(This review contains just about every SPOILER imaginable for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens)
It’s been thirty years since we’ve visited the Star Wars Universe, and you could convince me that just about anything had happened in that galaxy far, far away in that amount of time — but not that nothing had happened.
The new Star Wars movie did a lot of things right, and there’s very little that was actually put on the screen that I found fault with. But as the movie went on, it was what was not shown, what was alluded to, that I found very unsatisfying.
This is what we find has occurred — or, not occurred. The Rebellion is now the Resistance — what it is that they resist, exactly, we don’t know. Progress, perhaps, because at the end of The Return of the Jedi not only have the Hitler and the Goebbles of the Imperial regime been killed, and the Death Star and Super Star Destroyer destroyed, but in the Special Edition, we see Stormtroopers being body-surfed off of high-rises, leading us to believe that the Imperial Government has completely collapsed, leaving it wide open for the new Alliance leadership to step into its place. But in thirty years, what do we find has been achieved?
Precious little, it turns out. There is no new government. The Han/Luke/Leia triumvirate hasn’t brought the peace to the galaxy which was inferred in ROTJ after all. Nor has the very strong cast of secondary characters: Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar, Wedge Antilles, and Lando Calrissian — all of whom also have strong leadership experience. These all have completely dropped off the radar.
And the original Big Three? How have they spent three decades? Well, Leia has been touring around with forty or fifty other guys in a kind of cut budget Rebel Alliance, using refurbished X-Wing fighters. She doesn’t have any express aims besides finding her brother, Luke, who apparently tried to set up a Jedi Academy. That didn’t work out so well it seems, one of his pupils went to the Dark Side so he got bummed and went to live on an island. He left his lightsaber in a box in the back of a bar somewhere (when I was a kid I thought that his lightsaber was the coolest thing in the world, but Luke felt differently apparently). He rather coyly left a map for anyone trying to find him, which makes less sense the more you think about it.
Leia and Han hooked up together long enough to have a son, but then they split up for some reason. Seeing them on screen together, you get the impression that they were both too cynical and facetious to make anything work. No wonder their son grew up to be so angry and alienated, he’s the only one with any sort of emotional depth in the entire galaxy. Han shares screen-time with both Leia and his son separately, but there are no words of love expressed, just low-level regret undercut by a lot of smirking, so he should have seen what was coming. He abandoned his wife and son to wheel and deal with Chewbacca and he thinks he’s going to make everything better with a grin and a handshake?
Essentially, every character we care about has regressed back to who they were before the original trilogy began. And this is what was disappointing to all of us Star Wars mega-fans, those of us who not only loved the movies, but also the books, comics, and video-games which expanded the stories past the events in The Battle of Endor.
In those stories, called the Expanded Universe, which started in 1991 with the almost simultaneous publications of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire and Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy’s Dark Empire comic series, the cast of Star Wars led fruitful and fulfilling lives. In the thirty years of continuity covered by the novels and comics, Han and Liea had conflicts, but stayed married. Leia is not only Chief of State in the New Republic, she also found time to train as a Jedi knight under her brother. Han and Leia had three children, Jacen, Jaina, and Anakin. Luke also marries and has a son, Ben. He sets up a new academy for Jedi, but instead of just one pupil, he starts with half a dozen, and from those he trains up masters, so after thirty years he is well on his way to filling the universe with Jedi again.
I’m not saying that any of that should have been kept, but there’s no reason to throw it out if there isn’t anything at least as interesting to take its place. Everything in the Expanded Universe is all non-canonical now — instead we are presented with a more boring, less inspiring Universe. The heroes that once inspired us thirty years ago have done nothing else inspiring or worthy of anything more than a footnote. No wonder The Force has been asleep all this time.