I know what you were thinking when you read the title: “Liz, you have got to be kidding.” Why would I joke about something this important?
I get that The Force Awakens was written to appeal to fans of the original trilogy. You don’t have to have seen the prequels to understand or enjoy this film. But what really bugs me is the mentality that some people have that “the prequels sucked and The Force Awakens is Star Wars being awesome again.” To me, Star Wars has always been awesome.
I’m not buying into Lucasfilm trying to appease the haters. But I am going along with The Force Awakens being the first installment of a new story for a new generation. True, they had to throwback to the original trilogy in terms of plot and visual style because for some reason otherwise people wouldn’t get on board with it. But the prequels are the foundation for the story that’s being told: there’s more to it that just the gimmicks. I’m just here to share my perspective and hope maybe you’ll gain something from reading this.
Star Wars, of course, is rich with visual parallels and repeats of thematic moments. There are some very notable callbacks, for instance, to Revenge of the Sith. The sequence with the destruction of the Hosnian system by Starkiller Base echoes the sheer brutality of Order 66. There has been a visual comparison of Anakin Force-choking Padme with Kylo Ren torturing Rey with the Force—in both scenes, they are extending their right arms. And I thought of one recently: the moment when Kylo Ren disembarks from his ship on Jakku parallels General Grievous landing on Utapauu.
Who here knows the true story?
I wouldn’t say that Luke and Leia went and figured out all the details about their parents’ backstory, but they know about Anakin’s path to the dark side and about the factors that led to his redemption, and they would have told Han. And I think that is why Leia believed that Ben had a chance to be saved.
Anakin Skywalker’s choices still have resounding consequences for the Skywalker Family and the Galaxy
Because Anakin turned to the Dark Side and joined Palpatine, the Empire stayed in power for twenty years. But because he destroyed the Emperor, the Empire was weakened politically and the galaxy was divided.
Here’s the thing: Anakin got married and had kids. And those kids played a big part in making the galaxy what it is today. Luke Skywalker is absent but he has a reputation. And Leia is in charge of the Resistance, leading the fight against the First Order, and, as I pointed out in my review for The Force Awakens, the Dark Side. So the consequences of Anakin’s choices, both good and bad, are playing out against each other.
Kylo Ren misinterpreted the true story
Luke’s version goes that Vader had compassion for his son and used that to destroy the Emperor. For some reason, Ben Solo didn’t buy it. He joined Snoke and the First Order because he thinks the Dark Side should rule the galaxy the way it did before and because he wants to destroy the Jedi once and for all. To Kylo Ren, all of the bad things Vader did were what made him great. Darth Vader is the reason he has the Force, so he thinks if he emulates Vader then he will become more powerful.
I will destroy the last of the Jedi. I will finish what you started.
The Family is the Center of the Story
That being said, why is Kylo Ren getting told to his face that he needs to stop denying his family? Considering that Ben turning to the Dark Side was what made Han and Leia break up, they probably didn’t have the most stable relationship to start with. Growing up in this environment and then being sent away, plus trying to deal with the Force, I don’t think Ben felt very secure about himself growing up. As Kylo Ren, he is itching to prove himself to Snoke and to do what it takes to be as powerful as possible, and he thinks that he can do so by destroying the people he loves. However, the opposite was true for Vader. Anakin chose the Dark Side because the Emperor falsely told him that the Dark Side held the power to save Padmé from dying in childbirth—he did it for his family, even though in the end he was tricked into hurting Padmé. Kylo Ren, however, saw the Dark Side as a way to reject his family and to get even with them.
The lesson about true power continues
Anakin Skywalker joined the Dark Side because he thought that the Force was the ultimate form of strength and the answer to all of his problems. But in the end, he chose compassion, acceptance, and love over the Dark Side and was motivated by love for someone else to destroy the Sith. He chose the light in spite of his own darkness. Kylo Ren knows this, and I think he is deliberately choosing to believe in the wrong thing to justify his actions. True power isn’t mass murder and holding grudges and acting out of hatred. True power is caring and selflessness and discipline. Kylo Ren, while powerful in the Force, is insecure about his abilities because he has rejected the truth.
The context of the political history of the galaxy
In The Force Awakens, there is a new Republic but there are remnants of the Empire that have coalesced into the First Order. People in the galaxy still think that the Empire had the right idea—in fact, they’ve improved on Palpatine’s model, and now they want to foist their superiority on the rest of the galaxy. And Kylo Ren sees subjugating the galaxy to Snoke as a path to strengthening his own power.
The Galaxy needs the Jedi to preserve freedom
The old man that Poe Dameron visits at the film’s opening, Lor San Tekka, states that nothing was ever right in the Galaxy unless the Jedi were there to serve and protect. Lor San Tekka strikes me as someone who has lived for a long time and who is in the confidence of Luke and Leia. The Jedi Order at the end of the Republic era wasn’t perfect, but they kept the peace by negotiating and by defending the people of the galaxy from those who sought power. The Emperor came to power because he and Vader destroyed most of the Jedi in the galaxy in one blow. Before the rise of Kylo Ren, Luke was trying to create a new Jedi Order, possibly with the same mission to keep the peace. Snoke and Kylo see Luke and any new Jedi that he trains as a threat.
The Foiled Hopes for a new Jedi Order
I do not know how much of the Order’s history Luke has been able to learn, but he probably knew enough that the Jedi that he trained would have to be different. I imagine that he would have been more lenient about his followers having relationships and being married, for instance, since it was having a family that had saved his father.
The obvious connection is the lightsaber that Maz Kanata had hiding in a chest in the crypt beneath her castle.
Obi-wan technically stole the lightsaber from Anakin on Mustafar, but I think it was a symbolic gesture. That lightsaber, in spite of Anakin’s heinous deeds, had still done a lot of good, and it represented the good person Anakin had been. Obi-wan took it as a reminder of his friend, symbolically taking away the last of Anakin’s goodness as that thing was burning behind him. And twenty years later he passed it on to Luke, hoping that Luke would remain true to the light and inherit his father’s role as a Jedi.
Kylo Ren wanted it, of course, because of the bad things Anakin had done with it. It should have been his, in his mind, because Anakin was his grandfather. But the lightsaber chose Rey instead. Leaving aside any questions of Rey’s heritage, I think it was the Force saying that Rey needed to stand up to Kylo Ren and to be an influence for good. With Rey returning it to Luke, it becomes a sign that his legacy and his father’s legacy will continue to have an impact on the events to come.