THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS
This sounds like it’s going to be one of those contrary pieces that always come out when something big and popular is in the news, and for the record, I like Star Wars fine and I really liked The Force Awakens in particular. But despite having grown up with the films, I never felt a personal connection with them like I do with other sci-fi franchises.
I think the main reason behind that is, when everyone in the western world at least knows about Star Wars, how can you form an individual connection with it? Now, I am a bigger fan of the equally well-known Star Trek, but the amount of people who have seen the majority of the TV shows and movies of that franchise are dwarfed by the amount of people who have seen at least the original Star Wars trilogy. And when your childhood memories are filled with Patrick Stewart’s commanding voice preaching pacifism over 176 episodes, it’s not quite balanced out by four or five films chronicling heroic acts of war.
One element of the Star Wars saga that also kept me a little at bay was its broad brush-stroke storytelling. The story is constantly used as an example of storytelling basics – the hero, the villain, the wise mentor, etc. In some respects that’s probably what gives it such universal appeal; every element is clear and recognisable enough that anyone can get on board and follow the journey. Maybe if I’d first encountered the franchise in 1977 I’d be far more enthused about it. But when modern storytelling leans towards more specific emotional journeys and giving twists on traditional tales, Star Wars seems more like an old myth or fable. It’s well told and will clearly survive beyond my lifetime, but it’s hard to get passionate about the characters or stories as told originally, for me anyway.
Funnily enough I have a similar reaction to another great myth of the twentieth century – Lord of the Rings. With the arrival of Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, Tolkien’s work had firmly permeated the public consciousness. And by the time I ended up seeing the films, I already knew the major story beats and character arcs. And again, this is a story that is a very clear example of the Hero’s Journey plotline, and has had obvious impact on much of storytelling that followed it.
Going back to The Force Awakens, one of my favourite elements was the handling of Rey’s backstory. The marketing played up the mystery of her family, obviously trying to provoke speculation on who among the original cast of characters she could be descended from. And for the first half, the film keeps this up; Rey is eking out a pitiful existence as a scavenger, waiting for her family to return and retrieve her. And after leaving Jakku, she is desperate to get back in case she misses them. But the twist is, rather than the reveal of an ancestral link to a familiar face, it’s just that she was abandoned by her family as a child and has to come to terms with the fact that they’re not coming back for her. It may well be that later films will link her character to a returning cast member (we’ve still not been told Rey’s surname) but if they didn’t and left that plotline as it is, I would be entirely satisfied. In a film involving sons striking down fathers, Rey’s emotional moment here hit me far harder. Mythology is full of fathers and sons in conflict – heck, that’s what the original Star Wars trilogy was based around – but contains fewer instances of dealing with abandonment, though it’s a more common issue being explored now.
Maybe this is me as an adolescent wanting twists on the familiar, things that seem ‘fresh’, and as I get older I might appreciate the more straightforward storytelling that classics like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings offer. But as for the stories that I’ve had a lifelong connection with, Star Wars simply doesn’t do it for me.