stands there in his ethereal glory with the departed Obi-Wan and Yoda.
Until then, the great story continues and the next generation must make its choice: stand with the light or fall into darkness.