The internet is full of impressive amounts of very important news today, as per usual – Joe Biden’s “will he or won’t he” crescendo is reaching its apex, Canada elected its Obama, the CIA director’s personal email account was hacked, Gilmore Girls is coming back… but there is nothing, NOTHING, more important than Star Wars, so today let’s talk about the new trailer for The Force Awakens, less than two months away from release, which dropped during an edition of Monday Night Football featuring frequent Manningface. You have already seen it, so watch it again. And prepare for some analysis that will probably result in vast overinterpretation.
What is incredibly refreshing about this Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, the first to really reveal anything about the storyline of the film, is that it rejects the core narrative assumption of the entire original trilogy and the prequels – that is, the assumption of the viewer that this is a story about the Skywalker family drama, within the context of the broader battle over the Galactic future and the dying old ways of cockamamie religious beliefs (Gretchen, stop trying to make midichlorians happen, it’s not going to happen) – as an entirely false frame of what really matters.
The internet comment threads are filled with frustrated confusion about this. How can people forget about the Jedi a mere thirty years after they orchestrated the collapse of the Empire? Did they all get their minds wiped? Is J.J. Abrams going to have some malarkey excuse to do a retcon again (even though it kinda worked with Star Trek)?
Comments like these betray the core false assumption adopted by all too many Star Wars fans.
The Galaxy Doesn’t Care About You
Here is the thing you need to understand: No one cares about the Skywalkers. The vast people and species spread out across the universe did not see the story you saw. They do not know or care to know their story – not the Faustian bargain of the father, not the death of the mother, not the betrayal by the mentor, not the grudging acceptance of destiny and fate of the twins, and certainly not anything at all about the reluctance to “hold me like you did by the lake on Naboo.”
Rey, the main female character of this new film – who is pretty clearly a Skywalker herself – echoes the reluctance of Luke in A New Hope, her “Who are you?” “I’m no one.” insistence as she is told that the Force, the singular connective energy of the universe that began with Time, is calling out to her. How very special for you.
This is the problem with thinking every story is about you. The universe has forgotten the Jedi, forgotten the Dark Side, forgotten the old stories – because they were not important. What do such minor family dramas matter in the grand scheme of things?
Only you think of yourself as the protagonist of reality. The galaxy does not care about you.
The Sith Mission Is Larger Than Us All
This is illustrated in the new baddies’ dedicated commitment to carry on Lord Vader’s mission after his death. It reframes the entire post-Death Star expression of the Empire, reconstituted into the First Order. As Daniel Drezner notes:
Kylo Ren’s ominous pledge in the trailer, ‘I will finish what you started,’ as he caresses the charred helmet of Darth Vader is pretty disturbing. It suggests that the Rebels failed at advertising Vader’s abandonment of the Dark Side in the last minutes of his life, allowing later generations to inappropriately valorize a Sith Lord. This is somewhat less surprising: after all, Luke could not have produced any observable, verifiable evidence of Vader’s last-minute conversion to the light. So this narrative was bound to surface. Still, Mon Mothma and the Rebel leadership should have anticipated and planned for this contingency.
Imagine the troopers in the far-flung outposts of the Galactic Empire, an institution designed to bring order and law to a lawless galaxy – an entity built on the political and military assumption that those with the power to do so should not stand idly by as the universe descends toward chaos, but will instead intervene, at times brutally, to bring civilization to the uncivilized.
If you have no idea that Vader turned, that he carried out a final act of redemptive courage in the face of destructive evil, what do you think happened on the second Death Star? You basically think the Rebel Alliance, a group of anarchist terrorists led by believers in an inhuman cult, destroyed the lives of millions, murdered your supreme emperor, and to add insult to injury, defiled Darth Vader’s corpse. It’s like Pearl Harbor II, and this time they killed FDR too.
It’s basically like this scene from Robot Chicken come to life.
In the face of such calamity, would the Galactic Empire, a supremely powerful organization spanning systems and planets of countless millions, guided by the Sith belief that those with the capacity of vision and the ability to lead have a duty to do so, and to make the hard choices about the destiny of the universe, simply disappear? Of course not. The Sith understand that the arc of history is long, and it bends toward barbarism and chaos – and that those who understand this and have the capacity to change that arc have a duty to do so in the interests of order, for the benefit of all creatures. They should not merely sit around in monkish robes intoning about balance, controlling passions, refusing to intervene, watching history happen with the dispassion of an ascetic.
For the Sith, the setback at Endor would not destroy them. They would be more inspired than ever to crush the rebellion and its little destructive furry moppets.
Order vs. Chaos, Baby
This is a topical frame, but probably not in a bad way – nothing on the level of George Lucas’s clumsy attempts at relevance to the Bush era political conversation. Instead, you could understand the revived Sith and their authoritarian aims in context as an expression of galactic Putinism in an era of anarchy. The rebellious fools with their ancient weapons and bizarre belief systems slaughtered soldiers and smashed the state to make another misguided attempt to let the universe spin according to their ideals of “democracy” — and all it did was send the universe once again spinning toward the desolation it will always have absent the assertion of order at the end of a blaster.
So it’s early yet. But I’m not exaggerating when I say: it’s possible J.J. Abrams finally made Jonathan V. Last’s Star Wars movie. The Empire is back, baby, and it’s going to show these hippies who’s boss.